Pauline Hanson stymies inquiry into Angus Taylor’s intervention on endangered grasslands


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Pauline Hanson has saved Energy Minister Angus Taylor from an inquiry into his intervention over endangered grasslands, with a Labor motion defeated 33-32 in the Senate.

Earlier Taylor defended his intervention in a statement to the House of Representatives, insisting he had obtained a meeting with officials on the grasslands in response to representations from local farmers, and there was no canvassing of the compliance issues that were on foot relating to land in which he had an interest.

The opposition continued to pursue Taylor in question time, but it was already clear it would not have the numbers in the Senate for the inquiry. Hanson said One Nation, which has two votes, would not back a “witch hunt”. Labor’s motion had the support of the Greens, Centre Alliance and Jacqui Lambie. The other crossbencher, Cory Bernardi, voted with the government.

In 2017 Taylor sought a briefing on the classification as endangered of the natural temperate grassland. The environment minister at the time was Josh Frydenberg who was not, however, at the meeting that occurred in response to Taylor’s representation.

At the time there was an investigation into the clearing of a section of the grassland on the property of the company Jam Land Pty Ltd, of which Taylor’s brother Richard is a director. Angus Taylor has an interest in Jam Land through his family company.

Taylor told parliament that when he took up the matter there “had been strong antagonism expressed by the farming community about federal and state native vegetation regulation.”




Read more:
Government pulls out all stops to prevent inquiry into Angus Taylor


In late 2016 and early 2017 he had spoken with farmers in his Hume electorate and nearby about their worries with the listing of the grassland.

“On 21 February 2017, I spoke with a farmer near Yass who expressed strong and detailed concerns about the revised listing, pointing out that it had occurred despite the concerns of the National Farmers’ Federation and NSW Farmers, and with little consultation with farmers themselves,” he said.

“All of these farmers were completely disconnected from our family farming operations.”

Taylor said the revised listing of the grassland – which is in both the Hume and Eden-Monaro electorates – “would ultimately halt pasture improvement and efficient weed control across the Southern Tablelands and Monaro” and “has the potential to do untold damage to agricultural productivity throughout the region”.

“I sought a briefing on the revised listing from the then minister’s office, which I made clear was not to include any discussion of compliance matters.”

Taylor said FOI documents already released showed that an official had written that the meeting was “to answer questions on the technical aspects of the listing outcome”, and would “stay out of completely” any compliance action underway.

This was how the meeting had gone, Taylor said. “At no time during this meeting, was any compliance matter, or any personal interest of mine, discussed. At that meeting we discussed precisely what the department had said we would discuss.”

The opposition pressed Taylor to produce any correspondence from complaining farmers. Nothing was forthcoming.




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: A kinder, gentler Senate – at least for now


Labor’s Senate leader Penny Wong accused Taylor of using his ministerial position to “shore his investments up”.

She told the Senate: “Mr Morrison says Mr Taylor has one KPI, to be the minister for lower prices. But he is the minister to increase the value of his own investments.

“Angus Taylor failed to declare a direct financial interest in a company [in the declaration of interests register]. But worse, he then used his position, as a minister, to defend that company’s interests after it was accused of breaking the law.”The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Government pulls out all stops to prevent inquiry into Angus Taylor



Energy Minister Angus Taylor is under pressure over a potential Senate enquiry.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government has lobbied crossbenchers with fresh material in a last minute effort to head off a Senate inquiry into Angus Taylor’s intervention on endangered grassland.

It is expected to produce the material publicly on Monday before the Senate is due to decide whether to establish the inquiry.

Earlier story

Pauline Hanson’s One Nation has become the decisive player in whether Energy Minister Angus Taylor’s actions over NSW endangered grassland are probed by a Senate inquiry.

Taylor, seen by the opposition as a weak parliamentary performer, came under sustained attack in question time last week and faces continued heat.

Labor is putting him under pressure on two fronts – his interest through a family company in a farm that is under investigation for land clearing, and his portfolio issues of high energy prices and rising emissions.

In 2017 – when Josh Frydenberg was environment minister – Taylor sought a government briefing on the classification as endangered of the natural temperate grassland. He says he was acting on representations from constituents in his NSW seat of Hume.

