Hi all – just a quick note to let you know I’m taking a short break from the Blog. I’ll be away from the Blog for about a week. Thanks.
Malcolm Turnbull has asked the Australian Federal Police commissioner, the attorney-general and the justice minister for advice about the revelation that Pauline Hanson’s key adviser, James Ashby, floated the idea of One Nation scamming public funds.
Ashby suggested at a meeting last year that a way One Nation could make money at taxpayer expense in the coming Queensland election was to inflate receipts presented to electoral authorities.
The party did not pursue the idea, but its surfacing – via a recording of the meeting – is causing serious fallout for Ashby and for Hanson, who was present at the meeting.
Labor has written to the Queensland electoral commissioner and the Queensland police commissioner asking them to investigate.
In the recording, Ashby said: “There is an opportunity for us to make some money out of this, if we play it smart. Now I know they say you can’t make money out of state elections, but you can.”
Outlining the idea at the meeting, Ashby said: “I’ll deny I ever said this but what stops us from getting a middle man or gracing – I’m happy to grace in cash and double the price of whatever it is.”
The party would say to candidates that it would fund 50% of a package, he said. The package might be A$5,000, with the candidate told they were going to pay $2,500 and party would pay the other $2,500.
“The other $2,500 is profit. It’s the fat,” Ashby told the meeting. “When you lodge the receipt at the full price with the Electoral Commission of Queensland you get back the full amount that’s been issued to you as an invoice.”
At an extraordinary joint news conference with Hanson on Monday, Ashby said the revelation was “embarrassing”, adding that it was a “poor choice of words on my behalf”.
He complained that “these were secretly recorded conversations in what we thought was an environment where we could safely put any idea on the table and it wouldn’t go any further”.
“We’ve never implemented this idea that was put forward and it’s regretful that obviously a poor choice of words on my behalf had to be aired in such a public manner,” he said.
Hanson told the news conference: “Don’t forget I was at the meeting as well. You do not have the full recording of that meeting, so you have no idea what was said at the rest of the meeting. We knocked it on the head at the meeting. It didn’t go ahead – that’s why. It was an issue that was raised and it was knocked on the head there and then.”
In comments later, Ashby said he had felt it necessary to come forward to deal with the story – he cast Hanson as being at the news conference to support him. “At times I’m going to have to come forward and defend myself”, he said.
He said political parties were run like businesses, but formerly One Nation had been run in a dismal fashion.
His proposal had been a silly idea, he said. Amid suggestions there was more of the tape to come out, he said could not remember what else he had said at the meeting.
Crossbench senator Derryn Hinch said Ashby had committed a sackable offence but Hanson “won’t sack him”.
In parliament, Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus quizzed Turnbull about the allegations One Nation had conspired to defraud Queensland electoral authorities.
Dreyfus asked whether Turnbull had referred this and previous allegations about One Nation to the Australian Federal Police to investigate whether any Commonwealth laws had been broken, including whether any similar fraud had been perpetrated against the Commonwealth.
He also asked whether the government would be reviewing payments made to Coastal Signs and Printing – Ashby’s Sunshine Coast-based business – to make sure there hadn’t been inflated receipts.
Turnbull said the question raised “some serious matters” and he would be getting advice.
The government is somewhat conflicted over Ashby. It needs One Nation’s Senate votes for legislation opposed by Labor and the Greens – Ashby is Hanson’s right-hand man and arguably the party would be less stable without him. But anything that discredits Ashby and One Nation is useful ahead of the Queensland election.
Ashby is a divisive figure within One Nation, and bitterly attacked by some ex-members.
He has been the centre of controversy over the contested funding for a plane used to ferry Hanson around. He says he purchased the aircraft and it was owned by his business.
A former Queensland One Nation candidate, Diane Happ, who had a row with the party over the cost of campaign material, told the ABC on Monday that Ashby was “a viper, he’s a snake, he’s nasty stuff”.
