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Tag Archives: IPA

A Political Watcher’s Pig Heaven

Over the last two years a number of articles have been written here at the AIMN about tax expenditures and the need to rein them in if the economy is going to reflect a more even distribution of the wealth.

I couldn’t count the number of times mainstream journalists had put the question to former Treasurer Joe Hockey and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann.

I cannot recall the number of leading economists that have also added their voice to the need for reform to end the waste of concessions to superannuation, negative gearing, the mining industry and capital gains.

But I know there have been many.

Yet for two years, Hockey and Cormann defended their decisions not to touch these sacrosanct areas of welfare for the wealthy at the expense of the average worker.

It was the elderly, the low paid and the sick who were told to pull their belts in, stop leaning on the rest of us and pay more for health care while receiving less in retirement.

Yet, five minutes after both Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey are given their marching orders and despite Mathias Cormann miraculously holding on to a job he is not very good at, the government has finally agreed these areas of obscene generosity can be now be looked at. What has changed?

mitchellFormer PM Tony Abbott did the rounds of his favourite shock jocks last week to vent some of his angst about the treachery he experienced from within his cabinet that resulted in his overthrow. He has made a point of saying nothing has changed. It would seem he hasn’t looked very far.

This week’s summit, both called for and chaired by Malcolm Turnbull, was a big change. The summit was a means of getting stalled reform initiatives back on the table.

Business groups, unions, welfare and social groups all got to have a say, with the notable exception of the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), Abbott’s favourite policy spruiker.

So, some things have changed.

It is inconceivable that Turnbull will not try for further, more substantial changes. The difficulty he faces is the hard right wing of the party who reluctantly allowed him back as leader.

They still don’t trust him. They think he is a Labor stooge, a socialist at heart, one who needs to be watched very carefully.

This lack of trust, this suspicion from the Right that Turnbull is not one of them will continue to undermine his agenda for Australia.

If the Right succeeds in holding him back they will stall the nation’s ability for genuine economic recovery and frustrate the voters.

Under Abbott, the Liberal Party made a hard turn to the right on practically everything. Turnbull wants to bring it back to the centre. In doing that, he risks both alienating an important support base within the party as well as making the party appear no different from Labor on issues that matter to the voters.

The Australian voter will generally go along with either party on foreign policy, immigration and national security. Their main interest is in education, health, climate change and the economy.

Thus far, both parties have no answer to what is perceived as spiralling debt and ongoing deficits. The next election will be fought on these four issues.

MORRISONThe new treasurer, Scott Morrison has already blotted his copy book claiming we only have a spending problem. He is wrong, of course, but the mere fact that this was his opening salve doesn’t look good for his, or the government’s, credentials as economic managers.

In the meantime, Labor will always trump them on climate change, education and health. The next twelve months will be a political watcher’s pig heaven. Can Labor convince the electorate that they were better at running an economy?

Can Turnbull build a consensus between the unions and industry while keeping welfare groups happy? Can he convince anyone that Direct Action is not a waste of money?

One thing is certain. The bad air, the despondency, the feeling of being dragged back into the middle of the last century has passed. We have been liberated from the threat of a recurring dark age.  No longer are we embarrassed, ridiculed and portrayed as recalcitrant dimwits from down-under.

For that I’m grateful, but I suspect the turbulence for change within the electorate is going to make life inside the Coalition a smouldering keg of discontent that threatens to explode at any time.

 

Absolute crap

One thing that has become increasingly apparent about Tony Abbott is that he gears his words to his audience.  If that meant explaining policies at a level that the audience could comprehend, that could be a good thing, but in the case of our Prime Minister, it means saying what you think they want to hear even if it is inconsistent with, or even diametrically opposed to what you have told a different audience.

When Tony visited a meeting of 130 farmers and townspeople in Beaufort in September 2009, he called for a show of hands on whether the Coalition should support the ETS. Only a handful voted yes.

Abbott, until that point Turnbull’s main defender on the ETS, quickly donned his sceptic’s hat and played to the room discussing how there had been many changes of climate over the millennia not caused by man, leading to that infamous quote

“The argument is absolute crap. However, the politics of this are tough for us. Eighty per cent of people believe climate change is a real and present danger.”

His comments were warmly received in this rural heartland and that was when Tony realised that he may have a shot at the leadership if he became a climate change denier.

After he staged his leadership takeover, Abbott tried to cover-up his backflip describing his use of “crap” as “a bit of hyperbole” and not his “considered position” and said it was made “in the context of a very heated discussion where I was attempting to argue people around to what I thought was then our position”.

Absolute crap say the people who were at the meeting.

Event organiser Jim Cox said Abbott’s comment was “very well received” and he quickly realised “he was on a bit of a winner”.  Vice-president of the Beaufort branch of the Liberal Party Joe McCracken said Abbott looked relieved by the applause.

Buoyed by his success, Tony used the same approach when he attended a luncheon event on International Women’s Day in 2010.

What would women want to hear?  I know…we are going to give you universal paid parental leave on replacement wages plus superannuation for six months and we are going to scrap Labor’s $150,000- a-year income limit on the $5185 Baby Bonus.

Instead of being grateful, women, who are in the main smarter than Tony Abbott, realised this fell into the ‘too good to be true’ category.  As subsequent actions have shown, Tony’s feigned concern for women and families was absolute crap as was his promise not to introduce any new taxes. (Who could forget that humiliating interview with Kerry O’Brien?)

Not only have we lost the Baby Bonus, and lost the right to claim paid parental leave from both our employer and the government, eligibility for Family Benefit payments has been tightened up and increases frozen.  The appropriateness of these measures is debatable but Abbott’s backflip is not.

Going into the last election Tony Abbott promised a ‘unity ticket’ on education.  The Liberal Party education policy also clearly stated “We will ensure the continuation of the current arrangements of university funding.”

Absolute crap.

When Tony Abbott addressed the IPA at their 70th anniversary dinner, he spoke of freedom.

Freedom can only exist within a framework of law so that every person’s freedom is consistent with the same freedom for everyone else.  At least in the English speaking tradition, liberalism and conservatism, love of freedom and respect for due process, have been easy allies.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is the foundation of our justice. “Love your neighbour as you love yourself” is the foundation of our mercy.

..a democratic parliament, an incorruptible judiciary and a free press, rather than mere law itself, are the best guarantors of human rights.

You campaigned against the legislative prohibition against giving offence and I’m pleased to say that the author of those draft laws is now leaving the parliament. Well done IPA! And, of course, you campaigned against the public interest media advocate, an attack dog masquerading as a watchdog, designed to intimidate this government’s media critics and that legislation was humiliatingly withdrawn.”

Abbott sucked up to the IPA telling them what they wanted to hear but where is the due process for citizens returning from the Middle East?  Where is the justice and mercy for asylum seekers?  Where is the concern for human rights?  Where is the freedom to criticise this government?  And who is Abbott to speak of humiliating withdrawals?

That speech had more crap in it than Chinese berries.

Tony speaks of his commitment to tackling the scourge of domestic violence and to closing the gap for Indigenous Australians while slashing funding for frontline services.  We have seemingly endless funds for defence, national security and border protection.  We can even find $40 million to give Cambodia to take four refugees.  But we cannot fund refuges, legal services and advocacy groups.

The lip service paid to the protection of our vulnerable has been proven absolute crap by the actions of Abbott’s mob.

And when it comes to the economy, everything the Abbott government says is crap.  Despite significantly increasing the debt and deficit and having to downgrade projections with every fiscal statement, they try to convince us that they have cut billions from the debt they inherited.  It makes no sense whatsoever to compare trajectories in ten years’ time and claim credit for things that haven’t happened and aren’t likely to.

After campaigning widely on the supposed “debt and deficit disaster” and trash talking our economy, Joe Hockey warns us now of the irresponsibility of such talk because of its negative affect on confidence.  Whilst reining in government spending, he encourages us all to get out there and spend up big to stimulate the economy.  Joe, you are full of it.

On many occasions before the election, the Coalition promised to build our new submarines in South Australia.  It even appears in their defence policy released on September 2, 2013.

“We will also ensure that work on the replacement of the current submarine fleet will centre around the South Australian shipyards.”

When Tony’s leadership was threatened in February, he promised his South Australian colleagues that would be the case – at least that’s what they thought he promised.  Even they must now realise that was absolute crap.

Before the election we were promised “no cuts to education, no cuts to health, no change to pensions, no change to the GST and no cuts to the ABC or SBS” and no adverse changes to superannuation.

Absolute crap.

In his victory speech on September 7 2013 Tony Abbott made the following promise:

“In a week or so the governor-general will swear in a new government. A government that says what it means, and means what it says. A government of no surprises and no excuses. A government that understands the limits of power as well as its potential. And a government that accepts that it will be judged more by its deeds than by its mere words.”

My judgement?

Tony Abbott will say whatever he thinks people want to hear because, far from being a leader, he is a dishonest inadequate man whose only motivation is to keep his job.  This makes him susceptible to manipulation.  We are in the position where focus groups, vested interests, lobbyists and party donors are dictating policy because our PM is a weak man with no vision whose words mean nothing.

Absolute crap, indeed.

They’re here, they’re there, they’re everywhere. So beware!

When the IPA published their wish list of 75 plus 25 ways to “reform” Australia, they conceded that it was “a deliberately radical list. There’s no way Tony Abbott could implement all of them, or even a majority.”

They suggested that 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.”

Perhaps they were right but not in the way they intended.

Tony is assiduously working his way through their list and he has certainly shaken the Australian public out of their political apathy.

Even before we get to the list, the article introducing it gave us a picture of what was to come.

“The vast Commonwealth bureaucracies and the polished and politically-savvy senior public servants have their own agendas, their own list of priorities, and the skill to ensure those priorities become their ministers’ priorities.  Fresh-faced ministers who do not have a fixed idea of what they want to do with their new power are invariably captured by their departments.

So when, in the first week as minister, they are presented with a list of policy priorities by their department, it is easier to accept what the bureaucracy considers important, rather than what is right. The only way to avoid such departmental capture is to have a clear idea of what to do with government once you have it.

We should be more concerned that senior public servants shape policy more than elected politicians do.”

The IPA highlight “Gillard’s National Curriculum” as an example of ministers acquiescing when they should have been opposing.  And why should they be opposing?

“The National Curriculum centralises education power in Canberra, and will push a distinctly left-wing view of the world onto all Australian students.”

So, presumably, when you put a lawyer in charge of education he should not listen to his department, he should not listen to the state ministers, he should not listen to the education experts.  He should have already decided what he wants regardless of any advice from the public servants that have worked in that area for decades, and he should instruct them to implement his ideas.

But where does the lawyer get his ideas if not from all those paid to assist him?

Enter the IPA-aligned former chief-of-staff to Kevin Andrews, Kevin Donnelly, who has written many publications over the years arguing that the Australian school system is failing because schools have been taken over by radical educators who see their role as being to “liberate students by turning them into new-age warriors of the Cultural Left.”  Pay him to reaffirm those oft published views in a “review” of the National Curriculum.

And while we are at it, get the former head of the Business Council of Australia (BCA), Tony Shepherd, to do an audit commission which came out like a wish list of BCA/IPA policy prescriptions, neatly cut and pasted, but not very well backed by facts.

The IPA go on to warn us of the real danger posed by the Australian National Preventive Health Agency – “a new Commonwealth bureaucracy dedicated to lobbying other arms of government to introduce Nanny State measures.”

Sure enough, it was one of the first agencies to be axed in Joe Hockey’s contribution to the wish list.

As the Melbourne Age’s economics editor, Peter Martin, noted in a piece of post-budget analysis: “Big food, big tobacco and big alcohol have been thrown the carcass of the Australian National Preventive Health Agency.”

