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Tag Archives: Free Trade Agreements

Morrison’s credibility as leader goes up in a cloud of smoke.

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now

From up and down and still somehow

It’s cloud’s illusions I recall

I really don’t know clouds at all

Clouds Joni  Mitchell

Clouds or clowns? The week’s politics offers both. A toxic miasma of 250 million tonnes of CO2 and clouds of sooty bushfire-smoke blanket vast tracts of eastern Australia yet also expose the Morrison government’s total leadership fail, while professional clown, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson has a huge win over truth, justice and democracy in the UK. In the US, Democrats finalise two articles of impeachment that are unlikely to bother President, Donald Teflon Trump.

“There is no Republican Party,” John Boehner, who served as House Speaker from 2011 to 2015, said last year. “There’s a Trump party. The Republican Party is kind of taking a nap somewhere.”

Ditto for the UK Conservative Party. And for Australia’s Liberals who retain the name only as some sick joke. Hilarious. Meanwhile, is Gus the badly-burned victim of the author of The Beauty Myth‘s vicious, anti-Semitism or is he just crying wolf? Could Angus Taylor be making some kind of Johnsonian run to be Australia’s next Prime Minister ? You decide.

What’s clear is Energy, Emission Reduction and Round-up Minister, Angus Taylor, is under a cloud of his own; the noxious emanations of allegations of outrageous water rorting, document forging and alleged lobbying of an environmental compliance officer (ECO) in 2016. The explanation he allegedly offers does not stack up.

Taylor sought permission to poison kangaroo or red anther wallaby grass and an associated threatened ecological community in the thirty hectare Jam Land grasslands in Monaro region NSW, a property located outside his electorate of Hume, weakening Taylor’s claim that his meeting was prompted solely by his constituents’ concerns.

Taylor did, however, meet with Geoff Richardson, the Department of Environment and Energy’s Assistant Secretary for the protected species and communities branch.

The department had prepared a briefing document on the grasslands which explained that the species had been protected since 2000 and that, collectively, temperate grasslands are among the most threatened vegetation in Australia, with only about 5% remaining in relatively undisturbed condition. It’s an indictment of our introduced agricultural practices and our land abuse.

Jam Land Pty Ltd is a Taylor family linked company in which one of Angus’ Cayman Island-registered companies has an interest through his family investment company Gufee. His brother, Richard Taylor, is the director of the company.

Now parliament’s shut its doors for 2019, hola! Gus is off like the clappers to Madrid. Labor wouldn’t grant him a pair, what with Scott Morrison’s erstwhile neighbour, former bin brother and mate, top NSW cop, Commissioner Mick Fuller, at the head of a strike force, he says is actively investigating Taylor over Clover gate.

Barnaby Joyce says Clover gate is a “triviality” which has gone on far too long. Leaking a false document to the Daily Tele to discredit Clover Moore is trivial? All the mayor has done is write to Taylor; tell him to lift his game on climate change.

At least Gus makes the last week of UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, COP25 which involves 190 nations. Why rush? No-one’s all that keen to see him.

Australia has already earned the Fossil of the Day award. Twice. Will Taylor, a noted wind-energy critic with close coal industry links be having another public tilt at windmills? Nope. Instead he ties up the conference with Kyoto credit nonsense.

Just to get the facts in context, Australia is responsible for about 1.3% of annual pollution, as our PM is fond of boasting. But this places us 16th on a ladder of polluting nations. We emit more each year than 40 countries with larger populations, including G7 members Britain, France and Italy.

Talk about punching below your weight.

Gus gives a speech which reprises former Environment Minister Greg Hunt’s twaddle about our “meeting and beating our targets” (but only if we cheat; use our carry over from Kyoto cop-out). Courageously, Taylor skips our outrageous plans to use 411m tonnes of CO2-equivalent credits from the previous Kyoto targets against the government’s newer Paris commitment. But he leaves it to delegates to resolve.

Absent from any reporting, or any Australian communication, is the story of how Howard Government Senator Robert Hill argued late in the night in Kyoto in 1997; how reliant Australia is on fossil fuel industries. How we needed a special favour.  Hill got his way. Whereas Europe promised to reduce emissions by 8% by 2012, compared with the base year of 1990, and the US agreed to cut by 7%, Australia was one of three countries allowed to increase emissions – by 8%.

But that wasn’t enough. Long after most major players had gone home or had passed out from exhaustion, Hill got the UN to accept land-clearing; include land-use changes in calculating emissions. The Guardian Australia’s Lenore Taylor sums up,

Restrictions that had already been imposed on large-scale land clearing – especially in Queensland – allowed Australia to rest assured it had achieved its new target before it even signed up to it.”

In other words, Angus Taylor is on a fool’s errand if he thinks he can sell our Kyoto carryover caper yet again. Yet in our brave new world where Trump’s United States can just pull out of Paris, how much does good faith really matter?

Taylor flies out Friday leaving a skeleton crew of Australian negotiators to put the carry-over case. Observers expect negotiations on carbon trading rules and other issues to last until at least Sunday, Australian time. Only Australia is willing to play that card says John O’Connor CEO of the Carbon Markets Institute and it’s not winning us any friends.

There’s a more than a touch of the quixotic; a lot of Boris in Angus Taylor -beyond each MP’s wealth, their hidebound sense of privilege and entitlement, their membership of elite families, their Oxonian education and their ludicrous buffoonery. In Taylor’s case, unlike Boris, however, the class act is also a family affair. Enter Louise Clegg.

Gussie’s wife, Sydney barrister Louise Clegg, unreliably rumoured on social media to have local government aspirations in Sydney, but who “does not speak to journalists”, is quoted in the Australian Financial Review warning that rolling blackouts might be needed to teach people that “left populism (is) not the answer” to Australia’s policy challenges. Opposed to coal? Let them light candles instead.

Some Liberal malcontents mutter about having a Minister for emissions reductions who doesn’t actually want to reduce emissions but that’s Scott Morrison’s trademark perversity in his captain’s call in allocating ministries to MPs with opposing interests and backgrounds. Keeps everyone on their toes. Fantastic. Great move. Well done, Angus.

“Tickets” Taylor clearly sees himself as “a rising Liberal star” who may be only a Dutton coup away from being Deputy Prime Minister. Or are his sights already on the top job? He’s certainly attracting a lot of attention in track work. Just not the right type of attention.

Gus fully expects to be allowed to play Kyoto-Carryover, a party trick, a rare form of carbon emission-figure-fiddling while Spain burns along with the rest of the world. Editor Maddison Connaughton observes in The Saturday Paper,

“In Madrid, Angus Taylor argues for carryover credits, so that the government might do less. The world is slowly ending and he is doing a card trick. He is not even doing it well, and has to ask the other countries if they will pretend they didn’t see him cheating.”

It helps to have galloping Gus out of the country while NSW police investigate The Mystery of the Doctored Documents, another Canberra soap bubble opera which concerns false claims about Sydney City Council’s exorbitant overseas travel bill his office dropped to the Daily Telegraph 30 September to discredit the green credentials of Sydney’s Lord Mayor, Clover Moore. Any day or month now, police are bound to solve this baffling case, given how much rides on its speedy resolution. Or not. Imagine how our AFP, with full TV camera crews, would bust Gussies’ office if he were Labor.

But now to BoJo, who modestly claims a huge great stonking mandate” in the UK general election, over anti-Semitic, socialist, dotard, Jeremy Corbyn – who offends the press by not immediately resigning; outliving his political demise. Bojo’s win heartens our own Coalition government of secrets, lies and rubbery figures and its Tory Story supporters in Murdoch’s The Australian, whose orgy of Corbyn-bashing parallels its relentless character assassination of Shorten in its epic Kill Bill campaign.

Australia’s sons let us rejoice in a victory for vanity and mediocrity. Even The New York Time’s Jenni Russell describes the contest in terms that would delight the late, great, absurdist, dramaturge Samuel Beckett:

Two vain, incompetent, mediocre charlatans are competing to become prime minister. For the Conservatives, we have the blustering, lying, oafish puffball Boris Johnson. In the Labour corner is the querulous, wooden, sanctimonious Jeremy Corbyn.”

In mirror images of our own oxymoronic Coalition’s MPs, Russell sees each UK pretender as ill- briefed, hazy on the facts and implications of policy proposals, uneasy under scrutiny and belligerent when challenged. Yet, again, as in our local, national soap opera “How good is Australia?” both MPs meet realities of stagnant wage growth, galloping economic inequality and a mounting workers’ sense of helplessness with lies – especially Boris’ Brexit consoling fantasy.

As both ScoMo and Donald Trump know, illusion and deceit can build a type of rusted-on loyalty; feed our emotional need to believe that our leader is on our team. It’s a blind faith; at best indifferent to facts – if not downright hostile.

How Good is Australia has a sequel. How good are Quiet Australians? It’s a narrative about blind obedience; a type of group-think loyalty which scorns key detail and elevates faith above empiricism, especially the science of climate change.

If you are going to tell a lie tell a big one. Angus Taylor knows that. The big lie is back -if it ever went. If your big lie looks absurd, then launch an even more outrageous counterfactual counter-attack. The figures did not come from Clover Moore’s Sydney Council website. Throw a staffer, such as Josh Manuatu, under a bus. Then attack Naomi Wolf for her Christmas Tree War. When that’s exposed as a blatant lie, call the Jewish feminist writer an anti-Semite. Or sexist.

What’s wonderful about Gus’ contribution to our public conversation is its inspired inclusivity. No elitism here. After all, most of us were Rhodes Scholars together at Oxford. We all have a Jewish grandmother somewhere and we’re all on first name terms with Naomi. Probably send her Christmas cards. Talk to her about how good is attending Mass.

Boris’ big lie? A quickie divorce from foreign control, the parasites, bludgers and tinpot dictators of the EU will make Britain great again. Instead, he’s more likely to preside over Scottish independence than anything faintly like the Great Britain of his followers’ magical thinking. Probably about one hundred years too late, Boris.

But, in a post truth age, deceit rules. Victory goes to best clown.  In a debased, corruption of the court jester, the most plausible liar, the most brazen dissembling toady to the powerful, wins. Enter the PM as best crowd-pleaser.

As with Trump, local fans bust a gut to cheer on a fellow fraud; rally around his bigotry, ignorance and monumental incompetence. Lionise his repulsiveness. Naturally, Pete Costello’s Nine News’ Sydney Morning Herald throws to our own James McGrath.

