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Tag Archives: Gina Rinehart

World Revision – Sponsor a Millionaire

By Richard O’Brien

For the cost of just 15% of your groceries, bills and sundry expenses per week you can sponsor a millionaire today and make a real difference. Your donation can help make the lives of millionaires throughout Australia better.

Millionaires like:

Gina, a 61 year old girl from Western Australia. When Gina’s father died she was forced to become Chairman of Hancock Prospecting where she attempts to support herself and her lawyers on less than $33 million a day.

Clive, a 61 year old boy from Queensland, where children like Clive are often conscripted into political office before they have had a chance to develop any notion of public service, fiscal responsibility or how the real world works. Clive’s extravagant lifestyle has meant he has been unable to pay income tax for six years.

Malcolm, a 61 year old boy from Wentworth. Born to rule, Malcolm has been afflicted with a severe case of expectation since birth. Forced to seek treatment in the most prestigious schools, universities and legal firms, many children like Malcolm often end up on the streets of Canberra selling their principles, or begging for votes from the plush cushioned benches of Parliament House.

By agreeing to pay a 15% GST and applying it to fresh food, you can help fund a tax cut for millionaires like Gina, Clive and Malcolm. Your contribution can help prevent the government from taking away the tens of billions of dollars in tax scams, offshore havens and corporate subsidies that help keep these children in the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed.

Sponsor a millionaire today, and make the world a better place – for them.

 

Putting dodgy politicians under the same scrutiny as dodgy union officials

When the government decided to spend $80 million on the Trade Union Royal Commission, $17 million of which is going to Minter Ellison, Attorney-General George Brandis’ former employer, its purported aim was to ensure that registered organisations are more transparent and accountable.

The Coalition said “there is clear evidence that the money paid by members to some registered organisations is being used for personal gain and inappropriate purposes.”

Considering the number of scandals pertaining to politicians’ entitlements, the hypocrisy of this statement is astounding.

They want “registered organisations and their officials to play by the same rules as companies and their directors” and for “penalties for breaking the rules to be the same as those apply to companies and their directors, as set out in the Corporations Act 2001.” They have also called for “reform of financial disclosure and reporting guidelines so that they align more closely with those applicable to companies.”

“A dodgy company director and a dodgy union official who commit the same crime should suffer the same penalties. The Coalition believes that the members of registered organisations, mainly workers and small businesses, deserve better. They are entitled to the same protections as shareholders of companies.”

But what of dodgy politicians?

Surely the people who hold the highest positions in the land running government business should be similarly accountable to us, the shareholders?

ASIC describes the general duties imposed by the Corporations Act on directors and officers of companies as:

  • the duty to exercise your powers and duties with the care and diligence that a reasonable person would have which includes taking steps to ensure you are properly informed about the financial position of the company and ensuring the company doesn’t trade if it is insolvent
  • the duty to exercise your powers and duties in good faith in the best interests of the company and for a proper purpose
  • the duty not to improperly use your position to gain an advantage for yourself or someone else, or to cause detriment to the company, and
  • the duty not to improperly use information obtained through your position to gain an advantage for yourself or someone else, or to cause detriment to the company.

Whether politicians exercise their powers and duties with care and diligence is open to debate and whether their decisions are in our best interests is similarly questionable, but when it comes to the last two requirements regarding gaining advantage, there is considerable concern.

andrew and ginaGina Rinehart wanted the carbon and mining taxes gone. Done.  She wanted special approval to use extra 457 visa workers.  Done.  She wants a special economic zone in the north and government funded infrastructure to facilitate development.  Underway.  She wants company tax reduced.  Coming.  But she doesn’t want anyone to know how much tax she pays in case someone decides to kidnap her.  Done.

And then all of a sudden, not long before the free trade agreement was signed with China, Gina, and several other rich Liberal Party donors, decided to invest in dairy and beef cattle farms – the two big winners from the ChAFTA.

When Kevin Andrews, as Social Services Minister, got rid of gambling reform laws, was he considering the best interests of the people?

When George Christensen launched an attack in parliament on the National Health and Medical Research Council which he accused of demonising the sugar industry through their new food guidelines, did it have anything to do with his family being sugar cane farmers?

When David Leyonjhelm attacks smoking regulations, is he looking out for our welfare or is it because he receives large donations from the tobacco industry?

And what of the ultimate irony of Clive Palmer’s party having the deciding vote on repealing the carbon tax when he had a high court challenge underway and an unpaid bill of $6.8 million?

Alexander Downer, as Foreign Minister, sanctioned the bugging of another nation’s parliamentary offices to gain commercial advantage for a company who then employed him when he left politics.  There are countless examples of similar conflicts of interest and ‘reward for service’.

ICAC has shown us that many politicians use their position for personal gain and advantage for their friends and donors. The rejection of a federal ICAC by both major parties would suggest that they do not want the same scrutiny that their state counterparts and the unions are getting.

Regarding false statements, the ACCC states that:

“It is illegal for a business to make statements that are incorrect or likely to create a false impression. This includes advertisements or statements in any media (print, radio, television, social media and online) or on product packaging, and any statement made by a person representing your business.

When assessing whether conduct is likely to mislead or deceive, consider whether the overall impression created by the conduct is false or inaccurate.

Comparative advertising may be used to promote the superiority of your products or services over competitors as long as it is accurate.

Claims that give the impression that a product, or one of its attributes, has some kind of added benefit when compared to similar products and services can be made as long as the claims are not misleading and can be substantiated.”

If you apply that code to, say, climate change, our government, abetted by the Murdoch media, the IPA, and a few other vested interests, are guilty of the most heinous example of false advertising in history.

A recent study by the CSIRO showed that barely one in four Coalition voters accepts climate change is mostly caused by humans, with more than half of Liberal voters believing changes to global temperatures are natural.

“To a substantial degree, when asked, a significant fraction of the public say what they think their preferred party says.”

Obviously, the standards that apply to businesses to be truthful with their shareholders and customers are totally ignored by our government.

When climate campaigners recently took the Dutch government to court, three judges ruled that government plans to cut emissions by just 14-17% compared to 1990 levels by 2020 were unlawful, given the scale of the threat posed by climate change and ordered the government to cut its emissions by at least 25% within five years.

The precedent has been set and I, for one, find the idea of Greg Hunt defending his statements about Direct Action against carbon pricing in a court of law, presumably with reference to Wikipedia, absolutely delicious.

 

Gina’s web

In 2011, as reported by Graham Readfern at Crikey, Gina Rinehart held a lunch at her house by the Swan River in Perth, at which West Australian Premier Colin Barnett, WA environment minister Bill Marmion and Chinese Ambassador Chen Yuming were in attendance to hear a presentation on climate change from the “sceptic” Professor Ian Plimer.

Plimer must have done well because, according to disclosures made to the Australians Securities and Investments Commission, Professor Plimer was appointed to the boards of Gina’s companies Roy Hill Holdings and Queensland Coal Investments on January 25 2012.

Dinner guest Environment Minister Bill Marmion’s chief of staff is Colin Edwardes, the husband of Cheryl Edwardes, who is the head of “external affairs, government relations and approvals” at Hancock Prospecting. Cheryl is also a former WA environment minister.

As PerthNow pointed out, Marmion was in the position of considering environmental approvals for Hancock Prospecting projects — of which there were four pending.

Let me just emphasise this.  The WA environment minister’s chief of staff’s wife is employed by Gina Rinehart to secure government approval for her mining ventures.

And of course it doesn’t stop there.

Even considering the Coalition’s self-confessed penchant for doing business at weddings at the taxpayers’ expense, three senior members of the Coalition travelling all the way to India to a wedding of someone they have never met, at the behest of someone who was not related to the couple and whose own family says is an untrustworthy person motivated by greed, should have rung alarm bells far greater than the thousands the politicians subsequently claimed in “study” expenses for the jaunt.

At the time of inviting the politicians to the wedding, Mrs Rinehart was about to clinch a $1 billion coal deal with the bride’s grandfather – G.V. Krishna Reddy, the founder of GVK, one of India’s largest energy and infrastructure companies.

Three months after the politicians joined Mrs Rinehart at the Indian wedding the GVK conglomerate bought a majority stake in the billionaire’s ”Alpha” coalmine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin for $US1.26 billion.

When Barnaby Joyce decided to run against Tony Windsor for the seat of New England, Gina Rinehart contributed $50,000 directly to his campaign though some reports had the contribution at $700,000.

Image from Facebook

Image from Facebook

When Gina turned up to his election victory party, Barnaby said “Gina is a great friend and I’m a good mate of Gina’s and she’s got an Australian company which employs Australian people which pays tax in this nation and I’m so proud,” he said.  “We need lots of Gina Rineharts, not one, [because] when we have a nation of lots of them we’re going to be a stronger nation.”

Barnaby Joyce hugged Gina Rinehart and told the waiting media he is proud to call her his “mate”.

“When we have someone like Gina, who is an Australian who actually is so different from other companies who are actually not Australian, then we should be proud of them [and] we shouldn’t kick them around,” he said.

“We should also be prepared to stand next to our mates because I’m a person who believes the Australian mateship quality is alive and well.”

And Gina stands by her man.

In November she flew to Canberra in her private jet to watch Barnaby’s inaugural speech in the House of Representatives which she viewed from the gallery as a “special guest”.

Some of Mrs Rinehart’s closest political friends, the Speaker Bronwyn Bishop and Liberal Party senators Cory Bernardi and Michaelia Cash, were invited to join the billionaire for an intimate gathering on the night before.

But getting back to the Alpha coalmine and the Indian connection…

A panel of independent scientific experts had raised concerns about groundwater, particularly the ability of Adani Group to model and monitor groundwater flows. In approving the mine, minister Hunt said he had accounted for the concerns

In April last year the Queensland Land Court, following a challenge by communities, said the Alpha mine should only proceed if the development meets further conditions on water use.

The court’s recommendations are not binding, and what happens next now rests with the Queensland government. In a statement, Acting Premier Jeff Seeney said: “We look forward to working with the project proponents to deliver jobs and economic benefits to Queenslanders.”

In all likelihood, the project will therefore get the go-ahead, subject to new conditions.

In September, the Mackay Conservation Group said the rail company Aurizon had walked away from an infrastructure plan it signed with GVK in 2013 that would see it build a 300km railway from proposed mines in the Galilee to port.  The group said the deal was off the table after Aurizon failed to produce an Environmental Impact Statement for the project.

