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Tag Archives: political donations

Trust Federal Parliament? Sure can

While Tony Abbott and Bill Shorten close ranks in assuring us that the dealings of federal politicians are all above board and squeaky clean, the reality is glaringly different and their refusal to realise that reform is needed taints them both with the suspicion that they rather like the current situation of factional groups being installed by industry lobbyists to control our treasury.

In 1992 the former secretary to the Office of Governor-General, Sir David Smith, wrote: There is much that is wrong with the way this nation is governed and administered: never before have we had so many Royal Commissions and other inquiries; never before have we had so many office-holders and other figures in, or facing the prospect of prison; never before have the electors registered their dissatisfaction with the political process by returning so many independent and minor party candidates to Parliament.

This quote from 22 years ago could have been written today.

In the Mackay Report of July 2001, social researcher Hugh Mackay stated: Australia’s contempt for federal politics and its leaders has plumbed new depths. If it (the Mackay Report) was a family newspaper, we would scarcely be able to print the things Australian’s are saying about their politicians … In the 22 year history of the Mackay Report political attitudes have never been quite as negative as this.

Thirteen years on and, if anything, the situation is worse.

On 16 June 2013 in The Australian newspaper Tony Fitzgerald QC (who chaired the 1987 Queensland Royal Commission) wrote an article The Body Politic is Rotten. He stated: “There are about 800 politicians in Australia’s parliaments. According to their assessments of each other, that quite small group includes role models for lying, cheating, deceiving, “rorting”, bullying, rumour-mongering, back-stabbing, slander, “leaking”, “dog-whistling”, nepotism and corruption.”

He states in effect, that the dominance of the major parties by little known and unimpressive faction leaders who have effective control of Australia’s democracy and destiny… might be tolerable if the major parties acted with integrity but they do not. Their constant battles for power are venal, vicious and vulgar.

The 2010-13 Federal Parliament saw the major parties virtually eliminate any real form of democratic debate substituting little but character assassination of opponents. It was a three-year election campaign of personal abuse and fear mongering. It was debased even further with aggressive bullying by the media and special interests at unprecedented levels.

The same period saw both state and federal governments pandering to special interests allowing massive increases in the promotion of gambling and alcohol. Pandering to the development and mining industries and the seemingly endless privatisation of public assets often creating private monopolies, continued irrespective of public opinion.

Over the last 30 years politicians’ staff has increased dramatically. At federal level there are now some 17 hundred personal staff to ministers and members. The states probably account for over two thousand more. Add to this the direct political infiltration of federal-state public services and quangos with hundreds more jobs for the boys and girls, there is now a well-established political class.

This has provided the political parties with a career path for members. In many cases it often produces skilled, partisan, “whatever it takes” warriors with a richly rewarded life through local state and federal governments to a well-funded retirement. Unfortunately while this career path, as Tony Fitzgerald states, does include principled well-motivated people … it also attracts professional politicians with little or no general life experience and unscrupulous opportunists, unburdened by ethics, who obsessively pursue power, money or both.

The taxpayer cost of federal elections has increased from $38 million in 1984 to $161 million in 2010. Of the latter $53 million was public funding to parties and candidates. Currently, in spite of massive increases, public funding is less than 20 per cent of about $350 million total election spending. We are now effectively the second best democracy money can buy.

In an article in the Saturday Paper, Rob Oakeshott writes:

“Australia needs a royal commission into political donations.

It is not people in different clothing, of different cultures, with different languages, or of different religions that anyone need fear. If you look back on our political history, we have been divided by silly suspicions before. The “fear and smear” of others has been tried on South Sea Islanders, Chinese, Aboriginal Australians, and now women of Islam. History shows the current debate is not new. It merely picks away at that same old xenophobic scab our culture carries.

No, the greatest threat to Australia’s future is not among its people. The people, when allowed to know each other, seem to get on fine.

The real threat is within government itself. It is the increasing corruption of our public decision-making by influence gained through record levels of private donations. The only colour Australia needs to fear is the colour of money in its democracy. Chequebook decision-making is the silent killer of necessary reform.”

