As costs mount, the government should abandon the Cashless Debit Card


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The Cashless Debit Card trial disproportionately targets Indigenous people, despite what the government says.
AAP/Richard Milnes

Elise Klein, University of Melbourne

A Senate inquiry has recommended that trials of the Cashless Debit Card be continued and expanded to new sites in other states next year. This is despite Labor and Greens senators providing separate dissenting reports that rejected the recommendation that legislation for the bill should pass.

The majority report’s proposal dramatically contrasts with most of the submissions accepted by the inquiry raising significant concerns and arguing against the trials. These submissions outline a variety of serious issues that have been largely overlooked.

What is the card?

The trials for the Cashless Debit Card began in early 2016 in Ceduna, South Australia, and the East Kimberley in Western Australia.

The card quarantines 80% of social security payments received by all working-age people (between the ages of 15 and 64) in the trial sites. It attempts to restrict cash and purchases of alcohol, illegal drugs and gambling products.

The card compulsorily includes people receiving disability, parenting, carers, unemployed and youth allowance payments. People on the aged pension, on a veteran’s payment or earning a wage are not compulsorily included in the trial, but can volunteer to take part.

The issues left unanswered

The trial disproportionately targets Indigenous people, despite the government claiming the card is for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous welfare recipients. This is disingenuous, given the card was first proposed as a key recommendation in mining magnate Andrew Forrest’s Review of Indigenous Training and Employment.

This recommendation followed various other forms of income management, including a program that was part of the Northern Territory Intervention in 2007.

The Intervention required the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act to explicitly target all Indigenous people on welfare. Concerns about human rights breaches continue, and most were overlooked by the Human Rights Joint Committee’s commentary on the Cashless Debit Card bill.

The trial of the card has increased hardship in people’s lives. This is not only because of the experiment’s disorganised and ill-conceived implementation, but also due to the trial’s design.

People are being compulsory included because there is an assumption that they engage in problematic behaviours, such as the over-consumption of alcohol, gambling, or the use of illegal drugs. But this is not the reality for most people.

Being put on the card has made people’s lives harder because limiting cash restricts people’s ability to undertake day-to-day activities to help their family’s wellbeing. This includes getting second-hand goods, paying for transport, and buying gifts.

This hardship is reflected in the final evaluation of the trial, in which 32% said their lives were worse since being on the card (only 23% said their lives were better).

Further, 48% of participants reported that the card does not help them look after their children better. This is concerning, as recently completed research into income management programs indicates a correlation with negative impacts on children – including a reduction in birth weight and school attendance.

Getting the assumptions wrong has pushed already vulnerable people into even more vulnerable situations. Medical specialists have raised concerns with the card being used to treat addiction.

Both crime and domestic assaults increased under the card in the East Kimberley. Superintendent Adams of the Kimberley Police District told the Senate inquiry that in the 12 months to June 30, 2016, there were 319 domestic assaults in Kununurra, but in the 12 months to June 30, 2017 (and the time of the trial), this figure had increased to 508.

Flawed evidence

The government used both the interim and final evaluations as key evidence to justify extending the trials.

Both evaluations have been severely criticised as being methodologically and analytically flawed: from the way interviews were conducted, to having no baseline to test government claims of success, through to an over-emphasis on anecdotal improvements and discarding important issues such as the increase in crime and domestic violence.

The decision to implement the card was not a community decision that represents the regions’ diverse interests or population. And some have had more say than others.

For example, the Miriuwung Gajerrong Corporation noted that, although the:

… Department of Social Services states that the Cashless Debit Card program was co-designed with local leaders in Kununurra … in reality, only four local leaders were consulted in relation to the introduction of the [card] in Kununurra.

Consultations themselves have not been about co-design, but have been tokenistic to convince people to support the card.

In a perverse twist, the only way people can get themselves off the trial is to get a job. Yet in both Ceduna and the East Kimberley, the biggest cause of unemployment is the lack of formal, dignified and secure jobs. Linking to unemployment, some people included in the trial are also subjected to the punitive Community Development Program. This compounds poverty, as the program’s nature induces high breaching rates.

Even if a few support the card, many more have suffered material and emotional hardship. The community has been fractured through such heavy-handed intervention. And the A$25 million spent on it has demonstrated no credible evidence of sufficient benefit to justify an ongoing rollout.

That the card continues to be pursued by government exposes its dogged obsession with implementing neocolonial and punitive policy for some imagined political gain at the expense of vulnerable people.


The ConversationThe author would like to thank professor Jon Altman and Sarouche Razi for comments on earlier drafts.

Elise Klein, Lecturer in Development Studies, University of Melbourne

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

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Instead of rebuilding stadiums, the NSW government should focus on local sport and events


Chris Gibson, University of Wollongong

The New South Wales government’s argument for spending A$2 billion rebuilding stadiums is that Sydney is losing flagship events to other state capitals, leading to fewer tourists and less media exposure. But large investments in transportation and venues are a significant drain on the public purse, often for economic returns that rarely break even.

Our research suggests that the NSW government should invest in smaller community events and sporting organisations that make use of existing facilities. We tracked 480 community events across Australia and found that they generated A$550 million in revenue.

These events also contribute more than A$10 billion a year to their local communities, support 100,000 jobs, and help build local business networks and skills.

Parkes Elvis Festival.
John Connell and Chris Gibson (2017) Outback Elvis: The story of a festival, its fans & a town called Parkes. Sydney: NewSouth Publishing

The benefits of grassroots events

In contrast to major, one-off events that require large infrastructure and marketing budgets, there are thousands of small community events across Australia every month. Each might only attract a few hundred people, but the revenue adds up.

Places that have consciously fostered grassroots community events, such as Ballarat and Hobart, enjoy healthy visitor numbers year-round, without overwhelming the local infrastructure.

Smaller community events make good use of existing facilities such as RSL clubs, showgrounds and parks. They tend to hire labour, PA systems, portaloos and catering from the local community, keeping dollars in circulation locally.

In contrast to mega-events that subcontract management to large firms, community events integrate more participation from their local communities. This not only improves local business networks, but also enhances local skills and leadership.

