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Tag Archives: Federal ICAC

Federal ICAC: The Keys to the Electoral Mint?

By Tim Jones

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

ICAC – The Keys to the Electoral Mint

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

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

Is Shorten Wasting an Opportunity?

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

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

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

The ICAC Board

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Turnbull or Mr. Shorten, take the microphone

 

Originally published on criticalanalystsite

 

On a Road to Nowhere?

As we all wake up today from our election hangovers, and stagger bleary eyed to work, many are considering the real implication of living in interesting times… and the real possibility that the Governor General may be forced to call a second election.  The double dissolution election brought on by #stabilityMal has surprised everyone, not least the Australian voter; who, after casting their #rageVote now wonders what they were drinking, and who it was they spent those huddled, sweaty moments with in that election booth. Therefore, in another empty attempt to make sense of it all, it’s time for more analysis and conjecture!

Battle of the Bastards
updated 1800hrs 5 July The current count on the AEC website has the ALP leading in 69 seats, and the LNP with 66. The ALP is trending in a further two seats, and the LNP in three, though all five are too close to call… which should probably be the subtitle for this election.  The AEC has five seats undetermined; four Liberal and one ALP, which according to the current tally are likely to remain with incumbents. If that is the case we are looking at a 72/73 split  between the ALP and LNP.

updated 1800hrs 4 July The ABC (i.e. Antony Green) has a slightly different tally, with ALP at 67, LNP at 68 up from 64. Out of the 10 ‘seats in doubt’ the LNP is ahead on slender margins in four seats, the ALP on a similar knife-edge in five, and Xenophon party fairly comfortable in one. Giving us a House looking like this:
TABLES-house2

One of the key factors in this election is that traditional conservative voters have felt betrayed by the Liberal and National parties.  Mining, CSG, the NBN, foreign ownership, constant cuts and privatisation have been a catalyst for conservative voters to look at what else is on offer. Some have realised that the ALP has policies they support; others have turned even further right. As a result, immigration is likely to be a continuing flashpoint, though this time around even Pauline Hanson supports socialised healthcare and the NBN.

Greens and Andrew Wilkie have a record of voting with the ALP, though Wilkie has stated he will not enter into any deals.  Cathy McGowan tends to vote with the Coalition. Previously Katter aligned with the LNP, though this time there’s no carbon tax on the table this time. Key issues for Katter are CSG, energy privatisation and land sales, all of which the ALP have made murmurs about, while the LNP are unwilling/unable to move on either. If that will shift the pragmatic Katter away from traditional alliances remains to be seen.  Xenophon has already said he will take the number of seats either party wins into account when negotiating agreements, so if that second seat in Grey comes to Team X then he will truly be the kingmaker.

Stiff Upper Lip
The new senate is going to be a mixed bag. Media and politicians alike may decry the election results as a circus as much as they like; but the people have spoken, just not coherently.

There are two truths in democracy: The voter is always right… and you get the government you deserve… and based on ABC.net.au and the AEC website, the senate is currently looking like this:

TABLES-senate

The trend for seats in doubt generally toward the right wing parties such as Katter, Shooters, Fishers, and Farmers, One Nation, and the various Christian groups.  As per predictions, the lions’ share will likely go to the major parties; though there is a chance that either Katter or One Nation will get across the line.

Given the wide range of voices represented in the senate, we need to ask the question: Where do the new senators stand on legislation?

The Sydney Morning Herald published this rough breakdown of each parties’ focus.  The Weasel takes a next step and looks at how the senators will likely vote on current key issues.

Positions garnered from official policy statements, news reports, and interest group websites.
Where there is no clear position, it can be assumed that senators will use the issue as a bargaining chip to further their own agenda.

Marriage Equality
Derryn Hinch:     Pro equality, parliamentary vote
Fred Nile:            Anti equality, pro plebiscite
Jacqui Lambie:   Anti equality, pro plebiscite, conscience vote for party.
Katter:                 Anti equality
Lib Democrats:   Pro equality, parliamentary vote
One Nation:        Anti equality, pro plebiscite
Xenophon:          Pro equality, parliamentary vote
see also Aus Marriage Equality site

Climate Change / Renewable Energy
Derryn Hinch:     No clear position
Fred Nile:            Sceptic, pro nuclear
Jacqui Lambie:   Supports action (in statements), pro nuclear, voting record unclear
Katter:                 Pro Action, stop CSG, extend emission target, boost ethanol production
Lib Democrats:   Sceptics, support mitigation, pro nuclear
One Nation:        Wants a Royal commission into climate science “corruption
Xenophon:          Pro Action, 50% reduction target by 2030