After the revelations from the NSW ICAC, Mike Baird had an opportunity to lead reform.  Instead, with his proposed new legislation, as has been pointed out by Anne Twomey, professor of law at the University of Sydney, in effect the government wants taxpayers to give political parties millions more to campaign at election time without curtailing their ability to raise money from private interests.

Rather than action that places the public interest first, we have a poorly thought-out proposal arguably designed more with politics and self-interest in mind than good policy.

Political parties as they have developed over the last century seem like two mafia families seeking control of the public purse for distribution to themselves, supporters, the special interests who fund them and for buying votes at the next election. Political parties are not mentioned in the Constitution. They are effectively unregulated private organisations but they now control government treasuries.

By centralising power as Tony Fitzgerald puts it: The public interest is subordinated to the pursuit of power, party objectives and personal ambitions, sometimes including the corrupt acquisition of financial benefit. Branch stacking has become endemic and as Fitzgerald says “The parties gift electorates to family connections, malleable party hacks and mediocre apparatchiks”.

The former Howard government minister Jackie Kelly, who has resigned from the party in protest, cited “the corrosive control that self-interested lobbyists have over the NSW Liberal Party and how yet again reform will stall after the next election” in a letter to the state director.

Kelly told Guardian Australia disenchantment with the factional control of the NSW state executive and the stalled reform process had caused many party members in western Sydney to “down tools”.  In one Sydney north shore branch, 80 out of 200 members have not renewed their party membership in the past 12 months.

Critics such as Kelly and long time campaigner John Ruddick say the Icac revelations were a natural outcome of concentrating power in the hands of a few factional powerbrokers and lobbyists.

The two-party system stifles ideas, debate and decision-making within the parties. The faction system often ensures minority views triumph within both party rooms. In the case of the government, the minority view will then be taken into parliament and become an even greater minority law. Voting within parties is often based on what faction members belong to, who wants to become or stay a minister or who wants to be party leader. What the electors think is at best a secondary consideration. Party members almost always follow the party line and are often voting against what they really believe or what their electorates would want.

As things stand Australian democracy consists of voting in a rigged system every few years to elect others to make decisions for us. The voters mostly know little or nothing about most candidates after the “faceless men” and “branch stackers” have had their way. We are rarely permitted to have any say on policies. Cabinet ministers, premiers and prime ministers come and go without reference to us. We go to war and sign treaties without even our parliament having a say let alone the public. When the major parties agree, as they do when funding themselves, and their mutual friends, we have no say whatsoever. It is a pretty minimalist democracy and a long way from Abraham Lincoln’s Government of the people, BY the people, for the people.

As Ted Mack says, we seem to have achieved “Government of the people, by the powerbrokers, for the mates”.

Where is Labor?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Errol Brandt points out at nofibs

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

Does anyone believe Bill Shorten when he says

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Paul Malone points out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overbelly

corruption2-e1407568437717

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well that should clear things up.

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

To paraphrase Sixto Rodriguez…..

I wonder how many times we’ve been had

And I wonder how many plans are just bad

I wonder how many lives will be wrecked

I wonder do you know who’ll be next

I wonder l wonder wonder I do

 

I wonder about the love you can’t wed

And I wonder about the homeless unfed

I wonder how much caring have you got

And I wonder about our friends at the top

I wonder I wonder I wonder I do

 

I wonder about the tears in children’s eyes

And I wonder about the soldier that dies

I wonder will this hatred ever end

I wonder and worry my friend

I wonder I wonder wonder don’t you?

 

Some of my best friends are corrupt

Photo: http://www.dreducation.com

Photo: http://www.dreducation.com

There appears no question that Craig Thomson misused union funds, though his sentence of 12 months gaol (3 months to be served) is being appealed.  The amount in question is about $24,000.  He has lost his career, faced intense and intrusive media scrutiny, been publicly humiliated, ordered to repay the money to the HSU, faces huge legal bills, and felt the pain of the embarrassment he has caused to his family.

