New electoral law could still hobble charities



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Charities are unclear about how they can engage in democracy because the terms in the proposed bill are unclear.
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Krystian Seibert, Swinburne University of Technology

The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters has released its report into the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Bill 2017.

The bill seeks to ban foreign donations to political parties and their “associated entities”. But it also seeks to capture organisations, including charities, that undertake public advocacy on policy issues.

While much of the media attention has focused on the foreign donation ban, the bill also introduces a new compliance framework for such actors. This applies irrespective of whether they receive foreign donations or not.

The inquiry received over 200 submissions from a diverse range of charities, not-for-profit organisations, think tanks and legal experts. Most expressed major concerns about the complex and burdensome nature of the proposed compliance framework, and the “chilling effect” it could have on advocacy by charities in particular.

The committee made 15 recommendations in its report, released on Monday. It provided in-principle support for the bill’s passage, subject to the recommendations being adopted.




Read more:
Ban on foreign political donations is both too broad and too narrow, and won’t fix our system


The recommendations are a step in the right direction, responding to many of the concerns raised in the inquiry. But they are light on detail, and much will depend on how the government responds to them.

Contrary to what the chair of the committee, Senator Linda Reynolds, has stated, a number of the recommended changes are complex. This is particularly the case with redefining “political expenditure”, a key term that underpins almost the entire bill.

What is ‘political expenditure’?

If a charity or other organisation incurs “political expenditure” above $13,500, then it becomes subject to the bill’s compliance framework. Additional requirements are imposed for those incurring more than $100,000, but the committee recommended this level be reviewed.

The definition of this term is unclear. It’s also potentially very broad. It includes any expenditure on the public expression of views on an issue that is “likely to be before electors in an election”, regardless of whether an election has been called. This could include activities such as publishing reports advocating for changes to government policies, media engagement, advertising and potentially even paying staff to do this work.

A big problem is that the bill provides no guidance on the specific types of activities that are captured, nor how a charity is meant to look into the future and predict whether an issue is “likely to be before electors in an election”.

This makes it almost impossible for a charity to know with any certainty whether it’s complying with the definition.

The Australian Electoral Commission provided a supplementary submission to the inquiry, setting out the seven steps it uses to interpret the definition.

But it’s complicated and unworkable, and involves looking at different party platforms to assess how topical an issue may be. A leading constitutional law expert, Professor Anne Twomey, has extensively critiqued it.

It’s therefore not surprising that the committee recommended the definition be amended to make it more precise. The aim would be to ensure it applies only to:

expenditure undertaken to influence voters to take specific action as voters, so as not to capture non-political issue advocacy.

However, this will be no simple task, as the line between the two is not clear.

For example, if a charity produces a document outlining the positions of different political parties on the issue of homelessness, how would that be defined? Arguably, it is just providing information to voters, rather than influencing them to “take specific action as voters”.

What should be done?

Although the committee made a laudable attempt to address the various flaws in the bill, there is no quick fix.

Given the key term underpinning the bill is flawed and cannot be easily redrafted, the best outcome would be for it to be withdrawn.

This would allow for more public consultation and the preparation of a comprehensive regulatory impact statement. This would quantify compliance costs and consider alternative policy options.

If the government won’t withdraw the bill, it at least needs to act on each of the committee’s recommendations. In doing so, it should undertake public consultation on the detail of any amendments and seek a genuine outcome that ensures advocacy by charities and other organisations isn’t stifled.




Read more:
Federal government’s foreign donations bill is flawed and needs to be redrafted


More broadly, it’s arguable that the entire premise for increased regulation of non-political party actors such as charities and other organisations is flawed.

Few would argue against the need for some basic disclosure requirements regarding their direct electioneering activities, to provide transparency about the origin of the funds used for these activities. But these requirements already exist.

It’s not clear why a new compliance framework is needed to further burden these organisations, made up of people coming together to participate in our democratic processes. This is something explored in a US context in the book Unfree Speech. It argues against increased regulation because it restricts the free exchange of views, which is meant to be a cornerstone of democracy.

The argument for increased regulation of charities, including banning them from receiving donations from international philanthropy for use towards “political expenditure”, is particularly weak. By their very nature, charities exist for the public benefit. They are not permitted to have politically partisan purposes under the Charities Act 2013.

There is no evidence that international philanthropy is using Australian charities to subvert our democracy. On the contrary, the support it provides helps charities advocate on important issues such as the role of Australian aid.

The ConversationRegulation can have benefits, but it can also have costs. If this bill becomes law, the cost could be a less vibrant democracy, with fewer voices willing to debate the policies that will shape our nation’s future.

Krystian Seibert, Industry Fellow, Centre for Social Impact, Swinburne University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Seven and Foxtel snag cricket rights, meaning more content but maybe not for free


Marc C-Scott, Victoria University

Under a new broadcast rights deal Cricket Australia will part ways with its long broadcast partner, the Nine Network, after more than 40 years.

The A$1.182 billion deal lasts six years and will commence from this coming summer through to 2024. It will be split between Seven and Foxtel.

As part of a new deal, Seven West Media will pay A$75 million per year to broadcast Big Bash League matches (43 of the 59), all home international tests, including the Ashes (2021-22), some Women’s Big Bash League and International matches, along with award ceremonies including the Allan Border Medal and Belinda Clark Award.




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Foxtel will pay A$100 million per year and promises to “show every ball of every over bowled in Australia”, also part of the new deal.

Foxtel will have a dedicated cricket channel. Its coverage will include: simulcasting games from Seven, exclusive rights to men’s one day international and T20 games and 16 Big Bash League matches.

A key for part of the deal for Foxtel has been it securing exclusive digital rights.

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The Nine Network’s partnership with Cricket Australia had a rocky start when the Australian Cricket Board decided to ignore Kerry Packer’s bid in 1976, in favour of the then partner – the ABC. Packer then changed cricket forever with World Series Cricket.

Today’s new media rights deal is another major shift in Australian cricket history. Not only is it the first time Seven will be involved in cricket, the new deal will also allow Australian cricket fans to have access to more cricket coverage than ever.

While there are more hours, there is a definite shift in what will now be shown on free-to-air television.