Recognition or Treaty with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
Derryn Hinch:     No clear position
Fred Nile:            Opposes Constitutional recognition, supports increased engagement
Jacqui Lambie:   Constitutional recognition, plus dedicated indigenous seats in parliament
Katter:                 Wants action, possibly prefers treaty
Lib Democrats:   Opposes Constitutional recognition
One Nation:        Opposes Constitutional recognition and treaty
Xenophon:          Supports Constitutional recognition

Education
Derryn Hinch:    No clear position
Fred Nile:           Improve education by adding bible study, and cutting Safe Schools
Jacqui Lambie:   Boost TAFE, introduce national-service style apprenticeship scheme
Katter:                 Pro funding boosts, also wants systematic education reform
Lib Democrats:  Stop Federal funding, pro deregulation, cut Austudy
One Nation:       Government subsidised apprenticeship scheme
Xenophon:         Pro Gonski, anti university deregulation

Royal Commission into Banking
Derryn Hinch:    No clear position, may support
Fred Nile:           No clear position
Jacqui Lambie:  Supports
Katter:                Supports
Lib Democrats:  No clear position, unlikely to support
One Nation:       No clear position, may support
Xenophon:         Supports

NBN
Derryn Hinch:    No clear position
Fred Nile:           No clear position, wants more infrastructure
Jacqui Lambie:  Supports FTTP
Katter:                Supports FTTP
Lib Democrats:  Prefers private competitive roll out instead of government
One Nation:       Wants high speed broadband, proposes wireless hubs for regions
Xenophon:         Supports FTTP

Federal ICAC
Derryn Hinch:    Probably Pro ICAC
Fred Nile:           No clear position
Jacqui Lambie:  Pro ICAC
Katter:                No clear position
Lib Democrats:  No clear position
One Nation:       Probably Pro ICAC
Xenophon:         Pro ICAC

Refugees
Derryn Hinch:     No clear position
Fred Nile:            Mandatory detention, prefers Christian refugees,
Jacqui Lambie:   Wants children out of detention, strict monitoring & quotas
Katter:                 Turnbacks, faster assessment, and supply work while on TPVs
Lib Democrats:   Mandatory detention, on/off shore processing, strict entry requirements
One Nation:        Turnbacks
Xenophon:          Dislikes offshore processing, increase intake, speed up processing

Healthcare
Derryn Hinch:     No clear position
Fred Nile:            Better spending, especially in aged care
Jacqui Lambie:   Supports socialised medicine, especially for combat veterans
Katter:                 Supports socialised medicine, wants more services for regions
Lib Democrats:   Abolish Medicare, privatise, The Market will provide… apparently
One Nation:        Supports socialised medicine
Xenophon:          Supports socialised medicine, focus on prevention

On the question of which senators get a six-year stint, and which three… well that is up to the senate.  There are two options:
1. Order-of-election; Out of the 12 state senators, whoever crossed the line first gets six years.
2. Recount; Votes are recounted treating the vote as a normal three-year cycle. Whoever would have been elected on that basis gets six years.
Which one the senate uses will likely depend on the three major parties, with Xenophon once again in position as king-maker. The inestimable Antony Green, of course, covers this question in more detail.

The anti-Islam voting block of Fred Nile, One Nation, and Lambie will bring up issues surrounding Muslim Australians and immigration generally; and likely to include senate inquiries into banning burkas or halal certification and labelling. The LNP could use this flashpoint as a major negotiating chip to pass other legislation; though that is unlikely to be the ABCC bill.

On practical and ideological matters of investing in education, healthcare, and infrastructure such as the NBN, the balance is definitely leaning toward the ALP.  Lambie, Katter and Xenophon have shifted to the centre on these issues, and the LNP can no longer rely on social policies to wedge support for their neo-liberal economic programme. Accepting a Federal ICAC may present the ALP with a ticket to govern, but marriage equality is unlikely to get anywhere unless the ALP can push an open vote. Action on climate will be problematic, expect another senate inquiry into nuclear power.

As predicted Derryn Hinch picked up the PUP and Ricky Muir vote, though really has very little to offer beyond his pet name-and-shame project, and animal justice.  Populist by nature, he could decide or shift his vote if a concerted push came from his electorate…

…and that is important to remember. You can write to your MP and your Senator to express your preference. This parliament is an opportunity for voters and community to have a real impact on the nature of the parliament, and what agenda the parliament pursues. Given that the independent parties may decide who gets to form government, the time to start writing is now.