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The economics of large events doesn’t stack up

The evidence also overwhelmingly shows that public investment in major events isn’t worth it. Promised benefits are often exaggerated, and in the words of a recent review of the international research:

…any increased economic activity resulting from the event is routinely dwarfed by additional public budgetary commitments.


Read more: Suspended reality: the ins and outs of Rio’s Olympic bubble


Sydneysiders may have enjoyed the experience of hosting the 2000 Olympic Games, but increases in tourism and business investment failed to materialise. Rio de Janeiro is struggling with recession in the wake of its 2016 Summer Olympics. The money spent on the Olympics would probably have been better spent upgrading hospitals and other infrastructure.

This is partly why cities are backing away from hosting major sporting events. When the International Olympic Committee opened the bidding for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games, all but two cities – Paris and Los Angeles – withdrew their bids.

The fact that no other city was prepared to bid shows that the justifications for lucrative mega-events are wearing thin, both financially and politically.

Misleading numbers

The NSW government recently defended its plan to rebuild stadiums by arguing that the revenue generated by major sporting events will easily pay for itself within a few short years. Economists beg to differ.

Such estimates are typically based on conducting visitor surveys at events and asking punters to estimate their total spending. This is not good research methodology.

For one, people are consistently inaccurate at estimating their spending on the spot, only discovering the actual amount when they open their credit card statements.

It can also be hard for visitors to differentiate between money spent while at a specific event, and their spending elsewhere on their holiday.

Visitors complete surveys at the Daylesford ChillOut Festival.
Chris Gibson

We also need to subtract all of the money that would have been spent whether or not a major event takes place. This includes spending by people who live in the area, those who rescheduled travel plans to coincide with the event, and those who would have done some other activity (also known as “time-switching”) instead of going to the event.


Read more: Sydney’s stadiums debate shows sport might not be the political winner it once was


In other words, take all the Sydneysiders, casual visitors and time-switchers out of calculations of, say, weekly NRL game revenue at the Olympic or Sydney football stadia. The actual amount of “new” revenue for Sydney is much less impressive.

This is why a sober analysis of the true costs and benefits, and actual revenue numbers, are needed before governments rush to invest in major sports and event infrastructure.

The ConversationIf NSW truly wants to foster the events economy, the evidence suggests that money would be better spent on local community events and sporting organisations.

Chris Gibson, Director, UOW Global Challenges Program & Professor of Human Geography, University of Wollongong

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

Queensland finally has a government, but the path ahead for both major parties looks rocky



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This is not the clear-cut election result Annastacia Palaszczuk and Labor hoped for.
AAP/Glenn Hunt

Chris Salisbury, The University of Queensland

After going to the polls on November 25, Queenslanders finally have a state election result as Liberal National Party leader Tim Nicholls conceded defeat on Friday.

Following a four-week campaign, votes were counted for almost a fortnight until Annastacia Palaszczuk’s Labor Party was confirmed the victor. Palaszczuk is the first female premier to win back-to-back elections. In 2015, she’d become the first woman at state or federal level to lead her party to government from opposition.

But it’s not the clear-cut result Palaszczuk desired. Labor appears to have won 48 seats in the 93-member parliament to the LNP’s 39. This leaves Palaszczuk’s returned government with a slim majority and a diverse crossbench.

A complex contest

With a record field of candidates in an expanded number of electorates – many with redrawn boundaries – this shaped as a complicated election. Adding to its unpredictability was the reintroduction after 25 years of compulsory preferential voting.


Further reading: With One Nation on the march, a change to compulsory voting might backfire on Labor


While two-party-preferred swings were generally not as large as at the last two state elections, overall figures showed a fragmented statewide vote. More than 30% gave their first preferences to minor parties and independents. This exceeded the One Nation-driven protest vote in 1998.

This continues the trend of a declining primary vote for the major parties. Combined with compulsory preferencing, several electorate contests duly developed into three- or even four-horse races, extending the time needed to correctly distribute preferences and declare results. Some seats were decided only after the arrival of postal votes, up to ten days after the polling date.

Like the previous Queensland and federal elections, a close and protracted count left the government in extended caretaker mode. Voters in Queensland and the rest of Australia may need to accustom themselves to a new norm of tight, drawn-out contests, where party leaders’ election night speeches might be obsolete.

Winners and losers

Labor went into the election with a notional seat count of 48 following the redistribution. Despite a 2% decline in its statewide vote, it emerges with little change in its electoral stocks.

Gains in the state’s southeast corner at the LNP’s expense offset a few seat losses in central and north Queensland, where persistent unemployment has been a worry.

To the government’s relief, every cabinet member held their seat. Deputy Premier Jackie Trad survived one of the stronger challenges, a 10% two-party-preferred swing to the Greens in South Brisbane. Brisbane’s inner suburbs, as in other state capitals, are now highly vulnerable to a rising green tide.

The LNP suffered a negative swing of almost 8% – and even higher in parts of the southeast. High-profile casualties included shadow frontbenchers Scott Emerson, Ian Walker, Tracey Davis and Andrew Cripps in the north falling victim to erratic preference flows.

Emerson has the distinction of losing the newly created seat of Maiwar in inner Brisbane to Queensland’s first elected Greens MP, Michael Berkman.

In other firsts, Labor’s new member for Cook in far-north Queensland, Cynthia Liu, is the first Torres Strait Islander elected to any Australian parliament. Innovation Minister Leanne Enoch becomes the state’s first Indigenous MP to be returned at an election.

One Nation’s Stephen Andrew, who defeated veteran Labor MP Jim Pearce in Mirani in central Queensland, becomes the first descendent of South Sea Islander labourers to enter state parliament.

Decisive issues

Besides bread-and-butter issues of job creation, power prices and transport infrastructure, neither Palaszczuk nor Nicholls could escape the dominant themes of this election. The proposed Adani coal mine project animated voters in different parts of the state for different reasons, as did the spoiler role that Pauline Hanson’s One Nation was presumed to play.

Together, these factors reinforced an impression of “two Queenslands” in contention during the campaign.