The IPA also demanded an end to food and alcohol labelling, and to end “all government-funded Nanny State advertising” against unhealthy habits such as smoking, drinking and junk food consumption.

And so in February last year we saw the health department ordered to take down its new healthy food ratings website, and then $130 million was cut from a program to tackle Indigenous smoking despite it making significant inroads into reducing the high percentage of smokers in the Aboriginal community.

The IPA also quoted a previous Intergenerational Report and came to the following conclusion:

“Australia’s ageing population means the generous welfare safety net provided to current generations will be simply unsustainable in the future. Change is inevitable.”

No mention of the generous superannuation tax concessions which will soon overtake the aged pension, a stance also adopted by this government.

Whilst Brandis may not yet have satisfied the IPA’s desire to abolish the Human Rights Commission, the government has cut $1.65 million from its budget, refused to renew the position of its disability commissioner and appointed – absent the usual due process – one of the IPA’s own, Tim Wilson, as one of the remaining six commissioners. Attorney-General George Brandis flagged an intention to “further reform” the HRC which seems to be what this attack on Gillian Triggs is all about.

Brandis also flexed his muscles when, a month after being sworn in, he announced the forced resignation of ABC journalist Barrie Cassidy from his new job as chairman of the Old Parliament House Advisory Council.

Brandis said in his media release that Cassidy “accepted the importance of the Museum of Australia [sic] Democracy [in Old Parliament House] maintaining its apolitical and nonpartisan character”.

To have someone in the job currently engaged in politics, even if only as a political journalist, was “not consistent with that character”, Brandis said and then promptly replaced him with David Kemp who is a former Liberal minister and continues to practise politics through his work with the IPA.

The institute wants all media ownership laws eliminated along with the relevant regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority, and requirements put in place that radio and TV broadcasts be “balanced”.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull is duly considering changes to Australia’s regime of cross-media ownership. The likely outcome: more concentration in Australia’s media, already the most concentrated and least diverse in the developed world. More influence for the IPA and Rupert Murdoch.

Not that the IPA need more exposure.  In the year to June 2013, according to the IPA’s annual report, it clocked up 878 mentions in print and online. Its staff had 164 articles published in national media, mainly in the Murdoch press which, considering he is a long-time IPA director, is not surprising. They managed 540 radio appearances and mentions, and 210 appearances and mentions on TV.

The allegedly bias ABC, which the IPA would break up and sell off, gives the IPA a lot of air time too. One count, by Independent Australia, clocked 39 appearances by IPA staff in the year 2011-12 on The Drum alone. That’s almost as many Drum appearances as the combined total of all other think tanks, left, right and centre.

The repeal of section 18C of the RDA is number four on the IPA’s policy wish list, and before you knew it, Attorney-General George Brandis was up there championing the right to be a bigot.

On October 5, 2011, the IPA ran a full-page advertisement in The Australian supporting Andrew Bolt, paid for and signed by more than 1200 people including federal politicians Mathias Cormann, Jamie Briggs, Michaelia Cash, Mitch Fifield and Andrew Robb, to name a few, and literally dozens of other ex-pollies, staffers, and advisers.

Before he won the prime ministership, in April 2013, at a dinner celebrating the IPA’s 70th anniversary where Andrew Bolt was the MC, Abbott noted the IPA had given him “a great deal of advice” on the policy front, and promised them he would act on it.

“I want to assure you that the Coalition will indeed repeal the carbon tax, abolish the department of climate change, abolish the Clean Energy Fund. We will repeal Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, at least in its current form. We will abolish new health and environmental bureaucracies. We will deliver $1 billion in red-tape savings every year. We will develop northern Australia. We will repeal the mining tax. We will create a one-stop shop for environmental approvals. We will privatise Medibank Private. We will trim the public service and we will stop throwing good money after bad on the NBN.”

In fact, one might argue that Abbott under-promised at that dinner and has over-delivered since. Other major items on the IPA’s published wish list included stopping subsidies for the car industry (done), eliminating Family Tax Benefits (part-done), the cessation of funding for the ABC’s Australia Network (done), abandonment of poker machine reforms (done), the introduction of fee competition for Australian universities (part-done), and negotiating free trade deals with Japan, South Korea, China and India (almost done).

While several of the IPA’s wish list are being held up in the Senate, they do have flesh in the game, and even more so should PUP Senators hold to their threat of abstaining from every vote until the leadership turmoil is resolved.

Cross benchers Bob Day and David Leyonhjelm are both “long-term IPA members”.

Bob Day was a driving force behind the IPA front organisation, the Owner Drivers’ Association, which purports to represent the interests of independent contractors in the transport industry. In reality, says Tony Sheldon, National Secretary of the Transport Workers Union, the ODA has consistently campaigned against laws improving working conditions and safety for drivers.

Another IPA front organisation is the Australian Environment Foundation.  Two of its directors were IPA staff, including executive director Mike Nahan, now the treasurer in Western Australia’s Liberal government. For its first two years, the AEF shared the IPA’s postal address.

It was actually an anti-environment group. It opposed new marine parks and plans to increase environmental water flows in the Murray-Darling Basin, and supported Tasmanian woodchipping and genetically modified foods.  It also lobbied the World Heritage Committee in support of the Abbott government’s plan to de-list parts of the Tasmanian forests.

Source watch even lists Peta Credlin under former staff of the IPA.  I have not been able to verify that from any other source but she sure sings from their hymn book.

Not only are they determining policy and infiltrating all levels of government, they are also being rewarded with gifts.  Despite cutting $100 million from the Arts budget, Minister for the Arts Brandis found $1 million to give the Australian School of Ballet to put towards the purchase of a $5 million mansion to house their 28 students in luxury.  On the board of the school is Daniele Kemp, wife of former Liberal Minister Rod Kemp who is now the chairman of the IPA.

To paraphrase Pixie and Dixie…

They’re here, they’re there, they’re everywhere.  So beware!

As Jinx would say…

“How ree-dick-ul-luss.”

The real stitch-up

Tony Abbott has been sneeringly yelling at anyone who will listen, if there are any of those left, that the government has no confidence in Gillian Triggs because the timing of her report shows it is a “stitch up” designed to make him look bad, like he isn’t capable of doing that on his own.

I would like to point out that Ms Triggs told Senate estimates hearings in early 2013 of the HRC’s concern about children in detention and their ongoing investigation.  She was slapped down by George Brandis who wasn’t interested.

In February 2013, some seven months after Ms Triggs had assumed her role at the Human Rights Commission, and seven months before the election, Senator Brandis grilled her unmercilessly about why the HRC was not spending more of their budget on defending free speech.

When she pointed out that the HRC receive about 17,500 inquiries a year of which approximately three concern political opinion “so it is a very tiny part, in answer to your question, of the complaints function of the commission”, Brandis refused to accept her explanation.

Senator BRANDIS: That may very well be so, Professor Triggs, but why has it taken people other than the Human Rights Commission to elevate this debate? Why has it taken people like my friends at the Institute of Public Affairs, some of my colleagues in the coalition, columnists, editorial writers and writers of letters to the editors of the newspapers to get a debate up and going in Australia about limitations on freedom, when we have an agency, your agency, whose explicit statutory charter is to promote and advance those rights?

Prof. Triggs : I wonder if I could take another point here. I accept your question. I think it is a valuable one, as I have said. But let us look at another element of this—that is, a great deal of my time as president and that of many members of our human rights law and policy group has been responding to our profound concerns about the mandatory detention of asylum seekers. I understand that at the moment we have many thousands—and I do not know the exact number, but let us say 6,000 people—in mandatory detention in Australia, including children. Many have been there for years. Babies have been born within that environment. They have been charged with no offence, and they have not yet had their claims to refugee status assessed. That is an area that I think is of fundamental importance to human rights.

Senator BRANDIS: Well, it is.

Prof. Triggs : It concerns arbitrary detention without trial. If I may say so, I went to an interesting lecture by the foreign minister the other day to celebrate the Magna Carta, quoting the fundamental principles of the Magna Carta that no man—or presumably woman—can be charged or held without a trial of their peers. It seems extraordinary—

Senator BRANDIS: I do not think the barons at Runnymede had friends like Mr Eddie Obeid and Mr Ian Macdonald, unlike our foreign minister, who speaks with eloquence about the Magna Carta, at least.

Brandis mentions several times his “friends at the IPA”

“Whereas your commission is a dedicated and committed advocate of antidiscrimination principles, I do not see the commission being a dedicated and committed advocate of freedom principles. You have think tanks, like in the Institute of Public Affairs, which has something called a ‘freedom project’. I do not see a freedom project in the Human Rights Commission.”

Senator Brandis finishes with what was no doubt his aim all along.

Senator BRANDIS: My last question. Your commission does seem to have a superabundance of discrimination commissioners in various areas. Should the Human Rights Commission have a freedom commissioner whose particular brief is to promote the kind of balance of which you speak so that within the commission there is a person whose particular job is to promote freedom, just as, within the commission at the moment, there are, I think, five commissioners whose particular job is to promote antidiscrimination?  Would that not be a desirable balance—one freedom person versus five anti-discrimination people?

Come on down Timmy!

A couple of months later, in April 2013, Brandis attended the IPA 70th birthday bash.  He obviously enjoyed himself because he has been rewarding them ever since.

As soon as he assumed office, Brandis gifted to Tim Wilson a $400,000 a year job as a Human Rights Commissioner despite his “woefully inadequate” qualifications.  It seems apparent that Wilson was appointed to destroy from within and, if worst comes to worst and he can’t abolish the HRC as he wants, then Tim will probably be offered the top job after the “anonymous” leaks about Triggs wanting to get out.

After the predictable backlash to this obvious act of cronyism, George wrote an article in the Australian condemning those who criticized his choice.

“But some things never change, like the reaction of the claque of bilious pseudo-intellectuals who constitute what passes for a left-wing commentariat in this country. Mike Carlton, Catherine Deveney, Van Badham and their ilk were nothing if not boorishly predictable.  They and their followers unleashed a storm of hatred and bile against Wilson on social media, the like of which I have never seen.”

Or perhaps they just thought that sacking the Disability Commissioner to employ your unqualified inexperienced ideologically opposed little friend was a step too far?  And is that any way for the highest legal officer in the land to speak?

This was all the more hypocritical considering  Brandis, in opposition, had previously taken to the Australian to excoriate the appointment by Mark Dreyfus of Labor staffer-turned-intellectual Tim Soutphommasane as Australia’s Race Discrimination Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission, a role for which he was eminently qualified, labelling him as “yet another partisan of the Left”.

Dr Soutphommasane graduated from the University of Sydney with a first-class honours degree. He was then a Commonwealth Scholar and Jowett Senior Scholar at Balliol College of the University of Oxford where he completed a Master of Philosophy with distinction and a Doctor of Philosophy in political theory.

From 2010 to 2012 he was a Lecturer in Australian Studies and a Research Fellow at the National Centre for Australian Studies of Monash University.

Soutphommasane is the author of three books: The Virtuous Citizen: Patriotism in a Multicultural Society (Cambridge University Press, 2012), Don’t Go Back To Where You Came From: Why Multiculturalism Works (New South Books, 2012) which in 2013 won the NSW Premier’s Literary Award in the ‘Community Relations Commission Award’ section, and Reclaiming Patriotism: Nation-Building for Australian Progressives (Cambridge University Press, 2009).

By contrast, Wilson has a Bachelor of Arts and a Masters of Diplomacy and Trade from Monash University.  He worked at the Institute of Public Affairs for seven years.  He was a vocal critic of the Human Rights Commission and during his time there the IPA called for the abolition of the commission.