The federal government has set an October 1 deadline for 7,500 people who arrived in Australia by boat between 2008 and 2013 – but who have not yet lodged claims for refugee protection – to apply for a visa or face deportation.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton declared “the game is up” for “fake refugees”.
‘Illegal maritime arrivals’
The first sentence of Dutton’s media release reads:
The Turnbull government has today set a deadline for thousands of Illegal Maritime Arrivals (IMAs) who flooded into Australia under the previous Labor government to prove they are genuine refugees and owed protection by Australia.
This statement reinforces prejudicial tropes that successive governments have used to demonise people seeking asylum in Australia. The subjects of the government’s announcement are not “people”, “individuals”, “human beings” – or even “asylum seekers”. Instead, they are “illegal maritime arrivals”.
These seemingly non-people did not “travel to” or “arrive in” Australia. Instead, they “flooded into Australia”.
Dutton’s condemnation of “fake refugees” is prejudicial. It suggests those people now subject to his deadline must not have genuine protection claims – or they would have been lodged already.
Yet Department of Immigration statistics show people who travel to Australia by boat without a valid visa, seeking asylum, are more likely to be genuine refugees than people who travel by air with a visa and seek asylum on arrival. Over the years, between 70% and 100% of people arriving by boat have been assessed as eligible for refugee protection.
For example, people from Afghanistan have been the most likely to seek asylum in Australia by boat for many years. In this group, between 2008 and 2013, upwards of 95% were found to be refugees and granted protection visas.
The experience of lodging an application for protection
The people subject to Dutton’s announcement are part of a group known as the “legacy caseload”. These are people who have been living for some time in the Australian community in a state of legal limbo.
This state of limbo was imposed when the then-Labor government stopped processing protection visa applications for people who had arrived by boat. This bar on applications operated from 2012 until the Coalition government began to permit some members of the group to initiate applications from 2015. However, the bar on applications was not fully lifted until late 2016.
Dutton’s assertion that the 7,500 people now faced with a very short deadline for application have “failed or refused” to apply for protection unfairly suggests that sufficient time has already been afforded.
The prejudicial effect of this claim is worsened by Dutton’s parallel statement that the people in question are a drain on the public purse:
Many are residing in Australia on government funded support which last year cost the Australian taxpayer approximately $250 million in income support alone.
Dutton’s announcement also fails to mention that the Department of Immigration is unable to process the volume of asylum claims currently lodged, or that an arbitrary deadline for applications from people in the legacy caseload group will force many to apply without proper legal assistance.
Community legal centres around Australia have thousands of clients on their books awaiting assistance with protection claims. The complex process requires the completion of 184 questions and a detailed written statement, and many applicants will require translation. All ought to receive legal advice.
The latest development imposes undue stress on an already extremely vulnerable community. Only three months ago, some members of this group received letters from the Department of Immigration, threatening the withdrawal of Medicare and work rights if they failed to lodge applications within a tight deadline.
That many – if not all – of this group were on waiting lists for legal assistance is seemingly no longer sufficient to explain why they have not yet lodged protection applications.
Is Australia committed to human rights or not?
Late last week, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop officially launched Australia’s bid for a 2018-20 seat on the UN Human Rights Council. Bishop described Australia as the standout candidate for this position because:
… we are arguably the most successful, the most diverse, multicultural society on Earth.
We have long embraced those fleeing conflict and persecution, and those in need of humanitarian support.
If elected to serve on the council, Australia intends to work collaboratively with all of our international partners towards fulfilling the goals set out in the UN Declaration of Human Rights – we will listen to your concerns. We will work with you.
It is impossible to determine the genuine extent of Australia’s commitment to human rights by juxtaposing Bishop’s claims with Dutton’s announcement. Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights requires Australia to protect the rights of all people seeking asylum:
Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
Article 33 of the UN Refugee Convention prohibits the return of a refugee to a risk of persecution:
No contracting state shall expel or return (“refouler”) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.
