Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Morrison's Budget Chickens Revealed

Scott Morrison got the government re-elected on the back of a budget built on an illusion: that the economy was growing strongly and would go on doing so for a decade. The illusion allowed Morrison to boast about getting the budget back into surplus and keeping it there, despite promising the most expensive tax cuts we’ve seen.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison may have painted himself – and the economy – into a corner.

The illusion began falling apart even while the election campaign progressed. The Reserve Bank board responded to the deterioration in the economic outlook at its meeting 11 days before the election.

It’s now clear to me that it decided to bolster the economy by lowering interest rates, but not to start cutting until its next meeting, which would be after the election – next Tuesday.

If that wasn’t bad enough for Morrison, with all his skiting about returning the budget to surplus he may have painted himself – and the economy – into a corner.

In a speech last week, Reserve Bank governor Dr Philip Lowe made it clear that cutting interest rates might not be enough to keep the economy growing. He asked for his economic lever, “monetary policy” (interest rates), to be assisted by the government’s economic lever, “fiscal policy” (the budget).

He specifically mentioned the need to increase government spending on infrastructure projects, but he could have added a “cash splash” similar to those Kevin Rudd used to fend off recession after the global financial crisis in 2008.

See the problem? Any major slowdown in the economy would reduce tax collections and increase government spending on unemployment benefits, either stopping the budget returning to surplus or soon putting it back into deficit.

That happens automatically, whether the government likes it or not. That’s before any explicit government decisions to increase infrastructure spending, or splash cash or cut taxes, also worsened the budget balance.

And consider this. The Reserve’s official interest rate is already at a record low of 1.5 per cent. Its practice is to cut the official rate in steps of 0.25 percentage points. That means it’s got only six shots left in its locker before it hits what pompous economists call the “zero lower bound”.

RBA governor Philip Lowe has made clear the bank believes unemployment can fall much further without a threat of inflation

What happens if all the shots have been fired, but they’re not enough to keep the economy growing? The budget – increased government spending or tax cuts – is all that’s left.

The economics of this is simple, clear and conventional behaviour in a downturn. All that’s different is that rates are so close to zero. For Morrison, however, the politics would involve a huge climb-down and about-face.

The promised budget surplus also sent a message to voters that the Coalition could manage the economy, Bourke reported.

Oh dear. Bit early to be counting your chickens.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

ACOSS Statement on Election of Coalition Government

ACOSS congratulates the Coalition on being re-elected and will work with the Morrison Government to support people in need and to tackle the challenges we face as a country. ACOSS will continue to advocate for an increase to Newstart, which is widely supported across the country as an important moral issue and by the business community as good monetary policy.

ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie said:

“We welcome Mr Morrison’s commitment last night to work on policies that ‘will keep Australians together’ and urge the Coalition Government to work collaboratively and inclusively to deliver on this promise and together tackle the challenges we face.

“The economy is fragile and the climate crisis is impacting people, our regions, the economy and the environment. More than 3 million people across Australia are struggling, especially women, to make ends meet and keep a safe secure roof over their heads. Employment is uncertain for millions, including young people, older people, and people in regional areas.

“We urge the Morrison Government to work collaboratively across the community, with First Nations leaders, the community sector, the union movement, business groups and regional groups to find the common ground that will deliver the solutions for a fairer sustainable future.

“We firstly urge Mr Morrison to reach out to First Nations leaders as a first priority in forming his new government to establish these relationships of trust for the long term. This must be a priority for a newly elected Federal Government of Australia.

“In bringing the community together, we urge Mr Morrison to consider the real and broad support for increasing to Newstart, including from regional communities.

“As the election result emerges, it is significant that all the candidates elected into the House of Representatives outside the major parties actively support the increase to Newstart and the Raise the Rate Campaign. We also congratulate each on their election;

•    Andrew Wilkie, Electorate of Clark, Tasmania.
•    Rebekha Sharkie, Electorate of Mayo, South Australia.
•    Bob Katter, Electorate of Kennedy, Queensland.
•    Helen Haines, Electorate of Indi, Victoria.
•    Zali Steggall, Electorate of Warringah, New South Wales.
•    Adam Bandt, Electorate of Melbourne, Victoria.
•    Kerryn Phelps (if elected), Electorate of Wentworth, New South Wales.

“From diverse electorates, each sees the strong social and economic benefits of increasing Newstart, including for regional communities, joining business, economists, and the community.

