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Coalition promises higher electricity costs !

We know that the coalition are better economic managers because they told us so. The coalition are also good on one liners. As Josh Frydenberg told us during the budget speech “The government is delivering on its commitment to secure affordable and reliable energy supply and has achieved its goal of wholesale electricity prices under $70/MWh”.

The worrying thing is that they now lie to us without hesitation : Josh Frydenberg at every opportunity tells us how electricity prices have fallen 8 per cent since the last election due to the ‘steady as she goes’ coalition management of the economy. What he doesn’t mention is the 10 per cent lift in car prices, the 8 per cent increase in milk prices, the 11 per cent jump in furniture prices or the 13.5 per cent increase in childcare costs since 2019.

But even on electricity costs they are telling lies. The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) said in recent days that wholesale electricity costs have soared 141 per cent in the three months to 31 March 2022 compared with the same period last year and these increases will be passed on to consumers (probably after the election).

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that :

‘In the first quarter of the year, NSW’s wholesale price was $87 a megawatt hour, up 129 per cent from $38 a megawatt hour this time last year. In Queensland, the wholesale price hit $150, up 248 per cent from $43.

The wholesale price for the first quarter in Victoria was just $57 a megawatt hour. The state relies on brown coal, which unlike black coal is not influenced by the global market because it’s not exported.

South Australia, which doesn’t burn any coal and has the greatest proportion of renewable power in its energy mix, had a wholesale price of $71 in the first quarter. ‘

In WA electricity prices are regulated by the state government so that consumers are not hit by fluctuating world pricing on energy.

They won’t mention that wind and solar costs are not subject to international price fluctuations but as we are generally locked into global pricing structures on coal and gas, with seventy percent of our electricity coming from fossil fuels, the benefits of a transition to renewable energy have yet to show up in national energy costs across the nation – and if Canavan and the Nationals have their way they never will.

Frydenberg is in denial and has yet to acknowledge this massive increase in electricity costs but when he does he will undoubtedly lay the blame with … wait for it … the Labor party and the best way of avoiding these increases is to re-elect the coalition.

Morrison has said that the reasons for the increases, apart from Labor, are the war in Ukraine which has created shortages of coal and gas and according to Scott the rigid laws of supply & demand require that we pay more for our own coal when it’s in short supply in Europe – go figure !

The solution to this global market disruption according to Morrison – I don’t hold a shovel mate – is not to vote for Labor or the TEAL Independents and all will be well.

You know and I know that the real problem is that we are locked into global markets for the supply of fossil fuels and until we start to take seriously the transition to renewable energy we will continue to be price takers when it comes to coal and gas even though we are one of the world’s major suppliers of both commodities.

Meanwhile, the coalition have dropped the economy as being their strong suit and have moved on to national security and preparations for war. Over to you Captain Mainwaring.

Seriously, how could anybody re-elect this mob ?

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Welcome to the Crazy World of the United Nations

Did you know that the United Nations has a Human Rights Council made up of forty-seven nations who each sit on the Council for three years, elected on a rotational basis from the 193 UN members. On 1 January 2021 they elected the following countries for a three year term, to oversee human rights on behalf of all nations.

Bolivia, China, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, France, Gabon, Malawi, Mexico, Nepal, Pakistan,
Russian Federation, Senegal, Ukraine, United Kingdom and Uzbekistan.

These 15 members will serve three-year terms beginning on 1 January 2021. Do you notice anything odd about these nominees ?

Yes, you spotted it. Both Russia and Ukraine were sitting side by side on the human rights council : today the UN has suspended the Russian Federation from the council, I wonder why.

Then you have the UN Security Council which has primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. It has 15 Members, and each Member has one vote. There are five permanent members (USA, UK, France, China and Russia). The UN Security Council gives veto powers to its five permanent members, which means essentially that any resolution put to the security council can die instantly if one permanent member of the council says ‘nyet’. So, if there was a vote to remove, for instance, the Russian Federation from the security council it would have to have Russia’s approval to go ahead.

It seems that the only thing the security council can regularly achieve unanimous agreement on is a resolution to break for lunch !

From time to time the UN is characterised as a nut house and it does seem that Alice in Wonderland was adopted as a template – you be the judge :

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

You may well think that the United Nations no longer has a place in the modern world but, like coal mining its supporters say, it provides employment : what more could you ask ?

 

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Remember the Warringah Motion? Neither do the Liberal Party!

This is a little piece I penned (and published) in 2018 when the Liberal Party in NSW were trying to make their pre-selection process more democratic. It was known as the Warringah Motion and was driven by Tony Abbott, and it was adopted. This meant that the pre-selection of candidates would be a matter for individual branches without federal interference or factional stacking.

That worked out well, didn’t it ?

The Liberal Party is nothing if not democratic : perhaps it’s closer to being nothing after what happened over the Craig Kelly preselection for the NSW seat of Hughes.

Last year the Liberal party in NSW voted on what came to be known as the Warringah Motion sponsored by Tony Abbott and vigorously supported by temporary senator, Jim Molan.

The so-called Warringah motion was designed to reform the Liberal preselection process and ensure a members’ plebiscite to select candidates for state and federal seats in NSW. The motion passed 748 votes to 476 at a party convention in Sydney in July last year.

