Turnbull government must find a way to rid Australia of foreign donations



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Attorney-General George Brandis (left) and Special Minister of State Scott Ryan need to work together to reform foreign donations laws.
AAP/Dan Peled

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Let’s start at the beginning on the vexed issue of foreign donations for political parties and candidates in an environment in which globalisation is adding to challenges in combating foreign interference in electoral processes.

Back in 1918, when the Commonwealth Electoral Act was drafted, no distinction was made between donors from Australia or overseas, or (effectively) between donors who were Australian citizens, non-citizens, or organisations.

In the last year of the 1914-18 war not much thought, if any, was given to the possibility that foreign interests would interfere with the Australian electoral process, or would have an interest in doing so.

But now, in an environment in which commercial and political interests leapfrog national boundaries in ways that must have seemed a remote possibility when the 1918 Commonwealth Electoral Act was drafted, it is time to subject the act to a comprehensive revision.

The aim of this exercise should be to exclude foreign donations. Those bans should extend to organisations engaged in the political process as lobby groups for one side or the other.

It would make little sense for bans to be applied to political parties themselves without also extending such bans to unions and business lobbyists.

As much as anything, such a provision would act as a deterrent to those who might seek to utilise foreign funds improperly.

Government ministers tell you it will be difficult to frame legislation that would stop all foreign funding.

What about grey areas, they ask, such as contributions by companies whose main business is in Australia, but whose headquarters is located elsewhere?

The London-headquartered Rio Tinto is one such example.

These are difficult issues and need to be worked through. There is no simple remedy.

Of course, one option would be to make political campaigns fully publicly-funded, thus obviating the need for private fundraising. But that arrangement potentially discriminates against new entrants who may not qualify for such public funding.

The Australian model in which funding is made available on the basis of past performance has merit. But its weakness is that it advantages the major parties disproportionately.

Then there is the whole murky area of funding for organisations like the conservative Institute of Public Affairs, or groups on the left, like GetUp, which supports progressive causes.

Under present circumstances, organisations like the IPA are not obliged to disclose their sources of funding. Since they are involved in the political process, these lobby groups should be required to open their books.

In the United States, funding for similar organisations is transparent, for the very good reason that just as sunlight is the best disinfectant so is transparency in ascertaining what might motivate groups to adopt certain positions.

The IPA, for example, opposed plain packaging for tobacco products on what it insisted were libertarian grounds. It would have been useful, however, to be apprised of whether the tobacco industry contributes funds to that organisation.

Lobby groups should be obliged to place sources of funding on the public register, especially since many of these organisations derive tax benefits from their status as not-for-profit organisations.

The whole question of “money talks” politics has come into focus in the past week or so with revelations in a Fairfax Media/ABC investigation of money being splashed around political parties by Chinese-born billionaires, one of whom is not an Australian citizen.

Clearly, the aim of these contributions has been to influence Australian politicians in a way that would make them more sympathetic to China’s aspirations.

Indeed, in one case, funding that had been promised to Labor was withheld after one of its spokesmen advanced a point of view contrary to China’s interests.

This was a clear example of money being used – or the threat of funds being withheld – for political purposes. It should be regarded as distasteful, and, potentially intimidatory.

If there is a rule of thumb in politics, it is that money does not bring purity, rather the reverse.

Special Minister of State Scott Ryan, who has responsibility for an overhaul of the Commonwealth Electoral Act as it relates to political donations, acknowledges that grey areas exist that will be difficult to legislate.

In framing the required legislation, Ryan might refer to the Political Finance Database of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, an intergovernmental organisation that supports sustainable democracy worldwide.

The IDEA has a formula that would be helpful in establishing exactly what constitutes a “foreign interest”.

It defines such interests as entities that:

contribute directly or indirectly [and who are] governments, corporations, organisations or individuals who are not citizens; that do not reside in the country or have a large share of foreign ownership.

In the case of the latter provision, framing regulations to stop foreign donations would present challenges. Rio Tinto is just one example of companies with large stakes in Australia, but domiciled overseas.

Perhaps the most compelling argument for an Australian ban on political donations is that, apart from New Zealand, Australia is the only English-speaking democracy to permit such donations.

In New Zealand, overseas donations are capped at $NZ1,500.