“You don’t become mayor of London, you don’t become foreign secretary, you don’t become the elected leader of the Tories, you don’t become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and you don’t secure a new Brexit deal against the odds by being a dunderhead,” slobbers Johnson’s former aide, our senator for Adani, local savant McGrath.

Unlucky Jim McGrath, “Let them go if they don’t like it here” was fired, by Boris, in 2008 for telling older, Afro-Caribbean Britons to return to the Caribbean if they didn’t like the vibe and other vast benefits of Tory rule in London.

You don’t become? – clearly, you do, Jimmy. Above all, your former boss, Boris’ has the gift of the gaffe. BJ’s way with words supercharges his natural tact, his homophobia, xenophobia and misogyny. It’s unifying. Uplifting. Inspiring.

Gay men love it when Boris calls them, “tank-topped bum-boys”. Women in burqas are cheered to hear Boris; ” would go further and say that it is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes.”

Britons in general -not just racist Brexiteers, are also hugely comforted to know that if “a female student turned up at school or a university lecture looking like a bank robber” Boris would ask her to remove it [the burqa] to speak to her.

Despite being fired for telling lies as a journalist, urbane, cosmopolitan Boris is a peerless wordsmith. Who else could claim, “Voting Tory will cause your wife to have bigger breasts and increase your chances of owning a BMW M3.” ?

Boris will Get Brexit Done, Rupert’s local toadies croak. It’s Johnson’s only slogan. Yes. The Oz is a political party in its own right, as Kevin Rudd knows. But hold the front page. Getting Brexit done will create a bonanza Down Under all wrought by the miracle of UK trade deals with Australia which will be signed off within a year. It’s a done deal.

Oddly overlooked by The Oz is that there’s not a skerrick of evidence to suppose that Johnson can get anything done. Au contraire, apart from Boris’ sheer brilliance as professional fabulist, serial womaniser and a policy-free zone on a bicycle – his entire political career is one of unrelieved, bungling ineptitude. And malignant narcissism.

Unless, of course you admire Boris’ cunning stunts and his peerless record for cop-outs and cock-ups. Crass theatrics. Above all, is Johnson’s endearing laziness, his inspiring, Trump-like resolve not to bother with the fine print or even read briefings at all.

Also forgotten by The Oz is heretical research that shows that our own, upright, tax-evading, wage-stealing business class are fully occupied in being the backbone of the nation -having a go and getting a go. They mostly can’t understand free trade deals, don’t use them because they are too complicated –  or they’ve lost buckets of money on them in the past.

Unsurprisingly, a survey of Australian businesses, big and small, conducted last year by our august Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, found local tycoons largely ignore free trade agreements.

Yet, in another sign of the times, Johnson’s Tory Party win is a big victory for mendacity. Morrison’s mob will take great comfort that Johnson’s government was helped into being by a farrago of online lies.

First Draft, a disinformation tracking organisation, finds 88 per cent of the most widely circulated online Tory ads during the first four days of December were misleading. That’s nearly all of them. First Draft found no Labor disinformation in the same period.

But it’s another thing to try to lie your way out of a real crisis; one that demands a rational response and real leadership – as Boris and Scott Morrison will discover.

A noxious miasma of acrid smoke smothers the yellow brick roads of The Emerald City poisoning Sydney’s air, over twelve times hazardous levels in Camden and Liverpool, Tuesday, as catastrophic fires continue to ravage the east coast of Australia, consuming over 2.7 million hectares of bush and destroying seven hundred homes in four weeks.

Commuters choke. Hospital emergency admissions soar. Ferry services are cancelled. Yet no smoke is thick enough to cloak the federal government’s wilful blindness; its failure of leadership. Morrison’s government is being tried by fire; bushfires of unprecedented scale and ferocity. And it is found lacking -utterly, comprehensively lacking. Not a clue what to do but to retreat into a type of paralysis.

The smoke is thick enough to trigger alarms at Liberal HQ in Sydney where Australia’s climate science denialist Prime Minister Scott Morrison neatly sidesteps the nation’s catastrophic bushfire crisis by holding a press conference on his post-truth, post-government’s religious discrimination bill, a sop to his right wing, which effectively foments intolerance by extending the definition of religious organisations to include hospitals and Op-shops. Smoke prevents from leaving the building.

“Let’s not beat around the bush … let’s call it for what it is. These bushfires have been caused by extreme weather events, high temperatures, the worst drought in living memory – the exact type of events scientists have been warning us about for decades that would be caused by climate change,” says Matt Kean, who is the leader at state level of the NSW Liberals’ moderate faction.

Kean is quickly clobbered; he cops a hiding for being right in The Australian. He’s accused of using the bogeyman of climate change as an excuse for not introducing any new initiatives – whatever they might be. It’s a straw man argument in which the Australian specialises. He’s also – shock – horror –“politicising the fires”.

“The [no new initiatives] revelation comes after Mr Kean attracted criticism for politicising the devastating fires — which have seen six people killed and more than 720 homes destroyed so far this season — by claiming the nation needed to prioritise the urgent reduction of carbon emissions to prevent catastrophic bushfire seasons becoming the new norm.”  Expect a lot more of this type of smear before the season of peace on earth and goodwill to all men and women is over.

But a few festive season shout outs are in order. Merry Christmas aged care executives – enjoy your $12 billion dollar a year subsidy and congratulations in lobbying govt to vote down Aged Care 2019 amendments to make aged care accountable  – as recommended by the current Royal Commission.

Public health researcher, Dr Sarah Russell, reports for veteran Walkley Award winning investigative reporter Michael West how a “few big interests” run our coalition government was on full show last week, when three critical amendments to the Aged Care Legislation Amendment (New Commissioner Functions) Bill 2019 were tabled. The Liberal-Nationals voted against all amendments.”

The amendments would have been a watershed in aged care – holding private firms accountable for their duty of care rather than maximising their profits. To vote down the reforms makes a mockery of the Commission’s findings and stalls vital transparency and accountability around finances, staffing ratios and complaints in aged care homes.

Yet you’ll hear a lot of boasts about the number of new home care packages available. Few of us are ever frail enough to warrant any kind of care package at all. Most packages available to average candidates offer very limited practical help.

The elderly do not need neoliberal packaging, any more outsourcing, service-delivering or commodifying. They need a government prepared to exercise humanity and to reform a system which horrifies Royal Commissioners by its cruelty, its abuse and its neglect of our senior citizens – all in the interests of a privatised age care system which works mainly for the financial benefit of owners and investors..

Season’s greetings also to all pensioners who may still be able to fend for themselves.

Waiting until the last sitting day, the Coalition uses its numbers to quietly push through its Social Security Integrity Bill which will make life harder for 400,000 Australians. Newstart recipients are mostly over 45. A quarter are over 55 years old.

Labor’s Linda Burney, Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services is furious at the arbitrary, uncaring injustice.

” … the two onerous or odious bits of this bill is what’s called the Liquid Assets Waiting Time. If you are a middle aged man, who’s lost their job; been made redundant; and you have more than $36,000 in the bank – or if you’re single and have $18,000 in the bank – the government wants to double the wait time before you can access social security.

So it’ll go from 13 weeks to 36 weeks, which is half a year. And it means that the government expects people to run down all their savings – any buffer they’ve got for a disaster in their life, like sickness – before they can access social security.

The second aspect of this bill which is odious as well is what’s called the migrant wait time. That means if you’re someone that’s migrating here from overseas, and you go back to your home country for more than six weeks the government wants to take the age pension supplement off you.

One final image of a government out of touch with those in its duty of care; a government crippled by internal division and its servitude to climate change deniers in its ranks and its donors; our coal barons and fossil fuel magnates, occurs Tuesday.

The bushfire smog is so thick that it triggers fire alarms trapping occupants of Liberal HQ in Sydney. Prevented from leaving also, is a climate science denialist PM who is trapped in a building by smoke from fires fuelled by man-made global warming, a term which the press has largely dropped in favour of the neutral “climate change”.

Time to drop the ideology, Mr Morrison. If you can’t join the dots connecting climate change and catastrophic bushfires, it’s high time you stepped aside in favour of someone who can. Or sought advice from experts. Not turn away when former fire chiefs try to help you with their advice and expertise.

Given your government’s track record, so far, however, it’s clear that you are a dangerous liability in the current crisis. You are not just fiddling while a nation burns, you are feeding the flames with your inertia, your policy paralysis, your wretched climate science denial. Time to declare a state of national climate emergency as a first step to taking the type of emergency action that experts are urging you to adopt.

Twenty-three former fire and emergency leaders say they tried for months to warn you that Australia needed more water-bombers to tackle bigger, faster and hotter bushfires. Former NSW Fire and Rescue chief Greg Mullins — one of the founders of the Emergency Leaders for Climate Action Group — says his group’s been seeking a meeting with Federal Government to discuss the crisis since April.

Subsequent pleas fall on deaf ears. Time to act step aside in favour of someone who can. Australia’s current crop of catastrophic fires are not about petty party politics and climate science denial. They are a real and pressing danger you need to address now.

Call the National Summit which Greg Mullins and Lee Johnson, two former fire chiefs from NSW and Queensland, say we need immediately to work out “how to deal with the increasing strain on volunteers battling more extreme and frequent bushfires, but also how Australia deals with fire in a changed climate.” Listen to them.

“What we’re saying long term is there needs to be a paradigm shift for how we deal with these fires,” former chief of NSW Fire and Rescue Greg Mullins says.

“A big national conversation needs to be had. We need farmers, councils, the military, politics.”  Of course, it won’t solve the crisis but it’s a very good start.

Instead we have a federal government and a headstrong, obdurately stubborn PM unwilling and incapable of taking any advice that is not his own or from powerful cronies whose views he already shares. It’s a lethal combination. A deadly Canberra bubble all of Scott Morrison and his ministers’ own making.

Don’t look to Boris Johnson’s win as some kind of vindication; far better that you treat it as a warning that even a lunatic, incompetent, clown born with a silver spoon in his mouth can get elected PM but there’s no reason to believe he knows remotely where to begin when it comes to governing. Nor does he have the personality or the nous to ever learn. If that sounds familiar, it’s time you, yourself, stood aside or at least owned your own cluelessness. The bluffing just adds another potentially lethal layer of disaster.

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Michaelia should read her own reports

In October last year, Minister for Employment Michaelia Cash issued a media release about the China Free Trade Agreement.

“The landmark China-Australia Free Trade Agreement will unlock immense benefits for Australians for many years to come,” Minister Cash said.