However it appears that, because the Queensland government has declared the area over which the rail lines will be built a State Development Area, it meant an EIS was no longer required to be submitted at this stage.

Aurizon said it welcomed this change in process as a positive for the “regulation of development of necessary infrastructure to service this important area”.

A spokesman from GVK also confirmed the company is firmly committed to finalising its JV proposal with Aurizon.

The deal means Aurizon will take a 51 per cent share in Hancock Coal Infrastructure, which houses GVK Hancock’s rail and port projects.

The open-access infrastructure will service GVK Hancock’s Alpha, Alpha West and Kevin’s Corner coal projects in the Galilee Basin.

“This proposed transaction will provide development certainty for the rail and port projects and de-risks the Alpha Coal Project from a logistics point of view,” the spokesman said.

“The transaction will also provide a pathway for sufficient equity and debt funding for the rail and port projects to reach financial close.”

In November, Queensland Premier Campbell Newman announced that in addition to the open-ended royalty holiday already on offer to the first mover in the Galilee Basin, the state government was willing to invest hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to fund the associated rail and port projects.

Mr Seeney said the funding for the project would come from the asset leasing project the government will institute should it win the next election.

A spokesman for Clive Palmer said “On one hand this government wants to sell assets and now they want to invest in helping one company.”

In December, GVK Hancock said it is focused on finalising approvals for its Alpha coal project in the Galilee Basin before looking to finance the $10 billion project.  The comments came after French bank Societe Generale suspended its finance partnership with the project.  Citing the project’s lengthy delays, the bank said it no longer had involvement in a financing deal.

But GVK Hancock said it did not require the bank’s services at this point in the project timeline.

“The key focus for our projects at this point in time is finalising our approvals and addressing litigious challenges to our attained approvals.  Once we have finalised approvals we will then execute coal off-take agreements and work to finalise financing arrangements.”

Wall Street’s biggest banks are following the lead of UK and German financial institutions, and ruling out financing projects threatening Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.  Three of the largest investment banks in the world – Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase – have ruled out any investments in Queensland’s Abbot Point coal port.  The news follows Deutsche Bank, Royal Bank of Scotland, HSBC and Barclays publicly ruling out investments in the coal port, leaving the Adani Group and GVK, who are seeking $26.5 billion to expand coal exports, dwindling options for finance. Australia’s ‘big four’ banks are now under pressure to join their US and EU counterparts.

Considering financiers, economists, and environmentalists are all questioning the viability of the project, it was somewhat surprising when, during Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s maiden visit to Australia in November, Adani signed a MOU with the State Bank of India (SBI) for a $1 billion loan to fund the project in Queensland’s Galilee Basin.

Indian opposition MP Derek O’Brien raised the issue in the upper house of India’s parliament.

“Our understanding is these banks refused the loan, so our serious concern is why a $1 billion loan was given by SBI, knowing full well that these five banks have refused,” he said.

India’s coal minister said in October he hoped to stop imports of thermal coal within three years as domestic production stepped up.

“Two thirds of the produce of Carmichael will be imported back into India, so one of them is not talking the truth, speaking the truth. Because if India wants to reduce imports and two thirds of the capacity from the Australian mine is going to be imported back into India, it just doesn’t add up,” Mr O’Brien said.

Concerns have also been raised over prime minister Modi’s ties to Adani, the company behind the mine.

Over the past decade, Adani has prospered in the state of Gujurat, where Mr Modi was chief minister.

The company’s share price almost doubled as it became apparent Mr Modi would win the May election in a landslide.

Mr O’Brien said there were clear links between Mr Modi’s Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party and the Adani group.

“There is enough to suggest there is a cosy understanding and that is why this loan was approved, not taking into consideration the facts which were on the table,” Mr O’Brien said.

The company’s debt has risen substantially in recent years, much of it short-term debt.

Public interest lawyer Prashant Bhushan said recovering the loan may not be easy.

“When they can only recover it from the assets of Adani, but you see we don’t know. The total loans outstanding from the Adani group are in billions of dollars to various banks,” Mr Bhushan said.

Indian tweeters bemoaned Modi’s support for the Carmichael mine, calling it a repayment for billionaire friend, supporter and chairman of the Adani Group Gautam Adani, who accompanied Modi on his trip to Australia (and has apparently joined five of the PM’s six recent overseas jaunts).

It appears the coal barons have the governments caught in their web and we could well end up with a very expensive taxpayer funded railway to nowhere and the environmental consequences of dredging a port for a product that is no longer economically or environmentally viable to produce.

Heavy lifting . . . for some

Photo: sbs.com.au

Photo: sbs.com.au

“The rich regard wealth as a personal attribute. So do the poor. Everyone is tacitly convinced of it. Only logic makes some difficulties by asserting that the possession of money may perhaps confer certain qualities, but can never itself be a human quality. Closer inspection gives this the lie. Every human nose instantly and unfailingly smells the delicate breath of independence that goes with the habit of commanding, the habit of everywhere choosing the best for oneself, the whiff of slight misanthropy and the unceasing consciousness of responsibility that goes with power, the scent of a large and secure income.”  — Excerpt from rich people’s code of living, The Man Without Qualities, Robert Musil

When Kerry Packer appeared before the Print Media Inquiry in 1991 he famously said

“Now of course I am minimizing my tax and if anybody in this country doesn’t minimize their tax they want their heads read because as a government I can tell you you’re not spending it that well that we should be donating extra. I pay whatever tax I am required to pay under the law, not a penny more, not a penny less”

His daughter Gretel got married earlier in the year and Kerry spent $3 million on her wedding. Apparently, that same year he paid no income tax.

In 2012, mining magnate Nathan Tinkler of Whitehaven Coal put his plans for a $13 million beachfront pad in Newcastle on hold and moved his family to Singapore. In an amazing coincidence, Gina Rinehart has reportedly spent $S57 million ($A43.8 million) on two units, off the plan, in the same Seven Palms Sentosa Cove condominium project.  Eduardo Saverin, who co-founded Facebook at age 21, also lives in Singapore.

It might be because Singapore is a nice place that so many mega-wealthy people are flocking there – or it could have something to do with the fact that capital gains are not taxed. Individuals are only taxed on income earned directly in Singapore, and for the super wealthy, there are no inheritance taxes. Personal tax rates in Singapore are among the lowest in the world, with a cap of 20 per cent, compared to the top tax rate of 45 per cent in Australia. It’s got the banking secrecy laws, it’s becoming a financial centre, new casinos and now a lot of the big banks are operating out of Singapore purely because it’s becoming a very exclusive place to live

Gina Rinehart’s personal wealth is more than two times greater than the gross domestic product (GDP) of Cambodia, population 14.5 million. She has about 41 times more than the GDP of East Timor, population 1.3 million. She has more than the GDPs of Haiti and Bolivia put together (combined population 20 million).

She could buy up the economies of the world’s 10 poorest nations, and still have about $22 billion left over.

One in seven people — or 1 billion people around the world — do not have enough to eat. Rinehart could feed them all for a year.

In 2011, Rinehart made $1.5 billion more than was spent on the entire NSW health system ($17.3 billion). She made 18 times more than was allocated to the federal government’s climate change department. She made 70 times what the federal government will spend to improve education and training for young Aboriginal Australians.

In 2012 BRW Magazine said that Rinehart’s rise in wealth “is unparalleled”. It said she might soon become the world’s richest person: “A $100 billion fortune is not out of the question for Rinehart if the resources boom continues unabated.”

Despite her huge fortune, Rinehart is convinced she pays too much tax. Her tax lobby group ANDEV (Australians for Northern Development and Economic Vision) campaigns to cut taxes on mining industry profits and lower payroll and income tax.

In February 2013, the Coalition released its policy/discussion paper ‘2030 Vision for Developing Northern Australia’.  The catalyst for the policy was a 2010 open letter signed by the executives of over 50 resources companies that called for the establishment of a special economic zone with fewer regulations and taxes to develop Australia’s north, and the capacity to import cheap labour.

“Various industries in Australia already make use of overseas countries’ labour without restriction – for example, sending work overseas to India and the Philippines and elsewhere in Asia where labour costs are lower. The group argues mining companies should be allowed to hire short term workers from overseas for the construction periods only, for say up to two years and nine months, thereby increasing long term job prospects in Australia, rather than becoming uncompetitive and these jobs heading overseas to countries like Guinea and other countries in Africa.”

It was quickly followed by the establishment of ANDEV, a lobby group chaired by Gina Rinehart to realise this vision. The Institute of Public Affairs was soon recruited to give the project a veneer of free market respectability.

ANDEV’s plan was not just a slight drop in taxes. It included vast sums of taxpayer investment in infrastructure, accompanied by the abolition or dramatic reduction of taxation levied. The Coalition policy has wording pulled straight from the ANDEV site in a series of op-eds and speeches. The 2012 National Party Conference keynote address, given by one of Rinehart’s employees, was dedicated to promoting this vision, going so far as to include ANDEV promotional material in all delegate’s packs and exhorting the audience to meet with him to discuss ANDEV privately.

The central thesis behind the ANDEV plan is that northern Australia is ‘underdeveloped’, ‘underutilised’ and ‘underpopulated’. The Coalition’s policy adopts these claims uncritically, spicing them up with promises of taming Australia’s ‘last frontier’. ANDEV also bandies around some odder reasons; the “multitudes of snakes” and “excessive heat” that afflicts residents of the North apparently entitles them to generous tax offsets. The latest Coalition incarnation of the policy leaves it to a future white paper to review how to achieve a preferential taxation regime without ending up in the High Court as it is probably unconstitutional.

Going on the word of vested interests, especially when the result is worth a huge influx of government subsidies, does not make for sound economic policy. Herein lies the problem at the heart of the Vision for Developing Northern Australia: it’s been driven from the office of a vested interest into a Liberal party that can no longer distinguish between crony capitalism and free markets. It undermines federalism by subsiding infrastructure spending and tax cuts without imposing the fiscal responsibility that a state faces in having to balance the books on this equation.

In 2010, the mining industry spent over $22 million in six weeks on its campaign against Kevin Rudd’s plan for a resource super profit tax. This led to a slump in Rudd’s popularity contributing to the Gillard takeover and the subsequent compromise deal on the MRRT costing the nation billions in revenue.