Further reading: Adani aside, North Queensland voters care about crime and cost of living


Protests against the Adani mine’s environmental impact – and questions over its long-term economic benefit to regional communities – featured regularly once the election was called. Palaszczuk succeeded in defusing the issue to some extent early in the campaign with an abrupt declaration that she would veto federal infrastructure funding for the mine’s construction.


Further reading: Why Adani may still get its government loan


A feared backlash in places of regional discontent and high youth unemployment, like Townsville, didn’t entirely materialise, with Labor incumbents holding seats against expectations. But these concerns, in tandem with uncertainty over the Adani project, saw Labor lose Bundaberg and nearly lose the traditionally Labor-voting Rockhampton to independent candidate and former mayor Margaret Strelow.

The LNP’s position on supporting the Adani mine with public funds, and Nicholls’ prevarication over dealing with One Nation, appear to have hurt the party in Brisbane especially. But so too did Labor reminding voters of Nicholls’ role as treasurer in the Newman government.

As the election neared, Nicholls was swamped by constant questioning about cosying up to One Nation.

While always difficult to quantify, the federal Coalition government’s woes amid the same-sex marriage debate and citizenship fiasco likely did the LNP few favours.

Role of the minor parties

The Greens and One Nation capitalised on the dip in major party support, gaining significant vote shares of 10% and almost 14% respectively. However, each party won only a single seat.

Critically, both parties stripped valuable primary votes from Labor and the LNP, especially the latter’s vote in the regions. This will furrow the brows of federal Coalition MPs through this term of government. For good measure, One Nation preferences likely helped unseat some LNP MPs in the southeast.

The party’s state leader, Steve Dickson, lost out to the LNP in Buderim, while Senate outcast Malcolm Roberts didn’t present a serious threat to Labor in Ipswich.

Despite its failings, One Nation attracted more than 20% in the seats it contested and finished runner-up in two dozen of them, perhaps largely down to Hanson’s constant presence throughout the campaign.

Katter’s Australian Party (KAP), though standing candidates in only ten seats and not making much impact on the campaign, might have done best of all the minor parties. Its primary vote improved to more than 2%, gaining it another seat in Hinchinbrook on Labor and One Nation preferences.

KAP’s targeted approach might prove unwelcome news for the federal Coalition, which can expect similar levels of focused disaffection from conservative regional voters elsewhere. But a fragmenting primary vote spells trouble for all the major parties.

What next for Queensland?

Queensland now enters its first fixed-term period of government. The next election is due on October 31, 2020, with four-year terms following that.

Labor holds only 13 of 51 seats outside the Greater Brisbane area. With all seats decided, factional negotiations will now unfold to determine the make-up of Palaszczuk’s new cabinet. It’s fair to assume it will be Brisbane-centric.

With such a concentration of government MPs in the capital, Palaszczuk’s team will presumably clock up many kilometres – and spend some political capital – reassuring the regions they’re not forgotten.

In the wake of an underwhelming result for the LNP, Nicholls announced he is stepping down as party leader and won’t contest a leadership ballot early next week. The likes of David Crisafulli or Tim Mander, or potentially Deb Frecklington, loom as Nicholls’ likely successors.

Party insiders have complained that the election result proves the marriage between the formerly separate Liberal and National parties in Queensland has failed and should be broken up.


Further reading: Queensland Liberals and Nationals have long had an uneasy cohabitation, and now should consider divorce


The ConversationThe road ahead for both major parties will be anything but easy.

Chris Salisbury, Lecturer in Australian Studies, The University of Queensland

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

Dastyari demoted again – but government demands he leave parliament


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Bill Shorten has forced Labor senator Sam Dastyari to quit as opposition deputy whip in the Senate – but the government is demanding he quits parliament over his dealings with a Chinese national of interest to Australian security agencies.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull accused Dastyari of a “failure of loyalty” to Australia and said he “should get out of the Senate, full stop”.

“Dastyari has shown he does not put Australia first and he does not owe his first loyalty to Australia,” Turnbull said.

Shorten’s move against Dastyari followed the media on Wednesday revealing audio of his 2016 remarks to a local Chinese media news conference supporting China’s position in relation to the South China Sea and contradicting Labor policy.

The audio made it clear his comments were deliberate; previously he had downplayed them when a fragment was reported.

On Wednesday, it was revealed Dastyari had told business figure and political donor Huang Xiangmo that his phone was likely tapped, and they should go outside Huang’s house to have their conversation.

Dastyari has said he went to the house of Huang – who had been at his side at the news conference – to say they should not have further contact, after the controversy over money Huang provided Dastyari and the policy comments. The controversy had cost Dastyari his frontbench position.

In a statement to the Senate on Thursday morning Dastyari, who also loses his position as chairman of a Senate committee, said he had been called by Shorten on Wednesday night and “asked to resign from my position in the Labor Senate organisational leadership”.

He insisted that he had “never had a briefing by any Australian security agency ever. I’ve never passed on classified information and I’ve never been in the possession of any. As I’ve repeatedly said, if I was ever given any security advice from any agency, I would follow it to the letter.”

Dastyari said he found “the inferences that I’m anything but a patriotic Australian deeply hurtful”.

Shorten shows no sign of seeking to have Dastyari leave parliament. He could not force him to do so – all Labor could do would be to expel him from the party.

Shorten said he had not taken the decision to demote Dastyari lightly. “I told senator Dastyari that his mischaracterisation of how he came to make comments contradicting Labor policy made his position untenable.

“I also told him that while I accept his word that he never had, nor disclosed, any classified information, his handling of these matters showed a lack of judgement.

“I know that senator Dastyari will learn from this experience.”

The government is homing in particularly on Dastyari’s advice to Huang about his phone being likely tapped, and how to avoid surveillance of their conversation.

Turnbull also contrasted his behaviour with the situation of those who have had to resign because of their dual citizenship.

Senators had resigned who had no allegiance to any country other than Australia but because of a foreign law of which they weren’t aware, he said. “This is a senator who has made it abundantly clear that his first allegiance is not to Australia.”