“As well as adding billions to the economy and drive higher living standards for all Australians, this deal will ensure thousands of jobs are created across all States and Territories.”

“It greatly enhances our competitive position in key areas such as agriculture, resources and energy, manufacturing exports, services and investment – these are industries that already generate many jobs but importantly they are sectors where we will see extraordinary opportunities for future jobs growth.”

Sounds good, until you read a report issued by the Minister’s Department of Employment last month titled the Employment Outlook to November 2020 which states that, for the five years to November 2020, employment in manufacturing is projected to decline by 45,700 (or 5.3 per cent), mining by 31,900 (or 14.1 per cent), and agriculture by 9,400 (or 3.1 per cent).

The largest fall across all sectors is projected for Motor Vehicle and Motor Vehicle Part Manufacturing  (down by 27,500 or 58.3 per cent), following the announced plant closures by major car manufacturers. A number of other sectors in Manufacturing are also projected to decline such as Clothing and Footwear Manufacturing (5,600 or 34.6 per cent), Other Fabricated Metal Product Manufacturing  (4,900 or 7.7 per cent) and Furniture Manufacturing (4,100 or 11.6 per cent).

The report also shows that, despite advertising campaigns by billionaires and compliant politicians suggesting otherwise, mining contributed only 11,300 to employment growth over the last five years and the future is not rosy.

Employment is projected to decline for a number of mining-related sectors. The largest decline is projected for Coal Mining (8,800 or 20.5 per cent), reflecting weak global demand. Employment is also projected to decline in Metal Ore Mining (7,900 or 11.9 per cent), Exploration (6,700 or 18.0 per cent), Heavy and Civil Engineering Construction (4,800 or 6.5 per cent) and Other Mining Support Services (3,000 or 15.4 per cent).

As Barnaby Joyce talks about how well he has done with record prices, Sheep, Beef Cattle and Grain Farming is projected to record one of the largest falls over the period (14,000 or 16.3 per cent).

Over the past few decades the Australian economy has continued to shift away from lower skilled jobs towards a higher skilled, service based economy and this trend is projected to continue over the five years to November 2020, with the strongest employment growth, in percentage terms, projected for those with Diploma or higher qualifications.

The employment level of Labourers is projected to fall by 14,600 (or 1.3 per cent) in the five years to November 2020.  Overall, the majority of the occupations projected to decline fall within the lowest skill levels, where seven of the bottom 10 occupations have a skill level commensurate with a Certificate III or lower (for example Product Assemblers and Bookkeepers). The remaining three of the 10 bottom occupations have a skill level commensurate with Certificate IV or Certificate III with at least two years on-the-job training (Secretaries, Structural Steel and Welding Trades Workers and Metal Fitters and Machinists).

What is the government’s plan for jobs for these people?

Australia’s largest employing industry sector – Cafés, Restaurants and Takeaway Food Services, also supported by domestic tourism and further increases in international arrivals, is projected to make the largest contribution to growth over the five years to November 2020 (up by 84,300 or 14.9 per cent).

The largest projected occupation increase is for Sales Assistants (General) (up by 65,800 or 11.9 per cent), the bulk of whom are employed in Retail Trade.  Healthcare workers and carers are strongly represented with employment projected to increase by 51,400 (or 20.0 per cent) for Registered Nurses, 43,000 (or 30.6 per cent) for Aged and Disabled Carers, and 39,000 (or 26.1 per cent) for Child Carers.

It should be noted that this government wants to cut penalty rates, have already blocked wage increases for aged and child care workers, and have slashed hospital funding, all of which will impact on our biggest projected growth occupations.

Structural changes in the labour market favour service industries which tend to be concentrated in eastern capitals.  Employment in metropolitan areas is projected to increase by 9.5 per cent over the next five years, compared with 5.8 per cent projected for regional Australia.

At the more detailed regional (SA4) level, employment growth is projected to be strongest (in percentage terms) in Sydney – North Sydney and Hornsby (up by 35,200 or 15.1 per cent) and Sydney – Eastern Suburbs (23,600 or 14.4 per cent), while the largest projected increases in employment (in thousands) are for Melbourne – Inner (48,400 or 13.9 per cent) and Gold Coast (35,700 or 11.4 per cent). By contrast, employment is projected to fall by 300 (or 0.7 per cent) in South Australia – Outback and very weak growth is projected for Queensland – Outback (100 or 0.2 per cent) and Western Australia – Wheat Belt (600 or 0.9 per cent).

The free trade agreements were supposed to create jobs.  Lord knows, they tell us that often enough, but the facts show otherwise.  It is apparent that the FTAs will exacerbate low-skilled and regional unemployment, hitting those who are least resilient and most likely to sink into poverty.  It’s all very well to talk about breaking the cycle of welfare dependency but this government is actively destroying jobs and industries as they entrench the interests of major corporations at the expense of ordinary citizens.

And Malcolm’s coup has done nothing to turn things around despite his “jobs, jobs, jobs” rhetoric.

Over the first six months of 2016, the pace of employment growth has slowed considerably, with the level of employment rising by just 0.4 per cent.  The decade average growth is 1.8% per annum (this period includes the GFC).

In monthly terms, the latest ABS Labour Force Survey showed a trend employment increase between July and August 2016 of 0.08 per cent, which remains below the monthly average over the past 20 years of 0.15 per cent. The rate of growth in employment has remained below this average for the past eight months.  The trend underemployment rate increased to a series high of 8.6 per cent in August 2016.

Ian Verrender sounds a warning on the Drum pointing to the Productivity Commission’s findings that free trade agreements – especially bilateral deals – do very little in improving trade. In fact, they can be downright damaging. The Australia-US Free Trade Agreement, signed a decade ago, now costs about $US53 billion in lost trade per annum.

As Turnbull and Bishop lecture the Americans about the TPP, it should be understood that it has very little to do with free trade creating jobs – moreso extending monopoly powers of American corporations, while maintaining tariffs and quotas for US farmers,  and entrenching power and governance among the wealthy.

Free Trade Agreements – economic or electoral?

Since September 2013, the ‘achievements’ of our government could be broadly summarised by ‘knock it down, rip it up, sell it off or shoot it.’

Their one supposedly constructive achievement, apart from promises about roads, is hastily finalising several free trade agreements.

Aside from the co-incidence/concern of agreements that had been negotiated over several years all reaching conclusion at the same time (what did we agree to?), are these actually in Australia’s best interests or are they just political opportunities?

When John Howard signed the Free Trade Agreement with the US in 2004, it was suggested that his motive was electoral rather than economic – to highlight the American alliance and hope that if Labor opposed it it could be cast as anti-American, and hence a security risk.

The Coalition’s reaction to Labor’s attempts to safeguard Australian jobs in the China FTA has used a similar approach, branding Labor as racist.

In the first five years after the signing of the US FTA, Australia’s exports to the US grew by only 2.5 per cent, compared with double-digit growth for exports to all the major Asian trading partners.  America slipped from third to fifth among Australian export destinations, overtaken by Korea and India.

By 2009, the value of Australian exports to the US was only about a quarter of those to the two leading customers, China and Japan. The four Asian countries together took more than 10 times the value of exports to the US despite having no such trade agreements.

Moreover, between 2004 and 2009, the bilateral trade gap in America’s favour grew even larger. Australia’s imports from America grew much more quickly than its exports to America. According to US data, the gap in America’s favour grew from $US6.4 billion to $US11.6 billion.

In 2004 Australian exports to America were worth about 54 per cent of the value of imports from that country. By 2009 the figure was down to 41 per cent.

And our current endeavours do not promise any better.

Hockey’s second MYEFO showed a revenue write-down of $1.6 billion due to the FTA with Japan.

Also, the agreements with Japan and Korea effectively sounded the death knell for our car industry and manufacturing more broadly.

The Chinese deal on beef is only for an extra 10% exports before a trigger where tariffs will be charged again, and the proposed tariff reduction will not fully take place for nine years.

Agribusiness lawyer Lea Fua told a Brisbane hearing that China has a safeguard clause which allows it to add customs duties to fresh and frozen beef carcasses and meat when Australian beef imports hit a volume trigger of 170,000 tonnes.

“In 2013-14, Australia exported 161,000 tonnes of beef to China worth $787 million,” Mr Fua told the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Treaties.

“The concern here is that given the growth in Australian beef exports to China, which has been exponential in the last few years, the risk here is that the trigger will be reached fairly quickly and China is able to apply extra customs duty which appears to be against the spirit of chapter two [of the FTA],” he said.

Mr Fua said a similar situation applies to Chinese imports of Australian milk and cream solids.

As Bob Katter has warned, rather than being the food bowl for Asia, on current trajectory, Australia will become a net importer of food, and pretty much everything else other than coal and iron ore.  This will have significant implications for domestic prices as farmers can make a greater profit by exporting their produce.

If, as the unions warn, foreign companies are allowed to bring in their own workers, it becomes even more difficult to believe these agreements are in the best interests of our country.

A bilateral meeting with a friendly leader presents many domestic political advantages. It gives the appearance of advancing the national interests and attracts intense and usually uncritical media coverage, but it inevitably favours the biggest countries, such as the US and China. Their power affords them superior bargaining leverage to win concessions favouring their domestic constituencies.

After bilateral meetings, leaders can sing each other’s praises and hail the breakthrough their mutual brilliance has achieved. In practice, the promised benefits often fade just a little more slowly than the TV lights.

 

Premature congratulation

The Abbott government suffers from a bad case of premature congratulation.

We have had a parade of Hockey, Cormann, Frydenberg, Abbott and others telling us that they have halved Labor’s debt – which is a rather bizarre claim considering the gross debt has increased by $83 billion (and counting) since they took office.

Joe Hockey tells us that “job creation across the economy is running at around 15,000 new jobs a month. This is three times larger than the average of around 5,000 jobs a month last year.”

Aside from the fact that there is no measure of “new jobs” (job ads do not differentiate between new and existing jobs), comparative figures show that, in the 19 months from August 2013 to March 2015, there was a rise of 52,300 in the number of people employed and a rise of 56,200 in the number of people unemployed.  The aggregate monthly hours worked fell from 1,647.3 million hours to 1,628.7 million hours.  In other words, employment has not kept up with population growth and those who are working are working less hours.

Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister Christian Porter informs us that cuts to red tape have delivered $2.5 billion in savings in compliance costs since coming to Government.  To arrive at this figure they have done some very creative accounting.