There was an investigation at the time into the poisoning of a section of the grassland on the property of the company Jam Land Pty Ltd, of which Taylor’s brother Richard is a director. Angus Taylor has an interest in Jam Land through his family company. Although Taylor’s declaration of interests lists his family company, it does not include that company’s interest in Jam Land. Taylor says this omission is within the rules.

A compliance officer was at the briefing.

Under the Labor motion to be moved on Monday a Senate inquiry would examine

  • whether a compliance investigation by the environment department in relation to the natural temperate grassland of the south eastern highlands ecological community had been adversely affected by the actions of Taylor, Frydenberg, or anyone else.

  • whether the conduct of Taylor and Frydenberg, in relation to the compliance investigation, represented “a proper and disinterested exercise of their responsibilities”.

The opposition last week failed in its move for an inquiry. But since then, Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick has signalled a change of mind.

Patrick had been dissuaded from backing an inquiry by material the government showed him. He has subsequently decided the material is irrelevant, saying that after studying the reporting on the issue and federal and NSW FOIs “I am now prepared to support an inquiry”.

This change leaves One Nation as crucial – the motion won’t pass if it opposes. Pauline Hanson did not support Labor’s push last week, but on Sunday was being coy.

One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts said on Sunday night the party was still weighing its position and would decide on Monday morning.

“We’re not going to allow ministers to get away with an abuse of power. But we’re not going to allow witch hunts,” he said.

He said the issue had been hurting farmers since the Howard government caused the problem by driving, through the states, native vegetation legislation “that stole farmers’ property rights”.

“Angus has been caught up in this – now that he’s involved, the government is interested, ” Roberts said.

Taylor accused Labor of a “grubby smear campaign”

“My indirect interest in Jam Land Pty Ltd has been widely reported in the media, and was declared in accordance with the rules,” he said. “I have had no association with the compliance action, and I have never made representation in relation to it.” He said he had been “sticking up for the farmers in my electorate”.

Labor’s climate spokesman Mark Butler said Taylor was “embroiled in a growing scandal over whether or not he sought to interfere in a compliance action, by his own department, over illegal land clearing on a property in which he had a financial interest which he had not disclosed.

“He had not disclosed that financial interest to the parliament, to the Australian people and it would appear not even to the Prime Minister.”The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Joyce could be facing waves at a judicial inquiry after the election


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

It’s hard to believe Barnaby Joyce really wants to lead the Nationals again. Of course everyone knows he does, desperately, but his unhinged ABC interview with Patricia Karvelas on Monday showed a breathtaking absence of political judgement or personal restraint.

Joyce went on the program to defend his conduct in the 2017 A$79 million water buyback from two Queensland properties owned by Eastern Australia Agriculture (EAA).

Regardless of how his approval of this deal will ultimately be judged, his shouting, interruptions and at times absurd language drowned out any chance of his getting his points across.

Joyce loyalists will see it as Barnaby-being-Barnaby. But it was further reason for Nationals to despair about the parlous state of their party, as they watch an ineffective leader and an out-of-control aspirant.

The Joyce interview made it harder for the government to manage this big distraction in a messy second campaign week.

The controversy over the water purchase is based on an old story; the election has enabled it to be resurrected for a powerful fresh spin around the political circuit.

Water expert Quentin Grafton, professor of economics at the Crawford School at the Australian National University, lays out the issues.

Grafton estimates the Commonwealth paid about $40 million too much for this water. He identifies three areas of concern: the government’s failure to get value for money (remembering this was floodwater, which is unreliable); the lack of transparency in the deal, and the nature of the process – a negotiated sale rather than an open tender.

Much has been made of EAA being a subsidiary of Eastern Australian Irrigation (EAI), which is based in the Cayman Islands, a tax haven. This does, however, seem an irrelevance in the context of the value for money issue.

Also, it is one thing to say tax avoidance structures should be cracked down on, quite another to suggest the government should decline to deal with a company with a structure that accords with the law.

There has also been talk about Energy Minister Angus Taylor. As a business consultant Taylor helped set up the two companies and was a director of each.

But according to Taylor’s office he ended all links before entering parliament, never had a direct or indirect financial interest in EAA or any associated company, had no knowledge of the water buyback until after it happened, and received no benefit from this transaction.