In Australia no such cap applies.

However, donations to parties and candidates above $13,200 require the name and address of donor to be supplied. This information must be made available at the end of each financial year.

One reform Ryan might consider is to oblige disclosure more quickly. In last year’s federal election, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull made a very significant personal financial contribution to the Liberal Party campaign. But under law, this donation did not need to be disclosed in a timely manner.

Turnbull did reveal his contribution – after the election and only under media pressure.

In the case of that contribution it could be argued that wealth in Turnbull’s case enabled him to fund a campaign that gave him an advantage over his opponents.

On the other hand, the conservative side of politics would say that Labor has an inbuilt funding advantage because it can rely on the support of the union movement.

In recent years, several attempts have been made to clean up what is clearly an unsatisfactory state of affairs.

In 2010, the Labor government introduced the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Political Donations and Other Measures Bill) that would have banned donations of “foreign property”.

The bill passed the House of Representatives, but was not proceeded with in the Senate and lapsed at the end of the 43rd parliament.

Labor and the Coalition toyed with the introduction of a donation and disclosure reform bill in 2013, but nothing came of these efforts.

In this latest 45th parliament the Greens have restored their own Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill that bans donations of foreign property. This version lapsed at the dissolution of the 44th Parliament.

Now is the time for this whole issue to be re-visited.

The ConversationRyan, in conjunction with Attorney-General George Brandis, needs to come up with a bill that seeks to forestall the possibility of candidates and parties being bought and sold in a monied environment that is infinitely more susceptible to influence peddling by foreign interests than it was a century ago.

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

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

Turnbull talks tough on foreign workers – deer farmers and historians off welcome list


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Whatever the arguments for the changes governing foreign skilled workers announced by Malcolm Turnbull, make no mistake – this is about an embattled government wanting to send a strong political message. The Conversation

One clue was Turnbull’s reference to placing first not just Australian jobs, but “Australian values”. He made mention of “Australian values” both in his Facebook video and his news conference, when announcing the replacement of the 457 visa.

In this context, “Australian values” is itself a value-laden term.

For Turnbull, it was something of a rhetorical juggle, as he acknowledged Australia as an “immigration nation” and noted the many workers “from war-shattered Europe” who helped build the Snowy scheme, while declaring Australian jobs must be filled by Australians wherever possible.

The government has been under pressure over foreign workers from left and right – from Labor (Bill Shorten introduced a private member’s bill to tighten the 457 scheme), as well as from One Nation.

Pauline Hanson was – of course – quick to claim credit for Turnbull’s move.

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A few years ago another federal government on the defensive went to a like place. In 2013, Julia Gillard pledged to “stop foreign workers being put at the front of the queue with Australian workers at the back”.

Labor sources at the time said she was tapping into what they described as the “economic patriotism” embedded in the “battler” view of the world; Labor research had found a strong view among voters that there were available jobs Australians couldn’t get. Attitudes are unlikely to have changed, and the Turnbull government knows it.

For the record, in response to Gillard then-opposition leader Tony Abbott defended the 457 entrants and accused her of “trying to divide Australians”.

It’s unclear precisely how much difference the Turnbull government’s change – cast to sound dramatic but seen by some as mainly a rebadging – will make.

It is scrapping the 457 visa, under which foreign workers are brought in on four-year visas. It will be replaced by a new Temporary Skill Shortage Visa program with two streams. One will provide a two-year visa; the other, a visa for up to four years.

The list of requirements will include applicants having at least two years work experience in their skilled occupation; mandatory criminal history checks; and the capacity for just one on-shore renewal under the short-term stream. The short-term stream won’t provide a path to permanent residency. There will be tightened English language requirements for the medium-term stream.

The government has given no estimate of the expected outcome of the change.

Turnbull said that at present there were about 95,000 457 visa holders. But he could not quantify the likely impact of the new system beyond saying: “Because we are narrowing significantly the number of occupations and we are increasing the qualifications that visa applicants need to have, it is our expectation that all other things being equal you will see a material reduction over time of people working on these temporary visas.”

But “it depends upon all other things being equal … which they are not. It depends on the demands of the economy, emerging skill gaps, changes in the economy.”

It’s worth remembering that 457 visa workers are less than 1% of the workforce.