The negotiations

The current cricket broadcast rights deal with Nine and Ten is a five year A$590 million deal, ending this year. It was an 118% increase on the previous five-year deal.

Cricket Australia desired a similar increase with its new broadcast rights deal, asking a A$1 billion price tag. While it reached the A$1 billion price tag, the deal is for six years rather than five years.

Despite this, the deal is on par with recent increases in the cost of Australian sports media rights. Cricket Australia’s new rights deal matched the percentage increase from the previous deal, (achieved by the AFL) of 67%.

The winners and losers

The rights for Foxtel are a massive win, as Foxtel has lacked Australian summer sport content. By gaining the cricket it now has a full-year calendar of Australian sport. Its exclusive digital rights will allow Foxtel to expand its streaming platforms and potentially increase subscription across both its cable and digital services.

Foxtel’s exclusive digital rights will also dictate what Seven can do with cricket coverage. In recent years Seven has established a free (with ads) and premium service for its major sporting rights, including the tennis and the Olympics. For the cricket it appears that Seven will not be able to incorporate this approach.

Despite this Seven executives see the cricket rights as a better deal in comparison to the tennis rights, which it recently lost to the Nine Network. This is because the cricket media rights give the company over 400 hours of sport, more than double that of the Australian Open.




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Previously UBS media analyst Eric Choi had stated that Nine lost A$30-40 million a year on the current cricket rights deal. Nine will still have cricket as part of its schedule as it has rights to the next Ashes series from England and the ODI World Cup in the UK in 2019 and the T20 World Cups in Australia in 2020.

The biggest loser from the broadcasters’ perspective is Ten, that has held the rights and gained high ratings from the Big Bash League. It will now need to find programming to fill a very big void in its summer lineup.

Now Cricket Australia has to play a balancing act to make sure cricket is not placed behind a pay-wall and therefore see levels of participation decline, as seen in the UK.

The ConversationIt has to ask itself, will Australians pay to watch cricket on their screens?

Marc C-Scott, Lecturer in Screen Media, Victoria University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The many ways Australia isn’t as pro-trade as we claim


Gabriele Gratton, UNSW

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s speech at the annual Boao Forum this week caused sighs of relief after a month of mounting threats of tariff escalations between China and the US. Instead, Xi pledged a “new phase of opening up”, including cutting tariffs on car imports.




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US President Donald Trump’s vision of the global economy as a zero-sum game is at odds with Australia’s experience: the mining and education booms that benefited millions of Australians were fuelled by the Chinese economic miracle of the last three decades.

History too is on the pro-trade side: when trade wars waged on both coasts of the Atlantic in the 1930s, claims of unfair competition became nationalist rhetoric, tariffs became guns, and the economic tragedy of a trade war turned into the real immense tragedy of the second world war.

With such powerful images in mind, we are rightly proud to defend the merits of a well-regulated free-trade world. But perhaps we may be too generous with ourselves. As it turns out, Australia is not innocent when it comes to anti-trade sentiments.

On July 1, 2018, the Australian government will extend GST to low value direct imports of physical goods. The mode of collection, designed to limit enforcement costs, relies on the voluntary participation of foreign retailers, with Treasury (perhaps optimistically) estimating compliance rates as low as 50%.

But border controls on parcels will remain a heavy burden on the budget. To cover the losses, the government is likely to impose a A$5-to-A$10 per-parcel levy on international retailers, in addition to GST. This is a new barrier to trade.

Many more barriers go unnoticed. Of course, the fragile and unique ecosystem of the continent needs to be protected, so we naturally impose some barriers to the importation of biologically sensitive material. The immediate economic costs for Australian consumers are large, albeit difficult to estimate precisely, but probably necessary to protect our environment from bio-threats to seeds, meat – and books.

Yes: books. Thanks to restrictions on the parallel importation of books, Australian publishers (including local representatives of multinational publishers) sell books written, published, and printed outside Australia, at much higher prices (in many cases, more than 50%) than what is charged for essentially identical goods just outside our customs.




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In 2009, the Productivity Commission concluded that this policy is a net transfer from Australian consumers to publishers and authors around the world. The Commission forgot to add that books feed knowledge, and a knowledge economy is critical to the future of our children. That is, if more expensive food damages consumers now, more expensive books damage the present as well as the future of the country. Despite the report, the policy stands. As a nation we chose to protect our publishers instead of our children’s future.

Our recent pro-trade score is not much better.

In 2016, the Anti-Dumping Commission found canned tomatoes exporters La Doria and Feger guilty of dumping – that is, selling products for less than they sell for in their own country. The government responded by imposing dumping duties up to 8.4% on all Italian tomatoes. Such anti-dumping retaliations are perfectly legal within the WTO framework, but often cover protectionist policies.

According to a 2017 WTO report, Australia was responsible for almost a third of all such retaliations among the G20 countries in 2016, second only to the US. Not bad for a nation that sees itself at the forefront of the fight for free trade.

To be fair, Australia has contributed to world peace with many unilateral free-trade decisions in the past. Car import tariffs are now a small fraction of what they were 30 years ago and may well be scrapped completely this year. But if we want to contribute to maintain this peace in the future, we may need more than the pride of feeling on the right side of history.

The ConversationThe government should stop flirting with Trump’s new anti-trade wave, and not be content with being excluded from Trump’s steel and aluminium tariffs. As a pro-trade nation, Australia should speak loud and clear.

Gabriele Gratton, Senior Lecturer in Economics, UNSW

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

When it comes to China’s influence on Australia, beware of sweeping statements and conflated ideas


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Australia’s approach to the debate over Chinese influence should be to carefully disaggregate the various problems under discussion in this debate and risk-manage them individually.
Shutterstock

Andrew Chubb, Princeton University

In December, the Turnbull Government tabled sweeping new national security legislation in response to what the PM called “disturbing reports of Chinese influence” in Australian politics.

An ongoing parliamentary review of the proposed laws has attracted hundreds of public submissions, with intelligence agencies and civil society organisations predictably lining up on opposite sides of the argument.

More surprising, perhaps, is the controversy the laws have sparked within Australia’s community of China experts.




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Rival petitions

On March 19, a group of 30 China scholars submitted a petition calling for the espionage and foreign interference legislation to be withdrawn, pending more extensive consultation and rigorous, measured public debate.