People buying prepaid mobile phones will only have to go through the identity check once, not twice, saying that will save $6.2 million.

He said rejigging the e-tax website so the data entered the previous year shows up would save time and cut costs by $156 million and he said there was a $17 million saving in scrapping regulations that banned people using mobile devices on take-off and landing in planes.

The costs were partly calculated by working out how much time people or businesses would have spent complying with the rules and then what their time was worth.  Who would have thought that turning off your phone for a minute would have cost so much?

Andrew Robb has been showered with praise for completing several free trade agreements.  The secrecy surrounding these negotiations makes it very hard to understand the full implications but the FTA with Japan alone led to a $1.6 billion write down in revenue.  One must wonder why these countries, after years of negotiation, were all willing to sign off so quickly all of a sudden.  I fear our Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme will be under attack very soon, along with our plain packaging laws, and that manufacturing will have no future in this country.

We have also been barraged by a litany of self-congratulation for “stopping the boats”.  Whilst the number of boats is less, they certainly haven’t stopped, even under the threat of incarceration and torture at the other end.  But more to the point, what has this policy achieved in helping the growing tide of displaced people around the world?  We pretend to care about deaths at sea but apparently don’t give a toss about what is happening to those we turn away.

The gold award for premature congratulation, however, must surely go to Greg Hunt who, in one day, would have us believe that he cut our emissions by 4 times what occurred under carbon pricing and for 1% of the cost.  This unbelievable statement is so wrong on so many counts it is hard to know where to begin.

A study by the ANU showed that emissions reductions directly attributable to the carbon price in the electricity sector alone had achieved an abatement of between 11 and 17 million tonnes over its two year life while raising around $6 billion in revenue.  Abatement would have been even higher had the industry believed the carbon price to be permanent.

Whilst it’s true that demand has been falling for some time, 2013’s 0.8 per cent economy-wide fall in emissions was the largest annual reduction in the 24 years of monitoring. In the power sector, the industry most directly covered by the carbon price, emissions fell 5 per cent.

Hunt’s ridiculous statement that the carbon price was $1,300 per tonne has been lambasted by experts for the lie that it so obviously is.  The real price was in the 20-odd dollar range, and if the carbon tax had been allowed to develop into an emissions trading scheme, which it would’ve by now, the price would be linked to the European system which is trading at around the $10 mark.

Hunt’s other glaring omission is that while the Coalition’s policy is a cost, the carbon tax raised revenue.

What the government has actually done is spend $660 million of taxpayers’ funds buying a possible 47 million tonnes of carbon abatement – 25% of their total budget for 15% of the required abatement.

As reported in New Matilda, there’s also no guarantee the contracts companies won in Thursday’s ‘reverse auction’ will be discharged before the 2020 deadline. Many of them extend for seven or 10 years, and the government has not provided information about when the abatements need to be achieved.

“The experience with grant-based mechanisms is some of the projects proposed or actually contracted don’t happen in actual fact,” Professor Jotzo said. Even if they do, the types of projects contracted so far are largely land-fill and agriculture abatements, many of which may have been occurring already under ‘carbon farming’ initiatives, or would have occurred anyway.   Hunt is very much counting his chickens before they have hatched.

A very excited Andrew Robb also informed the Mines and Money Conference in March that “Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt has quickly approved 145 projects worth over $1 trillion in economic value; the majority of which are in the resources and energy sector.  Federal project approval times have been slashed to below 200 days from an average of 470 days in 2012.  We have created a ‘one-stop shop’ for environmental approvals that eliminates duplication between states, territories and the Commonwealth, saving business $426 million per year.”

The trouble with fast tracking approval is that companies lie and it takes expensive court cases to prove it.

A Queensland court has heard expert evidence from Adani’s own witness that the Indian company which wants to build Australia’s largest ever coal mine has drastically overstated the project’s benefits to the Queensland public.  And in other explosive evidence, a senior company official said he “could not comment” on speculation the company had been structured to siphon profits off to Singapore, Mauritius and the Cayman Islands, to avoid Australian company taxes.

Adani’s claims about the number of jobs the project will create have already been referred to the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission by the Australia Institute, which argues they have been inflated by 300 per cent.

Adani has also claimed that the mine would generate “$22 billion in mining taxes and royalties in just the first half of the project life”.   Even their own expert belies this claim, estimating that royalties will actually amount to just $7.8 billion and corporate taxes will add around $9.96 billion over the 30-year period under consideration.  This too is being challenged as they apparently used a company tax rate of 32% rather than 30% and have been actively structuring their company to “optimise” their tax obligation.

Earlier this month, as part of the Land Court proceedings, the mining giant argued that the world is on track to a 3.1 degree temperature rise and if they don’t dig up the proposed 60 million tonnes of coal annually, another, potentially foreign, company will. Such a rise in temperatures, Adani’s expert witness conceded, would ultimately destroy the Great Barrier Reef.

When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, considered to be a close friend of Gautam Adani, attended the G20 conference in Brisbane last year, he announced a $1 billion loan for the Adani project from the State Bank of India.  Apparently, this offer is being withdrawn, adding to the growing list of banks and financial organisations refusing to offer finance for the proposed mines.

So despite all the back-slapping and self-congratulation indulged in by the Coalition, it is hard to find any tangible benefit from having the adults back in charge.  The reality is that the debt and deficit are worse, unemployment is worse, our sovereignty to make health and environment laws is at risk, our emissions are increasing, investment in renewable energy has ceased, we are endangering the Great Barrier Reef, and we have done nothing to help asylum seekers.

But rest assured, by keeping your phone on during take-off and landing, you are saving the country millions.

The chilling reality of the TPP

Image from antinuclear.net

Image from antinuclear.net

What could the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – currently being negotiated by the Abbott Government – mean for Australia? Of concern, reports Mel Mac, is that it means our rights are being secretly traded away.

The TPP was conceived in 2003 as the Trans-Pacific Strategic Partnership Agreement (TPSEP) as a path to trade liberalisation in the Asia-Pacific. The original participating countries were Chile, New Zealand and Singapore with Brunei joining in 2005. In 2008 the United States of America (USA), Australia, Peru and Vietnam joined, followed on by Malaysia, Mexico, Canada and Japan. China and Korea have expressed interest but the USA did not bring it up when President Barrack Obama last visited the Chinese President Xi-Jinping in November 2014. This was puzzling to most as the USA has made so much of the TPP and it’s nervousness about China’s growing might economically and militarily.

Free Trade Agreements (FTA) deal mostly with goods being imported at a certain price as long as certain environmental and labour standards are met. What’s different about the TPP is that the treaty has 29 chapters, dealing with the whole scope of tariff and agricultural quota removal and market access on sensitive products, but in particular agricultural goods. It also includes provisions over nontariff issues such as intellectual property rights, the environment, state-owned enterprises, and investment. Japan was the last to join in 2013, and agriculture as well as the auto industry has long been a sticking point in Japanese trade liberalisation and held up the TPP negotiations with the USA. However recent agricultural reforms by Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has tipped the power of balance back into the governments favour and away from Japan’s most powerful farm lobby, the Japan Agriculture Cooperative (JA). In January this year Japan offered to import more rice from the USA while keeping existing tariffs in place, and the USA agreed to stop demanding that Japan ease its car safety standards. In early February this year, progress was made on issues such as state-owned enterprises, environmental protection, and investment. This not only paves the way for greater market liberalisation and deregulation in Japanese agriculture but enables Mr Obama’s plan to “fast track” push for Congress approval to conclude the TPP within the year.

What is of the most concern is the provisions over not only the aforementioned non-tariff issues of intellectual property rights, the environment, state-owned enterprises, and investment but the Investor State Dispute Settlements provisions (ISDS). ISDS allows multinational corporations to sue governments if they’re deemed not to be acting in their best “interests”. It can potentially place limits on governments being able to develop their domestic laws and policies in areas such as public health, patents on medicine, the environment, food labeling, Internet use and privacy and even local media content. Australia for example is currently entrenched in it’s first investor-state dispute since November 2011 with Philip Morris Asia, due to the introduction of the ‘Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011′ (TPPA). The laws were introduced by the former Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s government, as a health measure but Philip Morris Asia amongst the many breaches, believes that it infringes their intellectual property. Previous Australian Labor Party (ALP) and Liberal National Party (LNP) governments have in the past only included ISDS in trade agreements with developing countries that don’t have investments in Australia and they weren’t included in the US-Australia FTA. American corporations are the most frequent users of ISDS and the “safeguard” clauses countries employ to protect themselves can and have been re-interpreted and over-turned through the arbitration process. Philip Morris International Inc in the Australian case for example is challenging the tobacco plain packaging legislation under the 1993 Agreement between the Government of Australia and the Government of Hong Kong for the Promotion and Protection of Investments (Hong Kong Agreement) by using it’s Asian arm to circumnavigate them.

The former Gillard government also decided to ban the inclusion of ISDS in future trade agreements, they didn’t think that it harmed investment as did the Productivity Commission. Even where corporations do lose they have dragged governments through lengthy and expensive legal processes with dispute settlement cases being heard by tribunals of three private-sector lawyers whose decisions are beyond appeal. The tribunals tend to be more concerned with assessing potential damage to corporate investments over the protection of government or public interest. There are more than 500 of these disputes being launched globally and more than $3bn being paid by out governments, meaning taxpayers, to corporations under existing US trade and investment agreements alone.

Not only is there strategic litigation employed by corporations but there is a concept known as “regulatory chilling”, which is the alleged case with Philip Morris Asia suing Australia for example, they’re able to put pressure on other countries considering plain packaging regulations too. According to Dr Kyla Tienhaara: “The Australian government has suggested that Philip Morris is currently engaged in trying to achieve global regulatory chill through its case by basically showing other countries that might want to introduce plain packaging legislation ‘Look what we’re doing to Australia.’ This is actually working because countries are saying, ‘We’re going to wait to find out what happens with that case before we go ahead with our regulations.”

Lone Pine Resources filed a $250m lawsuit against the Canadian government when Quebec placed a moratorium in June 2011, which was expanded into 2012, banning drilling and fracking processes for oil and gas underneath the St. Lawrence River, until a strategic environmental evaluation was completed. “Based on the principle of precaution, the Quebec government’s response to the concerns of its population is appropriate and legitimate,” said Martine Châtelain, president of Eau secours! (Quebec based Coalition for a responsible management of water). “No companies should be allowed to sue a State when it implements sovereign measures to protect water and the common goods for the sake of our ecosystems and the health of our peoples,” Ms Châtelain added.