In March this year, the ATO announced an amnesty for off-shore tax evaders. Under the disclosure initiative, those who come forward will “generally” only be assessed for the last four years, even if they held the assets offshore for longer than that, and be liable for a maximum shortfall penalty of just 10% of their debt rather than 90%, the ATO said. Those coming forward also will escape investigation by the tax authority, and will avoid criminal prosecution.

While these people are busy investing their money and lobbying the government so they make no contribution to the country that has afforded them such wealth, average Australians are being hit with a “sick” tax and a deficit tax and told that we must work till 70, that pensions will decline in real terms, and the minimum wage will be slashed. We will continue to hand over billions in fossil fuel subsidies, spend billions on infrastructure for the miners, and provide guarantees for banks while we listen in amazement to the profit announcements. We will continue to provide tax concession schemes like negative gearing, investing in superannuation, and private health insurance rebates.

As Adam Bandt said

Around the world, there are some people who are incredibly wealthy who see it as part of their social duty to lift people out of poverty and to give a bit back to our society. Gina Rinehart certainly doesn’t fall into that category.

But there’s a broader issue here than just about the individual – it’s about in Australia, what do we consider to be a fair share for billionaires who make their money out of the minerals that we all own digging them up and selling them off overseas, which we only get to do once, what’s a fair share for those people to pay?

Gina Rinehart wrote and self-published a book called “Northern Australia and then some: Changes we need to make our country rich.” I will close with a quote from a review done by Cameron Whitehead at Crikey.

“What she has produced is a weirdly amateur book which is everywhere inscribed with the signature of someone accustomed to command but it is also — sometimes with a wildcard, unexpected poignancy — the work of someone who is blind to how she is being perceived. This is a book that reveals a woman for whom love, work and money are indistinguishable, a woman who has so much, and yet so little.”

Who writes this stuff?

Chris Berg

Chris Berg

It is becoming increasingly obvious that Tony Abbott’s plan for governing is to work his way through the IPA’s wish list of 75 (+25) “radical ideas”.

Since these people seem to be determining the direction our country will take I thought it worth investigating the qualifications of the authors of the paper, John Roskam, Chris Berg, and James Paterson.

John Roskam is the institute’s executive director. Prior to his employment at the IPA, Roskam was the Executive Director of the Menzies Research Centre in Canberra. He has also held positions as an adviser to federal and state education ministers, and was the manager of government and corporate affairs for the Rio Tinto Group.

The other two young men, Berg and Paterson, seem to have no relevant qualifications or experience other than appearing on the Drum and writing for publications like the Australian.

Relevant experience is not a prerequisite to get a gig at the IPA. Focusing on the National Curriculum, we have Stephanie Forrest who just finished her BA with Honours last year. In her Honours thesis, she reconstructed a previously lost Byzantine chronicle dating to the period of the early Islamic conquests (7th-8th centuries AD), and included a translation of the entire chronicle from early-medieval Greek into English. From what I can see she has no education qualifications or experience other than as a student, most recently in somewhat esoteric classical history.

In the article preceding the 75 points, the authors warn that “the generous welfare safety net provided to current generations will be simply unsustainable in the future….Change is inevitable.” It’s interesting that they do not mention the generous tax concessions for the wealthy and subsidies for the mining companies and banks who are making superprofits.

They then outline the game plan.

“But if Abbott is going to lead that change he only has a tiny window of opportunity to do so. If he hasn’t changed Australia in his first year as prime minister, he probably never will.

Why just one year? The general goodwill voters offer new governments gives more than enough cover for radical action. But that cover is only temporary. The support of voters drains. Oppositions organise. Scandals accumulate. The clear air for major reform becomes smoggy.”

We are halfway through that year. The honeymoon period vanished very quickly, no major reform has been achieved, and the support of the voters is fading. Whilst the Labor Party may not yet have found a clear direction, the opposition of the people is organised and growing, and the scandals are emerging. The only “radical action” has been the reintroduction of knighthood which has been rightly ridiculed.

They go on to talk about “culture wars” and the “Nanny State”, the mantra of all Young Liberals, most of whom have no idea of the meaning of what they are repeating. It is so predictable – you cannot have a conversation with a Young Liberal without them using those phrases endlessly in what reeks of indoctrination.

Apparently we should be more concerned about the Australian National Preventive Health Agency introducing Nanny State measures than the culture wars promoted by academics and the bias at the ABC. We should be worried about the “cottage industry” of environmental groups. We should be more concerned that senior public servants shape policy more than elected politicians do, regardless of them being experts in their fields.

Describing their 75 points the authors say

“It’s a deliberately radical list. There’s no way Tony Abbott could implement all of them, or even a majority. But he doesn’t have to implement them all to dramatically change Australia. If he was able to implement just a handful of these recommendations, Abbott would be a transformative figure in Australian political history. He would do more to shift the political spectrum than any prime minister since Whitlam.”

Do we actually want to “dramatically change Australia”? The authors suggest that just a handful of the proposed changes will cause that change. Reading through the lists here (75) and here (+25) shows that many of them are either underway or under discussion, the latest being

42 Introduce a special economic zone in the north of Australia including:

a) Lower personal income tax for residents

b) Significantly expanded 457 Visa programs for workers

c) Encourage the construction of dams

The IPA is supported by people who think that money and power are the most important things and that the world should be run to facilitate them accumulating more of the same. The IPA 70th birthday in April last year saw Cardinal Pell sitting with Gina Rinehart and Rupert Murdoch being courted by Tony Abbott and a bevy of Liberal MPs with sycophants Andrew Bolt and Alan Jones watching on. George Brandis and Tim Wilson also obviously had a fruitful conversation.

The connection between Murdoch, Rinehart, ANDEV, and the IPA shows whose interests they are being paid to represent. To think that our government is doing the same is truly frightening.

Dam(n) the nation, full speed ahead!

barnaby

Photo: Barnabyisright.com

In 2011, Gina Rinehart flew Barnaby Joyce to India in a private jet, to watch the granddaughter of her business partner marry in front of 10,000 guests. Three months later, the GVK conglomerate bought a majority stake in the billionaire’s ”Alpha” coalmine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin for $US1.26 billion.

In November 2012, Mrs Rinehart published a book called “Northern Australia and then some”, calling for the development of the North and the establishment of a Northern Special Economic Zone (SEZ) with lower taxes and a reduced regulatory burden. The publisher’s summary of the book states:

“The world is full of areas where we have beggars sitting in mountains of untapped ‘gold’. Rinehart’s message is a call to release the untapped human and economic potential through respect of the human right to free enterprise and private property.”

It sounds uncomfortably like Gina wants to abolish Native title so she can have unfettered access to those “mountains of gold”.

In February 2013, the Coalition leaked a discussion paper called Developing Northern Australia: A 2030 Vision which very closely echoed the views expressed by Gina in her book. Tony Abbott called for a “national imagination” to take advantage of the “enormous agricultural potential” of the Top End, including harnessing the “bountiful supply of water”.

He then travelled to Kununurra to stand on the wall of Australia’s largest dam and further discuss a one-third expansion of the Ord River Irrigation Scheme. His focus included “natural resource development in liquefied natural gas, mining and agribusiness” – some key users of water – with little mention of truly utilising natural advantages of the north.

It was ridiculed by Labor and the Greens, discredited by scientists, and generally dismissed as an ill-conceived thought bubble.

Tony Bourke said

”They say that they want to use them to avoid drought, they want to use them to avoid flood and they want to use them for hydro power. Now, if you want to avoid drought, you need to manage a dam that is always full. If you want to avoid floods, you need to manage a dam that is constantly empty . . . if you want to manage it for hydro it has to be constantly flowing.”

Gina Rinehart is part of an organisation called Australians for Northern Development and Economic Vision (ANDEV). They describe themselves this way:

“ANDEV is made up of individuals and businesses in Australia demanding that our government welcome investment and provide economic vision for the country’s future. We want to unleash the potential of North Australia by getting government out of the way.”

In response to the Coalition’s paper, they revealed that they, in conjunction with the IPA, had been working on the exact same idea – go figure. On the same day that the leaked paper was first reported, ANDEV published a media release saying:

“The Coalition’s draft discussion paper on water management, reported in today’s media, is a welcome recognition of the important role dams could play in revolutionising Northern Australia’s economy, according to the Institute of Public Affairs.

“Australians for Northern Development and Economic Vision (ANDEV) have been calling for the creation of dams for over two years and it is refreshing for a major party to finally acknowledge the important role they can play in driving development in Northern Australia,” said Dom Talimanidis, Director of the joint ANDEV/IPA North Australia Project.”

They go on to say that

“The Coalition’s Draft Discussion Paper, Developing Northern Australia: A 2030 Vision received widespread support in the days after it was reported in the media. The Business Spectator praised the Discussion Paper’s vision and foresight here and here. The paper also received support from many groups in Northern Australia, including the Cairns Chamber of Commerce and Mt Isa Mayor and former State Labor MP The Hon. Cr Tony McGrady AM. The Daily Telegraph’s editorial noted America’s economic growth was driven by westward expansion and questions why Australia can’t achieve something similar developing the North.”

Notable for their absence from this group of advocates was anyone with a scientific or environmental qualification. Shortly after, the idea seemed to fizzle out under a barrage of expert criticism.

rinehartIn April 2013, Barnaby Joyce and Gina Rinehart were both guests at the IPA’s 70th birthday bash. Mrs Rinehart later contributed $50,000 to Mr Joyce’s campaign to enter the House of Representatives, attended his election after-party, flew to Canberra to hear his maiden speech, and afterwards invited a small group of Coalition friends for drinks in her private hotel suite. Aside from Mr Joyce, these included some of Mrs Rinehart’s closest political friends, the Speaker Bronwyn Bishop and Liberal Party senators Cory Bernardi and Michaelia Cash.

Ever ready to push his benefactor’s barrow, we hear yesterday that

“FEDERAL Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce has put dams back on the agenda by unveiling a Commonwealth ministerial working group to consider new options.”

The idea of developing the north is not new. The first Commonwealth parliamentary inquiry into the development of northern Australia was held in 1912. In 1934, J. A. Gilruth, published a “Confidential Report on the Northern Territory of Australia”. He believed that statements about the opportunities being neglected in the north could be traced to either (1) those who had read only the biased laudatory accounts, but wished for some‐one else to be the pioneers; (2) those who had an interest in land or a lease and wished to realise a capital gain; and (3) business people to whom any influx of population means a profit.