Tony Abbott emerged victorious from the NSW Liberal Party convention after his motion to give party members a greater say in selecting candidates was passed. “This, gives grassroots members more power in selecting candidates,” Abbott said. He went on to say that it would create a more democratic Liberal Party and end the potential for corruption : “It’s a clear road ahead to one member one vote preselections, a clear road ahead to a democratic political party which is controlled by its members not by lobbyists, not by factionists, not by strong pullers.”

“I think this is a great day for the NSW Liberal Party. And because it’s been a great day for the NSW Liberal Party, I think it will be good for our Government in Canberra and I think it will be very good for Australia” Abbott concluded.

So, a jubilant Tony Abbott must have been a bit non-plussed when this new era of democratic preselections was thrown under a bus at the first available opportunity, essentially to preserve a numpty by the name of Craig Kelly who is nominally the member for Hughes in the federal parliament. Nominally because he seems to spend more time waffling on the Sky-after-dark Muppet Show than he does making a useful contribution to our parliament.

When the preselectors in Hughes were showing signs of getting themselves a decent local member in the lead up to the 2019 election, Kelly made it known that if he was dumped by the grass roots membership, he would go to the cross-benches for the remainder of this parliamentary term and further erode the authority of this already lame minority government ; perhaps even bring the government down .

Our prime minister acknowledging the power of the Right, in an act of desperation, capitulated and decided that expedience was the way to go and that preselections by the grass roots Liberal membership was all very well but only when they do as they are told. Clearly in Hughes they were not prepared to preselect Craig Kelly, so our action-man prime minister quite incredibly called on the NSW Liberal party executive to scrap all democratic processes and re-endorse all sitting members – including of course, Kelly – without the need for the messy and inconvenient involvement of the party membership : and that’s just what they did.

Ironically, the Warringah Motion was promoted as broadening the democratic processes within the Liberal party which in turn it was thought would boost branch membership, a win win it was suggested.

The question is, when the executive of a political party are prepared to scrap their own democratic principles and processes to appease threats of blackmail from a person like Craig Kelly, is that the sort of party with which you would wish to associate yourself ?

 

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Political Donations and Brown Paper Bags – spot the difference!

Zali Steggall has been a target of the Liberal Party ever since she dared topple Tony Abbott, in the 2019 election, in the seat of Warringah.

So, it now seems there has been a political hit on Steggall over electoral donations she received from the KInghorn Family Trust which had donated $100,000 to Steggall’s campaign. This donation was in one cheque but represented pledges of $12,500 each on behalf of eight members of the family trust.

The eight separate donations at $12,500 fell below the disclosure threshold but the AEC quite correctly noted that the payment by a single cheque exceeded the threshold and required further disclosure : this disclosure was corrected by Steggall in February 2021.

The threshold for donations requiring disclosure at that time was $13,800 since then it has been increased by indexation to $14,500. The system at the federal level was running quite well with a disclosure threshold of just $1500 until 2006 when John Howard decided that was too low and increased it to “more than $10,000” with annual indexation : that’s when the rot set in and neither party has been prepared to address the growing problem since.

This practice of donation splitting, when payments are divided into smaller amounts so that large payments can be kept under the disclosure threshold, has been widely adopted by all political parties and is still quite common and legal. Where Steggall came undone was that the established political parties are alert to the need to keep the individual donations under the threshold ; that’s why they are calling Steggall’s blunder a rookie mistake.

So, in effect nothing illegal has occurred and when the oversight was brought to the independent member for Warringah’s attention, it was corrected.

Does it warrant a media hit ? I don’t think so but there is no doubt that the whole of the regulatory system governing political donations badly needs to be overhauled. When you consider that just $17.9 million worth of individual donations were declared for the 2020 – 2021 year compared with the almost $177 million received by parties you would be forgiven if you thought that the disclosure regime was better described as a non-disclosure scheme.

Personally, Steggall’s oversight doesn’t concern me but I am far more concerned that our former Attorney General, Christian Porter, was able to receive and conceal an anonymous donation said to be in the order of a million dollars. In Porter’s case he threw a legal doona over the donation by calling it the proceeds of a blind trust and thus he could not reveal either the source of the funds or the donor – all legal according to him, wink wink, nudge nudge !

Not to mention the potential for disruption to our democracy, not from overseas interests as Peter Dutton would have us believe, but closer to home in the form of Clive Frederick Palmer who spent $60 million in the lead up to the 2019 election without much of a return on his money. But he threatens to spend even more this time around and may well be able to insert one or more of his stooges into the senate : that’s what ASIO are worried about and we should be too.

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Religious Freedom or the Freedom to Discriminate ?

Originally this draft legislation dealing with religious freedom was proposed by the coalition government to comfort religious sensibilities which may have felt threatened when the nation went to a Clayton’s ‘referendum’ to change the Marriage Act to permit same-sex marriage – the federal marriage act having been changed by the Howard government in 2004 to prohibit same-sex marriage – go figure!

In fact, it wasn’t a referendum or even a plebiscite as the senate had rejected those mechanisms, insisting that if an act of the federal parliament (the Marriage Act) was to be changed then it was the duty of the federal parliament to follow conventional democratic procedures to effect that change: common sense from the senate!