So the questions in this affair centre on the conduct of the Agriculture Department and its then minister.

Grafton says: “Either the public servants were incompetent in relation to understanding value for money – or there’s an alternative explanation.”

The department is sensitive, taking the unusual step during Easter (and in the “caretaker” period) of issuing a statement defending its actions. It said it had done “due diligence”. The water purchase had been consistent with Commonwealth Procurement Rules “and paid at a fair market rate, as informed by independent market valuation,” the statement said.




Read more:
Australia’s ‘watergate’: here’s what taxpayers need to know about water buybacks


Joyce is known in general to have been a meddling minister.

In this case, he insists he followed departmental advice in approving the purchase, and had been at arms length from the deal.

“My role was never to actually select a purchaser or to determine a price,” he told a Tuesday news conference. But he approved the authority to negotiate without tender, and imposed conditions, including having the department report back to him before finalising the deal.

The current Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, David Littleproud, tried to stem the damage on Tuesday by asking the Auditor-General to inquire into the matter. Littleproud added a political twist, requesting the audit to look back as far as 2008, to encompass Labor’s period.

But this wasn’t going to satisfy Labor in an election campaign.

The opposition had demanded documents by the end of Tuesday; predictably, it didn’t get what it wanted.

Bill Shorten had already flagged the need for a judicial inquiry.

Late Tuesday, environment spokesman Tony Burke accused Scott Morrison of “trying to cover up his government’s incompetence, chaos and potential misconduct”.

“It is now clear that there needs to be an independent inquiry into the Eastern Australia Agriculture scandal, with coercive powers so that Australians can get the truth,” Burke said. (That inquiry, however, wouldn’t be probing Labor deals.)

If Labor wins on May 18, yet again we will see a government launch an investigation into the conduct of its predecessor. If this comes to pass, Joyce will find himself in the witness box, a prospect he seems to relish – at least now.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

ABC and SBS are not distorting media market, government inquiry finds


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government’s inquiry into whether the ABC and SBS are competing
fairly with the private sector’s media operators has given a tick to
the public broadcasters.

The report concluded: “Given their market shares, and other factors, this inquiry considers the National Broadcasters are not causing significant competitive distortions beyond the public interest”. But it did see the need for greater transparency from them.

The review arose from a 2017 deal between the government and Pauline
Hanson to get One Nation support for media law changes which
liberalised ownership rules. It has been chaired by Robert Kerr,
formerly from the Productivity Commission. The report was released by
Communications Minister Mitch Fifield on Wednesday.

The outcome will be disappointing to News Corp in particular which has
been highly critical of the ABC’s expansion in online publishing. The
former Fairfax organisation, now taken over by Nine, also complained
about the competition eating into the market of commercial media
groups.

The report said: “Competitive neutrality seeks to ensure that
competition is not distorted by public entities taking inappropriate
advantage of government ownership.

“It is not intended to prevent public entities from competing, nor to
relieve discomfort from competitive processes which are bringing
benefits to consumers as they rapidly adopt and enjoy new services”.

The inquiry found the broadcasters’ business activities in order; they
were “abiding by a best endeavours approach to competitive
neutrality.” It suggested there should be some improvements in
transparency and internal procedures.

Beyond that, “the question arises as to how competitive neutrality
principles about competing fairly without distortion might apply to
the free services delivered by the ABC and SBS.

“Free ABC and SBS services are having some competitive impact.
Submissions included complaints about the ABC’s online news service
and SBS’ multi-channel and streaming services. But the National
Broadcasters are established and funded to provide free services. So
long as they operate within their statutory Charters they are
operating in the public interest”.

The report said submissions questioned whether the broadcasters were
operating within their charters. But, it said, these charters were
very broad, and reporting against them “is not detailed or robust
enough to settle doubts”.

“Accountability is difficult, especially as there is no opportunity
for Charter complaints to be addressed”.

The broadcasters should improve their reporting of charter performance
in the context of competitive neutrality. “If this enhanced reporting
does not occur, the government should consider a way of managing
complaints about Charter performance in this area,” the report said.

“While the National Broadcasters are not prohibited from competing,
some improvements in the way they interact with markets should be
contemplated”.