After his “surprise”appointment, Wilson wrote that:

“Attorney-General George Brandis has asked me, as Australia’s next human rights commissioner, to focus on traditional liberal democratic and common law rights, particularly article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

All rights should be defended, but the human right most being neglected is free speech. Arguably freedom of speech is the most important human right. It is the human right necessary to protect and defend all other human rights.

Article 19 of the covenant states: “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”

Article 19 ought to be the human rights community’s starting point. But at the moment it seems more like a footnote.

Increasingly free speech has been pushed aside in favour of laws and regulations designed to stop people being offensive to each other, a steadily expanding corpus of anti-discrimination and defamation law, and the growing momentum towards restrictions on speech online.”

Whilst the Attorney General may appoint people to the HRC, I am not sure he has the power to direct them then what to say and do, and I am wondering how Tim feels about George’s recent announcement of devoting $17 million to monitor social media to take down terrorist propaganda

When the two Tims attended Senate estimates hearings in May 2014 to discuss proposed changes to Section 18C of the racial discrimination act, George Brandis objected to Tim Soutphommasane giving his opinion even though he is the Racial Discrimination Commissioner.  Ian Macdonald, coincidentally, was also chairing this meeting as he was with the recent meeting with Gillian Triggs and he upheld Senator Brandis’ objection saying his opinion had no place in the discussion. (see video here)

But later in the hearing, Tim Wilson was allowed to re-state, at length, his clear support for changing the Act.

After the hearing, Senator Singh said Dr Soutphommasane ”was gagged, in complete contradiction to Tim Wilson who was able to share his views on the RDA.  Senator Brandis initially stopped me from asking the question and accused me of being dishonest in asking for Dr Soutphommasane’s views.  This is a man who stands for freedom of speech yet won’t allow a witness at the table to speak.”

This absolute championing of freedom of speech seems very much at odds with Tony Abbott’s stand against Hizb ut-Tahrir, taken after Alan Jones urged him to “proscribe the movement”.

“We are changing the law that will make it easier to ban organisations like Hizb ut-Tahrir. But before that even we should have a system in place which red cards these hate preachers and stops them coming to Australia.”

The response from our “Freedom Commissioner” was totally devoid of any legal facts, or gumption for that matter, as reported by Michelle Grattan in October:

“Wilson fears florid talk about “hate speech” can “justify censorship all over the place”. He is considering putting in a personal submission to the current parliamentary inquiry into the legislation, urging a tighter definition of the advocacy of terrorism. Wilson says it is unclear where the line would be between the advocacy of terrorism and for example attacking the coalition’s air strikes in the Middle East.”

Apparently, he either didn’t get around to his “personal submission” or it was ignored.

Abbott is right…this has been a stitch-up – one that began well before George Brandis was in a position to reward his “friends at the IPA” and, with the help of Senator Macdonald, take his revenge on that pesky woman.

Actions speak louder than words

Joe Hockey has been making noise about tax avoidance.

“They’re stealing from us and our community,” he told the Nine Network on Friday, labelling tax cheats as “thieves.”

Tony Abbott told us we should judge the Coalition on their actions rather than their words – sound advice considering their words bear no resemblance to what they actually do – so it would be timely to consider what they have done to address this growing problem.

While other countries are closing their tax minimisation loopholes, the Abbott government has spent the past year opening them up.

One of Treasurer Joe Hockey’s first acts in office was to roll back Labor’s measures to tackle profit shifting and improving tax transparency – effectively handing back $1.1 billion to big global firms.

As it pushes for a G20 summit agreement this weekend to crack down on corporate tax evasion, the Abbott government has set a timetable for action that is about one year behind the biggest European economies including Britain, France and Germany.

The “early adopters” in the global program will begin exchanging information in September 2017, however, the exchange of information with Australian authorities will not take place until September 2018.

In March this year, the ATO announced an amnesty for offshore tax cheats.  For those who come forward before the end of the calendar year, there is a guarantee of no prosecution and only four years of offshore income is assessed with a maximum shortfall penalty of 10 per cent.

“For lots of people, their forebearers came from war-torn Europe”, tax lawyer Mark Leibler told the ABC’s AM program.  “They wanted to keep nest eggs overseas, not primarily in order to avoid or evade tax, but just as a measure of security.”

So these people and their families have been avoiding tax since they arrived here after the war but let’s not worry about that.

Around $150 million worth of assets is the most declared by one person so far. The money has come from 40 countries including Switzerland, the UK, Hong Kong, Israel and Singapore.

Australian Tax Office deputy commissioner, Greg Williams, said new migrants with limited knowledge of Australia’s tax system and people that have deliberately sent money offshore are also among those coming forward.

“You’ve got that whole gamut from old money, new money, recent migrants and people sending the money offshore,” he said.

These ‘people’ include our own government.

Australia’s Future Fund has revealed it has invested more than $20 billion through offshore tax shelters, including the Cayman Islands, warning of lower returns if it does not minimise its tax bill.

The $77bn fund for federal public-servant pensions has revealed that 14.4 per cent of its assets, worth about $11bn, are invested in subsidiaries based in the Cayman Islands (a tax haven in the Caribbean) and a further 1.3 per cent is in its subsidiaries in the British Virgin Islands and Jersey.

On top of this, the fund has tipped 12.6 per cent of assets, about $9.6bn, into private market vehicles based in these tax shelters and a small fraction is invested in a vehicle based in Luxembourg.

Answers to a Senate inquiry revealed that, at June 30, the fund held stakes in 15 tobacco manufacturers including a $55.4 million stake in British American Tobacco in Britain, $44.5m in Lorillard and a $44.9m investment in Philip Morris in the US.

Individuals within the government also embrace the benefits of tax “minimisation”.

In July, it was disclosed that Malcolm Turnbull, Australia’s second-richest parliamentarian, has invested in a ”vulture fund” based in the tax haven Cayman Islands.

Mr Turnbull, who has divested himself of shares and switched his investments to managed funds and hedge funds since being elected, updated the register of members’ interests on June 18.

The IPA, not surprisingly, is against any moves to tighten up the laws.

“Inspired by the sensationalist headlines, the emerging policy agenda for a clamp down on tax avoidance should be seen for what it truly is: a ploy by indebted countries, with overgrown public sectors, to hoover up more cash from productive people and enterprises, stifling tax competition in the process.”

You have to give them credit for never letting morality or ethics interfere.  They were no doubt impressed when their much-loved patron, Rupert Murdoch, single-handedly blew an almost billion dollar hole in our budget when the ATO chose not to appeal a court ruling condoning Murdoch’s tax avoidance practices.

In a 1989 meeting, four News Corp Australia executives exchanged cheques and share transfers between local and overseas subsidiaries that moved through several currencies.

They were paper transactions; no funds actually moved. In 2000 and 2001 the loans were unwound. With the Australian dollar riding high, News Corp’s Australian subsidiaries recorded a $2 billion loss, while other subsidiaries in tax havens recorded a $2 billion gain.

By last July that paper “loss”, booked against News Corp’s Australian newspaper operations, had become an $882 million cash payout.

Under a legal arrangement when the company was spun off last June, News was forced to pass all of the tax payout to Mr Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox.

News Corp said it had retained $A81 million because it faced income tax charges on the interest payments by the Tax Office. However it seems unlikely to actually pay these funds: News Corp Australia carried another $1.5 billion in tax deductions from a separate paper shuffle that it made when News reincorporated in the US.

The Australian Taxation Office says its $882 million loss to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation may just be the tip of the iceberg.

Tax Commissioner Chris Jordan and deputy Neil Olesen told a parliamentary inquiry the Tax Office has recently lost even more valuable cases against individual taxpayers.

“There are others bigger than this one,” Mr Olesen told a parliamentary hearing in March. “There were significant amounts at stake that we were also unsuccessful with through the courts.”

In a current case, Australian tax authorities allege multinational oil giant Chevron used a series of loans and related party payments worth billions of dollars to slash its tax bill by up to $258 million. The claim is now being heard before the Federal Court of NSW.

Despite growing pressure to crack down on multinationals reaping massive profits in Australia each year and paying little tax, the ATO has been scaling back its technical ability to force the “transnationals” to pay up.

After cuts of $189 million in the May budget, the ATO announced that they had to cut staff by 2,100 people by the end of October.

Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) deputy national president Alistair Waters said “The tax office has provided evidence to the Senate that for every $1 spent on resources by the tax office, that collects $6 in tax revenue.  Obviously if you are pulling resources out of the tax office that makes it easier for people who might want to avoid paying their tax.”

Public servants with hundreds of years of combined technical know-how have left the ATO’s “Internationals’ Group” in recent years, with the process accelerated by the present massive cuts to the agency.

Private advisors hired by “transnationals” to minimise their tax payments know too much about internal workings of the ATO and are using their insider knowledge to profit their clients.

Case deadlines of 90 days imposed on audit teams by ATO bosses eager to increase the number of cases covered have allowed transnationals to simply “wait out” the Taxation Office or to have low-ball settlements accepted.

Swedish furniture giant IKEA paid just $7.7 million in tax in Australia in 2013-2014, despite banking an operating profit of $92 million for its Australian activities that year.

Even the government’s domestic decisions belie their stated willingness to crack down on tax rorting.

Repealing the legislation regarding novated car leases and FBT cost us $1.8 billion in revenue and the only people to benefit are those who fraudulently claim business usage of their car, and the salary-packaging industry that has sprung up to service this perk.

But what can you expect from a Prime Minister who keeps caucus waiting for an hour – his excuse being “he had to schedule an early morning visit to a cancer research centre in Melbourne on Tuesday so that he could justify billing taxpayers to be in the city for a “private function” the night before”.

Or a Treasurer who defended “his practice of claiming a $270-a-night taxpayer-funded travelling allowance to stay in a Canberra house majority-owned by his wife” as did the Communications Minister who “rented a house from his wife Lucy when in Canberra.”

In Canberra, MPs are not required to show a receipt to prove they stayed in a hotel because the blanket $270 rate applies whether you stay in a hotel or a house owned by yourself or another person.

Because of the rules, many MPs purchase property in Canberra to provide a base during parliamentary sittings and use their travel allowance to pay off their mortgage.

We also have our Prime Minister, Attorney-General, Foreign Minister and Agriculture Minister defending their practice to claim travel and accommodation costs to attend weddings whilst grudgingly refunding the money only after it was exposed in the press.  Attendance at sporting events apparently still constitutes official business.

Tony Abbott had promised to lead an honest government that would respect taxpayers’ money and end the age of entitlement.

Joe Hockey has “vowed to give the Tax Office whatever laws it needs” and is “determined to use all available resources to close tax loopholes.”

Sorry boys – your actions make me doubt your sincerity.

Never-ending story

In April I wrote an article about the Coalition’s history on superannuation.  This is an updated version.  Keeping up with their ever-changing promises is turning into quite a saga.

1972

Compulsory national superannuation was initially proposed as part of the 1972 Whitlam initiatives but up until the 1980s superannuation was solely the privilege of predominantly male professions, clustered in the public sector or available after a long qualifying period in the private sector.

1985

In 1985 then Leader of the Opposition, John Howard, said this:

“That superannuation deal, which represents all that is rotten with industrial relations in Australia, shows the government and the trade union movement in Australia not only playing the employers of Australia for mugs but it is also playing the Arbitration Commission for mugs”.

Howard was commenting on the deal between the government and the ACTU which saw the trade union movement forfeit a claim to 3% productivity improvement as wages to instead be paid in compulsory superannuation – endorsed by the Arbitration Commission and managed by superannuation funds with equal representation of the unions in the industry and the employers.

The Coalition has steadfastly opposed every increase in compulsory superannuation since that time, whether it be from 3% to 6%, or the 6% to the current 9.25%.