“Lifting Newstart is exactly the right policy we need now to bring the community together and exactly what the economy needs right now in the face of concerns of an economic downturn.

“A $75 per week increase to Newstart would cost less than a third of the cost of the government’s proposed high-end tax cuts and would be far more effective in boosting the economy. This is the major adjustment needed.

“ACOSS promises people affected by poverty that it will continue building on the broad support for increasing Newstart that already exists, including amongst some within the Coalition, as well as on the recognition we must work hard together to tackle our housing affordability crisis.

"The housing affordability crisis is really hurting people and many were deeply concerned about unfounded claims of rent increases during the campaign. The Government has a responsibility to tackle rental stress and homelessness because everybody in Australia, the wealthiest country in the world, should have a safe roof over their head."

“The climate crisis also featured as a key concern in this election and the Morrison Government has promised to take it seriously. We urge the government to work with local communities and across sectors to develop a plan to rapidly transition away from fossil fuels that provides investment certainty, creates jobs, tackles energy prices, and looks after vulnerable groups and communities.

“While the community sent the message last night it was not ready for big and wide-ranging change, the reality is that the government’s tax cut package is unprecedented and would be a huge change and fiscal risk. It must not come at the expense of the promise the government has made to everyone in the community that funding for essential services will be guaranteed.

“The community sector is committed to working with the government to guarantee essential services we all need, and to ensure that as a country we are up to tackling today’s challenges together," Dr Goldie said.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

CFMEU warns Queenland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk re Adani

The construction union has warned Queensland's premier not to be duped out of job guarantees in her haste to resolve an impasse over Adani's proposed coal mine in the Galilee Basin.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has denied rushing anything as she tours the regions days after they thumped Labor at the federal election, partly over the way her government has handled Adani's project.

She is expected to announce a time frame on Friday to resolve Adani's long-running bid to get approvals after ordering the miner to meet with government officials on Thursday.

Adani Australia boss Lucas Dow told reporters he felt emboldened after the talks, but would leave any further announcements to Ms Palaszczuk.

"The engagement we've had today and the constructive nature of the meeting has certainly emboldened us in terms of the level of support that we're seeing from the Queensland government," Mr Dow said.

But the construction arm of the CFMEU has warned the premier she could be duped in her haste to settle the matter, and the Greens warn that tapping the coal reserve could spark a climate catastrophe.

"Before Ms Palaszczuk even thinks about pushing this project any further forward she must extract iron clad guarantees from Adani that the mine will bring long-term, permanent jobs for Queenslanders," the CFMEU's Michael Ravbar said.

He said the premier risked being taken for a ride and state Labor must guard against the prospect of workers being shipped in from India.

"Without enforceable guarantees on secure local jobs and procurement - along with sureties relating to water security - the premier risks being conned by corporate carpetbaggers."

Ms Palaszczuk said she was moving "very quickly" to end frustration over the long-running impasse over Adani but denied that bringing in Queensland's Coordinator-General to oversee the approvals processes amounted to political interference.

"Not at all," she told reporters in Townsville.

She also denied backflipping on the Carmichael mine planned for the Galilee Basin following the federal election, saying she had ordered clarity on time frames.

Queensland's first and only Greens MP Michael Berkman warned the mine was just the "tip of the spear."

"It could open up the entire Galilee Basin which is the biggest untapped coal reserve in the world, and that would be a catastrophe for climate change."

Former Greens leader Bob Brown accused Adani of "bullying and hectoring the state government into breaching proper environmental process" around its plans to protect groundwater and the endangered black-throated finch.

Mackay mayor Greg Williamson said regional communities were still angry at Bob Brown's anti-Adani convoy and there was no doubt that had Labor won the federal election, the Adani mine would have been scrapped by the state government.

"We have had rallies where we have never rallied before and I spoke to a guy with a grinder just doing his day's work and he said 'Quexit, bring it on'. That's the feeling of people in regional Queensland," he said.

Also on Thursday, a Chinese company suspended its bid to create a massive coal mine next to Adani's project.