The whistleblower who led to his demise is Kathy Jackson.  She was lauded in glowing terms by Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne for her courage.  Coincidentally, her partner, Michael Lawler, was appointed Vice President of Fair Work Australia on a salary of $400,000 a year by Tony Abbott when he was Employment and Workplace Relations Minister.

Independent Australia and Peter Wicks have been following this story.  It now appears that Kathy Jackson is being referred to the Royal Commission who will investigate allegations that she has absconded with far more than Thomson ever dreamed of.

And then we have Karen McNamara who was a captain’s pick, parachuted into Thomson’s seat of Dobell, bypassing normal preselection which infuriated the local Liberal Party members.  (The same was done when Abbott chose to install Lucy Wicks as the candidate for the other Central Coast seat of Robertson.)

Ms McNamara was called to face ICAC where she was under fire for claiming to have raised $100,000 for the 2011 campaign for State Liberal Darren Webber when official records indicated only $11,000 had been raised.  Ms McNamara said that Mr Webber and his fellow Central Coast MP Chris Spence had told her that funding was being “centralised” through Terrigal, which meant only a small amount of funds had actually gone through the Wyong account which needed to be declared, though she had bragged about raising $300,000 for the campaign when seeking preselection.

State Member for Terrigal Chris Hartcher has been involved in fiery exchanges at ICAC where it has been suggested that Mr Hartcher helped set up slush fund Eightbyfive in the lead up to the last state election to funnel illegal donations to the campaign’s right wing Liberal candidates on the Central Coast.  The fund is alleged to have issued sham invoices to hide secret donations for political favours.

Both Mr Hartcher and Mr Webber have been sitting on the crossbench since last year, along with fellow Central Coast MP Chris Spence.

Campbell Newman takes the frontal assault approach by scrapping limits on political donations and election spending, and lifting the threshold at which donations have to be reported.  He then sacked a Minister who expressed concerns about his decision.

We also witnessed the calculated attack on Peter Slipper.  Weeks of Parliamentary sitting time were devoted to the public humiliation of this man and the destruction of his career.  This very cynical political exercise was all over $900 in cab charges.  We are all aware of the many entitlements fraudulently claimed by politicians that have been subsequently repaid, usually only when directed to do so, for far greater amounts – $50,000 in the case of Peter Reith and over $9000 by Tony Abbott.

It is astonishing to find what politicians feel justified to claim.  Even though he is earning a sizable salary, and getting free publicity and electioneering along the way, our Prime Minister thinks it is perfectly justifiable for him to claim an additional allowance when he chooses to take part in charity and sporting events.  Our treasurer sees nothing wrong with charging thousands of dollars for meetings with him.  Our Speaker views the chambers as a private Liberal Party function room, and the Prime Minister uses Kirribilli House to entertain the likes of Bolt and Jones.  Our Attorney General has a very expensive penchant for books and he has no hesitation in creating high paying jobs for boys from the IPA.

Their sense of entitlement has become so entrenched that they would not think of catching commercial flights when they can summon a private jet.  Public transport when you have a comcar and chauffeur, why would you?  Driving oneself can be so tedious when one can’t drink.

I understand that they are away from their families at times.  As for so many other people, that is the choice they made when they took on the job.  Should we be paying for families to all go to the Melbourne Cup or football grand finals?  Surely they earn enough that they can afford to do this themselves should they wish?

Eddie Obeid’s greed has done us a great favour in holding a candle to the dark chasm of corruption that is our government.  Every day we hear of more slush funds and money laundering schemes and dubious foundations.  The stench is growing and it is emanating from the Liberal Party.  They are happy to accept huge donations from vested interests, some of them illegal.  They go to complicated lengths to hide or launder these donations. They admit to selling access to office for those who can afford it while neutering lobby groups for the disadvantaged.

Their budget protection of these donors whilst attacking the poorest cannot be denied.  At great cost to us all, hard won reforms are being rolled back as the donations roll in.

There are three groups who think the Liberal Party aren’t corrupt.  Those who will always vote Liberal regardless, those who are too naïve or lazy to find out the truth, and those who are profiting from the corruption.