The open letter argued the bill directly threatened academic freedom, and that the “alarmist tone” of recent public discourse over China was impinging Australia’s ability to calmly and rationally deal with the issues.

In particular, it warned that “a racialised narrative of a vast official Chinese conspiracy” was taking shape:

We should be vigilant that public discourse in Australia does not create undue pressure on one particular section of our society to demonstrate its loyalty to Australia at the expense of its freedom to criticise Australian policies and actions.

A week on, a different group of China and Asia experts submitted another letter — ostensibly in response to the first — defending public policy debates over the issue in light of “well-documented reports about the Chinese Communist Party’s interference” in Australia. It read:

We firmly believe the current debate is not characterised by racism and that it is crucial for Australia to continue this debate. Indeed, Chinese Australians are among the main initiators and drivers of this debate.

The rival letters attracted international media coverage, with a reports touting a split among Australian China scholars over the issue.

But how much did the two letters really differ?

Furious agreement

In fact, the two letters share a great deal in common. Both call for informed debate over the issues; both denounce racism; both affirm scrutiny of the CCP’s activities in Australia and the application of legal penalties where evidence of wrongdoing is clear.

Most signatories would agree that discussion of the set of issues raised is necessary, and that it is not motivated by racism. They would also agree that new laws may be necessary but must be carefully drafted, and there have been problematic elements in the public debate as it has unfolded so far.

Both lists of signatories contain trenchant critics of Beijing, as well as relatively China-friendly voices.

Yet, I’m aware of only one person who signed both.

Why have Australia’s China scholars cleaved into two camps on a matter of great public interest that requires their collective expertise — camps that seem to cut across personal networks and ideological preferences?

To some extent, as ANU National Security College head Rory Medcalf has observed, this reflects healthy scholarly disagreements among colleagues.

But the rival letters are also indicative of a less-than-healthy polarisation in the discourse at a time when identifying consensus views might be more valuable. After all, the letters were substantively in agreement on many of the key issues.

It may help, then, to clarify what we do disagree about.

As a signatory to the first letter, but not the second, I can identify four main points of contention. Yet, as shown below, even within these four areas there appears to be more agreement than the rival letters might suggest.

Four points of contention

The scope of CCP activities in Australia

While the first letter cautions against conflating distinct China-related issues in Australia into “a vast official Chinese conspiracy”, the second offers a list of ten bullet-point examples of the “CCP activities” Australia should be vigilant against.

The list ranges from espionage and intimidation of dissidents, to university student groups and pro-China political rallies.

The view that vigilance is warranted over the party’s activities in Australia should be uncontroversial. It is an unreformed and increasingly dictatorial Leninist regime with a ministerial-level department tasked with instrumentalising non-party actors to advance the party’s interests and counter its perceived enemies.

The scope of this “United Front Work” system is vast and expanding, and it is rooted in a thoroughly cynical vision of the world. It is an institution and a vision that Australians — especially political elites — ought to be properly educated about.

But it should also be equally uncontroversial to affirm that a person or group’s inclusion as a target within the scope of united front work does not constitute grounds for suspecting them of disloyalty or subversiveness if they espouse a CCP-friendly view on an issue.

Causes of racist and alarmist sentiments

The first letter criticises the Australian media for fanning “suspicion and stigmatisation of Chinese-Australians”.

The second letter acknowledges the public discourse has prompted “alarmist and racist sentiments”, but argues this is an inevitable side effect of having a debate in the first place.

Perhaps we could at least agree that the prevalence of racism and alarmism on the fringes of a debate depends significantly on the language used by those in the mainstream debate.

If so, this would narrow the disagreement down to whether or not the costs of using inaccurate and inflammatory language such as “Chinese”, “invasion”, “infiltration”, and “penetration” are acceptable.

The meaning of sovereignty

The first letter argues there’s no evidence that the PRC’s activities are aimed at challenging Australia’s sovereignty. The second letter, by contrast, advocates action to counter “threats to sovereignty”.

Each appears to have a different notion of sovereignty in mind.

If the word means, narrowly, paramount legal authority within territorial limits, then a PRC challenge to Australia’s sovereignty implies that it seeks to lay claim to parts of the Australian landmass, or reduce its polity to a tributary “vassal”. But as the first letter pointed out, there is to date no credible evidence of this.

On the other hand, there have been clear instances of PRC violations of Australian sovereignty in recent years. In 2015, for example, Chinese undercover police pursued a fugitive on Australian territory. Importantly, in that case, Beijing admitted its wrongdoing.

Interference with the political freedoms of residents of Australia, such as intimidation of dissidents’ families in China, also arguably violate Australia’s sovereignty in a broad sense.

Neither letter defines sovereignty, but both invoke the word’s emotive power. Those of us speaking of a CCP threat to Australian sovereignty (or absence thereof) might be able to agree on more if we specify in what sense this is (not) the case.

Threats to democratic politics in Australia

Whereas the second letter emphasises the threats that CCP activities pose to democracy and free speech, the earlier letter suggests the sweeping proposed national security laws and alarmist public discourse were creating an even more immediate threat to democratic political rights.

It is hardly in doubt that the CCP’s activities undermine the political values of democracy, liberalism and openness. It is openly hostile to them.

But there are well-documented cases of self-censorship resulting from the alarmist tone in Australia’s public discourse on the issue, with reports of some Chinese-Australian politicians growing afraid of associating with CCP-linked community figures.




Read more:
Australians working in China should expect fallout over questions of political interference


The second letter affirms that all residents of Australia “should be able to express their point of view free of fear or censorship, whether from forces foreign or domestic”.

This suggests, once again, that there is significant overlap among China scholars even within this ostensible area of disagreement. Specifically, both seem to recognise that threats to democratic rights exist inside Australia as well as outside.

A risk-management approach

Where to from here? In an upcoming report, I argue that if Australia wants to maintain a broad engagement with a powerful, increasingly dictatorial Leninist party-state ruling a billion-plus people while maintaining a liberal democracy, it will require careful understanding and management of the risks involved.

It will not be possible to simply disallow all CCP “operations of influence” without impinging on the very democratic rights the CCP threatens.