The report also said the government should consider options for a
longer term funding framework for the national broadcasters,
accompanied by increased transparency and accountability.

Fifield said he recognised the broadcasters’ charters were broad and
allowed flexibility in how their boards implemented them.
“It is now up to the national broadcasters to act on these
recommendations,” he said.

Labor’s communications spokeswoman Michelle Rowland said the
government’s “fishing expedition” had spent half a million dollars to
establish what the public broadcasters had said all along – that they
“are operating in a manner consistent with the general principles of
competitive neutrality.

“Australians trust and value the ABC and SBS and should not have to
foot the bill for Mitch Fifield and Pauline Hanson’s vendetta against
public broadcasting,” she said.

Also in return for Hanson’s support the government agreed to bring in
legislation to require the ABC to be “fair” and “balanced” in its
coverage.

Under the legislation, the board would be required “to ensure that the
gathering and presentation by the Corporation of news and information
is fair, balanced, accurate and impartial according to the recognised
standards of objective journalism.”

But the legislation is bogged down, with no chance of being passed
before the election.

The government has yet to appoint a new ABC chair, after the implosion
within the organisation involving the board sacking managing
director Michelle Guthrie and the resignation of Justin Milne as chair
amid a row over editorial interference.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Inquiry finds Husar behaved badly to staff but dismisses allegations of lewd conduct


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The inquiry into Labor MP Emma Husar’s conduct has upheld complaints that she behaved unreasonably towards her staff, but rejected claims of lewd conduct and misleading the parliament.

These are the central findings of the independent assessment by barrister John Whelan, commissioned by the NSW Labor party. The party said the legal advice, based on this assessment, was that there was “no basis” for Husar to resign from parliament.

Husar, who is in her first term, announced this week she would quit at the election.

NSW Labor issued a summary of the Whelan inquiry’s findings on Friday.




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: Turnbull is trying to turn Emma Husar story into a Bill Shorten narrative


The assessment said the allegation of misuse of public entitlements should be referred to the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority for audit, and noted Husar had advised she was referring herself.

It found allegations of sexual harassment, on the balance of probabilities and Briginshaw Standard, were not supported. Nor were claims that she behaved in a lewd manner in the office of Labor frontbencher Jason Clare.

But complaints that staff performed non-work related and personal duties for Husar had merit – “even accounting for the particular nature of political offices”. They should be referred to the Department of Finance’s Ministerial and Parliamentary Services for advice about the appropriate employment guidelines issued to MPs, the assessment said.

It also found merit in complaints that “staff were subjected to unreasonable management, including unreasonable communication, demands, practices and disciplinary methods”.

The assessment outlined the two contrasting perceptions of what had happened that it had been given.

Husar argued “she manages appropriately to achieve higher standards of performance and loyalty. And does so under a heavy workload, intense personal stress and a desire to serve Western Sydney and in particular the cause of victims of domestic violence.”

But the men and women who made complaints “perceive and allege they have found much of the member’s management offensive and unreasonable”.

“After considering all sides of the relevant issues the assessment has generally favoured the complainant’s perception of events.”

The inquiry recommended Ministerial and Parliamentary Services review the accessibility of the current electorate office staff complaints resolution process.

It also said Husar, who is on extended leave, and Finance’s Ministerial and Parliamentary Services should be asked to develop a “return to work” plan, covering timing, training, staff needs and office support.

The assessment condemned as “reprehensible” the release publicly of selected allegations.

It said there were concerns for the wellbeing of many involved and counselling was being made available.

The full assessment – which emphasised the need for a “de-escalation” – will not be released.

Husar said the report had cleared her “of the most malicious and damaging of allegations, which were not only baseless but leaked to media.”

“I don’t believe any of these should have cost me my reputation, my job, or humiliated me and my children, ” she said.

“This has been trial by media, gossip and innuendo.

“I am gutted that the willingness of certain individuals, and certain parts of the media, to defame me on vexatious and unfounded accusations, has caused so much personal, emotional and professional damage to me, so much hurt to those close to me, and political harm to the party I love, have supported and worked so hard for.”