The case for a Federal ICAC

On May 15 this year, the Australian Greens Leader, Senator Christine Milne, unsuccessfully introduced a bill to create a national anti-corruption body.  She makes a powerful case, raising many very concerning examples.  Every Australian should read what she had to say.

“The federal government is the only jurisdiction without the infrastructure to confront corruption. Every time wrongdoing is exposed, one-off reviews or ad hoc investigations are launched.

I want to take this opportunity to congratulate the people blockading at Bentley against Metgasco because today the New South Wales government has suspended the licence that was granted because there was no consultation with local people and because, through the Independent Commission Against Corruption investigations, it is pretty obvious that the licences were given wrongly. But it should not take ordinary citizens taking the action that they have to hold governments to account, to make sure that licences are not given as a result of money paid behind the scenes or undue influence or favours in any other way.

And now for the third time the Greens have this bill before the parliament to create this office to crack down on public sector corruption and promote integrity in our public institutions. In fact I cannot see why anybody would oppose setting up a national ICAC, and I will be very interested to hear what excuses are offered. It is pretty obvious that corruption does not end at the border of New South Wales; it does not end at any other state border. When you consider the likelihood of corruption in the federal arena, it is pretty overwhelming. So many major projects are dependent on some federal licence being given, some engagement with a federal agency. Therefore, there is a huge temptation for people, both at the political level and in the bureaucracy, to engage in talking with lobbyists-and who knows where it will end up.

I want to give an example that is on the go right now. You have the financial services industry, which did not like one little bit the fact that in the last government Labor and the Greens moved to change the law to require those people in the financial services industry to act in the best interests of their client. Now what is wrong with someone being required to act in the best interests of their client? You would expect that to be the case. But what has been revealed is that in a whole lot of the managed investment schemes, for example, the financial advisers were not telling the people they were selling the products to of the massive kickbacks that they, the financial advisers, were getting as a result of recommending that product. So what happened? The financial advisers became rich, but the people who bought the product, well those people lost and lost out badly.

When I think of the tragedy of the people who were sucked into buying from Great Southern Plantations, Gunns and the rest, you have to ask the question: how on earth did the financial services industry get to the point where it was able to con the parliament into agreeing that it could sell a product without having to act in the communities’ or its clients’ best interest?

Now we have a situation where the financial services industry has persuaded Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s government to change the act back to remove the need for financial advisers to act in the best interests of the client. And we what do we find? We find that the financial services industry is part of the North Sydney Forum, which is a fundraiser for the federal Liberal Party-in particular, Treasurer Joe Hockey. What does that tell you about the influence of lobbyists-the way that lobbying groups get involved in private fundraising engagement with political parties? The delivery is given here in parliament in terms of outcomes. And it is entirely secret. Until this was forced out recently, nobody would have known about that backroom dealing that was going on.

That is why it is critical. The same thing goes with novated leasing and a whole range of things, including the salary packaging industry. That industry is in there with the car industry to set up a situation where you can minimise your taxable income by going through this lurk of novated leases. We got rid of it in the last period of government, and I see that the current Liberal Party is about to restore the rort.

That is the kind of thing that goes on, and that is why the community is getting increasingly frustrated and wants to have some reassurance that there is some way of investigating what they can clearly see is on the verge of corruption, if not corruption.

In this Greens legislation, the National Office of Integrity Commissioner is modelled on the successful New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption. It is based on provisions in the Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner Act 2006. The first part of it is about the National Integrity Commissioner, and that is concerned with corruption in relation to public officials and Commonwealth agencies, and has full investigative powers, including public and private hearings and summoning any person or agency to produce documents and appear before the commissioner.

I think that is fair enough. Why shouldn’t public officials, Commonwealth agencies and parliamentarians be subject to that kind of oversight in the federal parliament? I will give you an example-it happened recently-which many people will have read about. Just in this last month we saw two men-one from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and another working with the National Australia Bank-using unpublished unemployment, retail and trade data at the Bureau of Statistics to trade in foreign exchange derivatives. Somebody working in a government agency was working with someone in the private sector and using that information. That insider trading brought in millions of dollars to the two men, but in this case it has been picked up by our criminal justice system. I am glad it has been picked up by our criminal justice system, but it may not have been. What pathways do members of the community have to put forward matters and have them investigated?