Conflating distinct issues (for example, espionage, lobbying, Chinese-language media, student activism) under single sweeping labels (such as “influence” or “operations”) that imply they’re all part of one Beijing-orchestrated campaign of subversion is also not helpful in developing methodical, systematic responses.

Policymakers in Beijing may dream of coordinating a vast conspiracy involving ethnic Chinese all over the world advancing the CCP’s interests, but that does not make it a reality.

Australia’s approach, I argue, should be to carefully disaggregate the various problems under discussion in this debate and risk-manage them individually, rather than grasping for some kind of resolution that will free Australia of “CCP influence”.


The ConversationThis article has been amended. The line that originally read: Yet, I’m not aware of a single person who signed both has been changed to Yet, I’m aware of only one person who signed both.

Andrew Chubb, Postdoctoral Fellow, Princeton-Harvard China and the World Program, Princeton University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Can the Liberal Party hold its ‘broad church’ of liberals and conservatives together?



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John Howard, pictured here with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, is fond of describing the Liberal Party as a “broad church”. But that breadth has led to increasing fracture within the party in recent years.
AAP/Dean Lewins

Gregory Melleuish, University of Wollongong

This article is the first in a five-part series on the battle for conservative hearts and minds in Australian politics.


In July 2017 Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull upset conservatives within his own ranks by emphasising the liberal, as opposed to conservative, traditions of the party he leads.

One of the great truisms of contemporary Australian politics is that liberals and conservatives on the non-Labor side are locked in a dance in which each partner tries to dominate the other, even as they cling to each other in an endless embrace.

Many assume it has always been thus. In reality, the contemporary emphasis on the ideals of liberalism and conservatism is a relatively recent phenomenon, which political figures of the past would find somewhat puzzling.

Deakinite liberalism

In the 19th-century Australian colonies, liberalism reigned supreme. Most political figures identified as liberals and conservatives were uncommon. Even those who held conservative views, such as New South Wales politician James Martin, were happy to pose as liberals. Liberalism was not particularly ideological and often meant little more than good government.

As Australian politics divided along Labor versus non-Labor lines in the early 20th century, the non-Labor side took the name Liberal Party. Its members embraced a range of political positions, from Deakinite progressives (after Alfred Deakin) to adherents of laissez-faire economics.

As Judith Brett has argued, the key difference between Labor and non-Labor did not necessarily lie in policy as much as in the way the Labor Party pledge enforced caucus control of individual conscience. This was anathema to liberals.

Liberals in the Deakinite tradition were not opposed to state action and supported increased social co-operation, as long as that co-operation was voluntary and enhanced the individual as an ethical being. Such views can be found in the writings of the philosopher and social commentator Frederic Eggleston.

Menzies’ pragmatism

So, when Robert Menzies relaunched the Liberal Party in 1944, his motivation was not an ideological zeal to impose what today is understood as liberalism on the country. This can be seen quite clearly in his 1942 radio talks, collected as the Forgotten People.

In these talks, Menzies generally discusses freedom rather than liberty. His main focus is the individual and the family as the foundation of society, and the need for individuals to be self-reliant and to strive to improve both themselves and their families.

Robert Menzies was Australia’s longest-serving prime minister.
Wikimedia Commons

The Forgotten People expressed a set of moral ideals rather than a political ideology. The focus was a particular form of moral personality, not an abstract model of society. In his emphasis on the family, Menzies was not appealing to a “conservative” ideology; the importance of the family was taken for granted by all sides of politics at that time.

Menzies’ liberalism was concrete and practical in nature. It was inspired by the same philosophy, idealism, that had influenced Deakin and Eggleston. Menzies understood, for example, that in an increasingly technological society, moral ideals were needed to prevent such technology from being used for evil purposes. That is why he was a strong supporter of universities and liberal education.

As prime minister from 1949 to 1966, Menzies dominated the philosophical direction of the Liberal Party. Menzies understood liberalism in practical – and 19th-century – terms as being equivalent to good government. He did not intend to reshape society in line with a liberal ideology.

Ideological fracturing

One of the most interesting developments of the 50 years since Menzies’ retirement is that the non-Labor side of politics has become more ideological. Deep fractures have emerged between those who identify as liberals and those who consider themselves to be conservatives. This has happened at a time when, in many ways, liberalism has triumphed as an ideology in Australian life.

For example, the ideal of the family, which was so strong in the Forgotten People, has taken something of a battering at the hands of almost all political parties.

The individual is now the central political ideal, and there has been an increasing focus on rights, something Menzies would have viewed as alien to the Westminster system that Australia inherited from the United Kingdom.

The 1980s were a crucial period of transformation. Malcolm Fraser, prime minister from 1975 to 1983, can be understood as the last of the old Menzies-style liberals, but many Liberals largely disowned him for not being more economically liberal during his term of office.

Fraser was followed not only by the economic reforms of the Hawke-Keating Labor governments, but the full emergence of a far more ideologically committed liberalism in the Liberal Party. The party’s more economically liberal “dries” fought and defeated the Deakinite “wets”. This culminated in the Fightback! program of John Hewson and the defeat of the Liberal Party at the 1993 election.

Howard’s ‘broad church’

The genius of John Howard was to recognise that there was only so much liberalism the Australian people would tolerate, and to reinvent the Liberal Party as a custodian of both economic liberalism and social conservatism. Howard was fond of describing the Liberal Party as a “broad church”, which was “at its best when it balances and blends those two traditions.”

However, he also made the Liberal Party more ideological, as conservatism emerged as an ideology alongside liberalism. Howard completed the process through which conservatism and liberalism emerged as distinct – and competing – ideological positions in Australian political life.

Both Deakin and Menzies would find this ideological division puzzling. For them, liberalism was less an ideology than a moral outlook on the world that encouraged individuals to act in a responsible and ethical fashion.

The ConversationHoward’s broad church worked well, as long as he was at the helm. Once he was gone, the Liberal Party seemed to erupt in conflict between liberals and conservatives. More than a decade later, the conflict shows few signs of reaching a peaceful resolution.