He had taken money to pay his personal debts “from a foreign national who is very, very close indeed to a foreign government.

“Now we learn – and he has not denied it – that he has been providing counter-surveillance advice to that foreign national in order, presumably, so that what he assumed were the operations of Australia’s security agencies could be frustrated.

“Sam Dastyari has shown that he is not on Australia’s side and it’s time he got out of Australia’s parliament,” Turnbull said.

Attorney-General George Brandis told the Senate: “It is not good enough for Mr Shorten to think that he can overcome this latest embarrassment merely by, once again, temporarily benching senator Sam Dastyari.

“It is not good enough because senator Dastyari has not only compromised himself – he has compromised his office and he can no longer remain.”

The ConversationShadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong said Dastyari had done the wrong thing, but questioned how information from national security agencies had become public. She said she hoped Brandis would be “as persistent and determined to find out how that has occurred as he has to point the finger at senator Dastyari”.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/hdjfk-7dce11?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Government questions whether Dastyari fit to be a senator, in new row over Chinese donor


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten is again under pressure over the behaviour of high-profile Labor senator Sam Dastyari, who warned a political donor with Chinese Communist Party links that his phone was likely tapped.

Fairfax Media on Wednesday reported that before Dastyari and Huang Xiangmo spoke, the senator “gave Mr Huang counter-surveillance advice, saying they should leave their phones inside and go outside to speak”.

The story said the meeting last year was at Huang’s home in Sydney and occurred some weeks after Dastyari had to quit the frontbench amid controversy over his dealings with Huang, who is a Chinese citizen and an Australian permanent resident, and his contradiction of Labor policy on the South China sea.

It also happened after ASIO briefed political figures including from Labor about Huang’s opaque links to the Chinese government, the Fairfax report said.

The new controversy about Dastyari comes amid deepening security concerns about increasing Chinese interference in Australia.

The government questioned whether Dastyari should remain in the Senate, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull saying Dastyari “has very, very grave questions to answer”.

“This is a very, very serious issue of national security.” Dastyari “should really be considering his position in the Senate”, Turnbull said.

Shorten indicated he had given Dastyari a warning but did not suggest he would take any more action against him.

“I have made it clear to senator Dastyari that this is not the first time his judgement has been called into question, but I certainly expect it to be the last,” Shorten said.

Dastyari’s demotion was followed by partial rehabilitation when he became deputy Labor whip in the Senate.

Turnbull asked rhetorically: “Whose side is he on?”

“Here he is, an Australian senator who has gone to a meeting with a foreign national, with close links to a foreign government and advises that foreign national, Mr Huang, to put their phones inside to avoid the possibility of surveillance,” Turnbull said.

“Why is he trying to alert Mr Huang that perhaps Australian security agencies may have an interest in him?”

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said if the allegations were accurate, “they will show that senator Dastyari was acting against Australia’s national interest, against Australia’s national security concerns”.

This would make his position in the Senate “untenable”, she said.

Turnbull also challenged Shorten, asking why he told Dastyari “directly or indirectly, about possible interest from security services, in Mr Huang”.

Dastyari argues that his remark about the likely phone tapping was passing on press gallery gossip.

He said he had never been briefed by any security agency, or received any classified information about any matter.

“I’ve never passed on any protected security information – I’ve never been in possession of any,” he said.

He quoted a comment he had made to the ABC’s Four Corners some months ago, when he said: “After the events of last year, I spoke to Mr Huang to tell him that I did not think it was appropriate that we have future contact. I thought it was a matter of common courtesy to say this face to face. Neither my office or I have spoken to Mr Huang since.”

He said this information has been publicly available since June.

Shorten said he had not passed on any information from a security briefing to Dastyari. “However I do not believe the senator is the subject of any national security investigation.”

Dastyari had never made a secret of the fact that this meeting took place, Shorten said. “He has again confirmed that he did not pass on any classified information, because he didn’t have any.”

Peter Jennings, head of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said the incident was “as serious as it gets” and called for a public investigation.

He said that if, when he was a public servant, he had had a conversation with a foreign national warning them their phone was likely tapped, “it would have been a career-ending moment for me – probably leading to legal action”.

Jennings said over the past two to three years, “we’ve had a number of examples of Chinese involvement at senior political levels that are deeply questionable in terms of appropriateness. For the health of our democracy we have to get to the bottom of these issues.”

UPDATE

Late on Wednesday, in another damaging blow to Dastyari, audio was leaked of his remarks in June last year supporting the Chinese over the South China Sea, in flat contradiction of ALP policy.

Although a report of part of his comments had previously come out via the Chinese media, the audio, following hard on the heels of the revelation of his phone tapping warning to Huang, will be extremely damaging to him and put Shorten further on the spot.

The comments were made at a Sydney news conference for the domestic Chinese media, with Huang standing beside Dastyari.

Later, Dastyari was quoted as having said: “The South China Sea is China’s own affair, Australia should remain neutral and respect China on this matter”.

The audio indicates how deliberate his comments were and gives more precision and detail of what he said.

Dastyari says in the tape: “The Chinese integrity of its borders is a matter for China.

“And the role Australia should be playing as a friend is to know that with the several thousand years of history, thousands of years of history, where it is and isn’t our place to be involved.

“And as a supporter of China and a friend of China the Australian Labor Party needs to play an important role in maintaining that relationship and the best way of maintaining is knowing when it is and isn’t our place to be involved.”

In response to the audio, Dastyari said in a statement: “In September last year, I resigned from the ALP frontbench, over comments I made at a June 17 press conference which were wrong and not consistent with ALP policy.

“I have acknowledged this a number of times previously. I should not have made these comments at the press conference. I have acknowledged this, and I paid a price for this error.

“I expect Turnbull and the Liberals to smear me, but for he and his colleagues to suggest that I am not a true or loyal Australian is incredibly hurtful – and hurtful to all overseas-born Australians. I might’ve been born overseas, but I’m as Australian as he is.”

The ConversationHe said his last contact with Huang was 14 months ago. “I haven’t spoken to him since.”