The ConversationShe said she was confident that if she had been given the opportunity to respond to all allegations in full, without the public attacks, she would have been able to put the matter behind her and continue to serve her electorate of Lindsay.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Expenses authority can’t tell Joyce when his travel expenses inquiry will end


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority (IPEA) has told Barnaby Joyce it can’t give him a finish date for the audit into his travel and related expenses, citing the difficulties of an aging system and consulting third parties.

The audit has been underway since early this year, sparked by the controversy around his affair with his former staffer and now partner Vikki Campion. Eventually the row around the affair, which was accompanied by allegations of sexual harassment, saw Joyce resign as Nationals leader and deputy prime minister.

On May 22 Joyce, who has answered multiple questions from the IPEA, wrote to the authority asking where the audit was up to.

The authority’s CEO Annwyn Godwin said in a reply dated May 24 that it was progressing matters “as quickly and with as little formality as a proper consideration of the issues allows”. She said the authority was aware of the outcome’s potential impact “on the reputation and credibility of all involved”.

The IPEA was working “with aging systems and this requires manual integration of a variety of different data sets and information sources,” she wrote.

“It is therefore important that care and attention is given to cross referencing and substantiating details where appropriate.

“This cross referencing may require sourcing additional information from third parties adding to the timeframes overall.

“Due to our current engagement with a number of third parties, and noting the members of the authority must consider and deliberate upon the audit findings, I am unable to give you a definitive date by which the audit will be complete.

“I can however assure you that I consider it in everyone’s best interests that the audit is finalised as soon as possible,” the letter said.

Joyce said in his reply that as an accountant, he understood the issues with audit process.

But he said that “an extenuated period of no conclusion” risked the audit possibly being branded a “fishing expedition”.

Joyce has said his expenses were done by members of his staff and then checked by him to avoid mistakes in claims.

The ConversationThe Nationals launched an inquiry into the sexual harassment allegation, but Joyce has not yet received an outcome on that, either.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

News outlets air grievances and Facebook plays the underdog in ACCC inquiry



File 20180507 166906 1x6rsur.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The ACCC inquiry looks at the impact of digital platforms on the supply of news and journalistic content.
Shutterstock

Andrew Quodling, Queensland University of Technology

The recent Cambridge Analytica scandal and congressional testimony of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has brought global attention to the power and influence of Facebook as a platform. It has also invigorated discussions about how such platforms should be regulated.

Meanwhile, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has been conducting an inquiry into the influence of digital platforms on media and advertising markets in Australia.




Read more:
Google and Facebook cosy up to media companies in response to the threat of regulation


Submissions to the inquiry by a range of media outlets, advertisers, as well as Google and Facebook, were published last week. Although Facebook has expressed interest in participating in regulatory debates, its submission is a disappointing early indication of how we might expect the company to downplay its magnitude and its roles in future regulatory debates.

The purpose of the inquiry

Late in 2017, the Federal Treasurer, Scott Morrison, directed the ACCC to conduct the inquiry into digital platforms, including search engines, social networks and other aggregators. As part of the ongoing inquiry, the ACCC will consider:

the impact of digital platforms on the supply of news and journalistic content and the implications of this for media content creators, advertisers and consumers.

It came about as a result of negotiations between the government and the former independent Senator Nick Xenophon. Xenophon insisted on the inquiry in exchange for his support for the government’s changes to Media Ownership laws.

To some extent, the inquiry retreads familiar ground. Old anxieties about declining revenues for journalistic organisations and the advent of internet technologies and internet-focused stakeholders continue a conversation that has been going for well over a decade.

News outlets air grievances

In total, the ACCC published 57 submissions. This includes contributions from most major Australian media organisations, industry bodies, unions and advertisers.

Many respondents took the opportunity to criticise the narrow scope of the inquiry. The inquiry’s scope is somewhat frustrating considering the complexities digital platforms present. They impact not just media and journalism markets, but also aspects of political, social and everyday life.

While the ABC’s submission was generally favourable in its discussion of online platforms, other Australian media organisations used the inquiry as an opportunity to air grievances about the impact of digital platforms.




Read more:
Government regulation of social media would be a cure far worse than the disease


News Corp accused the platforms of abusing the local market and engaging in anti-competitive practices. Commercial Radio Australia pointed to a lack of regulation compelling transparent and structured audience metrics. Nine complained of declining revenues and a lack of platform-specific regulations, while Foxtel raised the issue of copyright infringement.