The present list of 651 eligible occupations has been cut by 216, to 435. Some 268 occupations will be available under the new two-year visa, and only 167 will be eligible for the four-year visa.

The occupations chopped range widely, including jobs as diverse as deer farmer, project builder, betting agency manager, chemical engineer, horse trainer, singer, antique dealer, and bed and breakfast operator.

It’s not clear precisely how judgements were made on some of them, such as commissioned police officer, policy analyst, television presenter, and archivist.

Some of the deletions – such as “historian” and “archaeologist” – are hardly jobs to which an “Australians first” rule should apply. Nor will their exclusion from the list have much impact on the Aussie labour market.

Then again, much of this is definitional. Quite a lot of the deleted occupations could be re-classified to come within the revised lists.

Indeed, Jenny Lambert, from the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, pointed out that the 457s were “rarely if ever” applied to many of the deleted occupations. She suggested that the problem with 457s has been one of public perception rather than the scheme’s operation. “The perception of the program is the biggest issue and we need to reset it,” she told Sky.

The Australian Industry Group’s Innes Willox said that “the 457 visa system was a highly valued program but misunderstandings of its use and exaggerations of its misuse led it to become a lightning rod for anti-migration sentiments”.

Supporting the reforms, Willox said: “The temporary skilled visa program should now be considered as settled without the need for further reviews and disruptive policy change”.

In other words, business’ main preoccupation is that the importation of foreign skilled workers should be taken off the political football field.

That may be wishful thinking. Meanwhile, eyes will be on whether the government puts any squeeze in the budget on the general immigration program, which has been coming under attack from some critics in a housing affordability debate that’s run increasingly out of the government’s control.

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https://www.podbean.com/media/player/ffwdg-69b163?from=yiiadmin

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Australian Politics: 28 July 2013


Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has made a surprise visit to Australian troops in Afghanistan.

For more visit:
http://www.skynews.com.au/topstories/article.aspx?id=891398

The link below is to an article from a foreign news site that reports on Australia’s current asylum seeker policy and that of the opposition – it would appear to have some Coalition influence concerning some aspects of the report.

For more visit:
http://www.wnd.com/2013/07/australia-illegals-not-welcome/

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has stated that the Papua New Guinea asylum seeker policy may take months before becoming an effective deterrent for illegal arrivals.

For more visit:
http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/immigration/png-solution-could-take-many-months-to-work-kevin-rudd/story-fn9hm1gu-1226686998109

For more on the asylum seeker debate in Australia visit:
http://www.themonthly.com.au/blog/richard-cooke/2013/07/25/1374721635/bogans-and-boat-people-pt1

The link below is to an interesting piece on Tony Abbott:
http://www.themonthly.com.au/issue/2013/july/1372600800/waleed-aly/inside-tony-abbotts-mind

Can the ALP win the upcoming election – the polls suggest it is a possibility.

For more visit the link below:
http://www.themonthly.com.au/blog/roy-morgan-research/2013/07/23/1374538622/morgan-poll-alp-would-win-federal-election

Nigeria: Ansaru – Execution of Foreign Hostages


The link below is to an article reporting on the execution of foreign hostages by Islamist group Ansaru and the situation facing Christians from both Ansaru and Boko Haram in Nigeria.

For more visit:
http://www.wnd.com/2013/03/muslim-jihadists-execute-foreign-hostages/

Nigeria: Latest Persecution News


The link below is to an article that reports on the murder of foreign Christians in Nigeria by Ansaru, a splinter group of Boko Haram.

For more visit:
http://www.persecution.org/2013/03/10/boko-haram-executes-foreign-christians-in-nigeria/

Nepal Christians Begin Legal Battle for Burial Ground


Hindu group declares country a Hindu state; upper castes seek halt to conversions.

KATHMANDU, Nepal, April 19 (CDN) — With the government refusing to listen to their three-year plea for an official cemetery and ignoring a protracted hunger strike, Nepal’s Christians are now seeking redress from the Supreme Court.

“Every day there are two to three deaths in the community, and with each death we face a hard time with the burial,” said Chari Bahadur Gahatraj, a pastor who filed a petition in the high court on March 13 asking it to intervene as authorities of Nepal’s oldest Hindu temple had begun demolishing the graves of Christians there.