Tom Rayner, who works for Charles Darwin University as a Research Leader in the Northern Research Futures Collaborative Research Network, had this to say:

“As a nation, we have witnessed similar clashes between commodities, communities and conservation in the Murray-Darling Basin. As scientists, we have documented the effects of water extraction on floodplains, fish and forests. As farmers, we have experienced diminishing terms of trade and a transition away from the traditional family farm. As taxpayers, we have funded a multi-billion dollar rescue mission aimed at improving river health.

Now, staring down the barrel of a decade of rapid transformation, we confront a critical decision: “Is this a future we want to repeat in northern Australia?”

We know that dams damage rivers – there are literally hundreds of scientific studies detailing effects on connectivity, water quality and biodiversity. It is odd that, at a time when people elsewhere are discussing dam removal, we might want to build more.”

In 2009, the Northern Australia Land and Water Taskforce produced a report on the potential impact of new development in northern Australia on water balance and quality, the environment, existing water users and the broader community.

The report points out that the rainfall received each year already supports a wide range of uses. These include unique aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems; recreational and commercial fisheries and tourism that are based upon them; a range of largely non‐consumptive Indigenous uses; and consumptive use by irrigated agriculture, stock and domestic and mining. Water is critical to each of these uses, and increased consumptive use will involve a degree of trade‐off between new uses and the range of existing consumptive and non‐consumptive uses.

Conserving and accessing surface water for consumptive use is highly constrained by difficulties in impoundment and groundwater abstraction from one point may influence surface water flow and function at another, and vice versa.

The report also highlights the dangers to existing industries. Tourism, for example, contributes about $2,800 m p.a. to the northern Australian economy, and relies heavily on the largely pristine land and water of the north. Extractive industries such as commercial fishing (>$160 m) are heavily water dependent non‐consumptive uses of water. Opportunities available to these industries would be curtailed by significant consumptive water use or landscape modification. Changes to the natural resource base also impact the value of the Indigenous hybrid economy, upon which up to a third of the north’s population may depend.

Cultural life in northern Australia is extraordinarily dependent on the region’s high natural values. These, in turn, emanate from the intact landscapes and relatively undisturbed flows of the north’s waterways. Development can directly reduce these values by depleting water, reducing water quality or by changing the natural flow of water in the landscape; all of which impact aquatic, marine and terrestrial environments. Development can also indirectly and inadvertently impact these. Roads, for example, can disturb the flow of water across the landscape, altering connections between waterways and floodplains that support communities of vegetation, fish, birds and mammals. The impacts of development on the natural environment are varied, and many are persistent and difficult to correct.

In this, like so many other of this government’s decisions, we seem to be ignoring research and the lessons of the past. A new study from Oxford University has found that the vast majority of large dams around the globe are unprofitable undertakings as a result of exorbitant cost overruns, with actual costs exceeding original estimates by around 96 per cent on average in real terms.

“We find that even before accounting for negative impacts on human society and environment, the actual construction costs of large dams are too high to yield a positive return,” the study said.

Already, the climate in the north is hot and alternates seasonally between arid and very wet. Small areas of arable soils are interspersed with large areas of land suitable only for grazing. The low fertility of soils and the high risks of climatic adversity (floods and cyclones) are major constraints to crop production. Management systems to prevent soil erosion are critical due to the high intensity of rainfall.

Climate change will lead to sea level rise and potentially greater storm surges which will impact on coastal settlements, infrastructure and ecosystems. Some areas will be vulnerable to riverine flooding and more intense cyclonic activity.

In Darwin the number of days over 35 degrees Celsius is expected to increase from 11 per year currently experienced to up to 69 by 2030 and up to 308 by 2070 without global action to reduce emissions. Coupled with the extremely high humidity that Darwin experiences during the wet season, higher temperatures are expected to adversely affect levels of human comfort.

Projections indicate there may be an increase in the proportion of tropical cyclones in the more intense categories, with a decrease in the total number of cyclones. For example, the number of category 3 to 5 cyclones is projected to increase, and by 2030 there may be a 60 per cent increase in intensity of the most severe storms, and a 140 per cent increase by 2070.

In these days of “financial distress” when we are being warned to expect a “tough budget”, it is somewhat incongruous that Barnaby Joyce is prepared to spend $30+ billion building dams to fulfil Gina Rinehart’s demands to develop the North, regardless of the countless studies that warn of the non-viablility of the idea and the damage it would cause.

The paradigm of the “empty north” was derived from colonialist thinking and rejection of Indigenous tenure.  The idea of making it the food bowl for Asia, while ignoring the environmental and climactic challenges, could make it a very expensive exercise in futility. I know mining requires a lot of water but have you really thought this through? Is it too much to expect you to listen to scientists and to read the reports that have already been done?  Messing with water can be a very dangerous thing and you probably need someone other than Gina to advise you on this.

Gina’s Right. Axioms for the New Age.

 

There was a bit of discussion on a Facebook page where some people expressed concern at others who were attacking Gina’s weight and appearance. The general gist of them was that the Right won’t be defeated if we all emulate them. The “be the change you want to see in the world” philosophy.

Others seemed to think that if it was good enough for the Jones and Bolts to engage in vile comments about Julia Gillard then Rinehart was fair game. After all, the argument went, when a woman of Gina’s appearance starts talking about people not working hard enough, it’s reasonable to ask when she last saw the inside of gym.

But after a while, the discussion started to remind me of “The Life of Brian” and the various Palestine Liberation Groups. So I thought that I’d leave the Left to their silly brawling and join the side of politics that doesn’t question anything and come up with a few axioms for the country.

Let’s see:

Lately, Abbott has said that timber workers were the “ultimate conservationists” and “the environment is meant for man and not just the other way around”. He’s also been concerned about wages growth and red tape. Just today, I heard that were removing union red tape on 457 Visas. To stop people coming into to the country, if I remember Rupert correctly – was “disgusting and racist”. Sorry, that was to stop “workers” – it’s not racist to stop boat people.

OK. AXIOMS FOR THE AGE OF ABBOTT.

  1. Information just helps the enemy. Therefore, anyone who gives out or asks for information is probably an enemy.
  2. Employees were meant for employers and not the other way round.
  3. God gave us everything to use as we see fit. Us, not you, so stop with this class warfare!
  4. Taxes are passed on to everyone that’s why the Liberals only ever apply levies.
  5. Unions oppose slavery because slaves don’t need unions.
  6. A thing is only a lie if you knew at the time it was a lie and there’s no need to correct it unless you are almost certain to be found out.
  7. One-off weather events are not evidence of climate change, but a cold spell disproves global warming.
  8. The IPA’s views are self-evident and only a fool would disagree with them. Anyone who disagrees is obviously stupid and not entitled to an opinion.
  9. Everyone on our side of politics has an interest in making money, so there is never a conflict of interest with any of our MPs, supporters or staff members.
  10. Supporting companies with money just encourages inefficiency, but giving money to stage a car race in Victoria stimulates business and enourages employment.
  11. If you can exploit it, you can exploit it.

If you keep these axioms handy, it will help you understand the current political situation.

Do you want Welfare with that?

Image from theland.com.au

Image from theland.com.au

It’s Kevin Heaven again!  Our Welfare Warrior is back in the game and planting the flag, or wrapping it around his svelte figure, in acts of true olde time patriotism.

Such is the great work that Kevin Andrews (Photo:Jason South) performs.  Ever ready to announce a merger for efficiency, or a crackdown on welfare dependents (aka dole bludgers); he is at the front lines in Tony Abbott’s war.  The ex-workers at Holden and SPC will no doubt be thrilled to hear that after years of government & management incompetence they will face a much harder test to qualify for any welfare spending in their attempt to find new work.

With this great charge toward tightening belts on the shrinking waistlines of those unable to pay taxes, let us make some further suggestions for other areas to conduct a similar campaign to clamp down on our ballooning budget crisis by confronting those who are merely unwilling.

Global Googly

Google Australia has paid no tax on roughly $940 million in advertising revenue. Instead of sacking hundreds of ATO workers and outsourcing tax compliance for big corporations to private accountants, why not task these apparently surplus staff to crack down on global tax avoidance.

Currently individuals and corporation have Trillions of dollars ferreted away in offshore havens and secretive jurisdictions.  Money earned in one country is claimed as profits in another; so that Australian companies signing up for Google advertising are actually giving their money to an Irish arm of the search giant, thus avoiding tax on revenue.

According to the Uniting Church they are not alone.  Several listed Australian companies including News Corporation, Qantas and the ‘Big Four’ banks have subsidiaries in secrecy jurisdictions where money earned can be quietly kept from the prying eyes of the tax man.

Some may laud Kerry Packer’s quote about minimizing tax, the problem with that approach is that health, education, roads, defence, and politicians cost money.  If corporations pay less tax, the rest of us have to pay more.

Sick System

The importance of manufacturing is bandied about a great deal, and if the Australian public were interested in the long-term macro-economic consequences of purchasing imported cars and groceries then perhaps Ford, Holden & SPC would still be viable businesses.  However the $6 billion in assistance meted out to the auto industry over four years pales in comparison to the $5 billion that Private Health insurers receive every year.

Unlike cars and tinned fruit, Australians do not have a choice about health insurance.  Not if they want to avoid paying the Lifetime Health Cover fee.  As a result 9.7 million adult Australians now pay for private health insurance, roughly 57.1% of the population.  The lowest premiums start at about $45 per month, and in 2014 some premiums are slated to increase up to $300 per year.  Almost all of these attract the 30% rebate from the Commonwealth tax coffers, resulting in billions of dollars in direct subsidies.

When one also compares the inefficient 14% of income that private insurers pay on administration to the 5% costs incurred by the public insurer MediBank, one could be forgiven for wondering if all those billions could be better spent directly into the health system rather than being filtered through the pockets of corporate insurers.

Ground Breaking

Then there are everyone’s favourite martyrs, the miners.  Direct contributions by the Commonwealth to mining companies in 2012 tallied up to about $492 million.  However, thanks to generous fuel tax concessions and tax write-offs real support payments reached $4.5 Billion.

Former Howard adviser, now Minerals Council spokesman Ben Mitchell argued;

“The fuel tax was imposed to build public roads. Mining builds its own roads and that’s why we get a credit on that.”