Yet the imposition of the October 1 deadline for applications from those in the legacy caseload group imposes an arbitrary limit on the time available to seek protection. It suggests the government is willing to violate its international legal option not to deport people who may have genuine claims for refugee status.
Refugee advocates will feel compelled to challenge the deadline in the courts, if the government seeks to deport people who have not had adequate opportunity or support to complete protection applications. This would open yet another front of government spending to support a policy and practice that violates Australia’s human rights obligations.
The pattern has become all too familiar. Young people gathered for a musical event find themselves subjected to what British Prime Minister Theresa May has described as an “appalling terrorist attack”.
While there is no confirmation as yet this was a terrorist-inspired incident, police suspect the Manchester attack, which has so far killed 22 people and injured 59 others, was caused either by a bomb contained in an abandoned backpack, or was the work of a suicide bomber.
At this stage no group has claimed responsibility. But it is not being overlooked that last week Islamic State released a 44-minute video in which fighters of different nationalities urged their supporters back home to carry out acts of violence.
Among those featured was a British man.
What makes Islamic State more dangerous – even desperate – in the current climate is that it finds itself under enormous pressure in its strongholds in Iraq and in Syria. Its grip on the northern Iraqi city of Mosul is slipping, and it is under threat in its Syrian redoubt of Raqqa.
It is important not to jump to conclusions about the identity of those responsible. However, whatever judgements might be made about the carnage at a Manchester music hall, this latest bombing underscores the vulnerability of European cities to such acts of violence.
Underscoring the deep-seated shock this will be causing in Britain is that this is the worst terrorism-related episode since the 2005 public transport bombings in London in which 52 people died.
Since 2015, more than half-a-dozen terrorist attacks have been carried out in various European locations, including France, Germany, Belgium and Britain, and in the case of several of these countries there have been multiple incidents.
What the governments of Europe have on their hands are threats to personal security that can strike at any time and in any place, as various terrorist incidents in the past year or so have demonstrated.
This poses an enormous challenge to security agencies, including the police, and, in the case of Britain, MI5, the spy agency responsible for internal security.
Such random acts of terrorism are enormously difficult, if not impossible, to counter unless open societies are subjected to security measures that most citizens would find difficult to accept.
If it proves to be the case the Manchester bombing was carried out by a sole suicide bomber, or a bomb-laden backpack placed strategically, this would underscore difficulties in policing a musical event in which large numbers of people gather in a specific location.
While France has been the main victim of a wave of terrorism in the past several years, Britain is running second.
In the most recent incident prior to the Manchester bombing, the driver of a vehicle mowed down pedestrians on Westminster Bridge and then shot a policeman outside the Houses of Parliament.
The concert hall attack in Manchester recalls a similar episode in Paris at a the Bataclan concert hall in November 2015 when shootings caused multiple deaths.
Islamic State claimed responsibility on that occasion.
What is adding to political complexities of the Manchester bombing is that it comes in the middle of a British election campaign in which immigration and Britain’s withdrawal from Europe are central questions.
How this will play out in the next days and weeks is difficult to assess, but as a rule of thumb such incidents would be more likely to benefit the parties of the right than the left.
On the other hand, governments in power and therefore responsible for security inevitably face awkward questions about levels of preparedness for such terrorist incidents, if indeed that is what we are talking about in the case of the Manchester bombing.
Terrorist violence is now baked into the European landscape. It is hard to see an end to this.
* Note: This story has been updated to reflect the latest information on fatalities.
A series of dramatic events over the past year, most notably the September statewide blackout in South Australia, have revealed an electricity system under strain, and left many Australians worried about the reliability of their power supply.
In response, state and federal politicians have announced a series of uncoordinated and potentially expensive interventions, most notably the Turnbull government’s Snowy Hydro 2.0 proposal and the South Australian government’s go-it-alone power plan.