1995

In the 1995 budget, Ralph Willis unveiled a scheduled increase in compulsory super from 9% to 12% and eventually to 15%. It was to be one of the Keating government’s major legacy reforms.

1996

In its superannuation policy for the 1996 election, Super for all, the Coalition, which had hitherto been implacably opposed to Labor’s policies, promised it:

•Will provide in full the funds earmarked in the 1995 — 96 Budget to match compulsory employee contributions according to the proposed schedule;

•Will deliver this government contribution into superannuation or like savings;

•Reserves the right to vary the mechanism for delivering this contribution so as to provide the most effective and equitable delivery of the funds.

1997

So why don’t we have 15% superannuation now? Because John Howard and Peter Costello nixed it in the 1996 budget barely six months after it released its policy, insisting it was too expensive. They didn’t “vary the mechanism” so much as halted it.

2007

Significant changes were also made to superannuation policy in 2007. The majority of workers could now withdraw their superannuation tax-free upon reaching the age of 60. Most self-employed can claim their superannuation contributions as a tax deduction. In addition, semi-retired people can continue to work part-time, and use part of their tax-free superannuation to top up their pay.

Despite the relatively generous tax treatment of capital gains, the new superannuation tax treatment led to the selling off of some assets, particularly rental housing, as people sought to take advantage of the opportunity to add funds to their superannuation accounts and claim them back later tax-free.

People were allowed to transfer up to A$1 million into their superannuation accounts before the June 30, 2007, after which an annual maximum of A$150,000 of after-tax contributions could be made. The effect of this change in the rules was enormous. In the June quarter of 2007, A$22.4 billion was transferred to superannuation accounts by individuals. This compares with A$7.4 billion in the June quarter of 2006. June 2007 was the first time in Australia that member contributions exceeded employer contributions.

2010

The Coalition’s superannuation policy  has drawn mixed reviews, with several major industry bodies expressing disappointment at the policy for being unsubstantial.

The Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia (ASFA), the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees (AIST) and the Financial Services Council (FSC) said in a joint statement that a failure to increase the superannuation guarantee (SG) to 12 percent, the failure to raise the concessional caps for individuals over 50 and the failure to provide a super tax contribution rebate for low-income earners would adversely impact Australian workers.

ASFA chief executive Pauline Vamos said that the majority of Australian voters would be disappointed that the Coalition’s only plan for superannuation was the promise of more reviews and delays.

AIST chief executive Fiona Reynolds said: “Australian voters are entitled to expect more than a policy document that has no concrete plans or even fresh ideas on how to address retirement income adequacy and the challenge of Australia’s ageing population.”

2011

OPPOSITION leader Tony Abbott has pointedly put down Victorian Liberal MP Kelly O’Dwyer after she questioned his controversial decision to keep Labor’s higher superannuation guarantee if a Coalition government inherits it.

Ms O’Dwyer asked at yesterday’s party room meeting about the process by which the Coalition’s previous position was reversed – saying it was her understanding such issues should go to the party room.

Mr Abbott said the party room had the right to change policy at any time. But there was no rule – and there should be no expectation – that every policy decision be brought to the party room.

“Mr Abbott, who several times made it clear he did not want to talk about the backflip, said the Coalition would have more to say on superannuation later, but repeated that it would not rescind the higher guarantee.”

Feb 2013

JOURNALIST:

So you would cut all those initiatives?

JOE HOCKEY:

Absolutely, you can’t afford them.

So there it was in black and white – the Coalition was cutting the increase in the super guarantee.

Except, apparently not so: a couple of hours later, Hockey was complaining on Twitter about being misrepresented. “What an MRRT debacle… Despite Govt’s failures we remain committed to not rescinding the increase in compulsory superannuation from 9-12%.” Hockey tweeted. After the Nine Network had accurately reported his remarks, he followed it up with:

Would be nice if Nine News had checked the facts…Coalition remains committed to keeping increase in compulsory superannuation from 9-12%.

Crikey understands Tony Abbott’s office moved immediately after Hockey’s doorstop to indicate there was no change in the Coalition’s support for the move from 9-12%

May 2013

Tony Abbott’s plan to delay the compulsory superannuation guarantee increase for two years and do away with top-ups for low income earners sets the tone for the Coalition’s policy on retirement savings to be announced in coming months.

The Liberal Party’s superannuation policy is likely to encourage individuals to make more voluntary contributions while scaling back government-directed super contributions.

The Coalition seems to be struggling with the concept of superannuation. The Coalition has lost a lot of their super knowledge over recent years with the retirement of many senior MPs, including Peter Costello, who was the architect of the 2007 changes that brought in tax-free super for over-60s, introduced caps on non-concessional contributions, reduced the caps on concessional contributions, and removed limits on the amount of super that you could withdraw at concessional rates. They have promised not to make any unexpected negative changes to super, but hey, a few weeks after making that promise, they announced they were freezing the Superannuation Guarantee increase for 2 years.

November 2013

Labor went to the election promising a 15 per cent tax on superannuation pension earnings over $100,000.

Treasurer Joe Hockey said on Wednesday the policy was too complex and it would be scrapped.

The Treasurer has also decided to cut superannuation co-contributions for low income earners

According to the chief executive of Industry Super Australia, David Whiteley, this would result in 3.6 million Australians on low incomes being out of pocket $500 a year, while just 16,000 of the nation’s top earners will benefit from the scrapping of the 15 per cent tax.

May 2014

Mr Hockey said the discussion on what age people should be allowed to access superannuation had begun inside the Coalition.

When asked if raising the superannuation access age was being considered, Mr Abbott said the government was keeping its commitments regarding superannuation.

”We went into the election saying that apart from a couple of very small already announced changes we weren’t proposing to make any changes to superannuation in this term of Parliament,” he told reporters in Canberra.

”We think that there have been lots and lots of  changes to superannuation over the years. Some which we were enthusiastic about, some which we were unenthusiastic about, a period of stability in respect of superannuation is right and proper and there won’t be any changes in this term of Parliament.

September 2014

Under a deal negotiated with the Palmer United party to repeal the mining tax, employer superannuation contributions will be frozen at 9.5 per cent until 2021 when they increase to 10 per cent.

After that, contributions will increase by 0.5 per cent annually until they reach 12 per cent.

As a result, Labor claims that a 25-year-old Australian earning $55,000 a year will be more than $9000 worse off by 2025.  Industry sources say the impact over a 40-year working life could be as high as $100,000, taking into account compound interest.

With the rise of influence of the IPA within our current government’s policy making, this article by John Roskam from 2012 should sound warning bells to us all.

“Compulsory superannuation offends practically every principle of what should be Liberal Party philosophy. If an Abbott government does keep compulsory superannuation it must, at a minimum, make drastic changes.”

Who’s REALLY running Australia?

Tony Abbott speaks at last year's IPA dinner (image from glennmurray.com.au)

Tony Abbott speaks at last year’s IPA dinner (image from glennmurray.com.au)

The news that Tony Abbott finally had his way by repealing the ‘carbon tax’ was greeted with instant jubilation by the Institute of Public Affairs (the ‘IPA’). Within minutes of the announcement they sent forth the following email:

XXXXX (Name removed)


We did it.

A few minutes ago the Senate voted to repeal the carbon tax. Let’s pause a moment to reflect on our achievement.

The Institute of Public Affairs has never wavered from its principles. The IPA will always stand up for what is right, not what is popular.

The IPA has always stood firm against carbon taxes – even when every political leader in Australia thought they were a good idea.

 

With high-quality research, compelling analysis, and a loud voice communicating the evidence, we changed the debate.

Together, we’ve now won the debate.

It was your financial support that allowed the IPA to do all of this.

So thank you for your courage. You did what was right – not what was easy. And we prevailed.

John Roskam
Executive Director

Note statements such as ‘We did it’, and ‘Let’s pause for a moment to reflect on our achievement’.

One could be forgiven for assuming that they are the government, but of course they are not – they were simply rejoicing in their part of what was a successful campaign. The Abbott Government runs this country, right?

But who runs them? Is it the IPA after all?

This guest post by Glenn Murray is indeed timely given today’s result in the Senate. Originally published in May on glennmurray.com.au, the above letter from the IPA makes it just as relevant today as it was when first written two months ago.

A big-biz alliance told Abbott what policies it wanted

Recently an alliance of big businesses put together a wishlist of 100 policies they wanted our government to implement. I’ll discuss these policies in a second, but for now, think of them as a recipe for making the rich richer.

Look how many he adopted . . .

So far, the Coalition has adopted or endorsed, or is considering, more than a third of these big-biz policies. (The previous Labor government adopted one too.)

IPA policies adopted or on the cards

That alliance is the IPA

The alliance I’m talking about is the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) – a lobby group for big business, founded in 1943. The IPA publishes ‘research’ papers and articles that are funded by big business, to serve the interests of those businesses. These papers and articles are then channeled to the news media.

Although the IPA is not obliged to disclose who it lobbies for, they have disclosed some of their donors, over the years, including:

  • News Limited
  • BHP-Billiton
  • Western Mining Corporation
  • Monsanto
  • Telstra
  • Tobacco companies including Philip Morris and British American Tobacco
  • Oil & gas companies including Caltex, Esso, Shell and Woodside
  • Tasmania’s largest logging company, Gunns

If you’ve seen or read any anti-climate change talk over the last few years, it’s probably come out of the IPA. According to the IPA’s Executive Director, John Roskam, climate change denial is one of their favourite games:

Of all the serious sceptics in Australia, we have helped and supported just about all of them in their work one way or another…”

They’ve also lobbied to have world heritage protection stripped from 74,000 hectares of Tasmanian forest.

And just in case you’re wondering if maybe they’re doing it because they honestly believe they have science on their side… they’ve also campaigned against plain packaging for cigarettes. So, no, genuine science isn’t really a factor.

For a more detailed insight into the lobbying activities of the IPA, check out John Menadue’s great article: ‘Think tanks, cash for comment and the corruption of public debate’.

What policies are the IPA responsible for?

The IPA’s ‘wishlist’ was published in two parts. You can find the originals here and here. Below is a summary of the policies they lobbied for which have since been adopted (or look like being adopted):