Again back in Canada, they are popular with these disputes unfortunately, is the case of Eli Lilly and Company, which is an American global pharmaceutical company (and it’s fifth biggest). They filed a $500m law suit against Canada for violating its obligations to foreign investors under the North American FTA for allowing its domestic courts to invalidate patents for two of its drugs. Canadian courts found that there was a lack of evidence supporting the drug’s alleged benefits.

According to Forbes in 2013 the biggest profit margins produced be USA corporations were in the Pharmaceuticals, Banks, Car makers, Oil and Gas makers and Media industries. In 2013, US Pharmaceutical Pfizer, the world’s largest drug company, made 42% profit margin. As one industry veteran put it: “I wouldn’t be able to justify [those kinds of margins].” In the UK that year, there was widespread anger when the industry regulator predicted energy companies’ profit margins would grow from 4% to 8% for the year. Last year, five pharmaceutical companies made a profit margin of 20% or more, these were – Pfizer, Hoffmann-La Roche, AbbVie, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Eli Lilly.

The problem isn’t just with the massive amounts of seeming profiteering but the fact that the drug companies spend far more on marketing drugs, in some cases twice as much, than on developing them. Johnson & Johnson (US) total revenue for 2013 was $71.3bn with a profit of 13.8%, it only spent 8.2% on research and development, yet 17.5% was spent on sales and marketing.  Drug patents are usually awarded for 20 years, but 10-12 of those years are spent developing it at a cost of up to $2.5bn, leaving eight to ten years to make money before the formula can be taken up by generic drug companies. Once this happens, sales fall by 90%-plus. Joshua Owide, director of healthcare industry dynamics at research company GlobalData, explains, “Unlike other sectors, brand loyalty goes out the window when patents expire.” This is why pharmaceutical companies go to such extraordinary lengths to extend their patents, a process known as “evergreening”, employing “floors full of lawyers” for this express purpose, one industry insider has said. And with a drug raking in $3bn a quarter, even a one month extension can be worth a lot of money. Some drug companies, including the UK’s GSK, have been accused of more underhand tactics, such as paying generics to delay the release of their cheaper alternatives. This is a win for both industries, as it has been said that the loss of the big pharmaceuticals far outweighs the generic industries revenue.

What can all of this mean potentially for my native country Australia and more so in my current home state of New South Wales (NSW)? NSW regulations that prevent coal seam gas (CSG) recovery near residential areas could be subject to law suits if the TPP goes ahead with these murky investor-state dispute settlement provisions. If it affects their profit margin you can be assured that a law suit will eventuate as will tricks from corporate lawyers trained in this specific area. Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb has assurances of a deal being finally struck within weeks. “Mid-February to mid-March: that’ll be, I think, the timeframe,” he said. “We might have to come back again to conclude some things, but that’s the intent. The final issues, as always, are the most difficult. But everyone seems to be in a mood to find some common ground so that we can get this major, major agreement off the ground.”

The current Australian government has an appetite for signing FTAS as seeming proof of their economic prowess. The TPP has been years in the making and fraught with difficult negotiations especially in regards to the ISDS provisions that could impact on us really hard, and we have barely even touched on them. The secrecy in an Australian political environment, let alone with a disillusioned public, couldn’t come at a worse enough time. I would think now is the time for the Opposition, Independents and the Senate to come together and put the public’s interests first and put it first every time, no matter the high level of Investment interest in our country. It is apparent that the current government wants to dismantle our Medicare and even introduce a medical tax. Can you imagine what could be in store for us if we allow multinational corporations or investors with trade ministers, not governments mind you, to ultimately decide our economies, laws and policies? I will leave you with the global spend on medicines projected to be worth up to $1.2 trillion for the year 2017.

This article was first published as ‘We can not allow the TPP with no transparency & clauses to sue us‘ on Mel’s bog, Political Omniscience.

Jobs and growth…but for who?

The Abbott government says they are all about jobs and growth, but for who?

In 2012, unions were outraged by a decision to allow Gina Rinehart to import more than 1,700 foreign workers on 457 visas for her latest project in Western Australia.

Paul Howes said “This is a big win for Gina Rinehart, it’s a big win for Clive Palmer, it’s a big win for Twiggy Forrest and it’s a massive kick in the guts, a massive kick in the guts to those 130,000 workers in the manufacturing industry who have lost their jobs since 2008.”

A number of companies in construction, mining and IT hired many more foreign workers than they had applied for. The straw that broke the camel’s back was one company allegedly bringing in 800 workers under the 457 visa in an 18 month period when they were only granted approval for 100 visas over three years.

In 2013, the Labor government tightened the regulations to prevent employers from hiring more workers then they originally advertised to the market.

Tony Abbott’s government have made adjustments to the 457 Visa regulation, allowing employers to again hire an unlimited amount of foreign workers with a temporary working visa.

In April this year, the Federal Government was asked to investigate claims that 457 work visas are being abused at Gina Rinehart’s $10 billion Roy Hill iron ore project in the Pilbara.

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union said there were up to 200 Korean white collar 457 visa workers employed by contractor Samsung C&T on the project doing low-level clerical work for Roy Hill’s main construction contractor.

“The allegation is that they’ve been brought in to do certain types of work and then they are being allocated other types of work in breach of their visa conditions.”

Aside from being asked to do work outside their visa conditions, the CFMEU alleged many of the staff were working more than 84 hours a week and being paid as little as $16 an hour.

In March, Gina Rinehart’s mining group, Hancock Prospecting signed off on a $US7.2 billion debt package for her highly anticipated Roy Hill iron ore project in Western Australia’s Pilbara region.

In return for the US government loan, Hancock Prospecting will purchase American mining and rail equipment from Caterpillar, General Electric and Atlas Copco. The Export-Import Bank says their involvement will “support” 3400 US jobs

Since we own the resources, and we have to give approval to any mining venture, why do we not make it a condition of approval that you must use Australian equipment, Australian steel, and Australian workers?

Threats that projects will not go ahead under these circumstances indicate they were not profitable in the first place and, if we are importing equipment and the profit is all going offshore and the employment to lowly paid foreigners, then all we are left with is the environmental damage, railways linking mines to ports paid for with our royalties, and the demise of manufacturing and tourism.

Under the new Free Trade Agreement, Chinese companies will be able to bring skilled workers to Australia to plug labour shortages on big infrastructure projects.

The deal says Chinese-owned companies will be able to ­”negotiate similarly to Australian ­business, increased labour flexibilities for specific projects”.

The arrangements will apply to projects valued above $150 million under the deal negotiated between the two countries. Projects will involve the employment of foreign workers on 457 work visas.

ACTU president Ged Kearney said the effect on Australian jobs would be “disastrous” if the agreement allowed “Chinese contractors on Australian projects to nominate Chinese workers for visas without having to advertise for jobs locally”.

Maritime Union of Australia Western Australian branch secretary Christy Cain hit out at the visa concession and described the measure as “an absolute disgrace”.

“These (mineral) resources are ours and those of the Australians paying taxes for all their lives that are now ­seeing workshops closing and car manufacturing dying,” Mr Cain said.

“I don’t blame the Chinese, they are saying you want us to invest in Australia then we will bring our own labour over. But it’s ludicrous. What is happening to our Australian values?”

According to a report by the Australian Farm Institute, the value of Australian agricultural exports to China grew by an average 12 per cent a year in the 14 years to 2012. Not bad, except that Chinese imports of agricultural products increased by an annual 16 per cent during the same period. In terms of share of the Chinese market, that means Australia fell from 11 per cent to 6 per cent.

The AFI report says that Australia’s share of US agricultural imports has fallen since the FTA between the two countries came into force in 2005, despite reductions in tariffs. The two countries that achieved the fastest growth in agricultural exports to China over the 14 years to 2012 were the US and Brazil and neither has a free trade agreement with China.

Two Chinese investment groups have established a $3 billion fund to invest in Australian agriculture, as Australia edges closer to securing a free trade deal with China.

The fund, known as the Beijing Australia Agricultural Resource Cooperative Development Fund, is a joint partnership  between state-owned Beijing Agricultural Investment Fund and the Shenzen-based Yuhu group.

It will focus on supplying produce back to China, especially infant milk formula, beef, lamb and seafood.

John Lee, a China expert at Sydney University, points out that Chinese policy is to be a net exporter of meat products, rice and wheat by 2025.

That explains why the FTA with Australia contains no concessions for rice and wheat and perhaps also why there is an important, though largely overlooked, qualification to the reduction in tariffs on beef imports. As our Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade puts it, “China has retained the right to apply a discretionary safeguard on beef … if imports exceed a set annual ‘safeguard’ trigger volume.”

The safeguard trigger starts at 170,000 tonnes a year, which is only 10 per cent above Australian exports of 153,000 tonnes of beef to China last year, although there is a so far unspecified provision for the trigger to grow. For exports above this level, the tariff will be reapplied. The department adds, not so reassuringly, that there is a process to “consider” removal of the safeguard.

So it appears the FTA with China has resulted in Chinese investors buying our mines and farms, employing Chinese workers, and then sending the produce back to China at reduced rates.  This produce could well fill the 10% trigger for beef leaving Australian farmers’ produce still attracting tariffs.

And when it comes to our huge spending on defence materiel it’s a similar story.

DMO spends up to $10 billion-a-year of taxpayer funds managing more than 200 defence projects ranging from warships to bullets.  About 40 per cent of the outlays are absorbed by administration costs.

Australia is considering buying 10 state-of-the-art Soryu class submarines from Japan, at a reported price of more than $20 billion.

Former senior Japanese military personnel, Mr Yamauchi and Mr Ogawa, both told the ABC that an Australian budget of $20 billion would mean that all the construction would have to happen in Japan.

And they said any attempts to do any of the work in Adelaide would double the price.

Mr Ogawa said if construction happened in Japan it would be bad for Australian jobs, but good for the Japanese economy.

“If the issue of military secrets can be resolved then Japanese business will be happy it will bring jobs and growth,” he said.

And then there is the $24 billion that Australia had allocated to buy and deploy a fleet of 72 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets.

Critics, including Federal Liberal MP and former analyst with the Defence Science and Technology Organisation, Dr Dennis Jenson, claim that politicians have been manipulated by an elaborate and at times misleading sales pitch by the world’s largest military corporation, Lockheed Martin.