Gregory Melleuish, Professor, School of Humanities and Social Inquiry, University of Wollongong

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

New data tool scores Australia and other countries on their human rights performance



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Despite the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it remains difficult to monitor governments’ performance because there are no comprehensive human rights measures.
from http://www.shutterstock.com, CC BY-ND

K. Chad Clay, University of Georgia

This year, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights will mark its 70th anniversary, but despite progress in some areas, it remains difficult to measure or compare governments’ performance. We have yet to develop comprehensive human rights measures that are accepted by researchers, policymakers and advocates alike.

With this in mind, my colleagues and I have started the Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI), the first global project to develop a comprehensive suite of metrics covering international human rights.

We have now released our beta dataset and data visualisation tools, publishing 12 metrics that cover five economic and social rights and seven civil and political rights.

Lack of human rights data

People often assume the UN already produces comprehensive data on nations’ human rights performance, but it does not, and likely never will. The members of the UN are governments, and governments are the very actors that are obligated by international human rights law. It would be naïve to hope for governments to effectively monitor and measure their own performance without political bias. There has to be a role for non-state measurement.




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We hope that the data and visualisations provided by HRMI will empower practitioners, advocates, researchers, journalists and others to speak clearly about human rights outcomes worldwide and hold governments accountable when they fail to meet their obligations under international law.

These are the 12 human rights measured by the Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI) project during its pilot stage. The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights defines 30 human rights.
Human Rights Measurement Initiative, CC BY

The HRMI pilot

At HRMI, alongside our existing methodology for economic and social rights, we are developing a new way of measuring civil and political human rights. In our pilot, we sent an expert survey directly to human rights practitioners who are actively monitoring each country’s human rights situation.

That survey asked respondents about their country’s performance on the rights to assembly and association, opinion and expression, political participation, freedom from torture, freedom from disappearance, freedom from execution, and freedom from arbitrary or political arrest and imprisonment.

Based on those survey responses, we develop data on the overall level of respect for each of the rights. These data are calculated using a statistical method that ensures responses are comparable across experts and countries, and with an uncertainty band to provide transparency about how confident we are in each country’s placement. We also provide information on who our respondents believed were especially at risk for each type of human rights violation.

Human rights in Australia

One way to visualise data on our website is to look at a country’s performance across all 12 human rights for which we have released data at this time. For example, the graph below shows Australia’s performance across all HRMI metrics.

Human rights performance in Australia. Data necessary to calculate a metric for the right to housing at a high-income OECD assessment standard is currently unavailable for Australia.
CC BY

As shown here, Australia performs quite well on some indicators, but quite poorly on others. Looking at civil and political rights (in blue), Australia demonstrates high respect for the right to be free from execution, but does much worse on the rights to be free from torture and arbitrary arrest.

Our respondents often attributed this poor performance on torture and imprisonment to the treatment of refugees, immigrants and asylum seekers, as well as Indigenous peoples, by the Australian government.

Looking across the economic and social rights (in green), Australia shows a range of performance, doing quite well on the right to food, but performing far worse on the right to work.




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Freedom from torture across countries

Another way to visualise our data is to look at respect for a single right across several countries. The graph below shows, for example, overall government respect for the right to be free from torture and ill treatment in all 13 of HRMI’s pilot countries.

Government respect for the right to be free from torture, January to June 2017.
Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI)

Here, the middle of each blue bar (marked by the small white lines) represents the average estimated level of respect for freedom from torture, while the length of the blue bars demonstrate our certainty in our estimates. For instance, we are much more certain regarding Mexico’s (MEX) low score than Brazil’s (BRA) higher score. Due to this uncertainty and the resulting overlap between the bars, there is only about a 92% chance that Brazil’s score is better than Mexico’s.

In addition to being able to say that torture is probably more prevalent in Mexico than in Brazil, and how certain we are in that comparison, we can also compare the groups of people that our respondents said were at greatest risk of torture. This information is summarised in the two word clouds below; larger words indicate that that group was selected by more survey respondents as being at risk.

These word clouds show, on the left, the attributes that place a person at risk of torture in Brazil, and on the right, attributes that place one at risk for torture in Mexico, January to June 2017, respectively.
Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI), CC BY

There are both similarities and differences between the groups that were at highest risk in Brazil and Mexico. Based on the survey responses our human rights experts in Brazil gave us, we know that black people, those who live in favelas or quilombolas, those who live in rural or remote areas, landless rural workers, and prison inmates are largely the groups referred to by the terms “race,” “low social or economic status,” or “detainees or suspected criminals”.

On the other hand, in Mexico, imprisoned women and those suspected of involvement with organised crime are the detainees or suspected criminals that our respondents stated were at high risk of torture. Migrants, refugees and asylum seekers travelling through Mexico on the way to the United States are also at risk.

The ConversationThere is much more to be learned from the visualisations and data on our website. After you have had the opportunity to explore, we would love to hear your feedback here about any aspect of our work so far. We are just getting started, and we thrive on collaboration with the wider human rights community.

K. Chad Clay, Assistant Professor of International Affairs, University of Georgia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Poll wrap: Newspoll not all bad news for Turnbull as Coalition’s position improves



File 20180410 75748 1wbz2ar.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
A big difference between the losing streaks of Malcolm Turnbull and former PM Tony Abbott is that Abbott often trailed Shorten as better PM, while Turnbull has always led Shorten.
AAP/Brendan Esposito

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s Newspoll, conducted April 5-8 from a sample of 1,600, gave Labor a 52-48 lead, a one-point gain for the Coalition since last fortnight. Primary votes were 38% Coalition (up one), 37% Labor (down two), 10% Greens (up one) and 7% One Nation (steady).

This was Malcolm Turnbull’s 30th successive Newspoll loss, matching Tony Abbott’s streak before Turnbull ousted him as Liberal leader and PM in September 2015. Famously, Turnbull justified moving against Abbott partly because of the Newspoll losses.

Turnbull’s ratings were 32% satisfied (down one) and 57% dissatisfied (steady), for a net approval of -25. Bill Shorten’s net approval fell five points to -25. Turnbull led Shorten by 38-36 as better PM (39-36 previously).




Read more:
Government loses 30th consecutive Newspoll, despite slight improvement


A big difference between the losing streaks of Turnbull and Abbott is that Abbott often trailed Shorten as better PM, while Turnbull has always led Shorten.