Ultimately it became a non-binding voluntary postal survey and it passed with 61.6% of the eligible voters approving marriage equality.

Having gone through that ordeal it was considered by some in the coalition that religious freedoms were being eroded and to appease these folk a religious freedoms act was placed on the coalition wish-list. The only thing that changed as the draft legislation was promulgated was that it became a religious discrimination bill rather than a religious freedoms bill.

The Morrison government have made it an article of their faith to get this legislation through before they announce an election and prorogue the parliament. That means that this legislation must get through in the scheduled eight sitting days of the House of Representatives between February and April (after which we will be in caretaker mode leading up the election, probably in May).

Among the contentious provisions of the Bill are :

Section 7

(2) Subject to subsection (6), a religious body does not discriminate
against a person under this Act by engaging, in good faith, in
conduct that a person of the same religion as the religious body
could reasonably consider to be in accordance with the doctrines,
tenets, beliefs or teachings of that religion.

and

(4) Subject to subsection (6), a religious body does not discriminate
against a person under this Act by engaging, in good faith, in
conduct to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents
of the same religion as the religious body.

These are the provisions which, despite the wording of the section, allow for a religious body to discriminate both subjectively and objectively: this is not religious freedom it is blatant religious discrimination.

Interestingly, the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) already has a wide exemption for religious educational institutions under section 38.

Educational institutions established for religious purposes

38 (1) Nothing in paragraph 14(1)(a) or (b) or 14(2)(c) renders it unlawful for a person to discriminate against another person on the ground of the other person’s sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or relationship status or pregnancy in connection with employment as a member of the staff of an educational institution that is conducted in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of a particular religion or creed, if the first‑mentioned person so discriminates in good faith in order to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion or creed.

This type of exemption appears in several pieces of legislation and generally gives religious bodies the freedom to discriminate in their employment practices even though many of these bodies, whilst posturing as private institutions, are substantial recipients of public funding.

Even the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) gives religious institutions an exemption.

51 Discrimination

(1) An employer must not take adverse action against a person who is an employee, or prospective employee, of the employer because of the person’s race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental disability, marital status, family or carer’s responsibilities, pregnancy, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin.

(2) However, subsection (1) does not apply to action that is:

(c) if the action is taken against a staff member of an institution conducted in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of a particular religion or creed—taken:

(i) in good faith; and

(ii) to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion or creed.

The point being, that there are already many overlapping exemptions granted to religious bodies to allow them to discriminate in any number of ways: do they or we really need any more?

To work through this hotch-potch of existing legislation and bring some clarity and common sense to the whole issue of religious discrimination, the Australian Law Reform Commission was asked to report on the Framework of Religious Exemptions in Anti-discrimination Legislation.

The only problem is that the ALRC are not reporting back to government until twelve months after the Religious Discrimination legislation is passed: cart before the horse?

So, the question has to be asked: why is it so critical for this legislation to be enacted by our parliament in the dying days of this term of government when clearly it hasn’t had sufficient thought or consideration and when we haven’t even had the opportunity of seeing what the Australian Law Reform Commission have to say on the subject. Could it be that the Morrison government who have an appalling track record on legislative integrity want at least one run on their scoreboard before they whisk us away to an election?

Clearly, they don’t consider a federal integrity commission to be such a priority!

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Technology Not Taxes ! Oh wait a minute.

Scott Morrison loves slogans but slogans have a habit of coming back to bite you on the bum.

For instance, if you were to ask him about the years he got out of Labor’s Debt and Deficit Disaster he would probably look at you blankly and say he doesn’t recall that.

Another that was road tested recently and quickly consigned to the bin was Can Do Capitalism. In Queensland, in particular, this brought back some painful repressed memories of a tragic time in the sunshine state when the LNP foisted on an unsuspecting electorate an upstart they called Can Do Campbell. A diminutive man called Campbell Newman, who bears a striking resemblance to Gollum of Tolkien’s middle-earth series, who seized office in Queensland on the back of this slogan but only for one term as the people of Queensland soon discovered that he was in fact No Can Do Campbell. He was consigned to history at the next election, at least that’s what we thought : he has recently resurfaced from that Augean Stable we know as Sky-after-Dark where he has been languishing with other political ne’er-do-wells – evidently he will be seeking a federal Senate seat in the next election and has embraced Clive Palmer : quite a stretch you may well think.

The Australian Way was dropped on an unsuspecting world at the COP-26 in Glasgow and nobody knew what he was talking about – ultimately they found out that what it means is to tell lies about net zero by 2050 but not actually do anything – after all as Scotty noted at the G20 we’re good at digging things up.

That brings us to Technology Not Taxes which went down quite well with the focus groups and seemed to get Angus Taylor quite excited but then a question was asked : what exactly does it mean ?

Now that we know that an Electric Vehicle will tow your trailer and will tow your boat and will get you out to your favourite camping spot with your family, does that mean that EV’s are now part of the new technology and will help in reducing our emissions ?