He also insists that the $550 million in deductions claimed for exploration and prospecting are not just a cost of business, but a business input that the tax-payer should refund to them.

Keep in mind that the billion dollar hand-outs from the Commonwealth do not include what is chipped in by the states.  Queensland tax payers are funding the mining industry to the tune of $1.4 billion per year.

Would these companies be less profitable without this tax-payer assistance?  Yes, though to echo the Prime Minister, perhaps they should “Get their house in order” so that public money can be spent on building infrastructure instead of funding corporate salaries.

For example, taking only the annual $9-10 billion per year doled out to private insurers and miners (ignoring the tax dollars not collected from multi-nationals) it would only take four years to pay the additional $30 billion needed to complete the full FTTP National Broadband Network.

Like rail, ports and roads before it, FTTP infrastructure would create a new highway for business to grow and replace the failing auto manufacturers, encourage growth in dying regional areas, reduce the cost of public service delivery, and build new markets and a stronger economy that Australia can transition to as traditional manufacturing and mining continue to fade as meaningful contributors to the economy and employment.

Mr Abbott has also quoted and paraphrased American right-wing shock-jock Rush Limbaugh’s quote “No country ever taxed itself to prosperity.” To which I would reply with the inestimable wisdom of another American, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

“I like to pay taxes. With them, I buy civilization.”

Gina’s Bollycoal (Ad)venture

Indian wedding

When Julie Bishop, Barnaby Joyce and Teresa Gambaro collectively claimed more than $12,000 in “overseas study” allowances to pay for flights home from a wedding they attended in India in June 2011 as Gina Rinehart’s guests, the public were rightly outraged.

Public sector governance expert Stephen Bartos said that the legitimacy of the trip would “depend whether there’s any real conflict of interest. It’s a little bit different for backbenchers. If Julie Bishop or Barnaby Joyce aspire to be ministers one day, then the question is, is there anything involved with this that might come back to haunt them?  If there was any possibility that this would be a deal that would require regulatory approval by the parliament that would be a problem,” citing the recent nixed ASX takeover that required legislative changes.

Under intense pressure from the media, the politicians agreed to repay the money (or some of it anyway), so everything should be tickety poo.  Or is it?

Mrs Rinehart was about to clinch a $1 billion coal deal with the bride’s grandfather – G.V. Krishna Reddy, the founder of GVK, an Indian energy and infrastructure company.

GV Krishna Reddy first came to Australia looking for fuel for his power project in India. He switched tracks when he saw an opportunity in the huge, unconstrained mines available here.

Three months after the wedding, he paid Hancock Prospecting, one of Australia’s biggest resource companies, $1.3 billion for Alpha, Kevin’s Corner and Alpha West. His plan is to transform GVK from a middling Indian infrastructure player, struggling with debt and cash flow problems, to a mining major by 2025, which will produce 84 million tonnes of coal a year. To put the number in perspective, India’s total thermal coal imports in 2012 were about 100 million tonnes.

During 2011-12 Reddy travelled to Australia 27 times.

In India, GVK’s operational as well as financial performance has been deteriorating. Singapore’s Changi Airport Group pulled out of a joint deal in 2012, and constraints on gas supplies and a high interest burden have complicated matters. Its gas-based power projects are facing serious supply constraints and all its operating power projects are operating at alarmingly low levels of load factors.

After the deal with Rinehart had been signed, the economic environment got worse, coal prices fell from a peak of $120/tonne to about $90, funding dried up, and Reddy was unable to complete the financial closure as planned.  In June 2012, when the Australian Federal government halted environmental clearances for GVK’s proposed coal mine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin, it became almost impossible to get investors interested.  In January last year it was reported that Reddy needed to raise debt of about $7 billion to achieve financial closure.

Forbes India pointed out the importance of Reddy’s personal connection with Rinehart.

“But mining industry insiders say GVK is lucky to have one of the toughest Aussie voices on its side: Gina Rinehart, owner of Hancock and the world’s richest woman on the Forbes global billionaire’s list. Rinehart is one of Australia’s biggest climate sceptics, a vociferous opponent of carbon taxes, and has lobbied for allowing foreign labour in Australian mining.  The reticent heiress has developed a great relationship with the Reddy family and has made at least six trips to India last year.”

Under a subheading of “Reinventing the rules”, Forbes goes on to say

“Reddy’s biggest challenge is to overhaul the bloated cost structure that has made Australia among the most expensive places to mine in.  Customers are turning to cheaper supplies from Indonesia and elsewhere.

Trying to turn his inexperience into an advantage, Reddy is now questioning every convention and every assumption of Australian miners.

For starters, he has set a clear target: His team has to aim for a price of $50/tonne (freight on board). [Current production costs are about $70/tonne and rail contracts about $8-10/tonne]

Reddy hired McKinsey to help attack the cost culture within the Australian mining industry.

“The kind of equipment you order can make all the difference,” he says. His communication to the Australian team, led by group managing director and CEO Paul Mulder, is clear: “‘Good enough’ is what you need, not ‘best available in the world’.”

Bringing the Australians around to GVK’s way of working was a gradual process, says Reddy.

Reddy says it is silly to look at such a project with “today’s eyeglass”; you have to look at it for the long term. He admits it was touch-and-go till recently. But with environmental clearances in place, it is only a question of taking key strategic calls, he says. Over the next 50 years, the opportunity is enormous in a country with very low political risks.”

In June 2013, Times of India reported that

“Infrastructure firm GVK’s $10-billion Alpha coalmine, port and rail project is uneconomical and represents an unacceptable level of risk to potential investors, says a report by the US-based Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA).

Titled ‘Stranded: A financial analysis of GVK’s proposed Alpha Coal Project in Australia’s Galilee Basin’, the report comes as Australian rail operator Aurizon negotiates to partner with the Indian conglomerate on the construction of the rail and port components of the Alpha project at a cost of $6 billion.

Commenting on the risk profile of the project, former first deputy comptroller of New York and the report’s co-author, IEEFA’s Tom Sanzillo, labelled GVK, “a weak investment partner” and the Alpha project “a quagmire, not an investment”.

GVK is seeking to raise a total of $10 billion capital to build Australia’s largest black coal mine in Queensland’s remote, untapped Galilee Basin, construct 500km of rail infrastructure across agricultural land and floodplains to the coast, and develop a highly controversial coal export terminal through the iconic, UNESCO World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef.

The IEEFA report emphasized that GVK has never successfully built or operated a coalmine or any business outside of India. It is overcommitted, with 16 greenfield infrastructure projects worth $20 billion across six asset classes.

Besides being highly overleveraged, carrying debt of $2.8 billion with a market capitalization of only $243 million, GVK faces a plummeting stock price, which has underperformed the Indian share price index by 80% since 2010, said the report.”

Despite concerns expressed by water scientists, on November 1 2013, Greg Hunt approved the 37,380 hectare Kevin’s Corner.  The mine, to be operated by a joint India-Australia consortium, GVK-Hancock, is the first to be approved since the introduction of a new water trigger rule by the previous federal government.

Greenpeace claims Kevin’s Corner will use more than nine billion litres of water a year and the Lock the Gate Alliance says more information on its impact on Galilee Basin groundwater is needed.

In December Mr Hunt gave the go-ahead for three million cubic metres of dredge spoil to be dumped offshore in the Great Barrier Marine Park, 24km northeast off Abbot Point.

He also approved construction of the Adani-owned terminal 0 at Abbot Point and gave the go-ahead for the Arrow LNG facility on Curtis Island, near Gladstone, and its associated gas transmission pipeline.

Whislt it seems it full steam ahead here (ignoring the small matter of money), Mr Reddy’s other ventures don’t appear to be going so well.  On December 10 2013 the Economic Times interviewed Gaurang Shah, Vice President of Geojit BNP Paribas Financial Services, about GVK Power.

“ET Now: It is a single digit stock but it has got some key assets to itself GVK Power, Bombay Airport, Bangalore Airport, some fairly decent road assets as well but of course the mountain of debt crippling it. What would you do with the GVK Power – would you buy it at the current levels?

Gaurang Shah: Absolutely not and these assets howsoever good they are, they get invisible when you look at the mountain of debt as you rightly put it on the company’s balance sheet. Time and again we hear certain news flows as to company is trying to reduce their debt on the balance sheet by getting away or selling out these assets, of course good assets. So, I do not see any reason why I should go ahead and buy a GVK Power or a GMR Infra or a Lanco Infra as a matter of fact and if you do see rallies these are perfect opportunities to off load these stocks if you have it in your portfolio.”

In October 2013, an investigation into illegal mining operations in India was suddenly halted. The investigation had been set up by the government and led to the arrest of public officials for corruption, but was wound up without explanation.

Commencing in 2010, the commission had a mandate to investigate financial transactions between exporters, traders and mining lease owners, as well as illegal practices like mining without a licence or outside lease areas.  U. V. Singh, the commission’s primary investigator, said:

“The government has not stated any reason for instructing us to end our investigations. A full inquiry was not possible.”

However, the information gathered so far revealed high levels of corruption in the industry: so much that two former Congress chief ministers of Goa, Digambar Kamat and Pratapsingh Rane, have been indicted for involvement in illegal mining, as well as failure to safeguard the environment.

Vijay Pratap, convener of the think tank South Asian Dialogues on Ecological Democracy, said:

   “The commission was exposing too much corruption at government level and risked undermining tightly woven corporate collusion with the political class, which has sadly become endemic in the mining industry. This is why the government aborted the investigation.”

According to Madhu Sarin, honorary fellow of Rights and Resources Initiative, the government’s decision to end the investigation proves a failure to protect vulnerable tribal communities.

    “The commission’s termination will have a direct impact on the rights of all those illegally displaced already and under threat of displacement in the future due to non-recognition of their forest rights and being denied the right to decide whether mining in their ecologically fragile homelands should be permitted or not.”

With the increasing interest and investment by foreign mining companies in Australia, some of whom are under real pressure to make money fast, I would suggest it is not a good time to be removing regulations and oversight.

Fruitcakes of a Feather

Monckton

I have been on an interesting journey through the world of climate change denial and I would like to share some of my travel highlights with you.