The only reason for resisting the formation of a Federal Commission Against Corruption is because…

Some of my best friends are corrupt.

 

The house wins

While everyone reels from the worst budget ever, a lot of other very insidious work is flying under the radar.  One of the most blatant examples of STUFF YOU from our current government came from our Social Services Minister, Kevin bloody Andrews.

In the days after the 2010 election, Tasmanian Independent Andrew Wilkie was a very popular man.  In a bid to obtain his support to form government, Tony Abbott offered him $1 billion to build a hospital.  Wilkie regarded this as an irresponsible bribe which made him wonder about Abbott’s suitability for the job.  He chose instead to back Julia Gillard who promised poker machine reform.

The industry responded with a multi-million-dollar public lobbying campaign run by club lobby group ClubsNSW, and its pub counterpart the Australian Hotels Association, which targeted and turned wavering Labor MPs against the so-called Wilkie Reforms, and eroded parliamentary support for harm-reduction measures, such as mandatory pre-commitment, of which polls suggested most Australians approved. Mandatory pre-commitment would have required punters to nominate how much they’d lose in a given session, and then be locked out when they hit the limit.

And they didn’t limit their action to advertising.  AFTER the 2010 election, the AHA and ClubsNSW gave more than $1.3 million in donations for the final quarter of the year. By an overwhelming margin these were directed at the Coalition.

In an ignominious backdown. Gillard reneged on the deal giving in to the power of the hotel and gambling lobbies, watering down the promised reforms and only committing to a limited trial in the ACT.  I was disappointed with this decision and Mr Wilkie was rightly furious, but at least his integrity had begun the process of reform with the passing of the National Gambling Reform Act in November 2012.  The Acts set out key requirements for voluntary pre-commitment on poker machines, dynamic warnings and $250 daily ATM withdrawal limits in gaming venues (excluding casinos).

And then along came Kev, who, disguised as a mild-mannered Christian from the extreme right, fights a never ending battle for donations, “normal” families, and the financial backers’ way.

A brief reminder of Kev’s previous form:  He is against euthanasia, RU486, stem cell research, abortion, equal opportunity, affirmative action, refugees, homosexuality, and sex education.  He is a member of many religious organisations which benefit from government funding and in 2011, said of the Greens that their agenda would threaten the “Judeo-Christian/Enlightenment synthesis that upholds the individual”.  He was responsible for introducing Workchoices, and for the illegal victimisation of Dr Haneef.  He is also a member of the Credlin led Star Chamber.

In December last year, less than three months into his term in office, this moral crusader introduced to the House of Representatives a bill repealing almost all of the gambling harm-minimisation measures passed by the Gillard Labor government in November 2012.  He even changed the name to National Gambling Measures Act.

Australians are amongst the most prolific gamblers in the world.  A 2013 report by the AMA studied the health effects of problem gambling making the following observations.

An estimated 2.5 per cent of Australians experience moderate to severe problems caused by gambling. For every person with a gambling problem, it is estimated that an additional 5 to 10 people are adversely affected by their gambling. This means that up to 5 million Australians feel the health, social and financial impacts of problem gambling, including friends, families and employers of people with a gambling problem.

Problem gamblers experience high levels of comorbid mental health disorders and substance abuse, and they or their families may experience stress-related physical and psychological ill health as a consequence of their gambling activities. Other adverse effects include family breakdown, domestic violence, criminal activity, disruption to or loss of employment, and social isolation. Additionally, problem gambling may compromise the capacity to afford necessities such as adequate nutrition, heating, shelter, transport, medications and health services.

Problem gamblers have a higher than average number of visits to a GP, and experience an increased incidence of  illnesses such as hypertension, insomnia, migraine, depression, anxiety, stomach upsets, headaches, and other stress-related symptoms of physical and psychological ill health.

As gambling activities have expanded and diversified, particularly with the introduction of interactive gambling, so too have the ways in which gambling is marketed to different sections of the community. Young people and other vulnerable populations are increasingly exposed to messages from a broad range of media that endorse, promote and normalise gambling.