The answer of course is yes and, as EV’s are part of the technology not taxes slogan why is it that governments insist on imposing punitive taxes on imported EV’s ? For instance an imported EV will attract a Luxury Car Tax of 33% on values above the declared threshold plus a GST of 10% and a state Stamp Duty of around 5%. In the case of the popular Tesla Model 3 the federal taxes amount to approximately $10,000 (LCT $2,029 and GST $7857) plus around $3500 in state stamp duty.

So the slogan is going to have to be tweaked perhaps to technology and taxes on a need to know basis – and you don’t need to know and Scotty will deny it anyhow !

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Voter Integrity : Really !

With great and perhaps undue haste the government wants to introduce legislation before the next election that will require you to carry suitable and acceptable personal ID when you next vote.

The need for this legislation we are told is to maintain voter integrity, in particular to avoid voters voting multiple times ; even though, there is no evidence that this has been a problem in the past.

The government have resisted calls for the AEC to actually issue a voter ID to all registered voters before the election in 2022. The reason they will not do this is that it would ideally have to be a photo ID and this goes against the conservative grain as it implies too much government in our lives ; something the coalition are positively against. So, the responsibility falls back on the individual to provide personal ID and for the election booth official to verify this on the day.

In my regional area the process so far has been that you front up, give your name and address and the official manually draws a line through you name on a hard-copy of the electoral roll ; for some reason we haven’t got the roll online but perhaps that will change (anybody know ?). Having a manual system is, of course open to voter fraud as you could easily pop along to an adjoining suburb, enter another booth, have your name and address again pencilled through and vote for a second time and that would only come to light some months later if at all.

Personally, I have retained a post-card sent to me by the AEC some years ago when our electorate boundaries changed. This card tells me my name, address and details of my electoral division and confirms my registration. I normally take this card along when I vote just in case and will continue to do that. Just as an exercise, this morning I thought that I would check my electoral status on the federal electoral roll – guess what, after several attempts it could not find me – check it out for yourself here.

The odd thing is that, if on the day the electoral official cannot find me on the electoral roll and refuses to allow me to vote, I can expect to be fined some time in the future for failing to vote as required by law !

As I mentioned elsewhere the other day, I have written to my local member asking him to insist that, if this legislation goes through as the government insist it must, that the AEC be required to send a personal ID postcard to every registered voter prior to next election (inevitably for a number of reasons it would not be a photo ID but it would be something). I suggest you could do likewise but you will have to be quick as they want this legislation through the House next week.

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Careful What You Say !

The High Court decision in the Voller case concerns whether a publisher can be held responsible for comments readers post on its website. Specifically, the decision applies to Facebook but would appear to apply equally to any social media publisher, potentially including this website. Indeed, The Conversation seems sufficiently concerned to shut down all comment and discussion on the case in question – an over-reaction perhaps.

The majority High Court decision found that Facebook were a publisher, upholding the findings of the New South Wales Court of Appeal. The appeal judges had found that the media companies facilitated and encouraged the posting of comments by third parties on articles made available on their public Facebook pages. In doing so, the media companies participated and were instrumental in bringing about publication of allegedly defamatory matter, irrespective of whether others also participated in the publication

This decision may mean that any social media website can be sued in defamation as a publisher over any offensive or damaging comments posted by readers and contributors. Potentially, this means that moderation of every post will have to take place before it is published or alternatively that no third party comment will be invited.

So far, the major social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and the like have strongly resisted being tagged as publishers. They have maintained that they merely provide a platform to facilitate comment and discussion : all that may be about to change in Australia at least.

Watch this space as further clarification on this majority High Court decision takes place and the full implications on the implied right to freedom of speech are explored : ironically The Conversation a site where you would normally expect reasoned academic discussion have already decided that this subject is too hot to handle.

Interesting times !

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JobKeeper : Welfare for the Wealthy ?

You probably are aware that the first version of JobKeeper was plundered by businesses who, in many instances, were not adversely impacted by COVID-19 and in quite a few cases these were businesses who actually increased revenue and profits during the first twelve months of JobKeeper.

There has been a massive government coverup mainly to protect the architect of the scheme, Josh Frydenberg, from the adverse publicity and blame surrounding the bungle.

Newscorp have so far been silent on the matter and Sky after Dark have actually been mounting a protection racket for Frydenberg and blaming Labor for voting for the scheme. Not so the normally Right leaning Spectator Australia who, through their conservative columnist Judith Sloan, have stuck the boot right in ; this is Sloan in the Spectator Australia :

“But when it comes to government outlays, the wildly expensive JobKeeper will rank as the single most irresponsible and reckless spending program ever undertaken by a government. Lasting only 12 months, JobKeeper has ended up costing the Australian taxpayer close to $90 billion. It makes the Pink Batts and Building the Education Revolution programs look completely amateurish in terms of government spending for dubious benefit.”

The problem started with Josh, in his haste to show business that he was on their side, announcing a massive public spending scheme called JobKeeper. Payments of $1500 a fortnight were to be available to workers at firms that, depending on the size of the company, saw their turnover fall by at least 30 or 50 per cent during COVID-19. Josh told those businesses that if they reckon – perhaps on the toss of a coin – that they could lose revenue attributable to the impact of COVID on their business then they were entitled to dip into a pool of public money to enable them to continue to pay their workforce. Quite naturally many business enterprises snapped up the offer particularly when it was realized that the handout was open ended ; in other words you could keep the money even if you business did no suffer a revenue downturn and even if your business prospered during COVID.