I started with my favourite video of well- known climate change denier and world government alarmist, Lord Christopher Monckton (a must watch if you haven’t seen it).  He is the pin-up boy of the mining industry, a man whose “expert” opinion is often quoted by Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt.  The meeting is in the boardroom of the Mannkal Economic Education Foundation, a free-market think-tank founded by west Australian mining magnate Ron Manners. Monckton explains how they need to control the media to achieve their goals.   Interestingly, not long after this meeting took place, Gina Rinehart bought $192 million worth of shares in Fairfax (the publisher of Brisbane Times, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and many regional newspapers and city-based radio stations) to take her share in the company to about 14 per cent.

Monckton applauds the work of Andrew Bolt, and also Joanne Codling who is better known by her stage name, Jo Nova, which she adopted in 1998 when she was preparing to host a children’s television program.  Jo Nova is married to David Evans and she and her husband joined Lord Monckton on a speaking tour in Australia in 2011.  The advertising for the tour describes Nova and Evans as “leading Australian scientists” who will, along with headliner Monckton, explain how “the carbon tax will bankrupt Australia” and show how “the science does not justify it.”

Let’s start with Monckton, the third Viscount of Benchley, a hereditary title in the United Kingdom. Contrary to Monckton’s claims, he is not a member of the House of Lords in the Parliament of Britain. In fact, when Monckton persisted with the lie, the House of Lords took the unprecedented step of publishing an open letter to him, demanding that he cease and desist.

Monckton is not a scientist. He has a degree in classics and a diploma in journalism.  Nevertheless, the Heartland Institute lists him as an expert with their organization, where they publish his posts on climate change. He is also a frequent speaker at the Institute’s annual International Conference on Climate Change.  He is listed as a “scientist” in American Senator Inhofe’s report claiming more than 1,000 scientists disputed there’s a scientific consensus on climate change.   He has TWICE been asked by Republicans to testify about climate change before committees of the U.S. Congress

Monckton is the Chief Policy Advisor to climate change denial lobby group Science and Public Policy Institute (SPPI).  His bio on their site stated that:

“His contribution to the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report in 2007 – the correction of a table inserted by IPCC bureaucrats that had overstated tenfold the observed contribution of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets to sea-level rise – earned him the status of Nobel Peace Laureate. His Nobel prize pin, made of gold recovered from a physics experiment, was presented to him by the Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of Rochester, New York, USA”

When Christopher Monckton was challenged about this during a visit to Australia in early 2010 he conceded that “it was a joke, a joke” and “never meant to be taken seriously”. The Sydney Morning Herald noted that despite this, he had made the same claim with a “straight face” on the Alan Jones show one day prior, and the claim remained on the SPPI website until 2012.

He also describes himself as a “chief policy advisor” to former British PM Margaret Thatcher, and frequently introduces himself as her “chief science advisor” when interviewed by the conservative media.

Monckton has been quoted as saying “I gave her advice on science as well as other policy from 1982-1986, two years before the IPCC Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was founded”, that he was “the only one who knew any science” and that “it was I who – on the prime minister’s behalf – kept a weather eye on the official science advisers to the government, from the chief scientific adviser downward”.  Bob Ward in the Guardian investigated these claims and found them to be false.

Monckton claimed that he has developed a cure for Graves’ Disease, AIDS, Multiple Sclerosis, the flu, and the common cold.  This is no joke–he actually filed an application to patent a “therapeutic treatment” in 2009.

I could go on and on, including when he dressed up in Arabian clothes and pretended to be a delegate from Myanmar at the UN climate change talks (from which he has since been permanently banned), or when he described Professor Ross Garnaut as a fascist and said in a German accent “Heil Hitler! on we go”, or his launch of the fringe political group Rise Up Australia, or when he threatened to sue the University of Tasmania, but I think you already get my drift on the credibility of this “expert”.

Moving on to Jo Nova.  Nova received a Bachelor of Science from the University of Western Australia majoring in micro and molecular biology. She also received a Graduate Certificate in Scientific Communication from the Australian National University in 1989, and went on to host children’s science shows.  She loves to do the denier shuffle on her blog but seems to not care at all about the validity of her sources.

Ms Nova’s husband David Evans “attended the University of Sydney for five years from 1979 where he did science and engineering, and then spent a further five years at Stanford University at Palo Alto in California, doing a PhD in electrical engineering”.  According to his biographical note, Evans rhetorically describes himself as a “Rocket Scientist”.  While Evans use of the term was rhetorical, one article on a website for the conspiracy-minded took it literally and headed an article about Evans claiming “Top Rocket Scientist: No Evidence CO2 Causes Global Warming”.

Evans has made a number of claims about the role of banking institutions throughout history and subscribes to the conspiracy theory that “climate change is merely a cover for a massive power play”.

I fail to see how these two could be described as “leading Australian scientists” or what their qualifications are to join the climate change denial talk circuit as experts.  This excellent article from Watching the Deniers details the claims made by Nova and Evans over the years.  And they call US alarmists! Paranoia anyone?

So who pays these people to present their “expert” views?  That trail leads to people like Gina Rinehart and Ron Manners, and groups like the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies (AMEC), and the Galileo Movement.

The Galileo Movement was started by two retired men, one was formerly paid by mining companies and the other is a former engineer who owns an air-conditioning company.  They apparently formed with the express intention of stopping the carbon tax.  Alan Jones is their patron and the usual suspects are named as “expert advisers”, a list which until recently included Andrew Bolt. (When Bolt dumps you you KNOW you are out there.)

The Galileo Movement are advertising an upcoming talk by radio talkback personality John MacRae, a regular on Alan Jones show, about how banks and governments are ripping you off, and Malcolm Roberts, their project manager, who “will speak for 20 minutes on government abuse of taxpayer funding through corruption of climate science”.  It seems Roberts is also heavily embroiled in the banking conspiracy theory.

So my tour has really been a circle, revisiting the same places again and again.  Gina Rinehart, Lord Monckton, Andrew Bolt, Jo Nova, David Evans, Alan Jones, the Galileo Movement, Malcolm Roberts.  The resources that are being devoted to this misinformation campaign are formidable. The arguments go “round, like a circle in a spiral and a wheel within a wheel”.  Lies and obfuscation, cherry-picking data and repeating any claim regardless of its credibility or source.

The mad monk even appeared as a speaker with the even madder Monckton in Perth.  If these are the people that our current government goes to for climate change advice, Lord save us.  And I don’t mean the feathered loon variety.

Author’s note:  This is one of a series of articles looking at the people who advise Tony Abbott.  Others include AIMN articles, Who do you admire, Has anybody seen Tony’s envoy, Putting our First People last and Tony’s tame expert.

Tony’s tame expert

In 2009, Tony Abbott attacked as ”climate change alarmists” those scientists who worked on the peak UN scientific advisory body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and who were warning about the threat from climate change. Abbott described them on Four Corners as ”the people who will tell you as if it’s as obvious…

Read more

Why Rupert hates unions and Gina loves 457 visas

Image from theconversation.com

Image from theconversation.com

While attempting to clean up my computer, I came across an essay that my daughter wrote earlier this year.  I would like to share an excerpt from it.

Marxists see the conflict between the bourgeoisie (those that own the means of production) and the proletariat (those who sell their labour) as crucial to the maintenance of capitalism.  Its function is to create an obedient, docile, uncritical workforce who will work to support the upper-class’s lifestyle and the economy.  Keeping wages low, or debt pressure high, means workers will be less likely to complain or make demands.  As workers struggle to provide their families with all the temptations that a capitalist society offers, they become far less likely to risk their employment, and less able to improve their situation.  Even in the unlikely event that an opportunity for advancement should arise, it would often mean abandoning family and friends in order to pursue it.  These factors, along with a tendency to marry within one’s own circle, combine to make movement between social classes difficult.

The current political debate surrounding the power of unions, work choices, and the importation of workers on 457 visas, could be regarded as an attempt to disempower employees thus maintaining a compliant workforce.  It is difficult for an individual to risk complaining about wages or working conditions, so removing the collective voice and protection of unions means people are unlikely to make waves if, by so doing, they risk unemployment or deportation.

The process of industrialisation in the 19th century led to major changes in family life.  Many things that had formerly been produced at home were now produced more cheaply in factories and families eventually became units of shared income and consumption rather than production, private and separate from the public world of business and politics.  Men’s place of work was removed from the home and women’s and children’s unpaid domestic labour kept wages low allowing companies to increase profits.  Women were increasingly isolated from society and children learned to obey.

Max Horkheimer regarded the family as an essential part of the social order in that it adapted every individual to conformity to authority.  He argued that if men are the sole breadwinners, this ‘makes wife, sons and daughters “his”, puts their lives in large measure into his hands, and forces them to submit to his order and guidance’.  Marx felt the same way stating that “Marriage is…incontestably a form of private property”.  The economic dependence of the family on the father made men more conservative about radical social change which might undermine their ability to provide for their families, while the development of obedience to the authority of one’s own father was a preparation for obedience to the authority of the state and one’s employer.

During the 1960s and 70s the Western world saw a rapid period of social change in which the traditional understanding of the family began to be questioned.  Feminist writers such as Christine Delphy, argued that in a capitalist society there are two modes of production: an industrial mode which is the site of capitalist exploitation; and the domestic mode which is the site of patriarchal exploitation.  Marxist writers such as Juliet Mitchell examined the exploitation of workers under capitalism, pointing out that women, as they slowly entered the workforce, were doubly exploited through lower wages and unpaid labour at home. Contemporary Marxist writing argues that the family structure socialises children ‘into capitalist ideology’, which ‘prepares them to accept their place in the class structure, provides an emotionally supportive retreat for the alienated worker and so dissipates the frustration of the workplace, and impedes working class solidarity by privatising the household and generating financial commitments which discourage militant activity’ .

The role of the nuclear family in providing, perpetuating and indoctrinating a docile workforce is summarised by the following quotes.  Meighan suggests that “For men, the denial of opportunities for excellence under capitalism leads…to a search for power and self-esteem in the sexual arena”   Ainsley goes on to explain that “When wives play their traditional roles as takers of shit they often absorb their husband’s legitimate anger and frustration in a way which poses no challenge to the system”, and Cooper states that “The child is, in fact, primarily taught not how to survive in society, but how to submit to it”.

Changes in society have blurred these stereotypical roles.  Many more women now are entering the workforce and are far less likely to marry for economic security.  The availability of quality education and the explosion of information provided by the internet have made people more informed and less willing to blindly accept what they are told, and for some, it has also provided the opportunity to move from the social class into which they were born.  The traditional structure of the nuclear family is also changing with much more diversity in family groups due to such factors as divorce, same sex couples, extended families, and many women choosing not to have children.