In April Tony Abbott said “Australian business has already won some $1.5 billion worth of work associated with this aircraft. Up to $7.5 billion worth of additional work is there potentially.”

The reality is Australian industries are only contracted for around $370 million work, with Lockheed Martin assurances but no guarantees of more to come.  Current contracts are only for 12 months.

Dr Jenson said “The warning I’d give is: don’t bank on the work that you’re being told you’re going to get. You will get it while Lockheed Martin is still pushing very hard for signatures on the dotted line, but once all those signatures are there, don’t bet on winning any future contracts.”

Dr Jenson raised questions about problems posed by the F-35’s heavy weight and the threat that it will be no match for possible adversaries with a high-ranking Lockheed Martin delegation before a joint parliamentary inquiry in Canberra. Lockheed Martin’s response: “We cannot answer that question, just as we cannot answer the threat question, because we get into classified areas very, very quickly.”

RAAF head flight test engineer, Peter Goon, warned “The aircraft is not coming within a bull’s roar of its – some of its operational specifications. The designs are riddled with single points of failure. And many of the critical elements of design have been painted into what we engineers call “coffin corner”.”

“Coffin corner” is the concern that the F-35 couldn’t compete against these cheaper, lighter and more agile Russian and Chinese stealth fighter jets, which are expected to be sold widely around the world.

The US Air Force Combat Command, meantime, has expressed its own reservations. It has warned the US must continue to maintain its older, more agile and far more effective fleet of F-22 jet fighters to back up the F-35s or they’ll be rendered irrelevant. So should Australia instead try to buy the proven F-22? Well, according to the Defence Minister, Australia did ask, but the Americans insisted there was no choice, but to take the troubled F-35 or nothing.

DAVID JOHNSTON: “They’ve said, “No, you can’t have the F-22; that is for the United States Air Force. But you can certainly participate in our program with the Joint Strike Fighter.” We do not have anywhere else to go.”

Is it just me….or are we being screwed here?

Do ya do ya do ya really care?

I make this pledge to you the Australian people.

I will govern for all Australians.

I want to lift everyone’s standard of living.

I want to see wages and benefits rise in line with a growing economy.

I want to see our hospitals and schools improving as we invest the proceeds of a well-run economy into the things that really count.

I won’t let you down.

This is my pledge to you.

-Tony Abbott campaign launch speech, August 25 2013

Nice words but let’s face it – the Abbott government doesn’t give a shit about you.  The evidence is overwhelming.

With one in seven Australians living in poverty, we have a Prime Minister who spends hundreds of billions on defence, security, and buying armaments. We have a Prime Minister who is so stage-managed he refuses to face the electorate on Q&A.

Our Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs has overseen the slashing of funding and the abolition of many successful initiatives that were working towards supporting our Indigenous people and closing the gap. But we have truancy officers aplenty, even if most of them are working for the dole.

We have a treasurer who feels those on welfare, the ‘leaners’, should be the ones to clear the country of debt. His justification for this is that he must cut spending and poor families get more money from the government than the rich, whilst steadfastly refusing to consider raising revenue by cracking down on tax avoidance.

He tells the world that our economy is in good shape while whipping up hysteria here about a non-existent emergency.

After coming to power on the promise of reducing the debt, Hockey has been borrowing so fast the net debt has increased from $178.10 billion when he took over to $217.55 billion at the end of August. PEFO numbers had net debt peaking at $219bn (12.7% of GDP) in 2015/16.  The gross debt has risen from $290 billion to $345.035 billion – that’s extra borrowing of about one billion a week.

We have an education minister who has reneged on funding reform for schools, wants to make tertiary courses unaffordable, has closed down trades training centres, has insulted teachers, wasted money on a pointless review, and wants to rewrite history as a Christian crusade.

We have a health minister who is busily unwinding universal healthcare and preventative health agencies and who wants to discourage the poor from seeing a doctor.

On one hand we are warned about the alarming increase in obesity and diabetes, on the other we have the assistant minister for health, at the behest of her junk food lobbyist chief of staff, taking down a healthy food website.

Senator Nash insisted the health star site be pulled down a day after it was published in Febuary on the grounds it was published in error, despite freedom of information documents showing the minister was warned it would be published, and the states committing to spend $11 million on it.

In June, a watered down version of the site was reinstated, with the voluntary introduction period extended to five years from two and companies allowed to use the star ratings in conjunction with the industry’s daily intake guide.  They also decided to continue voluntary pregnancy warning labels on alcohol, despite poor uptake by mixed drinks and so-called alcopops. Michael Thorn, the chief executive of the Foundation for Alcohol Research & Education, said it was “disgraceful” and put “booze before babies”.

“The alcohol industry will be celebrating that they have been able to successfully avoid introducing a warning label on their products for almost two decades,” he said.

One of the first steps of the minister for social services, Kevin Andrews, was to wind back gambling reform laws despite recommendations made by the Productivity Commission in its 2010 report into Australia’s gambling industry and the Victorian coroner’s report linking 128 suicides in that state directly to gambling..

This is the man who, along with our employment minister (he of breast cancer/abortion link fame), wants to see young unemployed without any income for 6 months of the year, and for the disabled to get out there and get one of those thousands of jobs that are just waiting for them if only they weren’t such bludgers. He also wants to lower the indexation rate of pensions which will cause the gap in standard of living to widen.  All this while cutting $44 million from the capital works program of the National Partnership on Homelessness.

We have an environment minister who wants to cut down Tasmanian old growth forests and expand coal ports and dump sediment on the reef. He has wound back environmental protection laws and the right to appeal and gone on a spree of approving record amounts of fossil fuel production.  At the same time, he has overseen the destruction of the renewable energy industry.  They don’t even send him to world conferences on climate change because, after all, what could he say other than sorry.

Not content with these overt attacks on the environment, the government has quietly initiated a low key, unscheduled review into Australia’s national appliance energy efficiency standards. The only formal explanation offered to date is in the Energy “Anti-” Green Paper, which refers to “opportunities to reduce the red-tape burden on businesses”.

At least they were honest when our communications minister was appointed to “destroy the NBN” and he has done a damn fine job of it. Despite Tony Abbott’s election speech claim that within 100 days “the NBN will have a new business plan to ensure that every household gains five times current broadband speeds – within three years and without digging up almost every street in Australia – for $60 billion less than Labor,” the truth has emerged.

We will be left with a sub-optimal network, a mishmash of technologies, at a time when the world is increasingly going fibre. It will end up taking nearly as long and costing nearly as much as the all-fibre network it is replacing. The industry – and many around Turnbull – is increasingly realising this. But Turnbull will not budge.

Australia is the loser – all because of one man’s pride.

Scott Morrison, our immigration minister, is about as welcoming as a firing squad. He is like Hymie from Get Smart in his robotic determination to stop the boats at any cost.  That goal apparently absolves him from any form of scrutiny, criticism, or human decency.  He has a blank cheque and not one cent of it will be used to help refugees.

Despite our growing unemployment, he is also front and centre in providing Gina with her 457 visa workers – no rights, no entitlements, and if they complain they get deported.

Our minister for trade is working in secret, getting signatures on free trade agreements at any cost – it’s the announcement before the end of the year that’s important, not pesky details about tariffs and the fact that we no longer have the right to make our own laws without getting sued by global corporations.

Our attorney-general, the highest legal appointment in the land, thinks defending bigots is a priority. When faced with illegal actions by the government, steal the evidence, threaten journalists with gaol time and funding cuts, and introduce laws which remove official accountability.  And while you’re at it, let’s bug the entire nation and make people prove themselves innocent.  Even if they haven’t done anything wrong I am sure they have had evil thoughts.

Barnaby was last seen trying to hasten the demise of a few endangered species that are standing in the way of his dams.

Warren Truss is run off his feet planning roads, roads and more roads. Luckily they dumped that idea about releasing cost benefit analyses for any expenditure over $100 million.  Thank god we got rid of that pesky head of Infrastructure Australia so we could get someone who understands our idea of what ‘independent body’ means.  If the people want public transport they can build it themselves.

And how’s our girl doing? She’s looking tired to me.  Making a case for a seat on the Human Rights Council whilst torturing refugees, or being sent in to bat at the world leaders’ conference on climate changed armed with nothing other than a rain forest conference, must shake even asbestos Julie’s steely resolve.  The Armani suits and death stare can only get you so far.  When in doubt, flirt.

I know you would like a mention Jamie Briggs but for the life of me, the only thing that comes to mind is your fawning introductions for our ‘Infrastructure Prime Minister’….

”To introduce our Tony, is what I’m here to do, and it really makes me happy to introduce to you…the indescribable, the incompatible, the unadorable….. Prrrriiiiimmme Minister!”

 

Short memory

Photo: lifethoughts.com

Photo: lifethoughts.com

I recently spent a day with my extended family, one of whom is a ‘senior government employee’ who has served ministers in several different portfolios and governments including the current one.

When we found ourselves standing together at one stage, in a very non-confrontational, non-interviewing way (he doesn’t know I write here), I asked him a few questions.

He is a very intelligent, astute man who has the diplomatic talk down pat so I knew I wouldn’t hear any dirt – he isn’t the type of person who would do that and it doesn’t interest me either.  He is a pragmatic man who gets things done under whatever constraints are set and is rarely critical of whoever he may be working for.  I admire him for that and he is truly an asset for the government of the day regardless of their ideology.

He describes himself as being in ‘the centre’ – I would describe him as slightly right of there and he certainly lives a lifestyle more akin to the right.  But he is a realist and too smart to bother prevaricating so I found his comments both interesting and disturbing.

I asked about the carbon tax – he said it was never going to work.  I assume he meant politically though I did not have the chance to ask further.  He, like so many others, said Labor made themselves an unelectable train wreck.

He believes the free trade agreements with Japan and Korea are good things but said we are nowhere near an agreement with China.

When I asked about Tony Abbott he was surprisingly dismissive as if he wasn’t important to the conversation saying off-handedly “I could never vote for him though Malcolm Turnbull would probably get my vote.”

On Peta Credlin, he said somewhat resentfully “She wields an enormous amount of power for someone that no-one ever voted for”.  Everyone has to ask permission for everything they do and then plead for the money to do it – even down to ‘may we please have the airfare to get to the conference we are attending on the government’s behalf’ – pre-approval only, no private jets or ‘make a claim’ entitlement stuff for the people who are actually doing the work.

None of the above is particularly surprising.  You may disagree with it but there are no revelations there.  But what he said next flummoxed me.