Gahatraj and Man Bahadur Khatri are both members of the newly formed Christian Burial Ground Prayer and National Struggle Committee that since last month began leading a relay hunger strike in a public area of the capital, asking for a graveyard. They said they were forced to go to court after the Pashupati Area Development Trust (PADT), which runs Nepal’s oldest Hindu shrine, the Pashupatinath temple, said it would no longer allow non-Hindus to use the temple’s forested land.

“We don’t want to hurt the sentiments of any community,” Gahatraj told Compass. “Nor are we trying to grab the land owned by a temple. We are ready to accept any plot given to us. All we are asking for is that the burials be allowed till we get an alternate site.”

Judge Awadhesh Kumar Yadav has since ordered the government and PADT not to prevent Christians from using the forest for burials until the dispute is resolved. The legal battle, however, now involves a counter-suit. Hindu activist Bharat Jangam filed a second writ on March 20, saying that since the forest was the property of a Hindu temple, non-Hindus should not be allowed to bury their dead there just as churches do not allow Hindu burials.

Subsequently, the court decided to hear the two petitions together, and yesterday (April 18), the hearings began. While two lawyers argued on behalf of Gahatraj and Khatri, a cohort of 15 lawyers spoke against their petition. The next hearing is scheduled for May 3.

Along with the legal battle, Christians have kept up their relay hunger strike. To step up pressure on the government, the protestors also announced they would lead a funeral march to the offices of the prime minister and the culture minister and hand over coffins to them as a symbolic protest. If that too failed, they warned they would have no option but to go on hunger strike in front of the prime minister’s office and parliament, this time carrying dead bodies with them.

Alarmed at the rate the issue was snowballing, the government finally responded. Yesterday Culture Minister Gangalal Tuladhar opened talks with the protestors, agreeing to continue the negotiations after three days. The government also formed a four-member committee to look into the demand. Currently, Christians are asking for cemetery land in all 75 districts of Nepal.

Protestors were wary of the government’s intent in the overture.

“This could be a ploy to buy time and bury the issue,” said a member of the Christian committee formed to advise parliament on drafting the new constitution, who requested anonymity.

Though the committee formed to look into the Christians’ demand for burial land has been asked to present a report within two weeks, Christians suspect the panel is dragging its feet.

“The new constitution has to be promulgated by May 28, but it does not seem likely that the main political parties will be able to accomplish the task,” the Christian committee member said. “And if the constitution doesn’t materialize in time, there will be a crisis and our problem will be shelved.”

 

Hindu Nation

Adding to their unease, Christians are now facing a redoubled campaign by Hindu groups for the restoration of Hinduism as the state religion, five years after parliament declared Nepal, the world’s only Hindu kingdom, secular.

If the new constitution had been promulgated last year, it would have consolidated secularism in Nepal. But with the country missing the deadline due to protracted power-sharing rows among the major political parties, Christians still feel under threat.

On Thursday (April 14), when the country celebrated the start of the indigenous new year 2068 with a public holiday, the Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal, which seeks the reinstatement of Hinduism as the state religion, kicked off a campaign at the Bhadrakali temple in Kathmandu. As curious onlookers and soldiers patrolling the nearby army headquarters looked on, party members fervently blew into conch shells and rang bells to draw people’s attention to their demand.

The party, which is also seeking the restoration of monarchy, took some oblique shots at the Christian community as well.

“There is a deliberate and systematic attempt by organizations to convert Hindus,” said Kamal Thapa, party chief and a former minister. “These organizations are guided by foreign powers and foreign funds. If the widespread conversion of Hindus is not stopped immediately, we will have to take stern measures.”

Three days later, an umbrella of Hindu groups – the Rastriya Dharma Jagaran Mahasabha (the National Religion Resurrection Conference) held a massive gathering in the capital, declaring Nepal a “Hindu state” and meeting with no official objection. The proclamation came as the climax to a three-day public program calling for the restoration of “the traditional Hindu state.” Several Hindu preachers and scholars from neighboring India attended the program, held on the grounds of the Pashupatinath temple, which is also a UNESCO-declared World Heritage Site.