I want to go to another example-the issue of Securency, a subsidiary of the Reserve Bank. Mr Warburton has been appointed by Prime Minister Abbott to review Australia’s renewable energy target. We know that he has been the subject of a secret internal investigation into his role as a former director of a firm involved in Australia’s worst foreign bribery scandal. That investigation and those findings by KPMG were sent, in February, to the Reserve Bank Board. They deal not only with Mr Warburton and his fellow former Note Printing Australia directors but go to the knowledge of, and handling by, Note Printing Australia’s sanctions-busting trip to Iraq in 1998. Yet yesterday, when I sought the parliament’s approval to put that document on the table of the parliament so that we can know what exactly went on and what KPMG found out about those directors-in particular, Mr Warburton-the government and the opposition voted together to prevent the Senate order that would have required that report to be tabled in the parliament. I put the question: why shouldn’t the parliament have access to that KPMG report on what has gone on?

I want to give another example. One of my constituents, who I will not name, is a fisherman in Tasmania. He was approached by two Austrade officials in Japan. He was asked to provide fish to this supposedly Japanese businessman who they vouched for. They said he was a credible person and that they had done the due diligence. They said that the government wanted this trade in order to develop the relationship with Japan in high-quality seafood. So this fisherman went ahead and did it, at the request of Austrade. He was quite happy with his own business. He did not need this business but he went ahead with it because they asked him to.

The long and the short of it is that he provided the fish to this place in Japan-to the businessman whose bona fides Austrade vouched for. After a while the fish were collected but no payment was made. Later it was revealed that there was no such businessman. The person that Austrade had vouched for did not exist. Austrade had invited my constituent to get involved with a shonk. Why? In order to justify the Austrade office in Nagoya they had to show that they were turning over a certain amount of business. So they set up this whole thing. The result of it is that my constituent went broke, and the department backed their two officers to the hilt.

There was no natural justice in this. As far as I know, those two officials remain employed in Austrade. I think it is totally wrong. I have pursued it every which way, seeking natural justice for this person. But the bigger question here is: how many other Austrade officials around the world are setting up similar kinds of scams and presenting figures to the federal government on the extent of the business that they are engaged in when, in fact, it has all been set up to secure their postings rather than the business that was supposedly there to be delivered?

I will give you another example, under the Green Loans scheme in the last period of government. It was riddled with incidents of inappropriate behaviour from some public servants, who favoured particular suppliers. They split contracts so that they did not have to go to competitive tender. The audit reports into the scheme make for deeply troubling reading, with systematic breaches of procurement policies and basic financial management regulations. The question is: was it just maladministration or sloppiness? Were they under pressure to get these Green Loans and audits out the door? Did they do this in order to facilitate a government policy, to get it out the door? Or were any kickbacks paid? What actually was done when the audit reports came in and showed there were serious questions to be answered?

The public does not know, and neither does this parliament. Those of us who have constituents bring these things to us have no mechanism to have them investigated. And if we cannot actually give enough evidence for a breach of a criminal kind it goes nowhere. Well, I think that if it is good enough for the states to recognise that there is a high risk of corruption and that they want to actually try to eradicate corruption, then at the very least the federal parliament should go there as well.

It also goes to our international standing. We are a signatory to two important anticorruption conventions: the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, which entered into force in December 2005, and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development Convention on Combating the Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions. This is another one where Transparency International has previously criticised Australian law for its low and ineffective penalties for corruption. It found, in its 2009 report, that Australia made little or no effort to enforce the OECD Convention on Combating the Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.

I will give you another example: in Zambia, as I stand here, there is an Australian mining company over there trying to get a licence to put a mine in one of their biggest national parks. It was refused by the environment agency in Zambia but then that was overturned by a minister in that country. International NGOs have alleged clearly that money changed hands. And yet you have an Australian state government backing this company to the hilt. What is the arrangement? Who is involved in this?

You have the United States currently investigating BHP in China in relation to corruption. This was one of the things referred to the Australian Federal Police. It was not taken up by the Federal Police, but I raised it at the last estimates and they now have.

Equally, in Macau, where the Chinese took action against a citizen there for bribery in relation to casino developments-in particular, Crown casino developments. The Chinese citizen was jailed there for taking a bribe of $100 million to free-up the land for the casinos and provide the licences. And yet when that was referred to the Federal Police to look at from our end, what was done? Zilch, zero-nothing! Now, why? Why are we allowing this to happen? I would like to have a very considered explanation from my parliamentary colleagues in other political parties here as to what they could possibly have against setting up a national integrity commission-a commission against corruption.

The other thing we need to do is to reassure the public that the entitlements we get are appropriately accessed and spent. That is why as part of this National Integrity Commission, the Greens are saying that we want a new Office of the Independent Parliamentary Adviser, to advise MPs and ministers on entitlement claims and the ethical running of their offices that the public rightly expects. That adviser that would be tasked with developing a legally-binding code of conduct for MPs for the parliament to adopt.