The China Stone project had promised to create thousands of jobs, but the state government says the company has "voluntarily not progressed" with its mining lease applications.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Poker Machines Exposed

Australia has more poker machines per person than any country in the world, excluding casino-tourism destinations like Macau and Monaco. It has nearly 200,000 machines – one for every 114 people.
This startling statistic resulted from a wave of pokie liberalisation during the 1990s that saw them introduced into pubs and clubs in every state and territory – except Western Australia.
To track the social impacts of this expansion, state and territory governments have commissioned surveys to measure the levels of gambling consumption and gambling-related harm. In total, more than 275,000 Australians have been interviewed in 42 studies of this kind since 1994. 
We recently conducted an analysis of these studies to build a nationwide picture of how pokie gambling has changed across Australia over the past 25 years. We linked the participation rates reported by the surveys with government data on actual poker machine expenditure in pubs and clubsfor each jurisdiction – converted into 2015 dollars to account for inflation. 
The expenditure data exclude poker machines in casinos; these data are not disaggregated for government reporting purposes.
Consequently, the figures we present here should be considered minimums – especially in Tasmania and the Northern Territory, where a large proportion of pokies are located in casinos. WA is excluded from the expenditure analysis because it has no pokies outside Burswood Casino.

A recent gradual decline in pokie losses

Nationally, pokie losses in pubs and clubs increased fourfold between 1990 and 2000 before plateauing at around A$860 per adult per year in 2005. Since 2005, there has been a consistent gradual decline in gambling losses across the various jurisdictions. Throughout this period, pokie losses per adult in New South Wales have remained around 50% higher than the national average. 

The biggest contributor to the decline since 2005 has been tobacco control, not gambling policy. The introduction of indoor smoking bans across Australia in the 2000s hit pokie revenues quite hard. 
It is also likely that caps on pokie numbers – which have been relatively stable since 2000 – played a role in limiting pokie expenditure.
However, this should give no reason for complacency. The decline in pokie revenue is slowing, and possibly beginning to reverse in NSW, the NT and Queensland.
Current annual losses on pokies in pubs and clubs for Australia amount to $633 per adult. Losses in NSW are highest at $978 per adult and lowest in Tasmania at $283 per adult – although casinos play a more important role in Tasmania. 
These figures are very high by world standards. The losses by Australians on pokies outside of casinos dwarf those of any other comparable country. They are 2.4 times greater than those of our nearest rival, Italy.
These losses are even more anomalous when compared to non-casino gambling machines in other English-speaking countries. Australians lose three times more than New Zealanders, 4.1 times more than Canadians, 6.4 times more than the Irish, 7.5 times more than the British, and 9.8 times more than Americans.

Falling numbers of pokie gamblers

The modest decline in losses since the mid-2000s has been driven by a falling number of people playing the pokies. 
The chart below shows the proportion of the adult population in each Australian state or territory that gambles on pokies at least once per year. These proportions are derived from the surveys described above. Each survey estimate is represented by a single dot.
Author provided/The ConversationCC BY-ND
Participation rates peaked shortly after pokies were introduced in the late 1990s at around 40% for the larger states. Since that time, participation has consistently dropped to below 30% across Australia and has fallen to less than 20% in Tasmania, Victoria and the ACT.

Amounts lost per gambler have remained constant

Dividing the pokie losses in clubs and pubs for each jurisdiction by the number of actual gamblers reveals the average amount lost per pokie gambler per year as shown by the chart below. Some lines on this chart are shorter than others because the survey-based participation data is not uniformly available.
Author provided/The ConversationCC BY-ND
The reduction in total pokie losses since 2005 has not been matched by a corresponding decline in losses per individual gambler. After a reduction due to the smoking bans, losses per gambler appear to have plateaued – with some jurisdictions trending up (ACT and NT) and others down (NSW and SA). 
This suggests that while fewer people are playing the pokies, the amount of money lost per gambler has remained relatively constant. And this amount appears very high. 
The amount lost per pokie gambler (just in pubs and clubs) in both NSW and Victoria is around $3,500 per year, or around $65 per week. The ACT sits at around $3,000 per gambler per year, followed by the NT and Tasmania at around $1,500 per year.
To put this in some perspective, the average Australian adult spent $1,245on electricity and gas in 2014-15. 
And while we now have concerted government action to reduce energy costs, the regulatory reforms required to reduce the amount of losses for pokie gamblers are not on the legislative agenda in most of Australia.

UK British Steel has been ordered into compulsory liquidation

British Steel has been ordered into compulsory liquidation after talks with the government failed to secure a bailout, threatening the jobs of about 5,000 employees, with another 20,000 jobs in the supply chain.