The expansion in gambling activities has not only increased the prevalence of problem gambling, but has also entrenched governments’ dependence upon gambling taxation. For state and territory governments, their dual role as regulator and beneficiary poses a structural conflict and obstacle to achieving gambling policies and regulations that prioritise public health and consumer protection objectives. If the expansion of gambling and its associated harm is to be reduced, it is imperative that governments’ reliance upon revenue from gambling is overcome.

The adverse consequences of problem gambling are not distributed evenly across the population. The prevalence and impacts of problem gambling are most pronounced among socially and economically disadvantaged individuals and communities, including Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders, those with poor literacy, people with pre-existing mental health problems, certain cultural and linguistic communities, and people living in regions or metropolitan suburbs with high levels of unemployment and economic hardship.

Young people are at a heightened risk of developing problems with gambling and, the earlier the onset of gambling behaviour, the more likely problem gambling will result and continue into adulthood. Gambling during childhood or adolescence is typically associated with risk-taking behaviours, reduced educational performance, and mental health problems, including depression.

Gambling researchers say heavy financial losses are likely to be one of the most important causes of suicides among problem gamblers.  Problem gamblers often have substance-abuse problems and other mental-health issues, but debt has been identified as the factor most likely to push them over the edge.  Victoria’s State Coroner Judge Ian Gray has released a report showing 128 people took their own lives in Victoria in the past decade because of a gambling addiction though, due to the secretive nature of problem gamblers, the true figure is undoubtedly much higher.

In 2010 the Productivity Commission illustrated Australia’s gambling obsession in extraordinary figures: that Australians lost about $19 billion per year gambling, and that much of this — some 41 per cent, in the case of poker machines — drawn from problem gamblers.  And a few more statistics.

•The social cost to the community of problem gambling is estimated to be at least $5 billion a year.

•Only around 15 per cent of problem gamblers seek help.

•One in six people who play the pokies regularly has a serious addiction.

•Some poker machines can be played at extremely high intensity – a gambler could lose more than $1,500 in just one hour.

•Young people (18-24 year olds) spend more on poker machines than any other age group. Many adult problem gamblers report having developed gambling problems during their teenage years

•Three-quarters of problem gamblers have problems with poker machines. It’s even higher for women – in 9 out of 10 cases poker machines are identified as the cause of problems for women

•Problem gamblers are six times more likely to be divorced than non problem gamblers

•Problem gamblers are four times more likely to have problems with alcohol and four times as likely to smoke daily than non problem gamblers

•Children with parents who are problem gamblers are up to 10 times more likely to become problem gamblers themselves than children with non gambling parents

With all this irrefutable evidence available, it is plain to see that our political parties are more interested in keeping their donations rolling in than in addressing this most costly, avoidable, evil of social diseases.

The 2012-13 annual financial returns from political parties and donors, shows the Liberal Party’s total revenue was $73.1 million last financial year, compared to Labor’s $54.7 million. The Nationals further bolstered the Coalition’s haul with $8.3 million. The Greens recorded $8.1 million in revenue.

Roslyn Packer, the widow of billionaire Kerry Packer, and mother of casino mogul James Packer, gave the Liberals $580,000 in 2012-13.  The Australian Hotels Association gave Labor $150,000, which successfully neutered their gambling reforms, and hedged their bets, giving the Liberals $372,500.   Given the cut-off for the disclosures was June 30, these figures do not include money taken by parties during the 2013 election campaign.

It just remains to say, Kevin Andrews, you are a moralising self-serving hypocritical political whore who is willing to sacrifice the health and well-being of the citizens of our country to serve your wealthy masters.  I have no respect for you.

Which way to look?

Ralph Blewitt. Photo: Herald Sun

Ralph Blewitt. Photo: Herald Sun

It is perhaps not surprising that the Royal Commission into union corruption is to begin the day before the budget is brought down.  In a fortuitous coincidence, Ralph Blewitt happens to be in town, so they are going to begin with the AWU “slush fund”.  That should have Larry Pickering and Michael Smith and their band of rabid followers all agog again…or should I say still.  Agog enough to not notice they are getting screwed by the Budget?  We shall see.

