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Tag Archives: School chaplains

Regaining goodwill

Joe Hockey said “We are going to give economic reform a red hot go in 2015.”

He went on to say “The taxation discussion with the Australian people next year will not be about increasing the revenue take for the Commonwealth, it needs to be how we can have a taxation system that makes us a more efficient and productive nation, and is fairer for all Australians.”

If we want to make revenue collection fairer, and we want to cut wasteful spending, then I have a few suggestions of where to start.

Corporate tax avoidance

Tackling corporate tax avoidance is an urgent priority; Australia does not have a spending problem, it has a revenue problem and it must be fixed.

Up to $80 billion was foregone by the taxman between 2004 and 2013.

Superannuation tax concessions

Superannuation tax concessions will cost the budget around $35 billion in 2013-14 projected to rise at a staggering 12 per cent annually to be $50.7 billion in 2016-17.

Capital Gains Tax and Negative gearing

Generous government tax breaks for property investors see them benefit from a 50% discount on capital gains tax (at a cost to the government’s budget of $4.4 billion per year) and negative gearing (costing $2.4 billion a year).

Fossil fuel subsidies

The Government will spend almost $14 billion in the next four years on fossil fuel subsidies to the big mining corporations.

Fighter jets

Tony Abbott said Australia will acquire another 58 Joint Strike Fighters at a cost of around $90 million per plane; $24 billion has been budgeted to purchase and operate the aircraft until 2024.

Submarines

A decision to spend more than $20 billion on up to 10 Japanese submarines will be announced before the end of the year (maybe?)

Offshore detention

The Commission of Audit’s report shows that in the past four years, the Australian government has increased spending on the detention and processing of asylum seekers who arrive by boat by 129 per cent each year. Costs have skyrocketed from $118.4 million in 2009–10 to $3.3 billion in 2013–14.

This is the fastest growing government program and projected costs over the forward estimates amount to more than $10 billion.

(It costs $400,000 a year to hold an asylum seeker in offshore detention, $239,000 to hold them in detention in Australia, and less than $100,000 for an asylum seeker to live in community detention. In contrast, it is around $40,000 for an asylum seeker to live in the community on a bridging visa while their claim is processed.)

Transfield

The Abbott government has given Transfield Services a $1.22 billion government contract to run immigration detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island.

(Tony Shepherd, who was the chairman of Transfield until he resigned in October to Head the Commission of Audit, left with more than 200,000 Transfield shares, allocated to his family superannuation fund, on top of his final salary of $380,000. Shares in Transfield soared 20.8 per cent on the news, lifting the company’s market capitalisation by about $80 million. He now heads the WestConnex Delivery Authority where money from the East-West link may be redirected)

Employment Service Providers

The Coalition Government has released its exposure draft of the purchasing arrangements for a new employment services model – a $5.1 billion investment over three years from July 1, 2015 – which includes the new Work for the Dole scheme.

Emissions Reduction Fund

Under the ERF the government will spend $2.55 billion to purchase emissions reductions through auctions.

Public Service redundancies

The federal government is on track to fork out $1 billion in redundancy payouts to public servants even before entitlements such as leave are paid.

School chaplains

School chaplaincy will be continued for another five years at a cost of $245.3 million. Under the program, 3700 schools are eligible for up to $72,000 funding to employ chaplains.

Marriage guidance vouchers

NEWLYWEDS across Australia will be given a $200 voucher for marriage counselling from July 1, as part of a $20 million trial to strengthen relationships and avoid family breakdowns.

Tim Wilson

TONY Abbott’s hand-picked human rights adviser has been given a $56,000 expenses package to top up his six-figure salary. Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson now has a total salary of $389,000 plus vehicle and telephone expenses following a recent decision by the Remuneration Tribunal.

Hope that gets you started Joe, or whoever is now doing the budget. (Cormann? Frydenberg? Thawley? Credlin? Rinehart?)

PS: In light of the above potential savings, you may want to read my plan to get half a million people employed at a cost of $8.8 billion

PPS: In South Africa, Boxing Day was renamed Day of Goodwill in 1994. May you use it to contemplate wisely.

 91 total views

Co-operative, consultative and collegial?

“I certainly think it’s important that we try to ensure that over time all levels of government are sovereign in their own sphere,” Mr Abbott told Sky News. “And we shouldn’t be bound by commitments that the former government made that were never affordable.”

Of course, when Tony Abbott made these comments, he was referring to the slashing of government funding for health and education.

But it’s a different story when it comes to the East-West link in Victoria.

After declaring that the weekend’s election would be a referendum on the East West Link, Abbott maintains he is determined to see the East West Link finished – no matter what – and is threatening to withdraw $3 billion of federal funding unless he gets his way.