  1. “Repeal the carbon tax, and don’t replace it” – Abbot has vowed to do this.
  2. “Abolish the Department of Climate Change” – Abbott has already done this.
  3. “Abolish the Clean Energy Fund” – Abbott is trying to do this.
  4. “Repeal Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act” – Abbott is trying to do this.
  5. “Abandon Australia’s bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council” – Abbott has said he’ll do this.
  6. “Repeal the renewable energy target” – Abbott is trying to do this.
  7. “Withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol” – This is on the cards.
  8. “Introduce fee competition to Australian universities” – Abbott is trying to do this.
  9. “Repeal the National Curriculum” – Abbott’s not openly trying to do this, but he has appointed IPA member, Kevin Donnelly, to lead a review of our curriculum.
  10. “Abolish the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA)” – Abbott hasn’t done this, but he is trying to cut $3.3m from it in the budget.
  11. “Eliminate family tax benefits” – Abbott hasn’t eliminated them, but he’s trying to lower the threshold for part B in the budget, and he’s also trying to freeze the payment rate for both parts until 2016.
  12. “Abandon the paid parental leave scheme” – Abbott hasn’t abandoned it, but he’s trying to wind it back in the budget.
  13. “Means-test Medicare” – Abbott hasn’t introduced this, but the Coalition has considered it.
  14. “Eliminate media ownership restrictions” – Abbott is considering it.
  15. “Eliminate the National Preventative Health Agency” – Abbott is trying to do this in the budget.
  16. “Cease subsidising the car industry” – Abbott has already done this.
  17. “Formalise a one-in, one-out approach to regulatory reduction” – Abbott cites this as the basis for his reduction of ‘red and green tape’.
  18. “Reintroduce voluntary student unionism at universities” – Abbott hasn’t done it yet, but he’s in favour of it.
  19. “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” – Abbott is considering it (preparing a white paper).
  20. “Repeal the mining tax” – Abbott is trying to do this.
  21. “Devolve environmental approvals for major projects to the states” – Abbott is doing this. He’s promised a one-stop shop for environmental approvals.
  22. “Introduce a single rate of income tax with a generous tax-free threshold” – Abbott hasn’t introduced this yet, but he’s definitely in favour of it.
  23. “Cut company tax to an internationally competitive rate of 25 per cent” – Abbott hasn’t gone quite that far, but he’s dropped it by 1.5% to 28.5%.
  24. “Cease funding the Australia Network” Abbott is trying to do this in the budget.
  25. “Privatise Medibank” – Abbott is doing this.
  26. “Reduce the size of the public service” – Abbott is trying to do this in the budget.
  27. “Repeal the Fair Work Act” – Abbott isn’t trying to repeal it, but he’s trying to undermine it.
  28. “Allow individuals and employers to negotiate directly terms of employment that suit them” – Abbott is trying to do this.
  29. “Encourage independent contracting by overturning new regulations designed to punish contractors” – The Coalition was talking about doing this, but I don’t know if they did.
  30. “Abolish the Baby Bonus” – The previous Labor government did this.
  31. “End all public subsidies to sport and the arts” – Abbott is trying to make big cuts to sports and the arts in the budget.
  32. “Rule out any government-supported or mandated internet censorship” – The Coalition has done this (p.7).
  33. “Immediately halt construction of the National Broadband Network and privatise any sections that have already been built” – Abbott hasn’t done this, but he has watered down the NBN, and is now delivering something far inferior, which includes key involvement for Telstra (which Labor’s NBN eliminated).
  34. “Reject proposals for compulsory food and alcohol labelling” – Abbott hasn’t done this directly, but he’s backing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, which would put it at great risk.
  35. “Privatise the CSIRO” – Abbott hasn’t done this, but he’s slashed its funding in the budget.
  36. “Extend the GST to cover all goods and services” – Now that Abbott has cut $80b from state school and hospital funding, the states may be forced to consider expanding the GST.
  37. “Negotiate and sign free trade agreements with Australia’s largest trading partners, including China, India, Japan and South Korea” – Abbott is doing this.
  38. “Rule out the introduction of mandatory pre-commitment for electronic gaming machines” – Abbott has done this.

So of the IPA’s wishlist of 100 policies, 3 have been publicly endorsed, 6 are being considered, 10 have been partially adopted, and 19 have been fully adopted.

Note that although the government has ruled out the sale of Australia Post, they were definitely considering it, so some would say it should be included in the list above too.

Oh, and the bonus prize? The wife of the IPA’s chairman is on the board of a ballet school that got a $1 million grant in the budget. To help it buy a $4.7m mansion to use as a boarding school. Meanwhile other arts institutions took an $87m cut. Screen Australia was cut by $25.1 million and the Australia Council lost $28.2 million.

Couldn’t it just be coincidence? Nope, Abbott’s in the IPA club

It’d be comforting to think it was all just one big coincidence, but sadly it’s not. You see, Abbott’s part of the IPA club. He even spoke at the IPA’s 70th anniversary, along with Rupert Murdoch, Gina Rinehart and Cardinal George Pell:

It’s quite a brown-nosing performance, so just in case you can’t bring yourself to watch it all, here’s the bit that shows how highly Tony thinks of the API:

The IPA, I want to say, has been freedom’s discerning friend. It has supported capitalism, but capitalism with a conscience. Not for the IPA, a single-minded dogmatism or opposition to all restraint; rather a sophisticated appreciation that freedom requires a social context and that much is expected from those to whom so much has been given. You’ve understood that freedom is both an end and a means; a good in itself, as well as necessary for full human flourishing. I particularly congratulate the IPA and its marvelous director, John Roskam, for your work in defence of Western civilisation.”

And remember, this is the organisation with such an appreciation of “social context” that it campaigns against plain packaging for cigarettes. And the director who is so passionate about the defence of Western civilisation that he continually publishes propaganda and psuedo-science to try to discredit the climate-change scientists who are trying to fight the single biggest threat to that civilisation.

More important, though, is this bit:

You had a great deal of advice for me in that particular issue and I want to assure you that the Coalition will indeed repeal the carbon tax, abolish the Department of Climate Change, abolish the Clean Energy Fund. We will repeal Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, at least in its current form. We will abolish new health and environmental bureaucracies. We will deliver $1 billion in red tape savings every year. We will develop northern Australia. We will repeal the mining tax. We will create a one stop shop for environmental approvals. We will privatise Medibank Private. We will trim the public service and we will stop throwing good money after bad on the NBN.”

Still not convinced? Then try this on for size . . .

He even appointed ex-IPA Director as a Human Rights Commissioner

When Abbott won the election, Tim Wilson was a Policy Director at the IPA. Three months later, he was our newest Human Rights Commissioner. Even though the IPA had publicly called for the Commission to be abolished… while Tim was still a director! And despite the fact that Tim clearly wasn’t qualified for the role. Check out his Tweet below (from his time at the IPA, before his appointment as Human Rights Commissioner).

Tim Wilson's anti-free speech tweet

Liberal & the IPA have been pals since 1942

You get the picture . . .

Murdoch’s in the IPA club too

Rubert Murdoch is a donor and outspoken champion of the IPA. In fact, his dad, Keith, was one of the its founders (p.2).

Murdoch spoke at the 70th anniversary dinner too:

Although he talks a lot of rhetoric, his true colours still shine through in gems like this:

The market succeeds because it gives people incentives to put their own wants and needs aside to address the wants and needs of others…

What’s fair about taking money from people who have earned it and giving it to people who didn’t?…

too much welfare can be bad for a single mother…

we must have a press free from government intervention…

income inequality is not the right way to measure the fairness of our society”

 

So is one of his top columnists, Andrew Bolt

Herald Sun columnist, Andrew Bolt, is another club member. In fact, he MCd the 70th anniversary event.

Here’s his introductory speech:

Like Murdoch, he talked a lot of rhetoric, but his speech was probably more telling:

I will also thank, for a visit I had one night, at a very low moment, Tony Abbott…

it wasn’t just the IPA that won the debate… against the sort of laws that we use to stop me. The Liberal Party is promising to repeal some of the worst of the Racial Discrimination Act, and the IPA will, of course, be leading the charge to ensure that the rest also follows, and that the Liberals do not take the easy option there…

It’s hard to over-estimate the impact of the IPA. It’s very hard…

the IPA’s been on the right side of all the arguments for freedom, since it was founded 70 years ago. Freedom from government socialising the economy…

Politicians operate in a cultural space… It is up to bodies like this to define where that cultural space is and should be, and to expand the boundaries.”

 

And when you look at the Murdoch press, you can tell

Murdoch and Bolt’s speeches were both met with much applause. They’re clearly of the IPA, for the IPA. And thus of Liberal, for Liberal.

So it’s no surprise that their media contributions are also of the IPA, for the IPA, of Liberal, for Liberal. Bolt’s last comment above illustrates this very clearly. Let’s just look at that again, so we make no mistake how Murdoch and Bolt see the intertwined roles of the IPA and the media:

Politicians operate in a cultural space… It is up to bodies like this to define where that cultural space is and should be, and to expand the boundaries.”

In other words, ‘we need to brainwash the public, so our politicians can do what the IPA wants them to do’.

That philosophy goes a long way towards explaining some of the horrendously biased (often fictional) stories that pass for news in Murdoch’s newspapers. (And don’t forget, Murdoch controls 65% of all capital city and national daily newspapers, which are by far the most influential in setting the news agenda.)

Take these vastly different portrayals of Labor versus Liberal lies, for example:

Lib vs Lab lies

Or these outright lies about the carbon tax being responsible for gas price increases (click or tap the image to zoom in):

IPART-gas-prices

(Links: news.com.au story and IPART report)

Then there was this Daily Telegraph front page gem that not only pitted war veterans against disability support pensioners, but also used a stock image of young healthy people lining up to suggest that disability pensioners are all just healthy fakes, lining up with their hands out:

Murdoch Fake Photo

(Link to the Shutterstock image)

Or the Australian home page, on the morning after long-time Liberal Party staffer, Ray Carter, blew the whistle on the entire NSW Liberal Party at ICAC, claiming “everyone knew” about the slush funds that he used to launder illegal donations from property developers to the party. (Only part of the image is shown below. Click or tap to see the whole lot.)

Small Australian

And who could forget the parade of anti-Rudd/pro-Abbott front pages leading into the 2013 federal election?

Anti-rudd

The IPA features directly in a lot of media too. Here’s a snapshot of their media campaign for the year to June 2013 (from p.9 of their annual report):

IPA-in-the-Media

I don’t have a breakdown of how many of those appearances and mentions were in the Murdoch press, but I think it’s safe to say it was a lot. (Although, sadly, they feature very prominently on the ABC too, which might be attributed to the fact that the ABC’s Managing Director used to be a senior adviser for the NSW Liberal Government. He was chief of staff to the Education Minister, Virginia Chadwick, and a senior adviser to education minister, Terry Metherell).

Now let’s put all those pieces together . . .

Abbott has broken promise after promise after promise. On the eve of the election, he promised no new taxes, no cuts to health, no cuts to education, no change to pensions, no cuts to the ABC and no cuts to the SBS… He also promised to be a government of no nasty surprises and no excuses. He’s broken all those promises, and more, and he’s forging ahead as if we don’t matter. Meanwhile, he’s adopted or endorsed more than a third of the IPA’s policy wishlist. And the Murdoch press has backed him the whole way.

To me, it’s very clear what’s really going on . . . The IPA suggests big-biz policies, the Liberal party adopts them and Murdoch gets the public to accept them. Simples.

The only real question is why?

You can follow Glenn on Twitter, Google+, or Facebook.

 

Conspiracy of silence

Image by thethingswesay.com

Image by thethingswesay.com

“Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.”

[Special Message to the Congress on the Internal Security of the United States, August 8, 1950]”
― Harry S Truman

If you think that Scott Morrison is justified in keeping “on-water” operations secret for safety and security reasons, perhaps you can explain to me why this secrecy extends to onshore activities like detention camps and gagging people who work with asylum seekers.  Perhaps you can explain why the carers of the two boys, recently disappeared by Immigration officials, are too scared to speak out for fear of losing their job which is to make a home for these kids.

There is a concerted campaign going on to remove accountability, avoid questioning, and silence dissent and it is not just in the area of border protection.  Advocacy groups for anyone other than industry are being systematically dismantled.

If you visit the government Office for the Not-for-Profit Sector website you will be greeted by the following message:

“Thank you for visiting the Office for the Not-for-Profit Sector website.

On 18 September 2013 the Prime Minister, the Hon Tony Abbott MP, was sworn in by the Governor-General. On this day, the Governor General signed the Administrative Arrangements Order and the Social Inclusion Unit and the Office for the Not-for-Profit Sector was disbanded.

The Minister for Social Services, the Hon Kevin Andrews MP, will have responsibility for the community sector, volunteering and philanthropy. The Minister for Human Services, Senator the Hon Marise Payne, will have responsibility for service delivery policy.”

We might have got a clue when Abbott announced his Cabinet.  No Youth Ministry, No Early Childhood Ministry, No Science Ministry, No Climate Change Ministry, No Disability Ministry, No Aged Care Ministry, No Workplace Relations Ministry, No Multiculturalism Ministry, BUT there’s a Minister for ANZAC Day!