There have been other criticisms of the materialist perspective in that its focus was too limited to economic aspects, neglecting the value of and support provided in a loving intimate union, instead concentrating on the oppressive and controlling aspects of families and relationships. It tends to portray people as capitalist dupes without freedom of thought assessing them purely from a labour perspective.

While many of the bourgeoisie would still prefer, and in fact depend on, a malleable, uncomplaining workforce, family power structures are becoming less a factor in achieving this. However, our seemingly endless desire to consume and update means that economic pressures still play a large role.   Even with, in many cases, both parents working, employment security usually takes precedence over job satisfaction or working conditions.  Children are better informed and largely better educated and therefore have more opportunity to achieve economic independence and possibly change their social class but the rising cost of tertiary education, possible reductions in funding, and competition from overseas students limits the number who can attempt this.  The burden is perhaps better shared but the outcome is in most cases the same – be happy with your lot.

Engel’s spoke of the evolution of the family as being both a catalyst for and result of the growth of capitalism.  As mankind’s standard of living has improved, our desire to accumulate possessions and wealth to pass on to our families has only increased, as has our willingness to go into debt to satisfy it.  Power and control is still exerted by those that own the means of production and they readily use this power to manipulate public opinion.  Concentration of the media in the hands of a few like-minded individuals has led to misinformation campaigns that have amazingly ignited the workers to fight for the rights of the rich to get richer at their own expense.  Family dynamics may have changed but the willingness of the proletariat to support the bourgeoisie seems alive and well.

 

The role of government versus the role of our government

Image courtesy of smh.com.au

Image courtesy of smh.com.au

I recently read an article titled ‘The Responsibilities of Government’ and, whilst I did not agree with everything the author said, a few things really struck a chord with me.

“The government of a democracy is accountable to the people. It must fulfil its end of the social contract. And, in a practical sense, government must be accountable because of the severe consequences that may result from its failure. As the outcomes of fighting unjust wars and inadequately responding to critical threats such as global warming illustrate, great power implies great responsibility.”

The veil of secrecy surrounding this government protects them from their duty of accountability. The blue books advising the incoming government were withheld. Operational and intelligence matters will not be discussed. Crucial trade negotiations regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP) are kept secret. Ministers are kept away from the media and all interviews must be approved by the Star Chamber. The media are denied access to our on and offshore detention centres, and now the Salvation Army are to be removed as well. The first sitting of Parliament was delayed, debate has been gagged, and the Mid-year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) report was not presented before Parliament rose.

Public servants are sacked and reviews are outsourced to the private sector, or consultants are engaged, all of whom seem to have a connection with the Liberal Party and/or big business. They are given little time to review or consult, restricted frames of reference, and unrepresentative panels. Much of what they have been asked to review has already been the subject of recent review, or a review is already underway by government bodies like the Productivity Commission. It seems that these people are being paid a lot of money to give the answers the government wants to hear.

The response to the “critical threat” of climate change has been to undo the action already taken in pricing carbon, to disband all climate change advisory bodies, to decimate the CSIRO, and to refuse to co-operate in international initiatives to deal with this global threat.

Instead we have hastened to approve the biggest coal mines in Australia and the port expansion and railways to support them. Two proposed coal mines in the region could be responsible for an estimated 3.7bn tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions over their lifetimes. Greenpeace estimates if all the Galilee Basin mines hit their maximum potential, 705 million tonnes of CO2 will be released each year. For comparison, Australia’s current annual emissions are in the order of 400 million tonnes.

“The coal to be mined from the Galilee basin and exported through Abbot Point each year which will create more CO2 emissions a year than produced by both Denmark and Portugal combined.”

One of the three terminals was proposed by the Indian resource giant Adani, the second by a joint venture between the Indian company GVK and Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Coal, and the third site was to be developed by BHP Billiton. But BHP recently pulled out of its involvement in the project.

Even though port developers Adani note in their environmental impact statement, submitted to the government, “The current developments (proposed and approved) for port expansion will facilitate the export of coal, the combustion of which is recognised as a significant contributor to greenhouse gases and the global effects of climate change”, climate change was not mentioned in the approval documentation.

Adani was not required to assess downstream effects of the coal passing through its port because, it said, two Federal Court cases over previous, unrelated projects, found that it wouldn’t be necessary. They were only required to report on how port operations may interact with climate change. In order to mitigate the effects of port operation on climate change, Adani proposes that it powers up with renewable energy:

“Adani recognises that measures to reduce [greenhouse gas] (GHG) emissions through energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy technologies or low emissions materials make good business sense. Consequently Adani will commit to reducing GHG emissions through its procurement and operations practices.”

Aside from the irony of a coal port being powered by renewable energy, the ultimate ramifications of the coal being unlocked has not been considered by either the developer or the government in the approval process.

Hunt has also approved the Arrow LNG facility on nearby Curtis Island, as well as its associated transmission pipeline.

This year Unesco’s World Heritage Centre warned that the Great Barrier Reef, which has lost half of its coral cover in the past 30 years, would be placed on its “in-danger” list if there were major new port developments. A study commissioned by the previous Labor government found that dredging spoil dumped at sea travelled further than previously thought, potentially endangering coral and other marine life. The approval documents show the spoil from the dredging will be dumped within the Great Barrier Reef marine park area.

On Monday the Coalition passed changes to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to strip away any repercussions if the government fails to consider expert advice before approving major developments such as mines and ports, removing the ability for community groups to legally challenge new developments if the environment minister failed to consult approved advice, thus removing the protection that the judicial system could have offered.

Which leads me to the second quote about the responsibilities of government.

“The central purpose of government in a democracy is to be the role model for, and protector of, equality and freedom and our associated human rights. For the first, government leaders are social servants, since through completing their specific responsibilities they serve society and the people. But above and beyond this they must set an ethical standard, for the people to emulate. For the second, the legal system and associated regulation are the basic means to such protection, along with the institutions of the military, for defense against foreign threats, and the police.”

Whilst we were quick to accede to America’s request to criticise China about a restricted flight zone, we condoned the human rights abuses in Sri Lanka and West Papua, and hesitated about action in Syria.

Social and income inequity is widening, exacerbated by this government’s preference for removing benefits from the poor whilst increasing them for the rich.

The vilification of Julia Gillard, the poor behaviour in question time in Parliament, and the rorting of MP’s entitlements, have hardly been ethical standards that the people should emulate.

The courts have been used to play politics as in the case of Peter Slipper, and to block equality laws like gay marriage, environmental laws have been changed, our military are being used to hunt down asylum seekers and our police are busily interrogating anyone caught riding a motor bike.

“Government economic responsibility is also linked to protection from the negative consequences of free markets. The government must defend us against unscrupulous merchants and employers, and the extreme class structure that results from their exploitation.

Governments argue that people need to be assisted with the economic competition that now dominates the world. But the real intent of this position is to justify helping corporate interests . . . siding against local workers, consumers and the environment.”

The lack of transparency, consultation, and discussion of possible consequences of our free trade agreements is of great concern. Allowing foreign corporations to dictate to us is a very dangerous path to follow. Instead of protecting us, the government are allowing big business to set the agenda in every area, and facilitating their every request with no thought to legal and social ramifications. There are a few aberrations to this general course. The failure to support Holden will cost many jobs and billions to the economy, and the failure to sell Graincorp has sent a message that we are closed for business.

“Another general role, related to the need for efficiency, is the organization of large-scale projects. It is for this benefit that we accept government involvement in the construction of society’s infrastructure, including roads, posts and telecommunications, and water, sewage and energy utilities. Further, giving government charge over these utilities guarantees that they remain in public hands, and solely dedicated to the common good. If such services are privatized, the owners have a selfish motivation, which could negatively affect the quality of the services.

That such assets should have public ownership is expressed in the idea of the “commons.” They should be owned by and shared between the members of the current population, and preserved for future generations.”

This government’s refusal to accept the necessity of a world class national broadband network (NBN) is baffling. The productivity benefits are huge, and the employment in the construction is significant. The refusal to fund public transport infrastructure is also very short-sighted.

We have already sold many of our valuable assets and the list being suggested for future privatisation seems to grow daily – schools, hospitals, Medibank Private, Australia Post, the ABC, HECS debts. Private businesses must make a profit and are not obliged to continue to provide unprofitable services. This can have dire repercussions for regional Australia, and for the variety of services that can be offered.

“Indeed, while we of course still need a means of defense, including against both external and internal (criminal) aggressors, it seems clear that our greatest need for protection is from other institutions and from the abuses of government itself, particularly its collusion with these other institutions. (Many of the needs that we now have for government are actually to solve the problems that it creates.)”

Who will protect us from this government?

Who do you admire?

You can tell a lot about someone by whom they admire. It shows their priorities in life.

An early influence was founder of the DLP party, Bob Santamaria. A staunch Catholic, who believed the Church had a role to play in governing the State, Santamaria was vigorously opposed to birth control and abortion and decried what he described as contemporary sexual decadence. He wanted to turn us into a nation of farmers and cottage industries, with women permanently barefoot and pregnant. He was convinced that Australia was under threat from Communism, warning people that communists in Australia were buying up arsenals and guns in preparation for the revolution, and likening the Vietnam War to a crusade.

In a speech in 1998 Tony Abbott described Santamaria as “a philosophical star by which you could always steer” and “the greatest living Australian”. Abbott has said that what impressed him about Santamaria was “the courage that kept him going as an advocate for unfashionable truths”.

And then we have Cardinal George Pell, the man who has been complicit in the cover-up of child sexual abuse for decades, actively assisting pedophile priests in avoiding prosecution. Pell told a World Youth Conference that “Abortion is a worse moral scandal than priests sexually abusing young people”. Like his spiritual advisor, Tony Abbott also assisted a pedophile priest to avoid punishment by writing him a reference.

In recent days, Tony Abbott again defended Pell’s actions saying “Cardinal Pell is a fine man . . . Cardinal Pell is one of the greatest churchmen that Australia has seen”.

In April this year, Tony Abbott expressed his admiration for Rupert Murdoch, the man whose media empire illegally hacks phones and bribes officials as standard practice. Murdoch has said power is his aphrodisiac and he revels in manipulation of public perception and his role in bringing down governments.