The steelmaker had requested an emergency $38m bailout loan from the British government following dwindling European sales amid Brexit uncertainty, and an ill-fated decision to sell off excess carbon credits earlier this year.

Just three weeks ago, the government had given a $150m loan to the company.

"The government can only act within the law, which requires any financial support to a steel company to be on a commercial basis," Business Secretary Greg Clark said in a statement emailed to Al Jazeera.

"I have been advised that it would be unlawful to provide a guarantee or loan on the terms of any proposals that the company or any other party has made."

The company's 5,000 workers are mostly at a giant plant in the northern town of Scunthorpe, and a further 20,000 jobs are dependent upon its supply chain.

"This is devastating, awful news for steelworkers and their families, and for everybody related to the community and the area," Nic Dakin, MP for Scunthorpe, told the BBC.

"What's really important is that steps are taken to retain steelmaking in Scunthorpe and the other areas affected because this is crucial to our future as an independent, modern economy, modern nation.

"If it's necessary for the government to take a public stake in the future of this industry, that's what the government should do. Let's take one step at a time," he said.

Unions had urged the government to hammer out a deal after the beleaguered manufacturer asked the government for a $95m loan last week.

The loan was refused, and the steelmaker's owners, Greybull Capital, agreed to put up some of the money themselves, reducing the loan request to $38m.

"This will be a deeply worrying time for the thousands of dedicated British Steel workers, those in the supply chain and local communities," said Clark.

"In the days and weeks ahead, I will be working with the Official Receiver and a British Steel support group of management, trade unions, companies in the supply chain and local communities, to pursue remorselessly every possible step to secure the future of the valuable operations in sites at Scunthorpe, Skinningrove and on Teesside."

The Royal Navy is due to build a new fleet of support vessels, but the Ministry of Defence has so far "refused to confirm" if it will buy UK-produced steel for the ships, Labour MP Nick Smith told the House of Commons on Wednesday.

About 70 percent of British Steel's products are exported to either the EU or Turkey and North Africa
Three weeks ago, the government agreed to provide a $150m loan so that the company could make its payments to a European Union environmental scheme and avoid a $630m fine from European regulators.

Under the scheme, companies are awarded a certain number of "carbon credits" based on their target emissions outputs.

If they perform well and emit less carbon, as British Steel did from 2013 to 2018, they can sell their remaining credits to those companies emitting more carbon into the atmosphere. British Steel sold off its remaining credits when Britain was expecting to leave the EU at the end of March.

Then Brexit was delayed by six months and the manufacturer faced a huge shortfall in its credits, facing a huge fine.

On Tuesday, pro-Brexit politicians in the House of Commons urged their colleagues to pass Theresa May's EU Withdrawal Agreement when it returns to parliament in order to give some certainty to businesses.

The steelmaker told The Guardian last week that its EU orders had dried up. In the event of a "no-deal" Brexit, WTO tariffs on steel would be 20 percent - a significant disincentive for European buyers.

About 70 percent of British Steel's products are exported to either the EU or Turkey and North Africa, according to the Financial Times.

But British Steel's problems go back further still. Formerly part of Tata Steel's European operations, a deal to sell off the division fell apart in 2015, with would-be buyers citing China's dumping of steel onto global markets causing unpredictable price fluctuations as a major reason for abandoning the purchase.

In 2016, Greybull Capital, a private investment firm, bought Tata's steel division for a token amount of £1 ($1.27 at the current rate) - and renamed it British Steel, saving thousands of jobs.

Now, Greybull itself is facing additional scrutiny. In the two years following the acquisition, Greybull charged British Steel more than $20m a year in interest on loans it had itself provided, the Financial Times reported.

The newly owned British Steel also made a $50m investment in a French steelmaker.

Unions NSW – The Dangers of NSW Government draconian laws

As unions prepare to tackle the NSW Government’s unfair electoral funding laws in the High Court, a Government Information Public Access application reveals the Berejiklian Government wanted to go much further, banning unions, charities, churches and environmental activists from advocating a vote for a specific party or even donating to them.

The Unions NSW High Court challenge begins on Wednesday. It seeks to overturn laws that can see trade unionists and other ‘third parties’ jailed up to ten years if they share the costs of television advertising, publish logos on joint campaign material or share research and polling data.

The laws more than halve the amount unions can spend on election campaigns to only $500,000, while allowing political parties to spend up to $11 million.