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Turnbull backed against the wall by rebel Nationals on bank inquiry


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison appear to have become hostages to rebel Nationals determined at all costs to secure a commission of inquiry into the banks.

On Monday a second federal National, Llew O’Brien, from Queensland flagged he is likely to cross the floor in the House of Representatives to support the private member’s bill sponsored by Queensland Nationals senator Barry O’Sullivan to set up a commission of inquiry that would investigate a broad range of financial institutions.

O’Brien, who has inserted an extra term of reference to protect people with mental health issues from discrimination, said “I like what I see” in the proposed bill. But he added that he would respect his party’s process. The bill is due to go to the Nationals’ partyroom on Monday.

The bill, which has the numbers to get through the Senate, is supported in the lower house by Queensland MP George Christensen, who after Saturday’s Queensland election apologised to One Nation voters for “we in the LNP” letting them down.

Backed by Christensen and O’Brien, together with Labor and crossbenchers, the bill would have the required 76 votes to enable its consideration by the lower house – although when it can get to be debated there is not clear.

In a discussion last week – later leaked – cabinet considered whether the government should adopt a pragmatic position and give in to calls for a royal commission. But Turnbull and Morrison have refused to do so.

Now the cabinet looks like it will have to decide whether to own the process of an inquiry or have it forced on it.

If Monday’s Nationals’ party meeting endorsed the bill, that would escalate the situation dangerously for the government, unless it had softened its opposition to an inquiry. It would amount to the minor Coalition partner formally rejecting a government position.

Cabinet would have to back down, or find some other way through.

As the crisis over the banking probe deepens for the government, there is currently no-one with the authority or availability within the Nationals to manage the situation.

Barnaby Joyce remains leader but he’s absorbed in Saturday’s New England byelection, which is his path back into parliament. Senator Nigel Scullion is parliamentary leader but has little clout to curb the determined rebels.

With the commission push gaining momentum there is also less desire from some senior Nationals to fight it. Joyce is said to be relaxed about having a banking inquiry, which would be popular among voters and could be chalked up as a win for the Nationals.

The election loss in Queensland has strengthened the federal Nationals’ determination to pursue brand differentiation.

O’Sullivan has repeatedly referenced the example of Liberal Dean Smith’s use of a private member’s bill to pursue the cause of same-sex marriage, arguing he is following Smith’s pathway.

But there are still divided opinions within the parliamentary party about the bank probe. Resources Minister Matt Canavan, a member of cabinet, on Monday reaffirmed his opposition to a royal commission.

Joyce is likely to attend Monday’s party meeting although he will not be formally back in parliament by then.

Nationals are not clear whether they will elect their new deputy on Monday to replace Fiona Nash, who was ruled ineligible by the High Court because she had been a dual British citizen when she nominated. There is some speculation that this might be delayed to give aspirants time to lobby.

If there is no deputy leader chosen on Monday, it would mean that the minor party would be literally leaderless on the government frontbench in the House of Representatives. Infrastructure Minister Darren Chester would be the most senior National sitting behind Turnbull in Question Time.

Christensen on Monday launched a website with a petition seeking signatures for a banking inquiry.

“Misconduct is not in the ‘past’,” he says on the site. “It is not being fixed by the industry to a standard acceptable to the community. Although positive steps are being made by government reforms, gaps still exist.

“Enough is enough … unless the government acts to establish a royal commission, I will be acting before the end of this year to vote for a commission of inquiry into the banks.” The site also invites people “bitten by the banks” to “tell your story”.

The ConversationA commission of inquiry differs from a royal commission in being set up by and reporting to parliament, rather than being established by and reporting to the executive.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/nqtdd-7bf599?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

If Beazley had become prime minister instead of Rudd, might we have had more stable government?



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Kevin Rudd was swept into office at the 2007 federal election.
AAP/Tony Phillips

Paul Strangio, Monash University

A decade ago this month, Australian voters unceremoniously ended John Howard’s prime ministership and swept Kevin Rudd into office.

From today’s vantage point, the November 2007 federal election appears like a hinge between two political eras: one stable and marked by executive mastery; the other chaotic and characterised by confounded leadership.

In reality, some of the dynamics of recent troubles – a fastening news cycle and governments in permanent campaign mode, and a domineering Prime Minister’s Office staffed by personal loyalists – were emerging in Howard’s time.

Moreover, it’s easy to forget now that the Coalition governments of 1996-2007 suffered more than their share of political storms and that Howard, frequently lagging in the opinion polls, conjured his longevity from Houdini-like escapes at election time.

Even so, it’s difficult not to view November 2007 as a dividing line in the nation’s politics. But what if the real hinge date was December 2006, when Labor removed Kim Beazley as its leader and replaced him with Rudd? That partyroom vote ended Beazley’s second period as opposition leader.

The first began after the Keating government’s defeat in March 1996. At the next federal election of October 1998, Beazley fell just short of claiming the prime ministership, despite Labor winning the two-party-preferred vote. He stepped aside following the November 2001 election, after Labor lost ground in a contest shadowed by the September 11 attacks and Howard’s exploitation of the Tampa incident to politically weaponise the issue of border control.

Beazley was resurrected as Labor leader in January 2005, after the party had first discarded Simon Crean and then conducted an ill-fated experiment with Mark Latham.

Kim Beazley’s low-key leadership style would probably have translated into a more ordered, collegial and measured government.
AAP/Mark Graham

Beazley’s fall in December 2006 was the product of a political marriage of convenience between Rudd and Julia Gillard. In the light of the civil war that duo fought between 2010 and 2013, it is ironic that in the first flushes of their partnership they were dubbed the “dream team”.

In the recently published first volume of his autobiography, Rudd is adamant that rolling Beazley was a necessary precondition to Labor’s 2007 election victory. He refers to “consistently negative personal support levels over more than a year and a half of public opinion polling” as evidence that voters “had made their mind up” about Beazley. Where have we heard that phrase before?