Another red flag was raised when the community sector was not represented on the Commission of Audit and it has not been invited to make a submission to the McClure Welfare Review being conducted by former Mission Australia chief executive Patrick McClure.

“As far as we know no one was invited to make a submission. The review has no terms of reference, has held no public meetings and has issued no interim discussion paper. We have had discussions behind closed doors but there’s been nothing in the open,” Ms Goldie, head of ACOSS, said.

And if any further proof was needed, there was the inexplicable decision to sack Graeme Innes, Disability Commissioner, and replace him with an IPA sock puppet.

Two weeks after the budget, Mr Morrison withdrew funding for the Refugee Council of Australia, which had been allocated in the budget papers, saying he and the government did not believe that “taxpayer funding should be there to support what is effectively an advocacy group”.

Government funding for a wide range of community organisations including ACOSS expires on December 31 after a budget decision to extend it for only six months while new long-term arrangements are developed.

The organisations have been told their grants might be put out to tender.

A vital component of Non Government Organisations (NGOs), as the name suggests, is that they remain independent of the government.  Such independence is needed in order to effectively advocate for the marginalised, the environment and for those who can’t speak up for themselves. But because of a heavy reliance on government funding, and increasing use of gag clauses, NGOs are at risk of losing their vital independence.

Governments, at both the state and federal level, are increasingly contracting out services to independent providers, which is typically seen as a cost-cutting measure. As a result, more NGOs and community groups are providing services on behalf of government, in essence becoming contractors for government programs. As Browen Dalton noted recently in The Conversation, “Australia has a higher proportion of human services provided by [not for profits] than almost any other country, with the sector turning over $100 billion a year.”

However, this outsourcing means that NGOs are more reliant on government funding. And increasingly, government funding has come with heavy restrictions that threaten to jeopardise the indispensable independence of Australia’s NGOs.

The community sector plays a vital part in a democratic political system. These organisations are pivotal in shaping public advocacy and in representing those who fall through the cracks. They ensure that every person is considered in the democratic process. They also fill in the gaps where government services and programs fail. Community groups provide much needed services in homelessness support, education, refugee resettlement, disability care, arts, and many other community programs.

In a 1991 report, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Community Affairs stated:

An integral part of the consultative and lobbying role of these organisations is to disagree with government policy where this is necessary in order to represent the interests of their constituents.”

The nature of government funding is a threat to this independence.  As funding for some of the most vital services comes from government rather than through the public, it is the government decides which services are more important and inevitably controls the direction and delivery of such services. This model undermines the independence of NGOs, and ignores the expertise of those working on the ground to decide where services and funds need to be allocated.

Last year, the Minister for Social Services, Kevin Andrews, stated that “to benefit civil society as a whole, the Government has committed to abolishing the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, with repeal legislation to be introduced into Parliament next year”.  He introduced a late amendment to the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2013 to delay the introduction of the Charities Act2013 from 1 January 2014 to September 2014.  This was referred to a Senate Committee.

In February, the Centre for Independent Studies advised the Federal Government to act on its pre-election promise to abolish the ACNC it “is not achieving its main objectives, which were to improve public trust in the not-for-profit sector, reduce red tape, and police fraud and wrongdoing”.  The vast majority of the sector disagrees.

In June we read that

The Senate Committee report into the abolition of the charity regulator, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission (ACNC), has failed to break the deadlock between the Government and other parties, and if the majority report is implemented it would be retrograde step for public trust and confidence in sector, the ACNC Advisory Board Chairman Robert Fitzgerald has warned.

Fitzgerald said despite 80 per cent of submissions received by the Senate Committee supporting the retention of the ACNC, the majority senate report recommended the ACNC Act be repealed.

“This recommendation was saying the Australian community had no right to information about a sector that receives substantial tax concessions and benefits every year.   The charity and Not for Profit sector is one of Australia’s fastest growing and important sectors. It has taken 17 years, at least six inquiries, 2000 submissions and volumes of evidence to get an effective national regulatory model. And now the effect of the majority opinion is would be to undermine basic transparency, the tackling of duplicative reporting and proven and effective regulation.

By moving to abolish the ACNC, the Government is going against the tide: England and Wales has had an independent charity regulator for more than 160 years; Scotland and Singapore established regulators and a public charity register following charity scandals; New Zealand has had a charity regulator since 2005.  In the last 12 months Ireland, Jamaica and now Jersey have moved to establish independent charity regulatory bodies and public registers. Hong Kong has also recommended establishing a public charity register.

Since the ACNC’s inception, three separate surveys have each found an 80 per cent satisfaction rate with respondents supporting the ACNC.

In a relative short period of time, the ACNC has created Australia’s first free, publicly available national charity register, provided sound education and advice services to support charities in their governance, and implemented the Charity Portal and Charity Passport, which is critical to reducing duplicative reporting across government.

It is now a matter for the Parliament to determine if it wishes to have an efficient and effective regulator, or return to a regulatory regime that will ultimately increase compliance burdens on the sector and fail to deliver transparency to the Australian public.”

Since the 2013 election

AXED

Social Inclusion Board

National Housing Supply Council

Prime Minister’s Council on Homelessness

National Policy Commission on Indigenous Housing

National Children and Family Roundtable

Advisory Panel on Positive Ageing

Immigration Health Advisory Group

DEFUNDED

Refugee Council of Australia

Australian Youth Affairs Council

Alcohol and Drug Council of Australia

National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples

National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services

ADDED

Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Council

Australian Treasury Advisory Council

Not for Profit Advisory Group to the ATO

Innovation and Technology Working Group

Prime Minister’s Community Business Partnership

Indigenous Advisory Council

Aged Care Sector Committee

 

Note:  Two groups who argued vehemently for the abolition of a watchdog were the Catholic Church through Cardinal Pell’s office and the IPA.  The ATO will now be asked to take over the duties of watchdog even though they will be shedding about 900 staff over the next six months.  Happy days for tax cheats.

What Gina wants, Gina gets

In 2012, Gina Rinehart self-published a book called Northern Australia and then some: Changes We Need to Make Our Country Rich.  In it she calls for northern Australia to become a special economic zone with tax and red-tape exemptions.

At the time, Tony Abbott rejected Mrs Rinehart’s calls, declaring it was “not something that the Coalition considered and it’s not something that the Coalition is planning for”.

In what has since come to be the usual course of events, he was contradicted by his Treasury spokesman, Joe Hockey, who said the Coalition was committed to boosting investment and a northern economic zone was on the table.

“We want to explore it, but it is a long-term plan and it needs further discussion,” Mr Hockey said.

Barnaby Joyce, a close friend of Gina’s, said “If you believe in developing northern and regional Australia, it is quite obvious that you need to develop policies that attract people to northern Australia, otherwise it’s just rhetorical flourish with no substance behind it.”  And it appears Gina is getting her way with the plan once again under discussion.

“There are some forms of tax concession which would be under constitutional prohibition but obviously if it’s constitutionally acceptable, and there are some things which are constitutionally acceptable, there would be no reason why it couldn’t be looked at by the White Paper.” – Tony Abbott in Darwin on 28 February 2014.

While in opposition, the Coalition flagged a plan to build 100 new dams across the country as part of a plan to prevent floods, fuel power stations and irrigate food bowls.

The total cost of the coalition’s water management plan, if all projects were approved, would be $30 billion. They included new dams for the Hunter Valley and along the Lachlan River in NSW and a $500 million plan to raise Warragamba Dam as well as a proposal to pipe water 1500 kilometres from the Kimberley to Perth.

After the idea was widely panned, the Coalition sought to distance itself from the leaked report, saying it had no specific plan yet to build 100 dams across Australia.  But that was then, and this is now.  With the IPA and ANDEV pushing for dams to be built, it’s very much back on the agenda.

In a review of past developments in northern Australia, Woinarski and Dawson (1997) commented that there was “a pattern of general disregard for information and scant concern for environmental consequences of success (or failure)” and that there was a perception that the environment in the north of Australia was “so extensive and of so little value that little safeguard needs to be built into development proposals”.

Changing community values shifted community and government focus to water efficiency, full cost recovery, water trading, separating water rights from land title, integrated water resource management and acknowledgement of the environment as a legitimate user of water.

But it appears we have taken a step backwards with Barnaby Joyce overseeing a Commonwealth ministerial working group  which includes Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss, Environment Minister Greg Hunt, Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development Jamie Briggs and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment, Senator Simon Birmingham.

Mr Joyce said that water infrastructure had to keep pace with economic opportunities in Australia’s region and that we “have to take advantage of the growing wealth of hundreds of millions of people who live close by.”

“We have the Treasurer today talking about the recycling of capital. One of the most effective forms of recycling of capital is in water infrastructure, because water is wealth.”  As with everything else, it’s all about the money.

Previous reports, such as one completed by the CSIRO in 2010, have found that very few sites are suitable or near locations where there is likely to be significant demand for water.

Capturing and keeping streamflow in northern Australia is difficult. Most of the rainfall occurs near the coast where it is mostly too flat to build dams.  Capturing water in valleys doesn’t overcome the problem of evaporation unless the dams are very  deep.  Consequently, large scale dams (like Lake Argyle) that can provide year-round water are not likely to be feasible for most of the north.

Mr Joyce rejects that, however.

“I disagree with some of the issues that CSIRO have reported in the past, that you couldn’t have any more irrigation capacity, because it was manipulated by the [then Labor] government in such a way as the report was confounded.

“It had to come out with that sort of recommendation because the government put so many caveats on things that you weren’t allowed to do,” he said.

Concern about equity in decision making, the health of land, river and sea environments, Indigenous livelihoods, security, infrastructure and social wellbeing are no longer important in discussions revolving around gigalitres of water, hectares of land or tonnes or dollars of production.

Northern Australia is characterised by high year-round temperatures, a distinct seasonal rainfall pattern, some of the greatest rainfall intensities in the world, large inter-annual variability in rainfall and large evaporation rates.

The lack of rainfall during the dry (winter) months means that irrigation is essential for cultivated agriculture or perennial horticulture during this period.  The strong seasonal component to rainfall and the high evaporation rates in northern Australia mean that a greater volume of water (between 20 and 80%) is required to irrigate a given area of perennial pasture in the North than in the South.

Large variation in flow from season to season and from year to year requires that sizeable storage structures would have to be built to accommodate volume fluctuations and meet demand of permanent settlements and irrigation during the dry season unless suitable groundwater resources are available

40% of Australia’s total potentially exploitable water is located in northern Australia. If all of this potentially exploitable water was used for irrigation, 20 to 25% of Australia’s irrigation by area could theoretically be located in northern Australia. In reality, however, the maximum area under irrigation will be significantly less than this (est 60,000 ha) when environmental, social, cultural and other values are considered in the water allocation planning process.

While these estimates suggest that from a purely water volume point of view there is potential for additional irrigation in northern Australia, efforts towards achieving and maintaining sustainable irrigation in southern Australia will continue to be central to Australia’s long term irrigation future.

Sustainable irrigation with groundwater in semi-arid and arid zones will require a recharge area that is several orders of magnitude greater than the irrigated area. If groundwater is developed in these arid zones, it may be very challenging to maintain existing ecological values.

Because most rivers in northern Australia are ephemeral, perennial rivers have high ecological significance. Any extraction of groundwater from these systems will most likely result in a reduction in streamflow at some point in time. The impacts of these reductions and whether those impacts are acceptable is a key management question.

Experience in northern irrigation schemes, e.g. the Ord and Lower Burdekin, illustrate that failure to manage deep drainage accessions will result in irrigation-induced salinity. In the wet-dry tropics of northern Australia groundwater levels may seasonally fluctuate by as much as 10 m. These seasonal fluctuations are considerably greater than those experienced in irrigation districts in southern Australia.