A GIPA application by Unions NSW has uncovered an email sent within the office of Special Minister of State, Anthony Roberts, revealing plans to go much further including:

  • Banning trade unions and third parties from advocating a vote for a certain political party;
  • Banning trade unions and third parties from donating to political parties;
  • Forcing third party campaigners to register the aim of their campaign six months out from an election,and requiring they not deviate from it;
  • Reducing the expenditure cap even further, to $300,000.
  • The email, which can be read here, also reveals the expert panel upon which the Government relied to draft the laws has no expertise in political campaigning, but can be “used as justification for further restrictions to third party campaigners.”

Unions NSW Secretary, Mark Morey, said it was now clear that the Government’s electoral funding laws were drafted in bad faith.

“The NSW Government is abusing the legal system. It is threatening to throw its opponents in jail for campaigning against it. Under the Liberal Party’s laws, trade unionists or environmental protesters will be treated as criminals if they work together on a campaign flyer or share some polling.

“The Liberals want to rig the system. Under their system they can spend 20 times more than any other organisation getting their message across. That’s before you include the firehose of government advertising. They spent $84 million of public money promoting themselves in 2017.

“These draconian laws are bad enough. But our GIPA application shows they want to ban us campaigning entirely. The Liberals have studied how trade unions operate and simply made it illegal. What’s next, banning political opposition entirely?

“If we reran the electricity privatisation campaign from the last election, we would go to jail.

“Working people have always pooled their resources to run election campaigns and we believe we have a constitutional right to continue doing so.” 

The Unions NSW court action argues the laws infringe the implied freedom of communication in the Commonwealth Constitution.

The action is supported by the ETU, USU, Teachers Federation, HSU, PSA, NSWNMA and a dozen other unions.

UK – Amber Rudd and her shameful UK Austerity Policy

The work and pensions secretary, Amber Rudd, plans to lodge a formal complaint with the UN about the damning report on austerity in Britain by its special rapporteur on extreme poverty, Philip Alston.

Rudd will argue that Alston is politically biased and did not do enough research. The minister is seeking guidance from the Foreign Office on the best way to respond after Alston compared her department’s welfare policies to the creation of Victorian workhouses.

Alston quoted the 17th-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes to warn that unless austerity was ended and welfare cuts were reversed, millions of poorer Britons faced lives that would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”.

Key points from UN envoy's report on poverty in Britain

The 21-page report said the government appeared unwilling to debate the impact of its austerity policies since 2010, which it said were “in clear violation of the country’s human rights obligations”.
Alston accused ministers of “window dressing to minimise political fallout” by insisting the country was enjoying record lows in absolute poverty, children in workless households and unemployment.

The “endlessly repeated” mantra about rising employment overlooked that “close to 40% of children are predicted to be living in poverty two years from now, 16% of people over 65 live in relative poverty and millions of those who are in work are dependent upon various forms of charity to cope,” he said.

The report will be formally presented to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on 27 June.

The government believes Alston, a New York-based human rights lawyer, could not credibly have reached his conclusions after only an 11-day trip to the UK. Last November he visited nine towns and cities in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, holding town hall meetings and visiting poverty-related charities and organisations including food banks and youth programmes.

Rudd is said to be particularly frustrated by Alston’s accusation that the government was responsible for the “systematic immiseration of a significant part of the British population”. She also believes Alston ventured off his beat by making criticisms about cuts to police numbers and legal aid.

In a statement, the government said his report was “a barely believable documentation of Britain based on a tiny period of time spent here” and “a completely inaccurate picture of our approach to tackling poverty”.

Either side of his trip, Alston worked for several months with a team of legal scholars and staff from the office of the UN high commissioner for human rights researching austerity in the UK.

According to the footnotes to the report, they analysed information from three government ministries, the Scottish and Welsh governments, the National Audit Office and the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. They also examined reports from organisations including the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the OECD, and received more than 300 written submissions.

Labour said the report should be a “source of shame” to ministers and urged them to “end their state of denial”. Margaret Greenwood, the shadow work and pensions secretary, said: “This report is a shocking indictment of the brutal cuts to social security introduced by Conservative-led governments since 2010 and the deeply flawed, punitive system that they have created.”

The DWP said: “We take tackling poverty extremely seriously, which is why we spend £95bn a year on welfare and maintain a state pension system that supports people into retirement. All the evidence shows that full-time work is the best way to boost your income and quality of life, which is why our welfare reforms are focused on supporting people into employment and we introduced the national living wage, so people earn more in work.”