He very confidently stated that the Coalition will “romp home” next election.  I spluttered in obvious incredulity.  He said “The sweeteners are coming and that is what they will remember”.  He has no vested interest in saying this and he has sufficient experience and inside knowledge that I must take his opinion seriously.

It is so blatantly obvious how crudely we are being played.  Every economic parameter is compared to Hockey’s MYEFO, in which Hockey added $68 billion to the deficit over the forward estimates through his government’s decisions, rather than with the PEFO prepared under the Charter of Budget Honesty.

Of the total Commonwealth securities on issue, the $19.7 billion increase on the Coalition’s watch above what had been predicted, represents 6 per cent of the Treasury Indexed Bonds for the 12 months to June 2014.  Add a few hundred billion to a projected debt in a decade and then cut money from the “leaners” to say look how much we have saved.

The refrain has returned to the “$1 billion in interest every month” mantra.  When interviewed on radio recently, Mathias Cormann repeated it and “debt and deficit disaster inherited from Labor” so many times I thought I was hearing an infinite loop replay.  The interviewer asked why, if we have such a problem, would you not use the GP co-payment to pay down the debt?  Cormann then revealed the Coalition’s true agenda by saying “it will be an asset that improves the budget bottom line.”  In other words, they don’t care about the interest being paid at all, they just want a number on a piece of paper.

We have been hit with the worst budget in living memory, attacking the very fabric of our society under the guise of “sustainability”.  It’s surprising that this government only applies that word to pensions, healthcare and education spending.  We never ask whether tax concessions for the wealthy are sustainable.  We never ask if subsidies to the mining industry are sustainable.  We never ask if pinning our economy on the mining and burning of fossil fuels is sustainable – ok 97% of sane people do ask that, sadly none of them advise our government who is apparently preparing for global cooling on the advice of their senior business advisor who is being avidly quoted on denial sites like wattsupwiththat. (I mean seriously….sack the fossil).

There will be some compromises from this budget passed off under “we listened to the people”, but the mining tax will go.  Then will come the company tax cut.  There will be adjustment to the top tax bracket to save those unfortunate high earners who have “crept” over the $180,000 mark through no fault of their own.  The temporary levy on the highest bracket will go.  The amount you can invest in superannuation will continue to rise.

But what crumbs will be thrown to the rest of us?  If we get back a few of the conditions that have been stripped from us will we be happy to be only a bit worse off?  Because we have been so battered and broken by this budget will we just be grateful to not get hit again?

Beware of Treasurers bearing gifts.

What’s there to crow about?

Image by imgur.com

Image by imgur.com

Tony Abbott is gleefully crowing about “100+ days without a boat”. What Mr Abbott seems oblivious to is that he has closed yet another door on people fleeing persecution and human rights abuses in places like Myanmar and Sri Lanka. The Taliban just fired rockets at the Electoral Office in Afghanistan so the upcoming election doesn’t look like it will make everything tickety poo over there either. Things don’t seem to be getting any better in Syria though the government haven’t done any mass gassings lately, not in the open anyway.

And it isn’t as if we have increased our humanitarian intake or processed any of the people already being illegally held in detention. This has cost us a fortune, subjected our navy to allegations of abuse, seen us internationally condemned, caused enormous mental and physical harm to vulnerable people, and Australian guards are now implicated in the death of a man who was under their protection. Yet this is supposed to be a success?

Tony’s team are also pushing very hard for the repeal of the carbon tax but it is becoming harder and harder to drown out the chorus of condemnation for such an act from world leaders, the UN, climate change bodies, scientists, economists and the citizens of the world. He accused the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres, of “talking through her hat”, and said he doesn’t want to “clutter up” the G20 agenda with talk about climate change. Can you imagine how that was received?

Blatantly sacking scientists and advisory bodies to appoint climate change deniers to every position might allow you to fool people in Australia in the very short term. It will not change the science. This headless chicken (Prince Charles) flat earth (Barak Obama) denial is wasting precious time and shows us globally as unwilling to do our bit – something Australians have always been respected for in the past.

The Senate inquiry into the Direct Action Plan has released its findings and they are damning. If this process is to have any credibility, the Coalition must drop this idea and agree to move to an ETS with higher targets for emission reduction and renewable energy. It is what every expert recommends, especially the economists.

Greg Hunt must be the only Minister for the Environment who would be bragging about approving billions of dollars of new coal mining and port expansion which will unquestionably lead to the degradation of one of the world’s greatest natural wonders. He has also advocated the removal of marine park legislation to allow for commercial fishing, removal of world heritage listing to allow for logging, and the building of dams in our ecologically sensitive pristine North. With an Environment Minister like that, who needs natural disasters?

And then there is the mining tax. On the 7:30 report, Abbott claimed that the mining and carbon taxes were partly to blame for BHP Billiton’s decision to delay the expansion of its huge Olympic Dam mine despite the fact that Marius Kloppers said it had nothing to do with the mining tax which doesn’t even apply to the copper, uranium or gold extracted from the site.

Mining profits worldwide have slumped by half since 2011 as the mining boom comes off its highs according to a report by PriceWaterhouseCoopers which says that higher costs, more writedowns and fluctuating commodity prices have hit the fortunes of the top 40 mining companies including BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto.

PwC Australia’s head of energy and mining, Jock O’Callaghan, says the possible repeal of the mining tax in Australia is unlikely to have much impact on Australia’s appeal to investors. Not surprisingly, the government has failed to take note of this advice.

Mr O’Callaghan says he expects more mines to close, including in Australia. “Certainly if we see a further downturn in commodity prices that is going to put more pressure on marginal mines,” he said. “There is no denying that and again that is not just an Australian phenomena.”

As Ross Gittins explains,

“For the income earned by an industry to generate jobs in Australia, it has to be spent in Australia. And our mining industry is about 80 per cent foreign-owned. For our economy and our workers to benefit adequately from the exploitation of our natural endowment by mainly foreign companies, our government has to ensure it gets a fair whack of the economic rents those foreigners generate.

Because Labor so foolishly allowed the big three foreign miners to redesign the tax, they chose to get all their deductions up-front. Once those deductions are used up, the tax will become a big earner. Long before then, however, Tony Abbott will have rewarded the Liberal Party’s foreign donors by abolishing the tax.

This will be an act of major fiscal vandalism, of little or no benefit to the economy and at great cost to job creation.”

Mining currently employs about 2.4% of our workforce but this is set to drop as they move into the less labour-intensive production phase. As we saw during the GFC, they are not altruistic benefactors and have little loyalty to their employees. According to Richard Denniss

“When commodity prices fell during the global financial crisis the first thing the mining industry did was sack thousands of their workers. Indeed, according to Treasury, if all industries had been as quick to punt their employees as the mining industry the unemployment rate would have hit 19 per cent rather than its peak of 5.9 per cent.”

Penny Wong described Abbott’s rhetoric regarding the mining tax as “one of the most dishonest, self-interested fear campaigns that we have seen in Australian politics” and I can only agree.

After saying there was no difference between Liberal and Labor on education, we have seen billions cut with a backing away from the bulk of the Gonski funding, the abolition of trades training centres, and cuts to the before and after school care program despite childcare being identified as far more important in improving productivity and workforce participation than paid parental leave.

We have also seen the Coalition attempt to repeal Section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act in a bizarre attempt to “protect the rights of bigots”. Countless journalists have said they have not felt constrained in any way by this section of the act and do not see the need for its repeal. This is purely and simply a pander to Andrew Bolt and Rupert Murdoch. Promoting hatred under the name of free speech is a truly cynical exercise which has left many Australians feeling very uneasy about what is happening to our country.

According to the Coalition, our debt and deficit are a real problem and spending must be reined in. While listening to a relentless barrage softening us up for the cuts that are to come, we watch Tony Abbott spend money hand over fist on his Paid Parental Leave scheme, orange life rafts, unmanned drones, planes both for the Air Force and himself, grants to polluters, gambling on the foreign exchange market, tax concessions for the wealthy, subsidies to profitable mining companies, marriage guidance counselling vouchers, and gifts to pollie pedal sponsors.

We are also going to sell everything we own and spend billions to build roads.  Public transport and high speed rail will receive no funding.  I am sure the fact that cars rely on fossil fuels hasn’t entered into the decision making.

With the rollout of the NBN in limbo, Malcolm Turnbull has admitted that he cannot keep his pre-election promises. His inferior offering will take much longer and cost much more than he led us to believe and will be outdated before it is even completed.

Abbott’s rush to sign free trade agreements which include ISDS clauses with all and sundry (No. 87 on the IPA’s wish list), has put our nation at sovereign risk where we will risk being sued if we introduce laws to protect our health and environment. It will almost certainly lead to a huge increase in the cost of medicine as pharmaceutical companies block the release of generic medicines, and a host of other repercussions that we can only anticipate with dread.

We have the Social Services Minister, Kevin Andrews, winding back gambling reforms and disbanding the oversight of charitable bodies. We have the Environment Minister disbanding climate change advisory bodies and removing environmental protection laws. We have the Health Minister disbanding bodies like the Australian National Preventative Health Agency, the Advisory Panel on Positive Ageing, the Alcohol and Other Drugs Council of Australia, and attacking Medicare with offices closed on Saturdays and co-payments likely. We have the Assistant Health Minister blocking a healthy eating website and the Assistant Education Minister asking childcare workers to give back their pay rise. In fact, I cannot think of one act or one piece of proposed legislation that has been in the best interest of the people of Australia.

With cuts to foreign aid, indigenous affairs, charities, and asylum seeker advocacy groups, it is increasingly obvious that the vulnerable can expect no protection or assistance from this government. They have made their agenda patently clear. Buy a ticket on the Good Ship Rinehart and lift with the rising tide, or be left to drown as the wealthy stand on the shoulders of the poor to board the corporate gravy train.

 

Shining a light on dark places

image

 

The attempt to sell the repeal of Section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act has led to a new page in the “phrases to repeat” Coalition script. Everyone from Tony Abbott and George Brandis to Tim Wilson is saying that it is the responsibility of the community to “shine a light on dark places”.

I realise they are referring to bigotry and racism but I think it is a laudable sentiment which should be embraced and extended.

I would like a light shone on Manus Island and Nauru and “on-water operations”. I would like to see a cost benefit analysis of our offshore detention policy. I would like to see a total bill for Operation Sovereign Borders and the incarceration of innocent people.