On best Liberal leader, 28% preferred Turnbull (down two since early February), 27% Julie Bishop (up one), 13% Abbott (steady) and 9% Peter Dutton (up two). Coalition voters gave Turnbull 46%, Bishop 22%, Abbott 15% and Dutton 7%. Abbott and Dutton performed best with One Nation voters.

By 55-27, voters thought the 30 Newspoll losses demonstrated a failure of Turnbull’s leadership.

On best Labor leader, 24% preferred Shorten (up two since early February), 23% Tanya Plibersek (down two) and 23% Anthony Albanese (down one). Labor voters gave Shorten 36%, Plibersek 27% and Albanese 22%. Plibersek now leads Shorten by 33-26 with Greens voters (43-18 previously).

There was little change in Turnbull’s ratings on nine leaders’ attributes since early December. Shorten’s ratings increased six points on “arrogant” and four points on “has a vision for Australia”.

By 50-41, voters supported Australia becoming a republic (51-38 in August 2017). If Prince Charles becomes King, support rises to 55-35 (55-34 previously).

Other than the 30 Newspoll losses, this was not a good poll for Labor. Labor’s primary vote was down two points, and the total Labor/Greens vote fell back one point to 47%, after breaking out of a long run of 47% support last fortnight.

The Coalition has tended to do better under Turnbull when Parliament is not sitting. The fading of the Barnaby Joyce scandal and the big company tax cuts as issues may explain the Coalition’s gains.

Former Nielsen pollster John Stirton wrote in the Fairfax papers that the new Newspoll, which is conducted by Galaxy Research and uses online and robopolling methods, is far less volatile than the old Newspoll, a landline-based live phone poll. The new Newspoll started in mid-2015, and the Coalition’s chances of getting a tie by luck have been greatly reduced.

However, it is not just Newspoll that has the Coalition continuously behind. Until a 50-50 tie in Ipsos’ respondent-allocated preferencing method (see below), the Coalition had trailed in every poll conducted since September 2016, apart from a short-lived YouGov series that published polls in the second half of 2017.

Although both left-wing and far-right partisans would like to see Turnbull dumped, Turnbull has led Abbott by an overwhelming margin in every poll in which voters are asked to compare the two. In a June 2017 ReachTEL poll, voters favoured Turnbull over Abbott as Liberal leader by a 68-32 margin.

Ipsos: 52-48 to Labor

A Fairfax Ipsos poll, conducted April 3-5 from a sample of 1,166, gave Labor a 52-48 lead, a one-point gain for the Coalition since early December 2017. Primary votes were 36% Coalition (up two), 34% Labor (up one), 12% Greens (down one) and 8% One Nation.

Ipsos is the only live phone pollster left in Australia; all other polls use robopolling or online methods. Ipsos gives the Greens higher support than other polls, at the expense of Labor.

Turnbull’s ratings were 47% approve (up five), and 43% disapprove (steady). Ipsos gives Turnbull better ratings than other pollsters, particularly Newspoll. Shorten’s net approval was -15, down one point. Turnbull led Shorten by 52-31 as better PM (48-31 previously). By 62-28, voters thought Turnbull should remain Liberal leader.

By 49-40, voters supported cutting the company tax rate from 30% to 25% over the next ten years. Two weeks ago, ReachTEL had voters opposed to tax cuts for big companies by 56-29.




Read more:
Poll wrap: Labor maintains its lead as voters reject company tax cuts; wins on redrawn boundaries


In March 2017, tax cuts were passed for companies with turnover of up to $50 million a year. The government is now trying to pass cuts for companies with more than $50 million in turnover. Since these are big companies, I think ReachTEL’s question is better than Ipsos’.

Essential: 53-47 to Labor

This week’s Essential poll, conducted April 5-8 from a sample of 1,033, gave Labor a 53-47 lead, a one-point gain for Labor since last fortnight. Primary votes were 38% Coalition (steady), 37% Labor (up one), 10% Greens (up one) and 7% One Nation (down one).

Primary votes in Essential are the same as in Newspoll, but Newspoll’s two party result is better for the Coalition. Newspoll is now assuming that One Nation preferences flow to the Coalition at about a 65% rate, consistent with the November 2017 Queensland election. Essential continues to assume the Coalition will win just half of One Nation’s preferences.

Turnbul’s net approval in Essential was -3, down one point since March. Shorten’s net approval was -8, also down one point. Turnbull led Shorten by 41-26 as better PM, unchanged since March.

Shorten’s ratings on being a capable leader and good in a crisis increased five points since June 2017, and he had four-point increases on “visionary” and “more honest than most politicians”. Turnbull’s ratings dropped four points on “arrogant” and “aggressive”.

There were two double digit differences between the two leaders: Turnbull led by 15 points on “intelligent” and by 13 points on “out of touch”.

On best Liberal leader, Turnbull had 24% (up three since December), Bishop 17% (down two), Abbott 11% (up one) and Dutton just 3% (down one). Among Coalition voters, Turnbull had 45%, Abbott 17%, Bishop 13% and Dutton 4%.

37% thought the government should prioritise renewable energy over coal, 13% thought they should prioritise coal over renewable energy, and 35% thought the government should treat both industries equally.

Far-right Hungarian government re-elected in landslide

The Hungarian election was held on Sunday. There were a total of 199 seats, with 106 elected using first past the post, and the remaining 93 by proportional representation.

Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán’s far-right Fidesz won 48.5% of the vote, and 134 of the 199 seats. Another far-right party, Jobbik, was second with 19.5% and 25 seats, while the social-democratic MSZP won just 12.3% and 20 seats – their worst result since 1990.

The ConversationFidesz’s vote was up 3.2% since the 2014 election, and they won 91 of the 106 first past the post seats.

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

View from the hill: An ugly set of numbers triggers havoc in the Turnbull government


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Barnaby Joyce, a National, hasn’t a vote for the Liberal leadership. But he’s a man of opinions and now he’s on the backbench there are no restraints on his expressing them.

On Monday night, amid the feeding frenzy over Newspoll, Joyce declared that if, as Christmas approached, polling indicated Turnbull was heading to electoral defeat, he should call it quits. There was an obligation “not to drive your party or the government off a cliff,” he told Sky.

A new unhelpful spot fire erupted into flame.