Of course, this goes to the heart of the recent wedding scandal, where people had claimed expenses to go to various weddings, functions and so on, and the question was really: were those really for parliamentary business or were they using an entitlement just because they could get access to it? There was the famous case here, many years ago, of an MP who flew to Perth and back and who did not leave the airport lounge, simply to get the entitlement in relation to frequent flyer points. This was using a public, taxpayer funded fare to fly from the eastern states to Perth, sit in a lounge, have lunch and come back in order to get the frequent flyer points. This is why we have had the awful scandal in the last parliament with the former Speaker, Peter Slipper, and allegations made about him and his use of entitlements. But he is not the only one by any means. There have been a lot of allegations. That is why it is actually to the benefit of parliamentarians that we get this, because it enables people to go and ask the question, ‘Is this an appropriate use of my entitlements or not?’ and actually to have that sorted by someone who is overseeing it.

So I implore the parliament: corruption is serious. It distorts our democracy and it hurts communities, communities who end up like those in the Bentley Blockade, having to take action because governments have colluded with business to get the outcomes that business wants against the community. So, come on: let’s get a national ICAC for Australia and let’s do it in this parliament to restore and maintain our reputation, and to help build trust in the parliament rather than the level of cynicism about the revolving door between big business and politics.”

Fly United?

Bill Shorten has said “The only thing standing in the way of Tony Abbott winning another term in 2016 is our ability to stand together.”

I disagree.

I don’t want to just be part of a group standing there waiting for Abbott to implode. I want to rage against every injustice.  I want to expose the lies and hypocrisy.  I want to discuss what we must do to protect vulnerable people and a vulnerable planet.  Instead of the future of the budget, I want vision for the future of society to become the narrative.  I want our priorities reassessed.

The increasing level of government secrecy is very concerning. They have given themselves the right to snoop on all of us at the same time as legislating to convict journalists and whistleblowers who report on things that might embarrass our government, now called “special intelligence operations”, and designated as such by a politician.

This was supported by both major parties, as was the dismissal of the need for any form of federal ICAC.

Free Trade Agreements will be negotiated in secret but other countries’ private discussions will be bugged, not that we can report on that anymore.

Buying entry to a Minister’s office is acceptable.  Running campaigns is a costly business and if we didn’t get the money from developers and lobby groups then the public would have to pay for us to run.

Corruption? What corruption?  We don’t need no stinkin’ oversight!

We have seen this government’s willingness to circumvent high court rulings in cases regarding asylum seekers and school chaplains. Environmental protections are falling faster than old growth trees.

If the law is to be ignored, or changed without debate, and the journalists are silenced, we have created a fertile environment for exploitation.

Speaking of which, did you hear the one about companies paying tax? No?  Neither did I.

Both major parties want to decrease company tax. Gillard delayed it when the mining tax raised less than expected but Hockey is not only giving up the revenue from the mining tax, he also said in his budget speech

“To improve business opportunities, we are cutting company tax by 1.5 percentage points for around 800,000 businesses.”

One wonders why both parties consider this a priority when a recently released report shows companies gave themselves a far bigger cut by hiring good accountants. The report claims up to $80 billion was foregone by the taxman between 2004 and 2013.

“Almost 60 per cent of the ASX 200 declare subsidiaries in tax havens. For example, global broadcaster 21st Century Fox has 117 and logistics group Toll Holdings 72 in low-tax jurisdictions, including Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands and Singapore.

Nearly a third of companies have an average “effective tax rate” of 10 per cent or less.

James Hardie pays an effective rate of 0 per cent tax, Sydney Airport 2 per cent and Echo Entertainment – owner of Sydney’s Star Casino – a mere 5 per cent.”

When asked about the report this morning, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said Australia had some of the toughest anti-tax avoidance laws in the world.  Oh really?  I can tell you from personal experience, they pursue someone who gets overpaid on Family Tax Benefit far more assiduously than they do our big players who are being offered an amnesty if they just come home…all’s forgiven.  Taking on a team of lawyers and accountants is far harder than pursuing someone who underestimated their future yearly earnings by $1000.

But the most disappointing display of bipartisanship for me is watching Richard Marles compete with Scott Morrison for the credit for the “PNG solution”. I refuse to believe there is no better way.  Why can’t we process people in Indonesia and Malaysia and fly them here?  If this is about “breaking the business model of the people smugglers”, who’s going to pay to risk their lives on a leaky boat if they can fly Qantas?