To satisfy Tony’s wish to be remembered as the Infrastructure Prime Minister (though I suspect there are a few other things that will stick in our minds), he is bribing the states to sell off publicly-owned assets in order to be given billions in co-funding to build his “roads of the 21st century” (finger number 4).

Similarly, Christopher Pyne said the coalition will seek to amend school funding legislation to remove parts that allow the Commonwealth to dictate to the states.

“We’re not for taking over anyone or anything and we don’t subscribe to a command and control philosophy,” he said.

Unless we are talking about school chaplains of course, in which case you won’t get the funding unless you employ religious counsellors as opposed to people trained in welfare and youth counselling.

While Abbott can’t tell the states he is going to raise GST, ripping $80 billion out of agreed future funding and then saying “we don’t run schools or hospitals, it is up to the states to fund them” is a crass attempt at starving them into submission.

Abbott swept to power assuming everyone would just go along with his plans unquestioningly with Coalition governments across the country and a compliant media.

What he didn’t reckon on was people power as a growing number of the electorate are shaking off the political apathy that our easy life has lulled us into.

Abbott’s promise to lead a “co-operative, consultative and collegial” government is proving more ludicrous every day.

 

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The death of due process, transparency and accountability

Increasingly this government is seeking to subvert due process and impose their agenda in totalitarian fashion.

Regardless of whether you think the increase in fuel excise is an appropriate measure, the move to introduce it through regulation rather than legislation is specifically designed to bypass parliament. The regulations will need to be backed up with proper legislation by the Senate within 12 months or the money raised will have to be refunded.

As reported in the SMH

“The government believes the ploy will put Labor and Greens senators in a bind at that time forcing them to choose between keeping the escalating revenue stream, or voting it down forcing the government to pay potentially hundreds of millions of dollars collected from motorists back to oil companies.

While the incremental inflation adjustments will raise an expected $167 million from motorists by November next year, little-appreciated new compliance costs for service stations are calculated at $5.06 million according to Treasury estimates.”

So much for cutting red tape to help small businesses. They also ignore the flowon costs to households as businesses pass on increased delivery expenses, and the cumulative effect of twice yearly increases.

And it seems they may be trying to introduce the GP co-payment in the same way.

Initially, on Tuesday Peter Dutton said:

“There is no capacity to introduce a $7 co-payment through regulation, the advice from our legal people within the department as well as with attorneys is the $7 co-payment needs substantive legislation to support the co-payment.”

But yesterday he changed that message, refusing to rule out the introduction of the $7 levy by regulation to bypass the need for legislation.

“I am not going to rule things in or out. I am saying that there are options that are available to the Government,” Mr Dutton said.

Finding ways around our parliament and our laws is becoming a habit.

After the High Court ruled in June that the federal government could not directly fund religious chaplains in public schools, Christopher Pyne chose to give the money to the states with the direction that it could not be used for secular welfare workers.

So much for their claim that education decisions should not be dictated by Canberra.

In February, a Senate inquiry paved the way for the Parliament to give Environment Minister Greg Hunt legal immunity against future legal challenges to his decisions on mining projects. It will protect him from being challenged over deliberate or negligent decisions that do not comply with the law.

The Coalition government has now licensed Greg Hunt to avoid compliance with the EPBC Act. The amendment retrospectively validates ministerial decisions – even if they did not comply with the EPBC Act when they were made.

We are also losing our right to appeal development decisions.

The Abbott government’s move to establish a single approval process by passing environmental approval responsibilities onto the states and territories creates a conflict of interest as they raise revenue from land sales and mining royalties.

In early 2014 the Queensland government proposed to confine the objections and notifications process for a mining lease to people owning land within the proposed lease.

The Coordinator-General is fast becoming an almost supremely powerful czar for large projects in Queensland, subject only to the political whims of the state government. He can also prevent any objections to the environmental authority for a coordinated project from being heard by the Land Court. When combined with the severe restrictions on objections to mining leases, very few people can now challenge matters such as impacts on groundwater of large mines that are declared a coordinated project.

Under the federal Coalition’s one-stop shop the Coordinator-General is also proposed to have power to approve projects impacting on matters protected under federal environmental laws.

And that’s not the only avenue for appeal that is being shut down.

Australians could be left with no appeal rights against government secrecy by the end of this year.

The May budget cut $10.2 million funding for the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) which handles Freedom of Information appeals. The government wants appeals to be handled by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal instead. This move is being blocked in the Senate so we will be left with effectively no avenue for appeal.

But perhaps the most blatant disregard for the law is being shown by Scott Morrison who, in a Napoleonic gesture, has conferred on himself the power to revoke a person’s citizenship. The new laws provide the Minister with the power to set aside decisions of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) concerning character and identity if it would be in the public interest to do so and confer on the Minister the power to make legislative instruments.