Seven West Media and Ten argued that there is a barrier to entry imposed on traditional publishers by the significant existing collection of personal data that platforms like Facebook and Google can leverage.

The platforms respond

In their submissions, Facebook and Google both attempted to build a narrative that emphasised how the tools and systems they provide can empower journalists and other content creators. Meanwhile, they minimised or outright ignored the opportunity to discuss the broader concerns of the broadcasters, publishers and individuals who are stakeholders in the industries Facebook and Google are operating in.

Google’s short response to the inquiry is not particularly interesting, in part due to its brevity and its focus on championing Google’s notionally positive influence for publishers. Facebook had significantly more to say in its 56 page submission, which also gives context to Mark Zuckerberg’s recent comments welcoming the potential for regulation.

Facebook plays the underdog

Facebook’s submission reveals how the company portrays itself to regulators, with an interesting element of self-deprecation. Take for example, the statement that:

Facebook is popular, but it is just one small part of how Australians connect with friends, family and the world around us.

Given a user-base that dwarfs the population of, well, even the most populous countries, Facebook’s most compelling option for presenting itself as an underdog in this space is to compare itself by share of “attention”, rather than share of market.

Facebook presents “multi-homing” – the practice of having and using a variety apps on your phone – as a key concern. It paints a picture of precarity in a marketplace that they dominate.




Read more:
How to regulate Facebook and the online giants in one word: transparency


Facebook’s arguments about competition also ring hollow because the platform’s design and scale allows it to benefit from significant network effects.

Put simply, a network effect is when existing and new users benefit from the growth of a network. A familiar example of these effects can be seen in the services of mobile phone network providers. Telstra and Optus provide cheaper, or no-cost calls or messaging between customers of their own service.

But the similarities end there. While you could still call a friend with a competing mobile phone provider, there is no such interoperability with platforms like Facebook. This design helps Facebook protect its market power by keeping total control over the Facebook platfom’s network.

If you decide to leave Facebook, you sever the connections between yourself and other users of the platform. Given Facebook’s focus on augmenting social functions this can, quite literally, be an ostracising endeavour. In spite of both the recent Cambridge Analytica revelations, and several #deletefacebook campaigns, we’re yet to see a significant exodus of users from the platform.

A disappointing response

Facebook has a colossal user base. Over two billion people use the platform each month, and almost three quarters of those people use Facebook on a daily basis. It owns Instagram and WhatsApp – each of which are profoundly successful platforms in their own right.

The ConversationFacebook is a titan of this industry, and the sooner it stops pretending to be a bit player, the richer our discourse about platforms and their role in society can become.

Andrew Quodling, PhD candidate researching governance of social media platforms, Queensland University of Technology

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

The politics behind the competitive neutrality inquiry into ABC and SBS


Denis Muller, University of Melbourne

Last September, One Nation leader Pauline Hanson made a deal with Malcolm Turnbull’s government: You give me an inquiry into the ABC and I’ll support the changes you want to make to media ownership laws.

The government agreed to do this in the form of an inquiry into the ABC’s competitive neutrality – and broadened it to include SBS.

It was clear at the time this had the potential to do real damage to the national broadcaster.

Competitive neutrality principles say an organisation should not enjoy an undue competitive advantage by virtue of it being government-funded. It is suitably arcane camouflage for an inquiry whose real purpose is to put pressure on the ABC over its news service, which Hanson had alleged was biased against her.

It was Hanson’s way of getting revenge on the ABC for its pursuit of her over the issue of funding for her senate re-election campaign in 2016.

And now we know the shape of this competitive neutrality inquiry. We know who is conducting it, and last week we got to see the issues paper that the inquiry put out, which tells us what it is going to cover.

Scope of the inquiry

The chair is Robert Kerr, who has a Productivity Commission background and impeccable credentials as a free-market economist. Joining him in the inquiry are Julie Flynn, a one-time ABC reporter who used to be CEO of the commercial TV lobby group Free TV Australia, and Sandra Levy, the former head of television at ABC.

This all seems perfectly reasonable, until you remember this is mainly about online media. In that case, why have two people with television backgrounds on the panel?