Instead we send families and unaccompanied children to Nauru who are officially out of cash.

“Nauru’s finance minister says the country is out of money and services will soon start shutting down, including those for refugees.”

Or Cambodia whose corrupt officials are rubbing their hands together at the promise of $40 million to take 5 people on trial.

Or PNG where they are supposed to resettle peacefully with the locals who beat one of them to death and sent many more to hospital.

Foreign Aid has morphed into bribes to absolve ourselves of our responsibility as a signatory to the Refugee Convention.

So Mr Shorten, there are a few reasons why I cannot currently stand together with you. At the moment I see us flying united in the wrong direction for the wrong reasons.  If you would like to take a step or two towards integrity then perhaps we can meet somewhere and talk turkey.

Where is Labor?

The despair at the inaction of Labor is growing louder. The groups they are supposed to represent are under attack and all we hear is endless support for Tony Abbott’s warmongering.

Labor have been gifted a first year of Abbott government that has been so bad that they should be seizing the opportunity to reshape themselves as a viable alternative but all we hear is “our policies will be revealed in good time before the next election and they will be fully costed” or “we aren’t the government”.

A quick look at the last few days news stories provide endless material that, for some unknown reason, Labor seems too ineffective to capitalise on.

Our Prime Minister for Women has delivered a budget which modelling shows that the worst hit – by far – will be women in low-income households.

Just as Tony Abbott releases one of his ‘earnest and sincere’ videos saying that his government’s main motivations in future will be “protecting the vulnerable”, it might be opportune to point out that analysis, conducted by the Australia Institute, shows women in the poorest 20 per cent of households will be $2566 worse off in 2017 as a result of the budget.  Women in the wealthiest 20 per cent of households will be only $77 worse off on average in 2017.

Or perhaps, as our Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs jets off on his long-awaited trip to Arnhem Land, it might be worth mentioning the report in the SMH saying

Tony Abbott’s takeover of indigenous affairs is in “disarray“, public service insiders allege, with hundreds of specialist public servants retrenched, funding and programs stalled and staff morale in the “doldrums”.

Senior leaders in the Prime Minister and Cabinet department’s Indigenous Affairs Group have based themselves in Canberra’s dress circle, nearly 10 kilometres away from their rank-and-file workers, who are still reeling after repeated restructures to their workplaces.”

Now would be a good time to remind people of how much Tony Abbott has cut from the Indigenous Affairs budget and how many services are closing.

“For decades the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) has been providing legal aid in the remote town of Nhulunbuy, on the northern tip of Arnhem Land, as well as in the nearby community of Yirrkala and surrounding outstations.

But the agency is set to close its doors in Nhulunbuy at the end of the year, in anticipation of severe budget cuts, and is seeking a meeting with the Prime Minister during his visit.”

With the revelations from ICAC proving just how endemic corruption is in our political system, now would be a good time to push for a Federal ICAC.

As Errol Brandt points out at nofibs

“there is a deafening roar from social media calling for the establishment of a federal ICAC. Not because the public wants cheap entertainment, but because the revelations in NSW confirm what many have long suspected: entrenched unethical and illegal behaviour is festering in our the nation’s political shadowlands.”

Does anyone believe Bill Shorten when he says

“I think we’ve all been shocked at the revelations that have come out in NSW ICAC… I don’t believe the same case has yet existed to demonstrate these problems are prevalent in the national political debate in Australia.”

Rob Oakeshott certainly thinks otherwise as he calls for reform in the area of political donations.

“THE rules are simple: fight the bastards, bankroll the other side of politics, cause them damage until they learn to ignore treasury and finance advice and start listening instead to that grubby leveller in politics – money.

Whether it’s tax or carbon or gaming, this is the policy inertia of Australia today. Money is beating our long-term standard of living to death. It has sent many necessary policy reforms to the doghouse, and it keeps many others on the short chain.

Our key decisions for the future of Australia are now being outsourced at a level never before seen. Parliamentary democracy is going through its own sort of privatisation….”

Oakeshott points out the undue influence that wealthy people exert on political decisions which are no longer made in the best interests of the people. This is underlined by Gina Rinehart’s latest call for assistance as iron ore prices fall.  Rather than facing business risk like the rest of us, she wants the government to change the rules to increase her profits.

“Mrs Rinehart singled out red tape, approvals and burdens as addressable bureaucratic policies.