So, the money was only meant to go to employers suffering material drops in revenue, yet it is estimated that $368 million was paid out to entities that more than tripled their revenue in the June quarter last year.

Clearly in a scheme dealing with public funds, you would expect that recipients of the government handout would be obliged to refund the money if in fact their revenues did not diminish during the period under review and particularly if they were able to increase revenue and profits. But according to Josh that’s not the way the scheme was designed – unlike Robodebt – so in effect it was a handout with no strings attached.

To be fair, some businesses have repaid some of the money received from taxpayers. Most notably retailer Harvey Norman repaid $6m in JobKeeper in August after it posted record profits in the 2020-21 financial year. The repayment is less than a third of the estimated $22m the company and its franchisees received.

There are several aspects of this bungle that are disturbing. The first is that it occurred at all on such a large scale but more importantly that the government have tried to cover it up and put the Treasurer in witness protection. At the very minimum there should be an open enquiry probably a Royal Commission.

Tonight, Sixty Minutes is doing a piece on this massive rorting of public money but evidently Frydenberg was not available to be interviewed : perhaps he had to wash his hair !

 

Cartoon by Alan Moir (moir.com.au)

 

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Oiks!

‘Working class Oiks’ was how my boss, in the office I worked in London, saw the Rolling Stones who had just burst on to the pop scene to thrill those of my generation: they gave London in the early 1960s what the Beatles had given to Liverpool and the swinging sixties were well underway.

Oik was a nasty slang term often used by the English upper classes in a derogatory sense to describe a person regarded as inferior, ignorant, ill-educated, or lower-class. That didn’t worry us, we liked Mick’s swagger and the non-conformist insolence of the Stones.

Now Charlie Watts, their impassive drummer for more that half a century has died: he never said much and showed little emotion but he held together the Stones, Mick and ‘Keef’ Richards, Bill Wyman and all too briefly Brian Jones and later Ronnie Woods.

I didn’t know Charlie Watts but I was raised in South London in those post-war years and I went to school a few miles away from where Mick went to school in Dartford – we played his school team in soccer.

At that time in the early 1960s the sharp young blades around town were very much into flash suits, stove-pipe pants and winkle picker shoes. There was a certain East End Jewish tailor, off the Whitechapel Road as I recall, who had caught the eye of Charlie Watts and his mates and they had their jackets and suits made up there.

Word spread and I ended up getting a suit made by this same tailor – there was a photo of Charlie in the window of the shop modelling a suit. In those days the fashion was for two buttoned, short jackets, Bum-freezers as they were known.

Later in 1963 I took a ten pound assisted passage to Australia – best investment I ever made – the suit stayed at my parents home and probably ended up in an op shop as I married a Queensland girl and stayed in Australia.

Meanwhile, Mick and Keith opened up a corner shop in leafy Surbiton to see them through their retirement, just ask Michael Caine:

 

 

Farewell, Charlie Watts, you entertained us for a generation – not bad for a classy oik!

 

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When news is not enough : we make it up !

Sky News Regional – a new free-to-air television offering – has just launched in regional areas across Australia with such luminaries as Alan Jones, Andrew Bolt, Cory Bernardi, Paul Murray, Rowan Dean and Peta Credlin hustling to get into our loungerooms, to flood regional airways between Cairns and Kalgoorlie, with anti-immigration rhetoric, climate denialism, conservative claptrap and vaccine misinformation all masquerading as news.

In the meantime, Sky News has been banned from uploading any new content to YouTube or live streaming for a week after violating the social media site’s misinformation policies.

This follows Alan Jones – the poster boy for after dark conspiracies – being dumped from his regular Daily Telegraph column after his misinformation on COVID-19: Newscorp said that Alan Jones ‘no longer resonates with our readers’.

At least six videos from Sky News Australia hosts Alan Jones, Rowan Dean and Rita Panahi have been deleted from YouTube for spreading COVID-19 misinformation about the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine or ivermectin as treatments.

You may well wonder why it falls to the Google-owned YouTube to be governing content quality coming from Sky News Australia and why the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is not acting against the divisive, dishonest and damaging enterprise that has become known as Sky-after-Dark: after all ACMA is a government-controlled entity who tell us that their job is to regulate communications and media to maximise the economic and social benefits for Australia. The reason that ACMA have failed to act and left it to a foreign social media site to provide content governance on Australian media output is possibly due to the fact that they have no teeth and this Liberal government is unlikely to change that situation while they continue their unhealthy relationship with the Murdoch organisation and its entities.

What is at stake here is the right of a so-called news organisation to deliver far-right conservative rhetoric, conspiracy theories and outright lies under the guise of news but avoiding the inconvenience of fact-checking, research or traditional investigative journalism. They label it as ‘opinion’ which means that none of these standards apply: this is the business model that Murdoch successfully adopted with Fox News in the US and which his organisation are trying to replicate through Sky News in Australia.

The new free to air offering will potentially reach millions across the nation as a result of the partnership it has developed with two television networks: WIN and Southern Cross Austereo.