In November 2012 Ralph Blewitt turned up in Australia “courtesy of a man writing a book on the AWU in the late 1980s and early ’90s.”

He told 7.30 that he had provided Victoria Police with a dossier of files “which show documents that certainly connect Julia Gillard to having a hand in the establishment of the AWU Workplace Reform Association in WA, and other matters”.  Mr Blewitt declined to outline those “other matters”.   The documents relating to the period 1990 – 95 appear to have been provided to him to “refresh” his memory by ‘researcher’ Harry Nowicki.

Victoria Police detectives who have been running an 18-month investigation with Mr Blewitt’s co-operation, intend to charge him with fraud-related offences, to which he will plead guilty. He is expected to give evidence against others. It is understood that in return for his co-operation and guilty plea, police will make courtroom submissions that Mr Blewitt should not be sentenced to jail.

Mr Blewitt’s travel expenses for his current visit to Australia are being met by a private citizen who has wanted to see the slush fund issues properly investigated by police and the Royal Commission.  This philanthropic champion of justice is no doubt hoping that Julia Gillard may be called though goodness knows what else they could ask her.  She has answered every question put to her.

The Royal Commission will then move on to the HSU.  It will be interesting to see their focus.  No doubt Craig Thomson will be dragged through more proceedings for an amount which, to date, seems relatively trivial.  One wonders if whistle blower Kathy Jackson has made a Blewitt type deal too.

The Health Services Union has launched a legal action against its own national secretary Kathy Jackson demanding she repay almost $250,000 paid into a slush fund.

Ms Jackson in return had launched a counter-claim seeking almost hundreds of thousands of dollars in back pay. The HSU is now seeking to recover money paid to the National Health Development Account (NHDA) which was controlled by Ms Jackson.

In a statement to the ABC, Ms Jackson said all the allegations against her were “false and malicious” and accused “dark forces” of being behind them.  Independent Australia has done a whole series of articles called Jacksonville with source documents that provide a rather damning picture

Investigating high profile union cases should defer attention from the high profile political money laundering and slush funds that are coming to light every day, they hope.

Which way to look?

Sack the marching girls

campaigning

Photo: abc.net.au

Tony Abbott has defended the canvassing of political donations from big business as a “time honoured” practice which prevents taxpayers from being forced to subsidise election campaigns.

Why is the only alternative taxpayers having to fund parties? Must we go down the US road of spending millions to buy public office?  How about the political parties start recognising that millions spent on buying themselves a job might just be a waste of money.  Tell us your policies then let us decide.  Do we really need the brass bands and marching girls and letter boxes full of junk mail?

Christopher Pyne wants to ban donations from corporate Australia, lobby groups and unions, and limit it to individuals. Right. So you want to ban any collective voice the people may have and just let Gina, Rupert, Twiggy and Nathan decide who wins?

We own a National broadcaster. Why can’t we give political parties time on the ABC to plead their case during the election?

In the UK, paid political advertising is banned and this extends to lobby groups. When it comes to election time they are all given free air time.

“Political adverts are – and have always been – banned on British TV and radio. That ban has wide support and has helped sustain the balance of views which is at the heart of British broadcasting – and ensures the political views broadcast into our homes are not determined by those with the deepest pockets.”

I am not sure how you control Rupert from giving his party of choice free advertising under the guise of “opinion”. We can only hope that the days of being able to hoodwink people are numbered with the fact check ability afforded us by the internet.

In Canada they have a $1200 limit on donations, whether they be from an organisation or an individual, and they limit campaign spending to a sensibly low amount.

Our democracy is being undermined by allowing those who have the most money to have the most influence. If I felt they were offering altruistic advice then I might appreciate their input and experience. Considering their sole motivation is to maximise their profit by minimising regulations and their taxation contribution, I would say that they should be given no access to our political decision-making, paid for or otherwise.

Shining a light on dark places

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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