The Coalition want “A food bowl including premium produce which could help to double Australian agricultural output”, but history shows us that previous attempts have been largely unsuccessful.

The Ord Irrigation Project has cost over a billion dollars over 60 years, with no cost benefit analysis.

Cotton thrived between 1963 and 1974 but insect pests required millions of litres of pesticides and when the government removed price subsidies it collapsed.

Rice came and went for similar reasons with magpie geese blackening the sky and closing the airport so thick were the numbers.

Sugar came and collapsed when production failed to meet anywhere near the amount required to keep the mill viable and the price collapsed.

Buoyed by the potential of new varieties in 2010 farmers planted the first commercial rice crops in the region for 30 years.   After two promising years the fungal disease rice blast was discovered rendering the crops worthless.

Similarly driven by strong global prices a number of farmers grew cotton last year but cold weather reduced yields by half and a wet picking season further reduced production.

Neither rice nor cotton will be grown again this year.

The Ord now hosts the largest commercial Indian Sandalwood production in the world covering more than 60% of the land under cultivation, and has supplanted melons, pumpkins, chick peas, bananas and so on.  This is a tree that takes 14-20 years to maturity and provides nothing edible.

Whether it be tax zones, or dams, or food bowls – forget the science, forget the experts, forget the environment, forget the lessons of the past, and the traditional owners – what Gina wants, Gina gets.

More great reading from Kaye Lee:

Hi ho, Hi ho….where am I spose to go?

It’s all about the choices you make

My kids are ok, yours can go beg.

War games

Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me

The following is an excerpt from a 2007 paper called The Cigarette Controversy, the controversy which used to surround the tobacco industry.

“In 1994, heads of the major U.S. tobacco companies testified before Congress that the evidence that cigarette smoking caused diseases such as cancer and heart disease was inconclusive, that cigarettes were not addictive, and that they did not market to children. Less than 1 month after this testimony, a box containing confidential documents from the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation was delivered to the University of California at San Francisco. What was revealed in these documents was evidence that the tobacco industry had for decades known and accepted the fact that cigarettes caused premature death, considered tobacco to be addictive, and that their programs to support scientific research on smoking and health had been a sham.

In 1999, the federal government filed its own suit against the tobacco industry for violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. In August 2006, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler concluded that “…the tobacco companies conspired to violate the substantive provisions of RICO…and…in fact violated those substantive provisions”. The question of when tobacco companies knew or should have known about the serious health consequences of smoking goes to the very question of whether or not there was a real cigarette controversy.

Evidence linking smoking and cancer appeared in the 1920s . Between 1920 and 1940, a chemist named Angel Honorio Roffo published several articles showing that cancers could be experimentally induced by exposure to tars from burned tobacco. Roffo et al. further showed that cancer could be induced by using nicotine-free tobacco, which means that tar, with or without nicotine, was carcinogenic. Research implicating smoking as a cause of cancer began to mount during the 1950s, with several landmark publications in leading medical journals. The first official U.S. government statement on smoking and health was issued by the Surgeon General Leroy Burney in a televised press conference in 1957, wherein he reported that the scientific evidence supported cigarette smoking as a causative factor in the etiology of lung cancer. By 1960, Joseph Garland, Editor of the New England Journal, wrote, “No responsible observer can deny this association, and the evidence is now sufficiently strong to suggest a causative role”.

In their public statements, tobacco companies held that cigarettes had not been proven to be injurious to health. For example, a November 1953 press release issued by the American Tobacco Company stated, “…no one has yet proved that lung cancer in any human being is directly traceable to tobacco or its products in any form”. In a New York Times story based on this press release, the headline states that Mr. Hahn (President of the American Tobacco Company) characterizes the evidence of a link between cigarette smoking and an increase in the incidence of lung cancer as “Loose Talk”. In 1954, Philip Morris Vice President George Weissman announced that if the company had any thought or knowledge that in any way we were selling a product harmful to consumers, that they would stop business immediately. Senior scientists and executives at tobacco companies, however, knew about the potential cancer risk of smoking as early as the 1940s, and most accepted the fact that smoking caused cancer by the late 1950s.

A 1962 report by the R.J. Reynolds scientist Dr. Alan Rodgman characterized the amount of evidence accumulated to indict cigarette smoking as a health risk as “overwhelming,” whereas the evidence challenging such an indictment was “scant”.

In her decision regarding the allegation that the tobacco companies had violated RICO, Judge Kessler observed that the trial record amply showed a conspiracy to make false, deceptive, and misleading public statements about cigarettes and smoking from at least January 1954, when the Frank Statement was published, up to the present. The “Frank Statement to Cigarette Smokers” was a jointly sponsored advocacy advertisement published by tobacco manufacturers in January 1954. The advertisement appeared in 448 newspapers in 258 cities, reaching over 43 million Americans. The advertisement questioned research findings implicating smoking as a cause of cancer, promised consumers that their cigarettes were safe, and pledged to support impartial research to investigate allegations that smoking was harmful to human health.

The tobacco documents reveal how the tobacco industry worked together since the early 1950s to create a pro-cigarette public relations campaign to mislead the public about the dangers of smoking to advance their collective interest to market cigarettes.

In 1955, Dr. Clarence Little, the first Scientific Director of the Tobacco Industry Research Committee (TIRC), appeared on the Edward R. Murrow show and was asked, “Dr. Little have any cancer-causing agents been identified in cigarettes?” Dr. Little replied, “No. None whatever, either in cigarettes or in any product of smoking, as such.” Dr. Little was also asked, “Suppose the tremendous amount of research going on were to reveal that there is a cancer causing agent in cigarettes, what then?” Dr. Little replied, “It would be made public immediately and just as broadly as we could make it, and then efforts would be taken to attempt to remove that substance or substances”.

From 1964 onward, the Tobacco Institute (TI) frequently made reference to the fact that qualified scientists challenged the evidence that smoking caused disease. Yet, many of these so-called independent scientists were recruited and had their research programs supported by the tobacco industry. For example, in 1970, the TI sponsored the “Truth” public service campaign that informed the public that there was a scientific controversy about whether smoking caused disease. The “Truth” campaign encouraged people to contact the TI to get a copy of a “White Paper” that included quotes from scientists challenging the evidence that smoking caused the disease. Lawyer-controlled “special project accounts” were used to recruit and support scientists who were willing to make statements and/or conduct research that would be favourable to the industry’s view that causes other than smoking were responsible for lung cancer and other diseases.

Internal documents from the industry acknowledge that TIRC/CTR was largely a public relations asset for them rather than a real research endeavour to address the smoking and health controversy. A 1970 letter from Helmut Wakeham, then Vice President of the Corporate Research and Development at Philip Morris, to the President of the TI summed up this view: “nobody believes we are interested in the truth on this subject; and the fact that a multi-billion dollar industry has put up 30 million dollars for this over a ten-year period cannot be impressive to a public which at the same time is told we spend upwards of 300 million dollars in one year on advertising”.

The tobacco industry conspiracy to manufacture a false controversy about smoking and health is summarized in a 1972 TI memorandum, which defined the strategy as consisting of three parts: (a) “creating doubt about the health charge without actually denying it”; (b) “advocating the public’s right to smoke, without actually urging them to take up the practice”; and (c) “encouraging objective scientific research as the only way to resolve the question of the health hazard”. In her analysis of the purpose of the industry’s jointly funded “research” organizations, Judge Kessler observed that they had helped the industry achieve its goals because they “sponsored and funded research that attacked scientific studies demonstrating harmful effects of smoking cigarettes but did not itself conduct research addressing the fundamental questions regarding the adverse health effects of smoking”.

The internal industry documents show how tobacco companies deliberately confused the public debate about smoking and health by creating and supporting research organizations that were never really interested in discovering the truth about whether smoking was a cause of disease.

In October 1999, Philip Morris Tobacco Company announced to the public on its web site that, “There is an overwhelming medical and scientific consensus that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema and other serious disease in smokers”. However, when shareholders proposed a resolution asking the company to produce a report on how it intended to correct the defects that resulted in its products causing disease, the company responded that the shareholder’s resolution had “… mischaracterizes the Company’s web site as constituting a public admission that cigarettes cause illness. It does not.”. Today, all of the major tobacco companies have web sites acknowledging that smoking is a cause of disease. However, the current web site statement of R.J. Reynolds on the health effects of smoking continues to insist that smoking “causes disease in some individuals” only “in combination with other factors”. In the courtroom, the companies continue to challenge allegations about nicotine addiction and smoking causing illness. The tobacco companies have not yet been able to bring themselves to accept responsibility for their past illegal acts.

It does not seem that the tobacco industry has changed since the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement but instead has found alternative ways to support research and create controversy about the health risks of smoking. For example, in the 2006 US election, the tobacco industry spent over US$100 million dollars opposing state-initiated proposals to limit smoking in public places and raise cigarette taxes. It is not sufficient for the tobacco industry to merely concede the obvious point that smoking is a cause of disease when it is evident that decades of misinformation has resulted in a public that is massively ignorant about the risks of smoking low-tar cigarettes, nicotine addiction, and secondhand smoke exposure. Moreover, claims by tobacco companies that they are involved in sponsoring programs to help smokers to quit and discourage youth from taking up smoking must be seriously questioned in light of recent findings that show that these programs have no beneficial effect and may potentially be iatrogenic. There remains a need for public education efforts to correct consumer misperceptions about the risks of smoking along with government oversight to ensure that industry is not permitted to use its vast marketing resources to continue to mislead the public. Universities should also consider adopting policies that prohibit their faculty from accepting funding from tobacco companies. The implication of Judge Kessler’s ruling is clear: the tobacco companies cannot and should not be trusted.”

The similarities between this and the campaign of misinformation regarding climate change cannot be missed. Any organisation who accepts money from the tobacco industry – the Heartland Institute, the Institute of Public Affairs, the Liberal Party – must be regarded with suspicion. Surprisingly enough, or not, these same organisations receive huge funding from mining companies and they are all against action on climate change.  Any ‘scientist’ who associates themselves with the Heartland Institute will be tainted by their lack of ethics and obvious vested interest.

Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.

Dignity, Dorothy meets the Wizard

Photo: i.imgur.com

Photo: i.imgur.com

 

“There is dignity in work.  Increasing the minimum wage constitutes a threat to the dignity of the unemployed.”

Aaron Lane IPA Press Release.

”It’s about empowering individuals in being able to choose their own employment.”

Aaron Lane on abolishing the minimum wage altogether. The Age.

*                           *                           *

Ok, as the IPA are doing their own satire now, I’ll go back to writing  straight fiction.

“Well,” said the Tinman, “I hope the Wizard will be able to give me a heart.”

“And,” added the Lion, “I hope that he’ll give me courage.”

“Here we are,” said the Scarecrow. “I’m so glad I found you folks because I could never have made it here by myself.”

Toto barked. It seems that the Wizard was about to appear. Dorothy hushed them all.

The screen fired up, spluttered, then went black, apart from a notice that said that if one wanted access to the Wizard, one should contact one’s subscriber.

“F*ck it,” said Dorothy, “I’ll use my phone.”

At this point, a wizened old man stepped out from behind the screen. “Just what do you think you’re doing?” he demanded.

“I’m going to access the internet using my smartphone,” she replied.

“Good luck,” said the old man. “Download speeds here are so slow that you’ll be my age before you get coverage.”

“Who are you?” asked Dorothy.

“I’m the controller of everything that happens here in Oz. Some call me the Wizened. Others call me, sir. But you, my child, can’t call me at all, because you’re not a subscriber. Go away.”

“But,” insisted Dorothy, “we’ve come all this way. The Tinman here, wants a heart, the Lion wants courage and the Scarecrow just wants a brain.”

“What about you?” asked the old man, “What do you want?”