Yet all of these plans pre-empt the Finkel Review, to be released early next month. Commissioned by state and federal governments and led by Australia’s chief scientist Alan Finkel, the review is expected to provide a new blueprint for the National Electricity Market (NEM).
Clearly, Australia is struggling to manage the transition to a zero- or low-emission electricity grid, and some commentators have concluded that the NEM is broken.
In our report Powering Through, released today, we argue that it is too early to give up on the market. But what we really need is substantial market reforms, rather than piecemeal government investments in various energy projects.
Australia’s troubled transition
The problems are everywhere. Consumers have been hit with a 70% hike in real-terms electricity bills over the past decade, and there is more to come. Wholesale prices for electricity in most eastern states were twice as high last summer as the one before.
New vulnerabilities continue to emerge. The headline-grabber was South Australia’s blackout – the first statewide blackout since the NEM was formed in 1998 – but there have been other smaller blackouts and incidents too.
Poisonous politics means Australia is also failing to stay on track to hit its 2030 climate targets. The mixed messages on climate policy; the seemingly ad hoc public investment announcements; the threat of direct intervention in the activities of the market operator – all of this has created enormous uncertainty for private investors.
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking: Australia has enough electricity generation capacity for now, but more will be needed in the decade ahead.
First, do no harm
There is currently an acute danger of politicians panicking and rushing into decisions that will only push electricity prices higher, and make the task of reducing Australia’s emissions harder.
Already, federal and state governments are committing taxpayers’ money to new energy investments. This is premature, with the Finkel Review’s recommendations not yet released. Stampeding white elephants loom ominously on the horizon.
Given the current uncertainties, it is vital not to grasp for expensive “solutions” or to lock in plans too soon. We do not yet know what technology mix will be needed in the future. Maintaining flexibility through the transition will ensure we can take advantage of the best solutions as they emerge.
‘No regrets’ short-term reforms
There are some “no regrets” moves that can and should be made, to address the short-term risks to the electricity system and buy time to resolve the longer-term ones. Australia should build on existing low-cost mechanisms before making major capital investments or redesigning the market.
The immediate challenge is to reduce the risk of blackouts next summer, in South Australia and Victoria especially. Most blackouts happen because something in the system breaks. Some simple changes to the market rules, like the recent AEMO and ARENA announcement to pay consumers to cut their electricity use, would make a big difference to managing equipment failures when they inevitably arise.
To ensure reserves are on hand, some mothballed generators should be recalled to service. Pleasingly, Origin Energy and Engie have already struck a deal to enable the restart of the second turbine of the Pelican Point generator in South Australia.
The longer-term task
The cheapest and most effective way to reduce long-term risks is to rebuild investor confidence. That requires Australia to agree, finally, on a credible climate policy. A carbon price is the best such policy, but any bipartisan policy that works with the electricity market and is capable of hitting Australia’s emissions targets will be a vast improvement on what we have now.
The transition to a zero-emissions electricity sector will be difficult. Even given a credible climate policy, there are still questions as to whether the current electricity market will be able to meet our future needs. And that’s without even mentioning the gas market, which is frankly a mess.
Politicians should begin by adopting pragmatic market reforms and giving clear direction on climate and energy policy. At the very least, they should wait until Finkel delivers his recommendations.
Hopefully the Finkel Review will define Australia’s energy security and emissions reduction needs, and provide a strong platform for politicians to work from. If so, a competitive market will find the cheapest path to a reliable and low-emissions electricity future.
The danger is that partisan politics will make the best policies untenable. If that happens, we can expect the blame to be shifted onto the market, which will be described as having “failed” – but the truth is that it will have been systematically (if not quite intentionally) destroyed.
More likely still is that governments give up on the market without giving it a chance. Scott Morrison’s budget promise of new federally owned power generation set a worrying precedent. If recent announcements deter private investors, still more government investment will be needed, which will shift yet more risk and cost onto taxpayers.