Two former prime ministers have warned us about the dominance of the Murdoch media in Australia and the control exerted on our politicians. Kevin Rudd told the Media Diversity Enquiry that:

The “Fox News-isation” of the Australian media was well underway thanks to Sky News Australia breeding climate change denialism and encouraging far-right political extremism, Mr Rudd said.

Malcolm Turnbull told the Enquiry that :

News Corp had evolved from a reasonable media organisation into a highly partisan one which is a danger to democracy. “The most powerful political actor in Australia is not the Liberal party or the National party or the Labor party, it is News Corporation,” he said.“ And it is utterly unaccountable. It is controlled by an American family and their interests are no longer, if they ever were, coextensive with our own.”

Even James Murdoch, the younger son of Rupert, recently resigned from the board of News Corporation citing “disagreements over editorial content”. He told US regulators, he disagreed with some “strategic decisions” made by the company. Whilst he was not specific, he had previously spoken out against the climate change denialism promoted by the company and its editorial positions.

The question is how do we as a society regulate a news organisation so that there is a clear distinction between what is properly researched and balanced ‘news’ coverage and what are alternative facts and the opinions of a group of right-wing conservative ratbags, masquerading as journalists. Clearly, they have a right to freedom of communication and free speech as they will frequently remind us but when it comes to manufacturing fake news and conspiracy theories it is time to call them out.

At an early stage in its evolution, FOX News in the US carried the slogan ‘Fair and Balanced’ but they walked away from that when they cottoned on to the revenues they could generate from far-right fakery, spurious opinions and alternative facts.

Take care, Australia, these people have an agenda: remember the IPA wish list to which they enthusiastically subscribe –

Item 14: Abolish the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA)

Item 15: Eliminate laws that require radio and television broadcasters to be ‘balanced’

Item 50: Break up the ABC and put out to tender each individual function

Item 51: Privatise SBS

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They would not listen, they’re not listening still. Perhaps they never will !

Those words were taken from Don Maclean’s ballad Vincent a tribute to Vincent van Gogh. The way this government toys with us, it’s enough to make you want to scream as Norwegian expressionist artist Edvard Munch may have said back in 1893 when he created his cry from the soul of humanity.

When it comes to the Morrison, Joyce government, not only do they not listen, they don’t care what we think, they are driven by their own egos, ideology and big business interests.

The recent G7 meeting in Cornwall, England in May came out with a commitment to stop international financing of coal projects by the end of 2021 and to progressively phase out such support for all fossil fuels, to meet globally agreed climate change targets. Australia is not a member of the G7 but Scott Morrison was there as an observer but evidently missed this bit, possibly because he was quaffing scrumpy cider and eating Cornish pasties in appropriately quaint pubs.

Do you remember the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility better known as the NAIF, set up in 2016 with a bank of $5 billion to provide loans to new and innovative ventures in the North of Australia – essentially from the Tropic of Capricorn North. At the time it was thought by some naughty left-wing people that this may be a National Party slush fund but to counter any such mischievous thinking, it was written into the legislation that loans could only proceed with the approval, not only of the NAIF board, but also the government of the relevant state or territory – essentially Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia which, the more perceptive of you will have noted all have Labor governments.

After five years the NAIF had to be reviewed and among the matters that the federal government thought appropriate was to bypass the approval of the state and territory governments (to streamline the process you understand), to allow the federal government not only to ‘lend’ money to worthy enterprises but also to take an ‘equity’ position in such enterprises – that means that the money doesn’t actually have to be paid back which was an innovation sought by the National Party.

The state veto got up the federal government’s nose when they wanted to lend money to Adani. If you remember, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk took the position that money should not be loaned to the Adani project writing to then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull stating

‘…my Government provides formal notification to the Commonwealth that financial assistance should not be provided to Adani for the North Galilee Basin Rail Project. As such the Government is exercising its veto right under section 13(4) of the Investment Facility Mandate in response to the Adani loan application.’

In January last the NAIF Board approved loan funding of $280 million for the Kaban Green Energy Hub a renewable energy project located in the Atherton Tablelands of Far North Queensland. The project consists of a 157 MW wind farm with approval for a 100 MW battery backup and a network upgrade. It came as a surprise when the minister responsible for the NAIF, National party stalwart Keith Pitt, decided to use his discretion under the act and stop the loan. He said at the time that the funding was ‘inconsistent with the objectives and policies of the commonwealth’.

So, quite a few eyebrows were raised when the NAIF recently announced a $175 million loan to develop a new coalmine in central Queensland.

So far the minister has not exercised his discretion to veto this loan of public money so we must assume that it is ‘consistent with the objectives and policies of the commonwealth’.

So, to those of you who may have cynically said that the NAIF was a National Party slush fund : it seems you were spot on !

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“Reputation, reputation, reputation!” O, I ha’ lost my reputation, I ha’ lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial!

There has been a flurry of politicians to our defamation courts in recent times. These delicate petals are concerned that their reputations have been sullied and, as noted by Shakespeare in Othello once their reputation has been lost ‘I ha’ lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial’. Perhaps Peter Dutton was ‘left with the bestial part’ when he ventured into the defamation courts to sue the pants off a citizen – but more of this later.