“I just want to be safe,” replied Dorothy.

“Why do any of these things concern me?”

“Because we’re here and if you want to be left alone, it’d be better to help us. Otherwise, we’ll just tell everyone that the Wizard is just a sad, old man.”

The Wizened thought for a moment.

“All right,” he replied eventually. “I can use the Tinman. A person like that can take charge of Oz’s borders, and make them strong. Someone with no heart would be good like that. We shall henceforth call him Scott.

“As for the Lion, someone with no courage would make an excellent Minister for Education. That way, they won’t question anything and will feel that everything is fine just the way it is. Henceforth, he shall be called Pyne the Lion.

“As for the Scarecrow, he would make an excellent Prime Minister. He will do as he is told and he’ll be too stupid to understand that he’s being used to further my agenda and will actually think that I like him. Henceforth, he will be called many things, but will be too stupid to understand that history will judge him more harshly than Billy Hughes.

“And as for you, young Dorothy, I understand that you came into Oz illegally. We don’t want people like you here.”

“That’s good,” replied Dorothy, “because I don’t want to be here.”

“So be it,” replied the Wizened, and with a clap of his hands, Dorothy was whisked into custody.

The Scarecrow – when the Wizened had finally got his screen working – announced to the good people of Oz that Dorothy had come here illegally and that it had been a hundred days since a house had landed in Oz. He and his friend, Scott the Tinman, had stopped the houses and many of the people of Oz cheered, because even though house-landings in Oz were rare, the fact that one had flattened a witch made people fearful.

As for Dorothy, well, nobody knows what happened to her. There were rumours that she was kept out of sight in a nearby place. But these were only rumours, and one doesn’t investigate rumours. When asked about Dorothy, the Scarecrow would talk about flying houses and the Tinman would say that he made no apology because there was nothing to sorry for, and anyway, the Witch of the East had said that Dorothy was ok. The Lion said very little on the subject, but when he occasionally tried to roar, many people said that it sounded like he must surely still be a friend of Dorothy.

“Forget about Dorothy,” said the Scarecrow. “It’s time to get back to digging up that yellow brick road in return for free picks and shovels. There’s dignity in work, you know.”

And with that, the Munchkins went off to work singing as they did, feeling happy that they lived in a place where gold was so plentiful that they could dig it up and send it to needy billionaires.

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.

To the Future and Beyond!

Image courtesy of couriermail.com.au

Image courtesy of couriermail.com.au

Should the Labor Party sever its long-standing ties with the union movement? In this guest post, well-known blogger Hillbilly Skeleton argues that they might suffer politically if they don’t.

Can we talk?

How can I put this?

I can either try and put this delicately, as some partners try to do when a long-term relationship ends, and hedge around the truth which is usually as clear as day in your own mind, hoping you won’t offend the other party’s feelings, or, you can be brutally honest and believe that by doing so you can have a positive, not negative, cathartic effect.

So, as I have never been one for humming and hawing, let me get straight to the point here.

It’s Time for the Australian Labor Party to cut the ties that bind it inextricably to the Australian Union movement and divorce itself from the overwhelming and over-weaning and disastrously destructive (in recent history) control they have over the parliamentary Labor Party.

“Heresy!!!” I can hear 90+% of you shouting at their computer screens.  Also, “Aren’t you a member of the ALP? So, why are you saying this?”

Well, no, and, yes.

No, I don’t think I’m being heretical, and, yes, I am a proud member of the ALP and will continue to be unless they kick me out for this blog. Lol.  Which I doubt because I am increasingly not on my Pat Malone in the modern-day ALP.  I know this because I have had many conversations with fellow ALP members about this subject, many of them members of unions too, and they agree that a redefining of the relationship needs to occur.  Something needs to be done about the overt ALP/Union nexus.  Major transformational change to the party scaffolding must occur. Or the ALP will simply bleed to death slowly but surely, as the Unions in Australia (and globally), with membership in Australia at a paltry 13% in private enterprise, are doing right now.

Which is not to say, most definitely and wholeheartedly, that I agree with the presumption of the Abbott government and it’s fellow travellers in the business community and in ideologically-bent union-smashing outfits such as the HR Nicholls Society and the IPA, that the very concept of workers organising for their mutual benefit is anathema and all stops should be pulled out, both legislatively and persuasively via the bully pulpit, to bring about their demise.

Not.  At.  All.

On the contrary, I fully support the concept of Unionism and collective organisation of employees for their mutual benefit as they attempt to gather strength from their numbers against any employer with the whip-hand who seeks to exploit and capitalise on their honest toil for their own profit, whilst the workers pay, and hard-won but reasonable work conditions languish or die on the vine by neglect and design.  More power to the workers in their constant struggle against this and strength to their arms in their fight against the oppressive forces of global and national monopolistic capitalistic enterprise.  It’s only fair and reasonable after all and the basis of a cohesive, harmonious, equitable and content society.  I’m a Social Democrat, after all.

Nope, what I think needs to be the transformative change that the ALP should, no must, undertake, is that it must change from being a party OF the Unions and BY the Unions, to being a party FOR the Unions, but first and foremost, simply a 21st century Progressive Social Democrat political party, whose narrative encompasses Unionism as but one of the pillars upon which the scaffold of the party is built.

Yes, over more than 100 glorious years the ALP has been the longest-lived, continuously-surviving political party in the land, and it’s a proud history which should be fulsomely embraced.  However, times change, situations change, environments change, and relationships, one with another, change.

Such that the cardinal rule of relationships kicks into gear.  ‘Adapt or die’.

That’s what the Liberal Party have successfully done, to the extent that they are presently cannibalising their Coalition partner, the National Party, by taking rural seats off them at elections.  Also, they have aggressively identified and gone after new constituencies as they have appeared on the horizon, and legislated to accommodate them felicitously, which has been repaid with loyalty to and membership of the party and enough votes to be winning elections more often than not.

New constituencies such as the Tradies, who are now also small businesspeople, the Franchise owners and operators, Small, Micro and Home Businesspeople, and ‘New Professionals’, if I can coin that term, in the Alternative Therapies disciplines.  Not to mention their traditional constituencies in Big Business who never desert them.

Yet Labor have doggedly stood by the Unions as this transformation of Australian society has occurred.  And turned a blind eye to the canker of corruption, all too obviously on display now and serving to aid the enemy.  Not only that, but if you play your cards right, in this Closed Shop, you could end up sitting in a comfy chair in parliament.  Not as a result of having any other talent beyond playing the Union Stepping Stone game well.

Well, in the words of that great Monkees song, ‘I’m Not Your Stepping Stone!’

It’s Time for the Australian Labor Party to undertake the necessary structural change that will see it survive and prosper against the Liberal Party in the 21st century in Australia.  We need an effective force for good (if you want to cast everything in terms of ‘Goodies and Baddies’ as Mr Abbott does) then Labor are the ‘goodies’ and the Coalition are the ‘baddies’, as so much of what made Australia a utopia in the 20th century is now under threat in the 21st.

Unions are a social good; however, the times whereby workers are herded into unions are gone.  Unions should be there for workers to choose them if they want to, and Labor should fight to the political death for unions to be allowed to exist in every workplace, and their practices should be their own best advertisement for the benefits of unions and unionism.  And each and every union member should have the choice whether they join and fund the ALP, or any other political party, and thus they should get one vote with one value only in the ALP.  The days of bloc votes and union Secretary control and string-pulling must be gone and we should see those ties that currently bind the Unions to the ALP severed.  Even if it does upset all the union factional heavyweights to do so.  Anyway, if a stronger Union Movement, with broad community support, arises from the ashes, then that can only be good for the Labor Party.

As I fear that if the party isn’t reconstructed along more democratic lines and the pre-selection of candidates not necessarily in a union, but who believe in unions, doesn’t occur, then all those people who recently formed a new relationship with the party after those liberating and refreshing signs of reform which broke out in the ALP after the last election, will come to the same conclusion.

ALP, I’m just not that into you any more. You’re a dud.

 

Abbott is Murdoch’s dream come true

Abbott and Murdoch (image courtesy of smh.com.au)

Abbott and Murdoch (image courtesy of smh.com.au)

The Australian’s Christian Kerr was the one called up to last bucket the Labor Party’s leader.

There is nothing unusual about this but I was struck by the column inches wasted on what can be only labelled as an infantile array of unnecessary and completely un-newsworthy cheap shots at the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.

He bases his commentary on Bill’s initial response to the closure of Toyota in Australia.

He derides his passionate press stop with Labor colleagues, saying Shorten’s ‘jumble of thought and emotion served neither his cause nor his constituency’.

He then gives a backhanded compliment to him:

‘But it was a different Shorten who appeared in question time. He looked smart; well-groomed, well-dressed – even well-pressed’.

Well I’m glad he met your standards, Christian.

To top off this childish spray he says:

 “The schoolboy hair and rumpled suit were gone, but the Opposition Leader may have spent summer in class in elocution lessons.”

What a puerile effort!

The only opinion writers you will find in The Australian that present the other side of the debate are either former or present Labor Party MPs.

The list of Liberal acolytes and staunch conservatives at “The Heart of the Nation” is extensive. Judith Sloan, Henry Ergas, Chris Kenny, Grace Collier, Janet Albrechtsen, Nikki Savva, Peter van Onselen and Dennis Shanahan all speaking in one voice.

To be fair, Peter van Onselen does occasionally stray into the territory of supporting Labor occasionally but it is always uncomfortably done and in a backhanded manner.

He becomes indignant, his glass jaw on display, when it is suggested he is a Liberal.

He’s a former Liberal staffer, who writes for The Australian and has his own show on Sky News, along with the TV host-cum-shock jock wannabe Paul Murray.

Do I really need to say anymore? He knows which side his bread is buttered on.

All this isn’t an accident. They are paid to push the IPA Fox News conservatism Rupert Murdoch is so in love with.

A quick look at Murdoch’s Twitter stream is enough to make me ill. A pulpit from which this self important man lectures governments and guides his minions.

This is done both for self-interest, to keep the Abbott Government in his pocket, but also to drive the resurgence of Murdoch’s ideology in Australian society.

Abbott is Murdoch’s dream come true. A willing accomplice in dragging Australia back to the bad old “Golden Age” of Howard or, better still, back to the visionary Menzies era. An era where Australia stagnated as a conservative bastion and complete backwater.

A lot of his opinion writers seem to enjoy trying to immaturely bait and annoy progressives and are making a habit of constantly defending the bungling Abbott Government at all costs.

Can you imagine the commentary if Julia Gillard or Kevin Rudd started their terms in office how Abbott has? The cabal of Murdoch facilitators would be feverishly speculating about leadership challenges from the front pages of the entire News Corp Australia stable of publications.

All this is completely fine in a free press but who does The Australian serve?

Would it not be best to try and present news in an unbiased manner, without riddling it with opinion?

Would it not be best to have a balanced stable of opinion writers from across the spectrum to present the diverse array of views in our nation?

For somebody as experienced as Rupert Murdoch you would think he would respect the values of “fairness and balance”.

Given the tagline for his joke of a “news network” Fox News is “fair and balanced” it would seem Murdoch has no concept of the most basic of journalistic principles. Or maybe he simply doesn’t care?

Can I make a suggest Rupert? Don’t call The Australian “The Heart of Australia”.

“The Voice of Rupert Murdoch” has a ring to it I think.

Matthew Donovan (pictured) is a former Labor candidate for the seat of Surfers Paradise in Queensland as well as a political commentator and freelance journalist. He’s an active Labor campaigner from Burleigh Branch on the Gold Coast. His interests are progressive politics, policy development and media/social media strategy. Matthew’s studied Journalism, International Relations and History at the University of Southern Queensland. He plans to study Political Science in the near future.

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