Online is where the real action is now. Data from the Australian Communications and Media Authority included in the issues paper show just how dramatic the shift has been from traditional television viewing to digital online platforms for media consumption. In 2017, Australians aged 18-34 spent an average of 9.2 hours per week watching video content online compared to just 3.8 hours watching free-to-air television.




Read more:
In the debate about Australian content on TV, we need to look further than the ABC


Mark Scott foresaw this when he was managing director of the ABC and drove the broadcaster hard into the digital sphere. He realised that if the ABC was not a relevant provider of digital content online, it would soon cease to be relevant.

That’s why the other big media players, especially Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, have lobbied relentlessly to have the ABC’s wings clipped in this arena. Hanson, wittingly or not, played right into News Corp’s strategy.

As for the issues paper, the giveaway is on page 11.

There, it refers to the requirement in the ABC Act that the ABC “take account of the broadcasting services provided by the commercial and community broadcasting sectors of the Australian Broadcasting system.” In other words, the ABC is discouraged from just replicating what the commercial broadcasters do.

In that context, the paper then addresses this question to the ABC: How does it apply this requirement specifically to its on-air, iView and online news services? Nothing else. Not its drama or documentaries or narrative comedy or children’s programs. Just its news services.

The reason? That’s the part of the ABC that Hanson detests. So there’s the pay-off.

There are some broader competition questions, as well, but the only part of its vast portfolio the ABC is specifically asked about is its news output. Yet, if there is one category of program content that most obviously and unmistakably distinguishes the ABC from commercial broadcasters, it’s news.

Time for responses

Then the issues paper asks “other stakeholders” – basically the ABC and SBS’s commercial broadcasting rivals – a range of questions about ways in which they think they may have been harmed by any undue competitive advantage enjoyed by the public broadcasters.

There is no indication the answers to these questions are going to be subjected to any cross-examination by the ABC or SBS. Not that there would be time for that anyway, with just three months between the deadline for submissions in response to the issues paper on June 22 and the completion of the report in September.

So, the inquiry is a quickie. And by its own admission, it’s trampling over ground already covered 18 years ago by the Productivity Commission.




Read more:
The ABC is not siphoning audiences from Fairfax


It also acknowledges in the issues paper that it has to dance its way between a number of other current inquiries, including the Australian and Children’s Content Review, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s digital platforms inquiry and the broader Treasury review of the country’s overall competitive neutrality policy.

The ConversationNonetheless, the inquiry is likely to provide the Turnbull Government with ammunition should it wish to mount an attack on the ABC’s scope of operations (especially online) and give Hanson what she really wants: a rolled-up piece of paper with which to smack the ABC around the head.

Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

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

Why the big four asked for a parliamentary inquiry into banking


George Rennie, University of Melbourne

The major Australian banks are following familiar public relations tactics in requesting a parliamentary commission of inquiry into banking and financial services.

When the public mood is against an industry, it will try to win the public over, while getting the politicians to ignore the public mood. If that fails, the industry gradually concedes ground until attention goes elsewhere.

For this reason, the banks went from being steadfastly against a commission, to offering the option of self-regulation, to proposing a new “banking tribunal”, to eventually conceding, after the battle had already been lost, to a parliamentary inquiry.

The big problem for the banks, and a big part of the reason that their previous lobbying failed, is that their popularity with the Australian public is very low. This allowed, or pressured, politicians to call for the commission, and presents significant problems for the banks going forward, especially if they wish to avoid tougher regulation.


Read more: Royal commissions: how do they work?


The banks capitulated only once it became “all but inevitable” that an inquiry of some sort would be held.

Due to the recent citizenship saga, it was looking likely that a coalition of crossbench, Labor, Greens and some Nationals MPs would pass a bill for a commission of inquiry into the banks and other financial institutions.

Labor had already promised to set up a royal commission into the banking and financial services industry if it won the next election.

Concede ground only when it’s already lost

A royal commission will almost certainly bring many months of bad press for the banks.

As the industry has repeatedly made clear, it never wanted a royal commission. The banks claimed they had corrected the mistakes of the past and that a commission was “unwarranted”.

So the banking industry’s public and private lobbying efforts were geared towards convincing politicians to resist calls for the commission, while trying to boost public opinion by highlighting their corporate social responsibility.