There’s a real danger of politicians focusing on “announceables” and shying away from the market reforms that will make the biggest difference to the affordability, reliability and sustainability of our electricity supply.
The links below are to articles reporting on persecution news from India (the most recent are at the top).
For more visit:
The 2017 federal budget was pitched as a fair budget, but much depends on your definition of fairness. Reviewing the policies through a gender lens, there is little to address the entrenched economic disadvantage experienced by women.
Australia was known for being a pioneer of policies that are sensitive to the impacts on different genders, but that 30-year history came to an end in 2014 when the Abbott government announced it was abandoning the practice. Rather than see this analysis disappear, the National Foundation for Australian Women (NFAW) stepped in and partnered with academics like us, to analyse the budget through the gender lens. We review the effect that each announced policy will have on women’s lives: their economic status and well-being.
We found there were no measures designed to specifically address gender inequality and the related women’s entrenched financial vulnerability.
It’s a relief that the government has abandoned the so-called “zombie measures” which included changes to the family tax benefit and paid parental leave measures. These measures would have had a direct impact on women by adding to the effective marginal tax rate. They would also have reduced the female workforce participation rate, having a long-term effect on the economic well-being of women and their families.
However the budget still includes measures that have a disincentive effect in the workforce. The increase in the Medicare levy will affect those on incomes greater than A$21,644. For those with eligible children, the Family Tax Benefit A payment rates are frozen for two years and those who pay child care fees receive will continue to face high effective marginal tax rates (EMTR’s).
A flat increase in taxes or levies will particularly impact low income earners. Women are overrepresented in the lowest income levels, so changes to government benefits and increases in taxes have a disproportionate affect on women. Recently released ATO statistics show the median income for women was A$47,125 in 2014/15, while for men the amount was A$61,711.
And the recent reduction in penalty rates has already been identified as disproportionately affecting women.
These changes hit those earning well below the average wage, and are particularly harsh for women. Combined, these changes could lead to effective marginal tax rates of possibly 100% or higher for some women, particularly as Family Tax Benefit Part A begins to decrease at A$51,903.
The long awaited housing package will have some benefits for women. But community organisations will need to be vigilant in ensuring that the new National Housing and Homelessness Agreement ensures that funding is guaranteed for the homeless and for women fleeing domestic violence.
There has already been criticism of initiative to encourage older Australians to downsize their homes, but when a gender lens is applied, the inherent bias becomes clear. Economic patterns established during a woman’s pre-retirement years mean that women are more likely to be in receipt of the age pension, and are more likely to be receiving the full age pension. They are also less likely to have superannuation, and the balance will be lower.
Where a person is in receipt of the age pension, the downsizing initiative will reduce it, so single women are more likely to lose entitlements if they access this benefit. For example, a widow maintaining a home that is bigger than she now needs, will not be able to benefit from downsizing with this policy.
The increase in the Medicare levy to fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is also a mixed outcome. The primary carer for a person with a disability will benefit from access to the NDIS, as the additional funds for services will relieve financial and emotional pressure on the carer. But because women are still more likely to be the primary carer for a family member with a disability, this measure will disproportionately improve the lives of women.
Despite the commitment to fully fund the NDIS there are no measures to address workplace conditions. The caring economy is still largely based on women, whether they provide paid care or unpaid care.
Women working in the care sector still endure historically undervalued pay rates and working conditions, whether in the NDIS, childcare or aged care. The current consumer directed care model encourages the use of casual workers, which further reduces economic security for these women.
This year’s budget delivers some significant improvements in infrastructure, disability support, health and housing. These are welcome because they place a higher weight on the provision of government services, than unfair policies aimed at arbitrarily reducing the surplus.
The 2017 budget contains initiatives that help alleviate some of the worst aspects of its predecessors. However, it doesn’t radically turn things around for women.