In her 2014 memoir, however, Gillard admitted to retrospective misgivings about deposing Beazley:

Was I wrong in my judgement of Kim Beazley in 2006? I fear I may have been, that what I inferred as his lack of interest in the work of opposition was really a more nuanced understanding of electoral politics than I then possessed … Kim may rightly have judged that we were so likely to win that a quieter biding of time in the lead-up to election day was a better approach than strenuous political exertion.

Gillard adds:

In politics you never get to run the control test. We will never know what would have happened in a John Howard versus Kim Beazley election or what a Beazley government might have been like.

For a moment, let’s entertain a counter-factual scenario. Could Labor have won in 2007 with Beazley at the helm? Beazley had been a well-liked leader at his two previous election contests: the Australian Election Studies for 1998 and 2001 found he outrated Howard on popularity.

And, while it is true that his personal approval ratings had sagged in his second coming as leader, in the six months prior to his overthrow, Labor headed the Coalition on two-party-preferred terms in nine out of 13 Newspolls.

Julia Gillard in Question Time in 2013.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Unquestionably, Rudd’s ascension to the leadership was a shot in the arm for Labor’s poll figures. The party then surged well in front of the Coalition. Yet analyses of the 2007 election result have suggested that, despite the hoopla of Labor’s leader-focused “Kevin 07” campaign, the most decisive reasons for the Coalition’s defeat was voter hostility to its WorkChoices industrial relations regime and fatigue with a more-than-decade-old government and its prime minister.

If Beazley rather than Rudd had become prime minister in 2007, there seems little doubt that it would have been a different Labor government. The knocks on Beazley as leader, which were marshalled against him in the December 2006 ballot, were that he lacked urgency, was complacent, too congenial (he “lacked ticker” in a phrase Howard had earlier deployed against him).

Yet, by contrast to the manic, controlling and grandiose tendencies that Rudd brought to office, Beazley’s low-key leadership style would in all probability have translated into a more ordered, collegial and measured government.

Indeed, as a protégé of Bob Hawke and senior minister in his governments, Beazley had a model for how to be a successful Labor prime minister. His governing experience – he was also deputy prime minister under Paul Keating – was something that both Rudd and Gillard lacked. He certainly better understood and was more of a creature of the Labor Party than Rudd, which was another of the latter’s fatal flaws.

It is also relevant to note that the deposition of Beazley in 2006 was symptomatic of a culture of leadership disposability to which a skittish Labor succumbed when in opposition to Howard. The party changed leaders four times between 2001 and 2006. This was a culture that Labor took with it into government, desensitising it to the folly of ambushing Rudd in 2010 and then toppling Gillard in 2013.

Had Labor stilled its hand in December 2006 and Beazley become prime minister in 2007, might Australia have avoided the cycle of destructive leadership instability and political dysfunction that has disfigured the past decade?

The ConversationAs Gillard observes, we can, of course, never know what would have happened: isolating out the effects of individual agency from the complex flow of historical events is notoriously problematic. It remains, though, an intriguing notion.

Paul Strangio, Associate Professor of Politics, Monash University

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

Why Adani may still get its government loan


Brendan Gogarty, University of Tasmania

Even though Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced she would be vetoing the around A$1 billion loan to Adani for a rail link to its proposed Carmichael coal mine, funds could still flow to the company.

Currently in caretaker mode for the Queensland election, the premier would need the consent of the opposition party to exercise such a right. That is very unlikely given the LNP’s longstanding support of Adani’s mine.

This means any veto could not be exercised until late November, or more realistically, December 2017.

As the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) loan doesn’t need state approval (but rather explicit veto) it could also mean the money will make its way to Adani, without any direct action by the state government.

How would Commonwealth money make its way to Adani?

The NAIF body was established in 2016 and administers A$5 billion in Commonwealth funds. It’s been empowered to award grants to the northern states and Northern Territory for infrastructure projects. Practically, however, these jurisdictions are used as financial conduits to pass this money to large corporations operating in northern Australia.

The NAIF is established under the “tied-grants” provision of the Constitution, Section 96, which states:

…the [Commonwealth] parliament may grant financial assistance to any state on such terms and conditions as the [Commonwealth] parliament thinks fit.

This section was intended to provide for a short-term (around ten years) mechanism for central funds to be granted to the new states affected by the restructuring of national public finances, after federation. However, the Commonwealth parliament continued to use this section well into the 20th century (and increasingly today) to grant funds to cash-strapped states.

Over time, the Commonwealth started to impose terms that required the states do things that were outside of the Commonwealth’s legislative power – such as education or, indeed, infrastructure development.

The early-20th-century High Court concluded that this was acceptable, as long as the state technically consented to the terms and conditions of the grant.

While the NAIF legislation does not require such consent, under rules issued by the Commonwealth minister the NAIF has to:

… commence consultation with the relevant jurisdiction as soon as practicable after receiving an investment proposal

In Adani’s case, the Investment Rules indicate that the “jurisdiction” is the “state or territory the infrastructure project is located”, namely Queensland. The state government after reviewing project and investment may provide:

… written notification that financial assistance should not be provided to a project.

If that is the case then the NAIF is not permitted to provide the grant money to the applicant (Adani). But that doesn’t mean the state hasn’t consented to the loan.

The problem is that the High Court has never really addressed what the word “state” means in Section 96. Specifically who should the money be paid to: the “parliament of the state”; “government of the state” or, as seems to be implied in the Palaszczuk statements the “premier of the state”?

Conventionally, when we talk of “state consent” to funds, we envision a complex process by which money is paid into a central state fund under the control of state parliament. However, the NAIF legislation appears to allow for merely the state government to consent in a very minimal way, simply by passing the money directly to Adani without the state parliament ever reviewing or approving the transaction.

The NAIF legislation also doesn’t specify who in the government might consent. To date, it is the treasurer who seems to have been most actively involved in working with the NAIF, and indeed Adani. It seems that, so long as the state has been “consulted”, unless it takes active steps to stop the loan, it will go ahead.

Does Palaszczuk have a ‘veto’ power?

The premier’s reasoning for the veto is a continuation of her government’s legacy of having “no role to date in the federal government’s NAIF Loan Assessment Process for Adani” and no “role in the future”.