The “Hindu state” proclamation was the brainchild of Shankar Prasad Pandey, a former member of parliament from Nepali Congress, the second largest party in Nepal, now in opposition. Though Pandey was a sitting Member of Parliament in 2006, when the body unanimously declared Nepal secular, he began opposing the move soon afterwards, leading four campaigns against it nationwide.

“I consider the nation and the Hindu religion to be more important than the party,” said Pandey, known as the MP who began to go barefoot 32 years ago to show solidarity with Nepalese, who are among the poorest in the world. “Over 90 percent of the Nepalese want Nepal to be a Hindu state. However, the government is led by people whose only concern is power and money.”

Pandey’s campaign is supported by Hindu groups from India and the West: Narendranath Saraswati, who is the Shankaracharya or religious head of a prominent Hindu shrine in India’s Varanasi city; Dr. Tilak Chaitanya, chief of a group in the United Kingdom that propagates the Gita, the holy book of the Hindus; and Tahal Kishore, head of a Hindu organization, Radha Krishna Sevashram, in the United States.

Two weeks before the May 28 deadline for the new constitution, Pandey and his followers plan to step up the campaign for a “Hindu state” in the capital. Though Pandey denies it could stir up animosity between the majority-Hindus and Christians – whose minority population is said to have crossed 2 million but is actually only 850,801, according to Operation World – there are fears of religious tension if not outright violence.

The Hindu rallies continue to grow as a pressure tactic. Yesterday (April 18), members of Nepal Brahman Samaj, an organization of “upper castes” from whose echelons temple priests are appointed, fought with security forces in front of parliament house, demanding their rights be respected and an end to conversions.

More Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) campaigning is scheduled on April 29, when the Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal’s Thapa has called for a mass gathering in the capital.  

Report from Compass Direct News
http://www.compassdirect.org

Suspected Drug Traffickers Kidnap Pastor


Michoacan state church leader abducted during Sunday service.

MEXICO CITY, April 15 (CDN) — Some 500 worshippers were gathered for last Sunday’s (April 10) worship service at the Christian Center El Shaddai in the Mexican city of Lázaro Cárdenas, Michoacan at about 8:15 a.m. when four masked men burst in firing machine guns into the air.

Before the frightened believers realized what was happening, their pastor, Josué Ramírez Santiago, had been whisked away. Divergent press reports indicated the kidnappers, suspected drug traffickers active in the state, were about 10 in number.

The following day, the pastor’s family received news that the criminals wanted a ransom of 20 million pesos (US$1.7 million). Even if the family could raise such an immense sum – considered doubtful – payment would not guarantee that the victim would be returned alive.

Arturo Farela, director of the National Fraternity of Evangelical Churches, has asserted that organized crime syndicates and drug cartels have targeted Christians because they view churches as revenue centers and because churches support programs for the rehabilitation of drug addicts and alcoholics.

“The majority of rehabilitation centers that have been attacked by organized crime in Ciudad Juarez, Tijuana, Tepic and other places belong to the evangelical community,” Farela said in a declaration regarding the kidnapping of Ramirez. “Furthermore, some 100 Mexican or foreign pastors who lived in Ciudad Juarez have had to abandon the city because of the threats and demands for money. And of course many pastors and their families have been victims of extortion, threats, kidnapping and homicide.”

Farela has stated that 100 Mexican clergymen have been kidnapped in recent years, with 15 of them losing their lives to organized crime. Asked if Compass could review his records of these crimes, Farela said he was not authorized to permit it.

In numerous other cases, children of pastors have been kidnapped, including one from Matehuala, San Luis Potosi, who has not been heard from for some six months. The college-age daughter of a prominent pastor in Mexico City was held by kidnappers for a week but was released when the criminals grew tired of the father’s prayers every time they telephoned him; the family has not revealed whether money was given for her return.

Michoacan, the state where the most recent abduction took place, has been a center of much criminal activity and also of severe reprisals by elements of the Mexican army. The state where President Felipe Calderon was born, Michoacan was the first to implement an anti-drug military operation that expanded to northern and eastern states.

In spite of the operation, more than 34,600 people nationwide have reportedly been assassinated since it was implemented in December 2006, with most of those crimes tied to drug traffickers “settling accounts.”

Report from Compass Direct News
http://www.compassdirect.org