Morrison has condemned innocent people to indefinite incarceration and washed his hands of any responsibility for their welfare. He has ignored warnings that his actions are in breach of human rights and is actively outsourcing our responsibilities under the Refugee Convention at enormous cost to this country. He is now even blocking refugee applications from people coming through official UNHCR channels.

Journalists have been denied access to detention camps. Even the head of the Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs, was denied access to child asylum seekers on Nauru on the grounds that the commission’s jurisdiction did not extend beyond Australia’s borders. The cost of a single-entry media visa to Nauru rose from $200 to $8,000.

And if any of us report on the machinations of this government, our fate is in the hands of Attorney-General George Brandis who has the individual power to determine if we should face a possible ten year jail sentence.

So much for free speech, transparency and accountability.

“Trust me,” they say. Not friggin’ likely.

 

 116 total views

Fly United?

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

I disagree.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 193 total views

Tony Abbott clings onto Chaplaincy Program

It is undeniably apparent that the Abbott Government is jumping hoops to save their chaplaincy program, reports Adam Cass.

Subtly certainly hasn’t been an apparent characteristic of the Abbott Government. The government’s latest attempt to ram an ideologically motivated school chaplaincy funding model into Australia’s public education system further demonstrates its ineptitude and negligence with regard to developing responsible public policy for Australia.

The Abbott Government announced that, in an attempt to bypass the High Court’s recent invalidation of the school chaplaincy funding model, it will invite the States to administer the program. The program will remain entirely focused on faith orientated chaplains, and secular workers have been completely excluded from the funding model. However, the government has assured us that ‘chaplains would be required to respect other people’s views, values and beliefs’ and has also conceded that ‘a school chaplain may be from any faith’.

“The government believes that school chaplains make a valuable contribution to the wellbeing of students and school communities”, Parliamentary Secretary for Education, Senator Scott Ryan said.

This notion, however, raises a very important question. Why is the Abbott Government so incredibly determined to provide funding exclusively to religious based school chaplains? It appears that despite a High Court invalidation and substantial opposition from the public (91% believe irreligious welfare workers should be hired, according to a Sydney Morning Herald poll), primarily those involved in the public education sector, the Coalition is resolute in its goal to reestablish and reaffirm the program.

While participation by schools and students in the program is absolutely voluntary, there is simply no alternative program for public schools to attain welfare workers. The Abbott Government is essentially pushing public schools into a corner.

Furthermore, concerns have been raised with the generous allocation and size of the $244 million in funding, particularly in a time of supposed ‘fiscal austerity’. Australian Education Union president Angelo Gavrielatos said the school chaplaincy scheme would “undermine the secular traditions of public education”. The $244 million funding over four years should be spent on more urgent needs, such as support for children with disabilities, he said.

It is undeniably apparent that the Abbott Government is jumping hoops to save their chaplaincy program. The government has attempted to alleviate concerns by conceding that the chaplains ‘can be of any faith’. However, why must they be of a faith in the first place? Why is the government aligning itself with religion in such a close, comfortable manner, especially when more qualified secular workers can achieve far more? What also must be asked, is what can chaplains even offer to a student in need of support?

According to ACCESS Ministries, a primary school chaplaincy provider in Victoria:

“Meeting the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of students is important as schools aim to develop the whole person and produce resilient, competent and successful individuals. While a variety of support services are required to meet the diverse range of needs within a school community, a Chaplain or Student Wellbeing Worker plays a distinct role in providing ongoing pastoral care.”

Spiritual needs? Pastoral care? As a student attending a public school that has a school chaplain, I can assure all those concerned that there has so rarely been a case of a student seeking ‘spiritual support’ or ‘pastoral care’. These are apparently the only benefits to having chaplains at schools, and even if these are genuine concerns of students, how can a Christian, Hindu, Muslim or Jewish chaplain (remember, chaplains of all faiths) provide support to a religiously diverse student? Wouldn’t that chaplain’s specific religious bias come across in advice-giving? And despite that, if there is a true desire among young people to gain spiritual guidance, almost every single community across Australia offers Sunday schooling and other religious support programs.

ACCESS Ministries even concedes that ‘faith-spirituality’ is such a small issue to students in a graph they display on their site.

graph3

Image credit: ACCESS Ministries

It’s simple, the Abbott Government’s desperate attempts at implementing the program, which may succeed granted that the states cooperate, is fuelled by a rampant desire to cling on to religious fundamentalism. The systemic indoctrination of young people to religion is dangerous, and is a familiar characteristic of conservative politics.

Secular welfare workers, specifically ones who are qualified mental health workers, should be funded by the government. It’s time that schools are given the choice, not Pyne or Abbott.

 

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 111 total views