These statements seem to be contrary to earlier ones by the Queensland treasurer, Curtis Pitt, that the government would “do what is required” to facilitate Commonwealth funds going to Adani. In fact, as early as November 2016, Pitt declared in state parliament:

Since we came to office, we have been working very closely with the Commonwealth government to facilitate … the NAIF – in North Queensland… It is through the NAIF facility, which the state wholeheartedly supports, that Adani can get the infrastructure support that it needs.

As a result, it would seem that everything needed to pass the NAIF funds to Adani is provided for. The only thing to actively stop it is a formal, written statement by Palaszczuk to the NAIF refusing the loan (not to the prime minister as she claimed). Given Palaszczuk’s statement that she intends to write this statement, it is clear that no formal notice has yet been issued to the NAIF.

However, it would seem that a “Master Facility Agreement” between Queensland and the NAIF has already been agreed to and set up. This agreement seems to envision the treasurer of Queensland passing the money to Adani, without it ever going into the state’s bank accounts. Hence, in May this year, the Queensland treasurer confirmed that:

Our role, for constitutional reasons, is the legal financing contract, the loan agreement including the drawdown and timing, repayment of interest — all of those things have to have state involvement constitutionally.

So, unless the Queensland opposition takes the very unlikely step of agreeing to a veto, Palaszczuk would appear to lack the power to issue one herself until after the election.

The ConversationIn the interim, NAIF has no legal restrictions on issuing the loan and, with the apparent agreement of the Queensland treasury, this money is likely to flow through to Adani. While Palaszczuk can say her government gave no active assistance to Adani, without active measures to block the loan, it would certainly be a silent partner in the process.

Brendan Gogarty, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Tasmania

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

Grattan on Friday: Turnbull government reels from new twist in the Parry affair



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Malcolm Turnbull’s current mood about how all this is playing out can be easily imagined.
Dan Peled/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The sudden exit from parliament of Senate president Stephen Parry has turned into a toxic blame game, in a further sign of a government crumbling into chaos.

Malcolm Turnbull and deputy Senate leader Mathias Cormann lashed out at Parry for not publicly revealing earlier his probable British dual citizenship, confirmed this week. Then – oops. It turns out Parry had shared his circumstances with some senior colleagues.

Unsettled by the odium now flowing in his direction, Parry has revealed that when the Nationals’ Fiona Nash in August announced she’d been informed she was a British citizen by descent, he realised he likely was as well.

He spoke to “various ministers”. Though he wasn’t ordered to shut up about his situation, the tone of the conversations suggested he say nothing until the High Court ruled in the “citizenship seven” cases, with the government believing that its two ministers, Barnaby Joyce and Nash, would be found eligible to sit in parliament.

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield has confirmed he was one of the ministers Parry consulted.

“Former senator Parry mentioned to me a few weeks ago that he was endeavouring to check his family’s records,” Fifield said in a statement late Thursday. “The onus is on all senators and members to satisfy themselves of their circumstances and I encouraged senator Parry to do so. He called me on Monday to say that he had sought advice from the British Home Office and had advised the attorney-general of this.”

It is believed Fifield did not discuss the timing of the court decision with Parry.

Turnbull was not among those Parry spoke to during those weeks. His current mood about how all this is playing out can be easily imagined.

Turnbull said at a Wednesday news conference in Jerusalem that he was disappointed that Parry “didn’t make public this issue … quite some time ago”.

“I learnt about it probably about the same time you did,” he told journalists.

He wasn’t the only one badly caught out. Brandis had declared he had “absolutely no reason to believe” there were any more Coalition MPs who were dual citizens. That was on Sunday television – just a day before Parry landed a grenade in his lap on Monday.

Brandis that day informed the Prime Minister’s Office, but the information was not passed on immediately to Turnbull. Why? It is said because of the lack of clarity at that stage about the facts.

What an incredible train of events. Instead of telling the Senate’s presiding officer that he should be transparent, for the sake of the integrity of both the government and the parliament, senior government members allegedly encouraged him to wait and see.

This can only reinforce the public’s deep distrust of politicians.

Richard Goyder, outgoing managing director of Wesfarmers, spoke for many when told the National Press Club (before the Parry blowback) that the affair was “almost the straw which broke the camel’s back” on trust.

“To have someone in a position of real authority in the country sit on information, and even sit on it from the prime minister, and then hope bad news went away … and not deal with it – I do think that has an impact,” he said.

And now what started out as Parry’s failure to disclose in timely fashion has morphed into something with hints of a cover up by ministers. The opposition has been given another break.

It hardly seemed possible this week could be as bad as last, which saw the Michaelia Cash-AWU debacle and the High Court blow that felled two ministers, triggering a byelection in Joyce’s New England seat. But it has been.

The Parry affair has turbo-charged the pressure for an audit of all MPs’ parliamentary eligibility, with some Liberal MPs jumping on the bandwagon, using it as leverage in the internal Liberal wars.

Kevin Andrews, a political enemy of Turnbull, said on Sky that “Australians are looking for strong and decisive leadership” – adding that if he were prime minister, he’d be asking the Australian Electoral Commission to do an audit.

Eric Abetz also backed an audit, declaring in an interview with the ABC “chances are” more dual citizens are in parliament. For good measure, Abetz, though defending Parry, said he’d have advised him to “have thrown his lot in with the other seven”.

The government has dug in against an audit, arguing it would be complex and that it’s up to individuals to check out their citizenship, or for others to bring forward allegations.

Turnbull was typically hyperbolic. “What is an audit?” he asked. “Does that mean that somebody is going to undertake extensive genealogical research on every member of parliament and senator? Undertake extensive research into foreign laws?”

Well, actually, the auditor would ask the questions that careful candidates now ask themselves and any experts to whom they may need to turn.

Obviously there’s a real fear in the government that an audit could find more MPs in breach and lead to further byelections, at worst threatening the government and at best causing a shambles. With its back against the wall, it’s been a mercy for the Coalition that Labor – probably also nervous despite having good checking processes – has been (so far) on a unity ticket in opposing an audit.