With the fateful 30th Newspoll finally out there, the government on Monday descended into an orgy of destructive self-indulgence. It was a collective performance made up of individual bitterness, tactical misjudgement, and plain ill-discipline. Just the sort of thing to further disgust a public already turned off by the shambles of Canberra.

For Abbott, Monday was the occasion for the primal scream. It might be two-and-a-half years since Turnbull seized his job, but the former prime minister’s pain hasn’t abated a jot, nor his sense of what he sees as the injustice delivered to him.

As he pedalled through the Latrobe Valley, Abbott told 2GB it was for Turnbull to explain why the 30 lost Newspolls measure that he invoked in his 2015 challenge “applied to me but shouldn’t apply now.”

And then there were the other points Turnbull had raised back then – about the need to restore cabinet government, and the lack of an economic narrative.

“Well, I ran a perfectly orthodox cabinet government”, Abbott insisted; as
for having no clear economic narrative, “I completely reject that. There was a very, very clear economic narrative under my government.” For good measure, he threw in a defence of the 2014 budget – which in fact began his political demise.

On the policy front, he topped his call for the government to build a coal-fired power station by suggesting it should nationalise the Liddell power plant, owned by AGL, which is resisting selling to another company despite sustained bullying from the government.

Given everyone knew Abbott would be grabbing the spotlight after Monday’s Newspoll, the government had to make a tactical judgement about how best to counter.

It could keep a low profile, with minimal prime ministerial and ministerial appearances. While that would give maximum room to Abbott, it would also avoid further fanning the poll story. Or Turnbull and his ministers could confront the bad poll day full on. That was the course chosen – and it was hard to see the sense of it.

Ministers were out everywhere, backing Turnbull. That just gave the impression that his leadership was in need of protection, despite there being no challenge.

In a round of media appearances, Turnbull said (for the umpteenth time) that he regretted citing Newspoll, declared he had the backing of his colleagues, and submitted himself to some humiliation.

On 2GB, Ben Fordham announced he had invited listeners to say what he should ask Turnbull. “I hate to tell you PM: the overriding response was, ‘when will you resign?’” Fordham told his guest, with the cameras looking on.

“Oh really,” Turnbull said. “Well, well the answer is I’m not, I am not. I am going to go to the next election and win it”.

Then there was Wayne on the talkback line. “I’m a rusted on Liberal and you’ve taken the party – you nearly lost the unlosable election. I find you politically inept, and basically you’ve taken the party in my view too far to the left and I think you should do the honourable thing and resign, put it to a party vote because quite frankly if we go to an election with you we are doomed as a party”.

“Well thanks Wayne for the advice,” said the PM. “I don’t propose to take it, however.” Turnbull then went on to invite Wayne to tell him how he had taken the party to the left, and argue the toss with him.

Now one can say it’s admirable that a leader gets out and deals with criticisms. But Monday didn’t seem the day for maximum exposure.

Or for canvassing long-term leadership ambitions, as did Peter Dutton. “I think people are best to be honest about their ambitions”, the Home Affairs minister told 3AW. His comments were in the context of reaffirming his loyalty to Turnbull and were not new, but such candour just set off another spot fire of questioning, that soon reached Josh Frydenberg and Scott Morrison, both of whom acknowledged the batons in their knapsacks.

The ConversationThe 30th Newspoll was destined to be difficult. Abbott was determined to make it so. Joyce is a loose cannon. But the strategy adopted by Turnbull – for he and his ministers to try to control the story by swarming all over it – simply made him a bigger target. It displayed a lack of political nous but also suggested he is feeling more than a little rattled by the situation in which he finds himself.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Move over Canada and EU, Australia is best placed to benefit in the US-China trade tug-of-war


Giovanni Di Lieto, Monash University

Australian firms are in a sweet spot between the bickering United States and China, where they can sell more and buy more cheaply because of weaker competition in both markets. Essentially, the mutual tariffs are a double blessing for Australia.

The latest escalation of the ongoing tariff war promises to impact on international trade exchanges to the tune of A$130 billion per year across a broad range of economic sectors, including metals, drugs, motor vehicles, electronic components, industrial machinery and foods.

Australia is one of the best placed countries in the world to reap the gains of the likely trade diversions. For example, Australian beef producers will be much more competitive in exporting to China as their American competitors have to grapple with the 25% tariff on their beef. On the other side, as China raises tariffs on soybeans, Australia could buy this product more cheaply from US farmers keen to find new distribution channels.

And the same goes for all other products appearing in the US and Chinese hit lists on both the export and import sides of markets.




Read more:
Six signs China wants to avoid a trade war


Australia’s main competitors for this double market grab are just a handful of highly developed economies with sizeable commercial ties with both the US and China. These include Canada, the EU, Japan and South Korea.

But in comparison with these trading competitors, Australia has a natural advantage due to the ease of access to maritime routes right across the Asia Pacific region.

While Europe is also in between the American and Asian continents, its overland trading routes are far less developed than the maritime ones and are also clogged by hostile countries such as Russia, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and India.

Canada is also at a disadvantage to Australia because of its more embedded economy and supply chains with the US. The challenging renegotiation of the North America Free Trade Agreement with the US and Mexico could also stunt Canada’s range of trading action.

Similarly across the Pacific, Japan and South Korea share Canada’s tricky position as they are too close to their powerful neighbour, in this case China. Not to mention that South Korea is also under intense geopolitical pressure from President Trump to renegotiate its advantageous bilateral free trade agreement with the US.

Australia is sitting pretty

Australia doesn’t pose a direct strategic threat to either China or the US, as its economy and military power is not too big. And it’s not so small that it can be easily trumped. Also, its location is not too close, yet not too far from any of the major contenders for primacy in the Asia Pacific region.

Australia has skin in the game but not to an indispensable degree. More important still, Australia has solid and mutually beneficial bilateral free trade agreements with both China and the US, which gives more predictability to the country’s trade and investment flows.

In fact, as the Australian Trade minister, Steve Ciobo remarked, Australia is relatively safe from any retaliatory action from the Trump administration thanks to a negative trade balance with the US.