It has always been a point of contention in the arena of free speech that the only remedies for those who believe their reputations have been tarnished was either to challenge the offender to a duel or drag him before our courts of justice in an action for libel or slander, now collectively termed defamation. Do you remember how the Marquess of Queensberry in 1895 was somewhat peeved that his son Alfred was having an intimate affair with playwright and poet Oscar Wilde?

Queensberry left his card at Wilde’s club (as you do) with the scrawled message “For Oscar Wilde, posing as a somdomite” – not known for his spelling capabilities was the Marquess. Even so, this prompted Wilde to sue Queensberry in Libel however, things didn’t go too well and Wilde withdrew the action. Inevitably the case had revealed publicly that Wilde was an homosexual and that he had engaged in acts of ‘gross indecency’ which by the standards of the day were a crime : he was subsequently charged under the criminal law and after several trials with hung juries he was convicted and served two years in prison – his career was also brought to an end and he spent his final days in exile in France.

Politicians don’t generally seek to drag people through the courts with claims that they have been defamed and their otherwise impeccable characters and reputations tarnished. The reason for this is largely due to politicians not having impeccable characters and reputations but more specifically, having been granted ‘parliamentary privilege’ to say what they want in parliament without the risk of being sued, it has been considered as unseemly for them to mount actions against anybody who hurts their feelings beyond the parliament.

Which brings us to Peter Dutton who made it known in March that he would take a more aggressive stance against false and defamatory statements made about him online. ‘Spud’ as he is fondly known was as good as his word when he initiated a defamation action against refugee advocate Shane Bazzi. Dutton had told Sky News that female refugees held on Nauru were claiming they needed to come to Australia for an abortion following rape, but changed their minds when they arrived. “You could question whether people needed medical attention,” he said. Bazzi called Dutton a ‘rape apologist’ as well as a few other choice names notably beginning with an F and a C. In the preliminary hearing the appointed judge, justice Richard White, ordered the parties to attend mediation by 31 August and suggested the case could be settled without a trial.

What our politicians, including Porter and Dutton seem to overlook when they rush to the steps of the court is that judges – unlike lawyers – don’t really want to take up the time of the court with these defamation actions which in many cases (see Barilaro) are quite petty and even if the politician wins, their dubious reputations are rarely enhanced.

Mediation merely requires the parties sit down with a mediator, frequently appointed by the court, and discuss their differences and arrive at a compromise thus saving themselves and the courts a lot of time and money. The idea being that once an agreement between the parties has been struck and approved by the court, they go their separate ways and avoid the temptation of yelling to the media, “I won, you lost”. Not that this discouraged Christian Porter who, following mediation and having agreed to withdraw his action against the ABC, called it a “humiliating backdown” by the broadcaster, despite not having obtained an apology or the damages he had sought.

When mediation fails or is not adopted by the parties – as with the case involving Ben Roberts-Smith – the matter will go to court and the parties will go at each other in an adversarial fight to the death, not unlike the duels of days past. Whilst not a politician, Roberts-Smith has much to lose in defending his character against charges made by the Nine media network and relating to his army service in Afghanistan. A battle of the Titans of Australian media with Roberts-Smith is an executive with Seven media. His adversary, Nine media are adopting the defence of ‘truth’, a complete defence that they will be called upon to demonstrate as the case progresses. Should he fail, Roberts-Smith will be placed in much the same boat as Oscar Wilde, with the possibility of criminal charges to follow.

Mounting defamation actions is not for the faint hearted and much like entering a casino, you must be prepared to lose and to lose heavily if the cards don’t fall your way.

Shakespeare explains it well: “Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing; ’twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands; But he that filches from me my good name Robs me of that which not enriches him, And makes me poor indeed.”

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The life of a little girl and our dignity as a nation, hang in the balance

Peter Dutton has a particular view on children born in this country of parents who had sought asylum after entering Australia without the proper paperwork. ‘Spud’ called them Anchor Babies.

What ‘Spud’ was trying to imply was that asylum seekers who had babies, frequently whilst in detention, did so for the purpose of using their babies to ‘anchor’ their ability to stay in Australia.

This is nonsense as the The Australian Citizenship Act does not confer Australian citizenship on a person simply by virtue of them being born in Australia. Section 12 of the act states :

Citizenship by birth

(1) A person born in Australia is an Australian citizen if and only if :

(a) a parent of the person is an Australian citizen, or a permanent resident, at the time the person is born; or

(b) the person is ordinarily resident in Australia throughout the period of 10 years beginning on the day the person is born.

So the notion of ‘anchor babies’ as applied to the ‘Biloela family’ is a mischievous fallacy promoted by the Morrison government as Australian law does not allow the parents to use their Australian born babies – Tharunicaa and Kopika – as an automatic right to residency. However, the minister does have discretion to allow them to stay but this is rarely if ever exercised : this government it seems would prefer to fight the matter through the courts and in the meantime hold the family in detention, at a reported cost of six million dollars a year

Now three year old Tharunicaa is in hospital in Perth, she had reportedly been unwell for ten days with high temperatures, vomiting and diarrhoea, as her family called for more medical help. It now appears that she has untreated pneumonia that led to a blood infection.