Adding to the government’s pain this week has been Liberal-National scuffling over who’ll get Parry’s lucrative post, and ugly Liberal in-fighting as conservative enemies of cabinet minister Christopher Pyne, a moderate who is a ferocious factional player, tossed out dirt about him.

The scrapping over the Senate presidency is likely to be resolved in favour of the Liberals, but it highlights the present unhelpful tensions between the Coalition partners. Equally unhelpful is the assault against Pyne, which has a further negative spin off for the South Australian Liberals, already struggling ahead of next year’s state election.

The ConversationThe Turnbull government has become like a plane with its engines stalled, hurtling groundwards, with hopes of repowering frustrated at every turn.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Why the government was wrong to reject an Indigenous ‘Voice to Parliament’



File 20171026 13367 16x3jf2.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Indigenous people feel powerless in their own country, as articulated in the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
AAP

Harry Hobbs, UNSW

Indigenous leaders have decried Malcolm Turnbull’s rejection of the Referendum Council’s recommendations as a “real kick in the guts”, having “broken First Nations’ hearts”, and derailed the process and likelihood of Indigenous constitutional recognition.

The council had recommended a referendum be held to change Australia’s Constitution to establish an Indigenous “Voice to Parliament”. While details were to be worked out in discussion with Indigenous communities, it was envisaged that such a body would empower Indigenous people to have a voice on legislation and policy that affects them.

This idea followed an 18-month process of consultation and debate, including six months of regional dialogues with Indigenous people across Australia. At these dialogues, Indigenous people documented their feelings of voicelessness in Australian politics.

The process culminated in a constitutional convention at Uluru, where around 250 delegates agreed to the Uluru Statement from the Heart.


Further reading: Listening to the heart: what now for Indigenous recognition after the Uluru summit?


Why was the Voice to Parliament rejected?

Turnbull, Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion and Attorney-General George Brandis set out the three reasons why cabinet rejected the Voice to Parliament.

  • First, the government did not believe such a body was “desirable”, arguing that the “radical” proposal undermines equality and the principle of one-person one-vote.

  • Second, the government considered it was unclear how the Voice to Parliament would work.

  • Third, and consequently, the government argued that it would “inevitably become seen as a third chamber of parliament” and would therefore not be “capable of winning acceptance in a referendum”.

These reasons mirror those of an Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) research brief that was distributed to all federal MPs in July this year. The IPA argued an Indigenous voice to parliament is “radical”, “divisive and undemocratic”, and “vague”.

The IPA noted further that “Indigenous Australians already have a voice to parliament” – like all citizens, they have an opportunity to vote in elections.

Are these reasons fair?

The government’s reasons have been attacked as “dishonest” and “disingenuous”.

The Voice to Parliament was widely regarded as modest change. Instead of a judicially enforced prohibition on racial discrimination, the body was designed to provide “active participation in the democratic life of the state”.

This is important. The body would actually rectify a persistent democratic fault in Australian society. Although Indigenous people enjoy “full equality” in the electoral arena, their position as an extreme numerical minority makes it difficult for them to be heard by government.

As the Uluru statement articulates, Indigenous people feel powerless in their own country. A Voice to Parliament would merely empower:

… the First Peoples of Australia to speak to the parliament and to the nation about the laws and policies that affect them.

In this sense, such a body would not challenge Australian democracy. It would instead realise its ideals. For this reason, it was supported by many constitutional conservatives.

Further, it is unfair to dismiss the proposal as lacking detail, as it was shaped to allow parliament to design the body. In any case, issues of design had not been ignored. The Cape York Institute provided a 78-page report to government detailing design options.

Finally, in defending the decision not to proceed to a referendum, Scullion said the government knew it “would have absolutely zero chance of success”. It is unclear, however, how the government knows this for certain.

Scullion explained further that:

I don’t need evidence … we have done a lot of polling, not on this particular [] matter, but on other matters.

Ultimately, it is impossible to tell whether the body would achieve support at a referendum. Although many surveys indicate support for constitutional change, they were all conducted in the absence of a specific proposal. No polling has been done on a Voice to Parliament.

Where to now for constitutional recognition?

A Voice to Parliament is not yet dead. At the Garma Festival in August, Bill Shorten committed to the body, recognising that it represents a strong consensus aspiration of Indigenous people.

However, without government support, a referendum will not be held.

The government has said it will establish a joint parliamentary committee with the opposition to examine alternative proposals for constitutional change to benefit Indigenous people. It remains:

… confident that we can … develop constitutional amendments that will unite our nation rather than establish a new national representative assembly open to some Australians only.

But it is difficult to see how this is possible.

Indigenous people were asked directly what recognition meant to them. They have responded, and the government has dismissed their views. It is likely, then, that Indigenous people will campaign against a proposal devised by parliament. They will continue to push for a “voice”. Their struggle does not end.

Treaty, now?

The Uluru statement also proposed the establishment of a Makarrata Commission. The commission would supervise a process of agreement-making between Indigenous people and governments, and truth-telling about Australia’s colonial past.

It is not yet clear whether Turnbull supports these proposals. However, to some degree, it is immaterial.

Steps toward treaties have already been made in several Australian states and territories. Indigenous people in Victoria and South Australia are discussing how negotiations with state governments should be conducted. The Northern Territory has also committed to a process of treaty negotiations.


Further reading: Will treaties with Indigenous Australians overtake constitutional recognition?


Treaties are constitutional recognition. They can also be realised without a referendum.

Treaties have long been a desire of Indigenous people. However, they have re-emerged in recent years as Indigenous people have become frustrated at the national process of constitutional recognition. It is only natural that efforts will redouble in this area.

But while treaties are important, they will not empower Indigenous peoples at the national level. A Voice to Parliament remains a key aspiration.

In the Uluru statement, Indigenous people invited non-Indigenous Australians to:

… walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.

The ConversationThe Turnbull government has chosen to ignore this call. But there’s still time for the rest of us to accept this invitation.

Harry Hobbs, PhD Candidate, Constitutional Law and Indigenous Rights, UNSW

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