This involved sacking executives over this scandal or that, removing certain ATM fees, and cutting bonuses and director pay.

The banks have also launched advertising campaigns, such as one highlighting that many Australians own bank shares through their superannuation.

Concurrently, the banks hoped that threatening to launch a “mining tax”-style ad campaign might scare politicians away from calling for a commission.

These campaigns have become a common threat since the success of the 2010 mining tax campaign opened corporate Australia’s eyes to the potential effectiveness of advocacy ads.


Read more: Banking royal commission will expose the real cost of bad behaviour


Tactics similar to those the banks are employing now have been used to varying degrees of success in the United States by the tobacco industry and the gun, finance and healthcare lobbies.

In 1998 the American tobacco industry agreed to make payments of over US$200 billion to dozens of states. But this happened only after decades of public education and campaigning against smoking.

Similarly, the American healthcare lobby successfully fought off several attempts to reform healthcare. Obamacare managed to pass in 2010 only after the industry got to substantively write it.

The public relations game

Appearing to co-operate and atone is the best way to try to influence the terms of an inquiry. It also helps to mitigate the worst of any bad press to come. This reflects a wider, pragmatic strategy of lobbying and public relations employed by the banks and other industries.

The focus for the banks will now shift towards damage control, along with heavy promotion of the banks “doing the right thing” by Australia.

To that end, expect to see even more banners proclaiming a bank’s sponsorship of the local footy team, and ads promoting the good work done in your local community.

The ConversationThese, along with an insistence that the commission is a witch hunt, that its findings are “old news”, that the banks have already taken steps to deal with the issue, will underpin the industry’s public relations battle while the royal commission takes place.

George Rennie, Lecturer in American Politics and Lobbying Strategies, University of Melbourne

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

Turnbull talks with rebel National on banks


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull and senator Barry O’Sullivan have discussed the rebel National’s private senator’s bill for a commission of inquiry into the banks and other financial institutions.

As the stand-off continues over an inquiry, Turnbull on Tuesday publicly reaffirmed that “we are not going to establish a royal commission”.

But behind the scenes Turnbull appears to be seeking some resolution of the impasse, which could lead to his hand being forced.

It is believed he is due to have a further discussion with O’Sullivan after the bill is printed.

O’Sullivan refused to confirm Tuesday’s meeting.

The bill is now considered to have the numbers to pass not just in the Senate but in the House of Representatives as well. Two lower house Nationals, George Christensen and Llew O’Brien, are supporters, although O’Brien has cast his backing in terms of being “quite likely” to vote for it.

Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce, who is fighting a byelection in New England to get back into parliament, has indicated he is very willing to have the bank inquiry issue considered by the Nationals’ partyroom, and has signalled he is relaxed about the outcome. The O’Sullivan bill will be discussed there on Monday.

If the Nationals as a party moved to support an inquiry, Turnbull would be deeply embarrassed.

O’Sullivan was inundated with suggestions for fine-tuning after circulating his draft bill, and it has taken some time for these to be dealt with and a final version to be sent to the parliamentary draftsman.

Turnbull, campaigning in Bennelong for the byelection in that seat, said the government had been concentrating on “positive steps, real reforms right now”.

“We have put more money into the regulators to give them stronger teeth and more effective powers. And of course we are setting up the one-stop shop, the Australian Financial Complaints Authority, which will mean that people will have one place to go to for help and assistance with complaints and concerns with their financial service providers.

“We are constantly working to ensure that the cultural change in the banks occurs and we are getting strong support for that,” he said.

“Our focus is on results. It is on action. That is why we have not supported a royal commission.”

Turnbull argues that a royal commission would take a very long time and delay getting results.

But O’Sullivan has maintained that what is fundamental is achieving cultural change and this won’t happen without a bright light being shone on the way banks and other institution have operated.

The commission proposed in the O’Sullivan bill is one that would be set up by parliament and report back to parliament. A royal commission is set up by the executive and reports to the executive.

The ConversationEssential Media, in a poll published on Tuesday, reported 64% supported holding a royal commission into banking and the financial services industry and 12% opposed. Support among Labor voters was 72% – among Coalition voters it was 62%.

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.