Tharunicaa, together with her parents and her sister, Kopika, have been in detention on Christmas Island since August 2019.They are the only two children in immigration detention in Australia.

The family had initially settled in the Queensland town of Biloela where they were welcomed and quickly became contributing members of the community until early one morning their home was raided and the family was taken into custody by Australian Border Force personnel in March 2018 – they have been detained since.

The family has been engaged in legal appeals since 2012. Tharunicaa’s father and mother are both Sri Lankan nationals who arrived in Australia by boat seeking asylum in 2012 and 2013 respectively. They arrived without visas and are considered in law to be “unlawful maritime arrivals.” Although Tharunicaa and six-year-old Kopika were born in Australia, they too are “unlawful maritime arrivals”.

Former Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton (now Defence minister but with considerable authority within Cabinet) has repeatedly said the family is not owed protection. They are part of a caseload who had their claims for refugee status determined and denied under a “fast track” process. The Australian Human Rights Commission has found significant issues with the “fast track” process and has called for a compassionate response to this family.

The current drawn out legal action centres around the obligations of the government to consider whether Tharunicaa can apply for a visa in Australia. This can only happen if the new Home Affairs Minister (Karen Andrews) personally intervenes, which it seems she must in the prevailing circumstances.

Only minister Andrews or Immigration Minister Alex Hawke have the power to allow the family to live in the community whether it be on Christmas Island or in Biloela on bridging visas. Andrews recently said she was still taking advice on whether she would allow them to live in the community. Her difficulty will come from Dutton who is taking this issue personally. But both he and Morrison are alert to public calls for this to end. They would both be aware that in 2018, following a similar medivac situation a Queensland coroner found delays in diagnosing and removing Iranian asylum seeker Hamid Kehazaei from Manus Island directly contributed to his death from septicaemia.

Karen Andrews, as the senior minister responsible, is under increasing public pressure to do more for the family and she should now accept an offer by our more compassionate neighbours, New Zealand, who have indicated that they are happy to take the family and resettle them.

However, we know from past experience that what seems sensible, humane and compassionate doesn’t necessarily intrude on the stubborn intransigence of ‘Spud’ Dutton. Morrison could step in but he is wary of the Right wing faction led by Dutton. So this could be a big test of his authority as prime minister.

Whatever happens, the next few days are critical and this little girl should she survive, cannot be returned to detention on Christmas Island or elsewhere.

 

 

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Is Jack as good as his master ?

In a move that would have Karl Marx and George Orwell high-fiving on Broadway, New York Uber (and Lyft) drivers have decided to take on their masters (who by a quirk of capitalist legal fiction are not really their masters according to the law) and create an ‘app’ that will challenge the dominance of these ride-share gurus.

It has dawned on these drivers that they may have been conned into believing that the GIG economy would make them self-employed masters of their own destiny.

As an aspiring self employed driver they may have missed the bit about having to supply and maintain their own vehicle, pay for their own fuel, insurance and repairs out of their own pockets with their share of the fare they have collected being considerably less than that of the owner of the ‘app’ who, remember, is not their employer. Thus has no obligation to provide employment conditions such as paid holidays and sick leave, workers compensation or superannuation. In fact theses workers are a modern version of the serf of feudal times.

The creation of this gig was a capitalist’s wet dream : create an ‘app’ to give an electronic access point to the traditional taxi market and then encourage a group of people to think of themselves as self-employed while you exploit them and watch the money roll in.

In New York, a number of these drivers are getting together and forming a co-operative where the drivers become shareholder owners of the business thus participating in the profits and genuinely becoming entrepreneurs in a self employed enterprise. What these drivers have done is to cut out, not the middle man so much, but the leech who seeks to take on the role of the Lord of the Manor in his feudal paradise.

In Australia matters have not yet evolved to the stage they have in New York with our sardonically named Fairwork Commission – also known as a grazing paddock for Liberal Party mates, currently bulging at the seams with a President, two Vice Presidents, nineteen Deputy Presidents and twenty commissioners with a couple more on the reserves bench – maintaining that gig workers are self employed and that they just love the flexibility of low paid work.

In the UK things have taken a different turn with the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom unanimously dismissing an appeal brought by Uber against earlier rulings. The Court determined that Uber drivers are “workers” for the purposes of relevant employment legislation and are entitled to, among other things, being paid at least the minimum wage, and to receive annual paid leave, paid sick leave and rest breaks.

The UK decision, which may be influential on any future court challenge in Australia, looked at five key criteria to determine that the drivers were workers who were subject to the control of their “employer”.

These were:

  • Uber sets the fare for rides booked through the app and drivers are not able to charge more than the fare calculated;
  • Uber specifies and imposes the terms on which the drivers perform their services;
  • the drivers’ choice about whether to accept requests for rides is constrained by Uber, for example by penalising drivers who decline trips too frequently;
  • Uber exercises control over the way drivers perform their services, via a rating system; and
  • Uber restricts communications between passengers and drivers to prevent any continuing relationship beyond an individual ride.

The next move in Australia will be to take the issue to the courts for determination but in the meantime a driver owned co-operative seems like a good alternative for the drivers : after all it doesn’t take much to set up an ‘app’, does it ?

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