“Each one of these adds costs and makes it harder to compete successfully, risking Australian jobs and revenue,” Mrs Rinehart told The Australian.  “The government needs to better recognise this and world conditions, including various falling commodity prices and the contraction in jobs in Australia’s ­mining and related industries – and urgently cut bureaucratic ­burdens.”

The government needs to act to help reduce the costs placed on Australian miners, who are disadvantaged against international competition, Mrs Rinehart said.

Mrs Rinehart has previously warned that Africa is a much cheaper investment option, with workers willing to take jobs for $2 per day.

It was estimated at the time that while Mrs Rinehart was talking about pay rates for African workers, she was earning $600 a second.”

Andrew Wilkie is also angry at the influence of vested interests with Barnaby Joyce promoting the interests of his mates.

“The Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce is reportedly set to exempt Saudi Arabia from the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System, which would be the first step in undoing the modest animal welfare reforms of the last parliament.

“This is the government saying loud and clear to overseas markets: `we don’t care how you slaughter our animals’,’’ Mr Wilkie said. “This will have horrendous consequences for Australian animals that will be sent overseas to cruel and shocking deaths with the blessing of the Australian Government.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the Australian Government is a pack of sadists who seem to get some sort of unholy thrill out of knowingly promoting animal cruelty.

Barnaby Joyce in particular is beholden to money and his mates in that tiny part of the red-meat industry which exports livestock. But even there he is incompetent because the only way to ensure the red-meat industry is commercially sustainable over the long term, and have broad public support, is to end the cruelty.”

As Tony Abbott woos the Chinese in search of a Free Trade Agreement, someone should warn him that they are likely to impose tariffs on our exports as they move to an ETS.

“Just two months after Australia trashed its carbon price because it was “too high” and would “trash the economy”, China has flagged that its planned carbon trading scheme will cover 40 per cent of its economy and be worth up to $65 billion.”

Tony Abbott keeps telling us that repealing taxes will create jobs but, on so many fronts, his actions show little regard for creating employment.

The main public sector union is demanding urgent talks with the Australian Taxation Office over a proposal to move outsourced backroom functions to Asia.

The CPSU says it is “deeply concerned” after revelations that a giant multinational contractor wants to take ATO work to the Philippines and that Health Department work has been going to India for years.

Support for mining and agriculture will do little to help as, at its peak, the mining sector employed less than 2 per cent of the workforce, and agriculture, forestry and fishing employs about 3 per cent.

Withdrawing support for the car industry will see a huge number of job losses with even more for South Australia if the government chooses to buy Japanese submarines to replace the Collins class fleet.

But at present, the only policy the government has to tackle unemployment is lowering wage rates by, for example, getting rid of penalty rates and introducing low junior wages.

As Paul Malone points out

“The conventional response that our tradeable services will compete successfully on the world stage, significantly adding to our export income and keeping large numbers of our population employed, is laughable. If we can sell architecture services via the net, so can lower paid Indians.

The currently much vaunted sale of education services is in reality an immigration marketing program, where many students study here in the hope that they can win the right to live and work here.”

While our students become increasingly concerned about changes that will see them saddled with huge debts, Scott Morrison is busy announcing a new type of visa that will allow foreign students to come and study diploma courses at private colleges like the one Frances Abbott attends which has benefited from a great deal of favourable government legislation since they gave her a scholarship.

‘The number of international students seeking to study in Australia continues to rebound positively, with an increase of over 27% in the number of visas granted to offshore applicants in the 2013/2014 programme year,’ he pointed out.

‘Extending SVP arrangements will help capitalise on these trends, reducing red tape and helping to attract further students from overseas,’ he added.

Invitations to participate will be sent to eligible providers in the second half of 2014. The government proposes to implement this extension by early 2015, under the stewardship of Michaelia Cash, Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection.”

Even though small business is a huge employer, they too have been attacked by the Abbott budget.  It seems only billionaires and global corporations rate a mention nowadays.

“The Coalition has scrapped the tax concessions linked to the mining tax, including the company loss carry-back provision, which allowed loss-making businesses to claim back tax they’d paid in previous profitable years. Also cut were accelerated depreciation allowances or asset write-offs.

“The Coalition have said that they would be small business-friendly, they understand we are the backbone of the economy, that we employ a lot of people – all those sorts of things – and they would do anything they could to make sure our lives were easy enough so we could run our business, and they’ve done the opposite with this decision,” said Peter Strong, the executive director of the Council of Small Business of Australia (COSBOA).”

While Abbott talks of growth, he seems to have little idea of how to achieve it and is actually working against measures to reduce inequality.