Add up how much we are spending on orange life rafts and unmanned drones and having a naval fleet patrolling. Add up how much we are spending on flights for politicians, aid workers, guards, journalists, asylum seekers etc to fly backwards and forwards to Indonesia, PNG, Nauru, Christmas Island, Cambodia, Solomon Islands and everywhere else we are trying to make complicit in this inhumanity. Add up how much it is costing us to keep 30,000 people locked up in limbo.

Next, this government is carrying out a concerted campaign to discredit unions using the Craig Thomson case to justify spending hundreds of millions on a Royal Commission and the re-establishment of the ABCC. I find this hard to understand as Mr Thomson is going to gaol – doesn’t this show that we already have a system of oversight by which corrupt officials can be prosecuted? Aren’t the police and ICAC better suited to deal with bribery, corruption and intimidation?

The $24,000 that Mr Thomson misappropriated pales into insignificance compared to the amount of money that politicians have been forced to repay for fraudulent expense claims that are brushed off as “mistakes” if someone questions them. I would like a light shone on parliamentarians’ entitlements and for the Finance department to exercise better governance.

I would like to shine a light on who is actually running our government. Every time Tony Abbott meets with world leaders Peta Credlin is sitting at the table. I know she runs his office but surely there are some diplomats, economists. cultural, trade or defence experts that deserve a spot in front of her.

I want to know why Cardinal Pell and Maurice Newman feel empowered to advise the government on climate change. I want to know why Mark Textor feels empowered to wade into foreign affairs on Twitter. I want to know who are the puppet masters. (see Andrew Robb video).

Speaking of puppet masters, I want to shine a light on political donations, and on paid political advertising which is banned in the UK.

Coincidentally, in a recent freedom of speech ruling in the European Court, the UK government successfully argued that the ban on paid political advertising was necessary to achieve the “legitimate aim of avoiding the distortion of debate on matters of public interest by unequal access to influential media by financially powerful bodies.”

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights held, by a majority of nine to eight, that the long-standing ban on paid political advertising on television and radio in the United Kingdom does not contravene the right to freedom of expression in article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Wealthy corporations, organisations and individuals have unusual access to, and influence over, the parties and politicians to whom they donate. Hundreds of millions of dollars are donated and then spent on advertising. Not only is this a ridiculous waste of money, it makes our political parties beholden. They are focused on chasing sponsorship so they must appease those with the means to bankroll them. People back winners so they must concentrate on being popular rather than governing.

The media must have a good relationship with a politician to gain access and to be fed the leaks. The politician must have a good relationship with the media because they choose what the next headline will say and which stories will be reported. This symbiotic arrangement has degenerated so far that politicians and journalists are amongst the least respected professions in the country.  The following arrangement doesn’t add to the public’s trust.

“The $600 million lease on the current RAAF fleet of two Boeing 737 business jets and three smaller Challenger 604 aircraft will expire next year and the government will seek agreement from media companies to limit criticism of any decision to opt for bigger planes

According to senior government sources the new plan would involve aircraft such as the Airbus A-330 or Boeing 777 that can fly hundreds of passengers over long distances with fewer stops. The Boeing 777 and Airbus A-330 each cost about $250 million and both can carry in excess of 200 passengers in VIP configuration.”

And why should the media not report on this? Because the current planes “are too small to carry a full complement of press gallery journalists and crews” so let me spend my hundreds of millions in peace and you get a free ride to come film me. The taxpayers are footing the bill for Tony’s tame journos to be flown around the world presumably for free.

I would like to shine a light on corporate lobbyists and the deals they make with politicians. After leaving Parliament, an inordinate number of ex-pollies secure plum jobs with corporations they dealt with in their portfolio.

After bugging the East Timorese cabinet rooms under the guise of building them as a foreign aid project when he was Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer became an adviser to Woodside Petroleum, the company that was negotiating to exploit the oilfields. Peter Reith was appointed as a consultant to defence contractor Tenix immediately after resigning as defence minister. Health minister Michael Wooldridge signed a $5 million building deal for the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and days later, after resigning as health minister, was employed by the college as a consultant.

I would like to shine a light on the truth about debt and deficit. Between PEFO and MYEFO, under the Coalition government, the projected deficit for the year blew out by $17 billion. $10.2 billion of that was due to spending decisions made by the Coalition, notably an $8.8 billion gift to the RBA, an extra $1.2 billion for offshore processing, and tax breaks for those with super balances over $2 million.

Quoting from the Coalition “phrases to repeat” sheet, you will hear every one of them say Labor left us with a debt of $667 billion. Well to quote Joe Hockey’s own MYEFO document which he produced in mid-December:

“Net debt is forecast to be $191.5 billion in 2013-14 and reach $280 billion in 2016-17.”

The figure of $667 billion comes from Hockey’s MYEFO estimation of the possible gross debt in ten years’ time. Surely between now and 2024 he will be able to come up with a solution or will we still be hearing about Labor’s debt?

Where we need a glaring spotlight is on the free trade agreements that we are rushing headlong into. With Peter Dutton insisting that our health system is unsustainable why on earth would you enter into agreements that will unquestionably send our PBS into a death spiral? Allowing the evergreening of patents and other measures to benefit the pharmaceutical companies (who just so happen to be generous sponsors of the pollie pedal) will potentially spell the end of generic medicines with a huge increase in the price we pay for our drugs.

I could go on but all this light shining is burning me out. We need all of you to be torch bearers for our country. Do as Tim Wilson urges us to do – shine a light on the dark places where this government is trying to lead us.

What really killed vehicle manufacturing in Australia

Image from theage.com.au

Image from theage.com.au

The death knell for Australia’s vehicle manufacturing industry was not because of high labour costs, writes Andreas Bimba in this guest article, but the free-trade agreements that acted to the detriment of the local industry. And who signed them? You won’t be too surprised to learn who.

Toyota, Holden and Ford did not decide to cease local automotive manufacturing because of high labour costs (this is nothing new), nor from a lack of direct financial support (this has been fairly constant but small), although both of these factors added to the pressure. Primarily, it was because of inadequate trade protection of the Australian new car market, the historically high Australian dollar, and finally, extreme hostility shown by the current Federal Government and the Productivity Commission in regard to dealing effectively with the urgent concerns of the industry.

It is quite obvious really, but as we have come to expect, the truth of the matter has largely been ignored by our superficial national media. The main headwind of the many facing Toyota Australia’s local manufacturing operations, and also those of Holden and Ford, is the one-sided Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) signed by our Federal Governments and the almost complete lack of tariff protection.

These FTAs conform to the neo-liberal philosophy of global free trade that is currently in favour with the  Coalition Government, the Federal Government’s advisory bodies such as the incompetent Productivity Commission, and also the Australian Labor party.

The Australia Thailand Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) came into force on the 1st January 2005 and was implemented by Prime Minister John Howard.

This agreement has allowed Thailand’s subsidised vehicles into Australia without restriction but has not prevented Thailand imposing secondary restrictions that have totally prevented Australian vehicles from being sold into the Thai market. Australia’s three top selling vehicles in 2013; the Toyota Corolla (43,498 units), the Mazda 3 (42,082 units) and the Toyota HiLux (39,931 units) all came from Thailand. By comparison, for 2013 the Australian made Holden Commodore sold 27,766 units locally and the Toyota Camry sold 24,860 units locally. I have not included Australian exports in these figures.

Over the preceding eight years not one Australian government has addressed the inequities of this vehicle trade imbalance and have stood back and ignored the inevitable consequences. Perhaps the Australian automotive manufacturers have also not tried diligently enough to address this trade imbalance as most of the vehicles being imported were made by subsidiaries of the parent companies.

This chart from GoAuto clearly shows what has been happening from 2005 to 2013. For the Australian new vehicle market it shows total Australian made vehicle sales (exports excluded) and total Thailand made vehicle sales.

GoAutoThe Australia Korea Free Trade Agreement (FTA) came into force on the 5th December 2013 and was implemented by the Abbott Government. Korea has an almost totally protected car market and provides substantial subsidies to its manufacturers. It is also a much larger and more advanced automotive manufacturer than Thailand.

On the 11th December 2013 General Motors Holden announced the planned closure of its Australian manufacturing operations from the end of 2017.

On the 10th February 2014 Toyota Australia also announced the planned closure of its Australian manufacturing operations from the end of 2017.

It looks fairly clear to me that Holden and Toyota Australia concluded that the Australia Korea FTA was the last nail in the coffin and that there was no longer any point in baring their trading losses in the hope that the national industrial policy environment would improve.

The fact that Holden and Toyota Australia made no headway in Canberra with either the Government or the Productivity Commission with addressing their major concerns about viability under such extremely trade exposed conditions showed that the situation in their eyes was hopeless.

A bumpy roadI believe that if a Labor Government was in power that the views of knowledgeable and reasonable negotiators such as Senator Kim Carr would have prevailed and that realistic strategies to address or counteract all of the concerns of the Australian automotive manufacturers would have been implemented. This would have occurred at the time of Holden’s threatened closure and I believe would have saved the local manufacturing operations of Holden and subsequently also those of Toyota Australia.

Even though during the Rudd and Gillard Governments (as well as the Howard Government) the issues of the vehicle trade imbalance with Thailand, the lack of trade protection in general, the unreasonable barriers placed against exports, the occasional unwillingness to export and the historically high Australian dollar were not adequately addressed, I believe that Labor would have done whatever was needed to retain the Australian automotive manufacturing industry as soon as it became aware of how critical the current situation had become.

Given the above, the only reasonable conclusion that can be drawn is that the current Coalition Government is primarily responsible for the announced cessation of all Australian automotive manufacture.

Can the Coalition bring themselves to adjust the Australian automotive manufacturing national policy environment sufficiently strongly that Toyota, Holden and possibly also Ford can be persuaded to continue local automotive manufacture beyond the announced closure dates? This is not very likely even though it is strongly in the national interest on so many levels, as it would basically entail the partial abandonment of their neo-liberal economic philosophy which they possibly hold as being more important than the national interest. Perhaps it is time for a leadership spill in the Federal Liberal and National Parties?

Can the next Federal Labor Government, which has every opportunity to win in 2016, bring about a policy environment sufficiently realistic and powerful that Toyota, Holden and possibly also Ford can be persuaded to continue local automotive manufacturing? Despite all the gloom I think that is possible. Even if some or all of the original manufacturers choose not to continue with local manufacturing, it is plausible that other players whether local or foreign may take over the current manufacturing facilities, perhaps even with the original manufacturers holding a minority share of the ownership.

We will see.

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