Abbott described Murdoch as Australia’s most influential businessman going on to say “Along with Sir John Monash, the Commander of the First AIF which saved Paris and helped to win the First World War, and Lord Florey a one-time provost of my old Oxford College, the co-inventor of penicillin that literally saved millions of lives, Rupert Murdoch is probably the Australian who has most shaped the world through the 45 million newspapers that News Corp sells each week and the one billion subscribers to News-linked programming”.

Tony also greatly admires Gina Rinehart, the woman who sponsored that fruitcake, Lord Monckton, to do a speaking tour on climate change denial. This is a woman who makes a million dollars every half hour but cannot afford to pay the mining tax, and who wants a special tax zone in the North so she can pay even less. At least nine Coalition MPs have declared in their register of interests that Ms Rinehart has supplied free travel, hospitality and accommodation and she donated $50,000 directly (and up to $700,000 indirectly) to Barnaby Joyce’s campaign to win New England.

As Tony Abbott said, “Mates help each other; they don’t tax each other”, and Gina must be well pleased with the fruits of her investment so far, with the mining and carbon taxes about to be repealed and the biggest coal mine in Australia getting fast-track approval already.

And let’s not forget John Howard. Tony considers himself Howard’s protégé and longs for us to return to those halcyon days. This despite the fact that Howard’s government has been identified by the IMF as the most wasteful ever, whose middle class welfare and tax cuts for the wealthy have saddled us with a structural deficit, and whose sale of assets cost us billions in future revenue. Howard lied to take us into a war that cost billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives. He lied to us about the children overboard affair. Eleven of Howard’s Ministers either resigned or were sacked for indiscretions and many more were forgiven for their conflicts of interest and rorting of entitlements, a practice which this government seems to also enjoy.

Tony Abbott told his former leader and mentor John Howard on election night that he was the only person he could turn to for real advice in his new role as Prime Minister. That may explain Tony’s view that climate change is crap and that we should spend whatever it takes to stop the boats.

On the international stage, Tony has expressed his admiration for Japan (don’t mention the whales), and Indonesia (doing a great job there in West Papua), and Sri Lanka (hey shit happens . . . what’s the odd kidnapping and torture between friends . . . need some gun boats?). He loves America and China so much that he wants their corporations to be able to sue us if we hurt their profits with health, safety, competition or environmental laws.

Add to that the fact that Tony’s Chief of Staff not only makes policy decisions, she now also dictates who the public will have access to and what they may reveal. I call it pleading the Morrison Amendment – say nothing that may incriminate you. And we have Tony’s chief strategist and PR guru entering the world of foreign affairs and diplomacy by comparing Indonesia’s Foreign Minister to an aging porn star. These are the people who run and advise our government – the Star Chamber.

So, in summary, our PM admires staunch Catholics, power, wealth, big business, climate change deniers and all world leaders with whom he can have a photo taken. He prefers the advice of advertising spin merchants and power brokers to that of experts.

If you care about other people, that’s now a very dangerous idea. If you care about other people, you might try to organize to undermine power and authority. That’s not going to happen if you care only about yourself. Maybe you can become rich, but you don’t care whether other people’s kids can go to school, or can afford food to eat, or things like that. In the United States, that’s called “libertarian” for some wild reason. I mean, it’s actually highly authoritarian, but that doctrine is extremely important for power systems as a way of atomizing and undermining the public.”

  • Noam Chomsky “Business Elites Are Waging a Brutal Class War in America”.

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It’s Always Been Hard Labour for Labor

A guest post by Dan Rowden

Photo courtesy of thegaurdian.com

Photo from thegaurdian.com

There are some contentions that can be made in the political sphere that can’t really be proven but which we may intuitively feel to be true.  The points made in support of any such contention will either resonate with an individual or not.  The following is an example of such a contention:

It is generally more difficult for the Labor Party to gain and maintain Government than it is for the Coalition.

This is something I feel intensely.  Is it just my loony leftie leanings or is there some substance to this impression?  Here’s how I’d defend it:

Apart from specific anomalous moments in history, such as Murdoch’s support of Whitlam in 1972, the Labor party has always had to navigate the forces of a generally unsupportive mainstream media.

This is unsurprising as the major media enterprises in this country, and elsewhere in the developed world, will always be owned by the wealthy who will be ostensibly conservative in their political proclivities – sometimes quite openly, if not aggressively.

Gina Rinehart comes to mind as a case in point, even if she’s fairly new to the game.

Of course, media outlets will always vociferously defend their independence and integrity, and it can indeed be difficult to pin them down when they appear to fail, but consistent editorial themes cannot be hidden from view.

The media is also guilty of pushing, peddling and promulgating  – without proper critical analysis – certain cultural perceptions that make life endlessly difficult for the Labor Party:

It’s a thing deeply ingrained in the Australian psyche, almost as strongly as the mythical notion that John Howard was a Conservative, that the Coalition are naturally better economic managers than Labor.  Is this true?  Are they?  Is there any objective, factual and historical evidence to support this deep-seated belief?

Put simply, no.  In fact, for either major Party to assert they are better economic managers is largely meaningless.  Economics doesn’t exist in a vacuum.  It is not a science with objective criteria and rules.   Everything about it is value-based and ideologically driven.

With the exception of extreme examples such as Greece, there is no objective standard by which to judge economic performance and capability when different and competing socio-economic ideologies and theories are butting heads.

When the Coalition vaingloriously claims the mantle of superior fiscal managers, what they are in reality claiming is that their socio-economic ideology is superior.  That’s literally all they’re doing, and we are free to dispute such a claim.

But how did this feckless fable come about and what drives and supports it?  In my view it’s nothing more complex than the close relationship the Coalition has to the business world, big and small.

This relationship engenders a belief in people’s minds that if the Coalition are all about business and are so closely aligned with business that they must be good financial managers and know more about it than the Labor party.

This is reinforced by the largely uncritical reverence with which this Nation regards the business world, small business in particular.  This, despite the fact that half of the businesses started in this country, don’t make it past 4 years – a fact that doesn’t exactly lend itself to the view that business people are naturally endowed with unwavering commercial acumen.

The Coalition’s perceived and continually self-affirmed status as the brass hats of the financial world is a phantasmagorical myth so entrenched in our psyches that even some Labor supporters are inclined to be a little spellbound by it.

Governments of every political stripe have their successes and failures in the course of their economic tenure.  But success and failure are subjective and contextual judgements.

For some, the large budget surpluses of the Howard years were a testament to sound economic management.  To others, those same surpluses were a sign of the exact opposite, given they were mostly built on the back of asset sales, a Great Big New Tax and a near complete absence of investment in infrastructure and services.

A budget in healthy surplus when schools have to hold raffles to afford toilet paper is, for many, an economic and moral travesty.  But the reality is such judgements are always made along ideological lines and within the parameters of a given economic theory.  There’s no real truth to be found there.

But Labor has to constantly confront and try to scale the obstacle of the insidious cultural fable that they are the subordinates in the field of economic management.

Another pointed political thorn in Labor’s side is the perception that it is a puppet of the Unions and rank – maybe even file – with factionalism, branch stacking, and miscellaneous management malfeasances.  The Conservative Parties, for their part, mostly get a free ride on such issues.

Now, let’s be entirely frank.  It’s absolutely true that the Unions significantly influence Labor policy and its political dynamics; it’s also true Labor has factional and pre-selection donnybrooks every single election at every level of Government.

What is not true is that such problems are Labor’s alone and that no equivalent exists for the Coalition.  The Coalition is subject to pressures from the business community, lobbyists and the religious right to the same degree as Labor are subject to pressure from Unions.

The Coalition is not free from factionalism, nor from pre-selection dramas, branch stacking and so forth.  The Liberal pre-selection battle for the Seat of Greenway is a glaring example of this.

And let’s not forget that the Coalition partners wage their own, sometimes fierce, internal election battles, such as in the seat of Mallee, held since Moses fell ill and was put on tablets, by the Nationals.

And yet the Coalition’s Good Ship Lollypop sails along in untroubled waters.  Firstly this is because it has become cemented in too many heads that internal ructions are uniquely Labor party problems, aided and abetted by a media that is far more willing to report such things on Labor’s side of the political equation.   Secondly, most don’t see the influence wielded by the business community in the same negative light as that of the Unions.  Business people are saints and unionists are sinners.

This is demonstrated most pointedly by Kevin Rudd’s failure to implement his version (the version that would have raised actual money) of a Mining Tax in the face of a corporate campaign to curtail it.  It should have been the simplest thing in the world to sell: National tax equity. It was surely a square political peg headed for a square hole.  

Instead, Big Business exploited our pious devotion to the spurious notion of their prudence and virtue with an expensive and seductive advertising campaign, leading to the ridiculous sight of a nation full of blue collar workers believing that their obligation to pay tax was greater than that owed by the nation’s wealthiest.  This left Rudd with his square peg painfully forced into his star-shaped hole.

Now, I know the general thrust of my point is going to be characterised by Conservative types as a typical Leftie Labor Lamentation, but years of observation of the political universe in Australia leads me to conclude, on the weight of evidence, that my contention is a reasonable one.

As a nation, we tend to vote conservatively.  We really only vote Labor into power after our Coalition Conjugals become too stale and we look around for a bit on the side.  The left side.  The Hawke years stand as an interesting exception to the “rule”, but it’s hard to vote out a Prime Minister who is famous for swilling beer, cries at press conferences and says “bloody” on television.  It’s also interesting how many times boats have figured in furthering political careers.

I don’t think it’s possible to stand before all the impediments to re-election facing the current Labor Government and not see an overall trend; a history of folklore and fables that no doubt fuels the Conservative Parties’ obvious sense of electoral entitlement and makes it a daily burden for Labor in terms of communicating policy visions and philosophy.  You cannot meaningfully engage in conversation about matters of genuine importance to Australians when you constantly have to defend yourself against petty distractions like “Does this guy ever shut up?”.

And on that note . . .

Dan Rowden

Dan Rowden is a freelance writer and philosopher who has been active in philosophical and political discourse since Malcolm Turnbull invented the Internet in Australia. For the last 15 years, he has contributed to and administered Internet philosophy forums. Politics is a secondary interest, but he recognises moments of significance in Australia’s political history and for him, this is very definitely one of them.

 

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