“The federal budget took active steps towards increasing inequality and that sits in stark contrast to the discussions held at the G20 and now the L20 meetings. Youth unemployment is a critical issue for the Australian economy but has largely been ignored in favour of a crackdown on ‘dole bludgers’ and ‘welfare queens’.

There is a clear disconnect between our federal government and the L20, who are promoting a return to more inclusive growth, which benefits workers across the income distribution. The L20’s focus is long overdue — the national income share from wages has been declining for decades — but it’s a message that has clearly fallen on deaf ears in Australia.”

Abbott tells us that we must be innovative but at the same time cuts funding to research and ignores the advice of scientists, much to the chagrine of our chief scientist Ian Chubb.

“In the space of a fortnight we were encouraged to be advocates for science and then rebuked for “whinging” by a minister who in the same breath claimed to be on our side. That came as something of a shock.

Much has been said and written about how Australia punches above our weight in research and innovation in the past and present. We have in no way reached our capacity. We need long-term research funding, clear translational mechanisms and strong links with business. We need more blue sky research, not less, and we need to figure out smarter ways of funding and translating it.

Most of all, scientists need allies in parliament, and increasingly it appears we have none. Acknowledging that isn’t being a “precious petal”, and it’s not whingeing. These are big-picture issues, these are long-term issues, these are dreams and ideas about what we think our country can do and how we can bring it into the future.”

These are just a few of the stories from the last few days yet the nation, including the Labor Party, have been mesmerised by talk of terrorism even though there is no discernible threat other than “tens” of angry young men who our police force already seem to be watching.

If Shorten cannot man up and start presenting some credible alternatives to the disaster that is our current government then I am very fearful for our future.

Overbelly

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There is a scene being played out in the NSW ICAC that could well be a tv series entitled Overbelly about the nefarious dealings of the Overworld.

Obeid and Tripodi keep popping up but the toll for the other side is turning into a rout.  There are now seven Coalition parliamentarians standing aside from their normal duties in New South Wales, after featuring in ICAC’s investigations.

In Queensland, we have Ken Levy, the acting chair of the Crime and Corruption Commission, under police investigation as to whether he lied to a parliamentary committee, which is a criminal offence.

Mr Levy wrote an article in defence of the anti-bikie laws in the Courier-Mail.  When a parliamentary committee questioned this, it was disbanded.  The police investigation is about whether he lied about what contact he’d had with the government before he wrote the article.  It may seem trivial but if we cannot rely on the independence of our judiciary then we are stuffed.

Rules about political donations have been seen as just extra paperwork as money is transferred around.  Most of this is legal.  It isn’t illegal for someone’s mother to donate $580,400.  Any subsequent windfalls of development rights on crown property to someone have been absolutely legitimate . . . apparently.  Brown paper bags are so tacky when you have accountants and relatives.

People like Tony Fitzgerald and Ted Mack have long been calling for a Federal Corruption watchdog and the Greens have echoed their call.

In what appears to me a “head em off at the pass” move, the government quietly brought into existence an AFP-Hosted Fraud and Anti-Corruption Centre last week.

“The Coalition Government has formally established the (FAC) Centre located in the Australian Federal Police (AFP) headquarters, with the recent signing of a Commonwealth multi-agency Memorandum of Understanding—marking a new era in the approach to dealing with fraud and corruption at a federal level.

The FAC Centre brings together the Australian Taxation Office, Australian Securities and Investments Commission, Australian Crime Commission, Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, Department of Human Services, Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Department of Defence, and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in order to assess, prioritise and respond to serious fraud and corruption matters.

The FAC Centre has been designed to triage and evaluate serious and complex fraud and corruption referrals to deliver an effective Commonwealth multi-agency response when serious concerns are raised.

They will investigate serious and complex fraud, corruption and foreign bribery matters, including identity crimes.”

Well that should clear things up.

One wonders just how close is the association between Tony Abbott, George Brandis, and the AFP.  One wonders many things….like which slush funds are worthy of Royal Commissions and which cases of misuse of entitlements should be referred to the police.

To paraphrase Sixto Rodriguez…..

I wonder how many times we’ve been had

And I wonder how many plans are just bad

I wonder how many lives will be wrecked

I wonder do you know who’ll be next

I wonder l wonder wonder I do

 

I wonder about the love you can’t wed

And I wonder about the homeless unfed

I wonder how much caring have you got

And I wonder about our friends at the top

I wonder I wonder I wonder I do

 

I wonder about the tears in children’s eyes

And I wonder about the soldier that dies

I wonder will this hatred ever end

I wonder and worry my friend

I wonder I wonder wonder don’t you?

 

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