On top of that, in terms of foreign direct investment Australia has ample room and need to diversify its over-reliance on US money. Official data show the US tops the list of foreign investment in Australia with 27% of total value by country, which is a level 10 times bigger than Chinese investments. On the other hand, Australian capital mostly flows out to the US (28% of total value) and not very much to China (only 4%).




Read more:
Why Trump’s tariffs will have little impact on Australia and a trade war is unlikely


It’s handy for Australia that the US Trade Representative has flagged new restrictions on Chinese investment in the US to
contain “China’s stated intention of seizing economic leadership in advanced technology as set forth in its industrial plans, such as Made in China 2025”. This means more investment spillovers are likely to flow between China and Australia with more favourable terms than ever.

Deeper investment ties with China will make an increasing negative trade balance with Australia more acceptable to China over the long term. Also this dynamic places Australia’s economy in pole position to take advantage of the improving quality of Chinese financial markets. This is evident in the ongoing rebalance of the Chinese economy, as it moves towards more reliance on growing consumer demand and away from inefficient, debt-fuelled investment.

Overall we are in the presence of a paradox. What in ordinary times used to be Australia’s vulnerabilities may instead prove its strategic strength in the context of a trade tug-of-war between the US and China.

As long as the trade war does not escalate to a full-blown military conflict, on the face of it Australia can still afford to sit on the commercial fence. With this pragmatic economic approach, cynics may well define Australia as a vulture country.

The ConversationBut to be realistic, the US-China trade war gives Australia the unprecedented chance to expand its economic footprint in the geopolitical agendas of both global superpowers. At such uncertain times, even more than pure economic profit, this strategic improvement will be the sweetest fruit for the lucky country.

Giovanni Di Lieto, Lecturer of international trade law, Monash Business School, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

When taxpayers do wrong, they cop penalties but erring tax officers do not



File 20180409 114092 1ks2nf4.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
A Fairfax/ATO investigation suggests the tax office has broken the trust of taxpayers.
http://www.shutterstock.com

Jenni Henderson, The Conversation

A joint Fairfax/Four Corners investigation has uncovered a series of cases where taxpayers, particularly small businesses, have battled with the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) over tax assessments they claim are unfair.

The investigation suggests the tax office has broken the trust of taxpayers.

Professor of Taxation Law, Michael Dirkis, was senior tax counsel for the Taxation Institute of Australia from 1999 till 2009 and has been involved in consultations for various tax reforms.

He says the problem is that the Taxpayers’ charter which sets out the relationship between the tax office and taxpayers, isn’t enforceable for tax officers.

“If a taxpayer does the wrong thing, then clearly the full force of the law can be brought to bear, and penalties can be imposed or prosecutions undertaken. But if a tax officer makes a mistake or does something wrong, there doesn’t seem to be a similar mechanism,” Dirkis says.

This is where an advisory board to the tax office could be useful in rebuilding mutual trust between the ATO and taxpayers.

Here’s the full interview with Professor Michael Dirkis from the University of Sydney.


Q: These cases seen in the news reports – do they reflect the usual approach of the tax office?

A: It’s not surprising. The ATO, from time to time, has seemingly stepped over the mark historically in a number of different cases and the sort of tougher approach is probably the manifestation of that.

Q: Are cases involving small business the majority of the type of cases the ATO pursues?

A: No, I think the majority certainly still is at the larger end. Often with those larger businesses, the sort of the information required puts them on to a very regular contact with the tax office and their compliance burden is fairly large.

That said, because they’ve got large amounts of money, they’re also well organised. Of course, the compliance burden and cost, although large, is spread across the business.

Certainly, it appears when one reads the pronouncements from the tax office and information in the annual report, that a large amount of resources are going into the large end [of business] because that’s where the risk is.

The methods the tax office has adopted, certainly in its debt collection mechanisms, are very similar to that of the large banks. In fact, they, at various points of time, have had former debt collection management from the large banks in some of those roles.

Q: Do you think there’s been any sort of cultural shift or other changes in the organisation, with the changes in tax commissioners?

A: The tax office still has similar plans that it sets out in its annual audit areas of interest over the years.

But I think the organisation at the top certainly has had a cultural change. Among the senior staff within the tax office there’s been a constant of recruitment of private sector accountants and lawyers into the technical areas, to boost expertise.

But a lot of that is at the level of the large business, large family group type assessments, rather than focused at the small business end.

We’ve certainly had a cultural change when self-assessment was first introduced. It really made a major shift in power towards the ATO, as suddenly taxpayers were required to calculate their own tax situation.

So the shift of obligation of getting your assessment right switched from you supplying information to the tax office and then the ATO doing that on your behalf and confirming your position, to one where you are now expected to know. Hence why we see 70% of Australians using tax agents.

I think the nature of the audit process is that it can vary and probably at the smaller business end you are going to have an assessment issued and then there will be a lag with trying to talk to case officers.

Q: Is there anything you think the ATO can do to avoid the types of cases that we’re seeing?

A: It’s about education. It’s about ensuring that there are forms of mutual respect. There’s what’s called the Taxpayers’ charter that sets out what the tax office expects of taxpayers and what taxpayers should expect of them.

The problem is the charter is not enforceable. Most crucially, if a taxpayer does the wrong thing then clearly the full force of the law can be brought to bear, and penalties can be imposed or prosecutions undertaken, but if a tax officer makes a mistake or does something wrong there doesn’t seem to be a similar mechanism.

So we don’t have that reciprocal effect, that if the tax office or the tax officers breach the taxpayers charter there is no penalty.

Q: Should there be an oversight or advisory board for that?

A: I think there needs to be. The problem with the charter from day one was that the tax office writes it and then rewrites it. It was used as a mechanism of the ATO saying you know what you can expect.

But as I said, there just isn’t anything in the mechanism that actually makes the tax officers who breach it accountable.

Then the tax office about three years ago went through a large culling of staff. So a lot of very senior, long serving, staff left the tax office.

There was a view that this probably wasn’t a bad thing and that it would get rid of an entrenched “us versus them” mentality that can arise in enforcement agencies. But it doesn’t necessarily seem to have filtered down to those in sort of the more the coalface areas, the audit area.

The ConversationThere needs to be some empathy in that process and that doesn’t seem like it’s happened in some of these cases.

Jenni Henderson, Section Editor: Business + Economy, The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.