Groups with years of experience examining poverty in the UK backed Alston’s conclusions. Campbell Robb, the chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “There can be no moral justification for failing to act on this report.”

Alison Garnham, the chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said Alston had “exposed the government’s refusal to acknowledge the scale of child poverty in the UK. We can reduce child poverty in the UK – we’ve done it before. But it will require a willingness from government to first see the problem and then to deliver a strategy for solving it.”

Saturday, May 18, 2019

MEAA – State of press freedom in Australia

The foreword to the MEAA report into the state of press freedom in Australia in 2019 by Paul Murphy, MEAA chief executive. Read the full report online or download a printable version.
The public’s right to know is a key tenet of a healthy, functioning democracy — and it is one of the responsibilities of open and transparent government. It’s also a cornerstone principle of journalism.

Increasingly, however, governments are denying that essential democratic ingredient. More and more, they are looking to operate in secret, shroud their activities and suppress all the information about them, discourage freedom of information searches, pursue and punish whistleblowers and place barriers in the way of journalists seeking to tell the truth of what governments are doing in our name.

In Australia, waves of new laws are passed in the name of “national security” but are really designed to intimidate the media, hunt down whistleblowers, and lock-up information. We saw it when attempts to control asylum seeker boats sailing to Australia, a customs and immigration issue, became militarised as Operation Sovereign Borders.

Suddenly the Navy was conscripted into “protecting” our borders from leaking sailing vessels and handfuls of pitiful refugees fleeing persecution, terror and war. Immigration officers became black-uniformed troopers in the newly named “Border Force”. And even though the high-ranking Defence Force officer held regular press conferences, little was ever said because the militarisation of immigration activities meant the military could simply cloak everything as “on-water matters” — refusing to say anything in order to defend national security. And so the public was kept in the dark.

What began with a muzzle regarding “on-water matters” soon extended to asylum seeker detention centres on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and on Nauru. The governments of those countries wouldn’t comment on what took place in the Australian taxpayer-funded centres and news laws were implemented to punish any workers or aid agencies or their contracted organisations from talking openly about what they saw there. Journalists were refused access to the centres and their detained inmates.

Some refugees have managed to bypass the bans. MEAA is proud to have worked with Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish journalist and refugee from Iran, who has determinedly produced outstanding and award-winning journalism from Manus. MEAA remains concerned that Behrouz’s courageous reporting, including his recent prize-winning book, places him in danger which is why we are campaigning to #FreeBehrouz so that he can resettle in safety in Australia. MEAA does so with the aim to bring more attention to all who are subject to Australia’s immigration detention regime and ensuring the public’s right to know.

Australia’s national security assault on press freedom has also worked to criminalise legitimate journalism in the public interest. The various tranches of national security legislation unleashed by the government in recent years, when applied to journalists and their journalism, clearly have little to do with protecting the nation and more with making sure the public is kept in the dark. Prison terms for reporting on the activities of government agencies and for handling certain information are now enshrined in law.

And journalists’ sources continue to be targeted. While new laws seek to provide some whistleblowers with protection, and only when placed under certain conditions and in defined circumstances, government is also willing to hound whistleblowers in court. The court actions mounted against Witness K and lawyer Bernard Collaery for revealing events that took place 14 years earlier, the threat of 161 years in prison being faced by Richard Boyle and the charges against former Defence Force lawyer David McBride all demonstrate that even when whistleblowers have told their stories to journalists and the public finally learns the truth, the truth tellers will still be pursued and punished.

Meanwhile, the government continues to equip itself with new weapons in the attack on whistleblowers. Having used the metadata laws to capture everyone’s telecommunications data, Journalist Information Warrants allow at least 21 government agencies to secretly access journalists’ and media organisations’ data for the stated purpose of identifying a journalist’s confidential source — thus placing the journalist in breach of their ethical obligation to protect the source’s identity.

The government has now embarked on new laws to decrypt encrypted communications. Again, the claim is made that this is in the name of national security but the government’s powers could put journalists at risk should sensitive, and potentially damaging, information land in their hands. The backdoor mechanism to break encrypted communications weakens the overarching system of encryption, creating a loophole that could easily be targeted by hackers and online criminals, and risk the safety of journalists.

The hasty response to the Christchurch shooting also demonstrates the government’s ill-thought-through use of badly drafted legislation. The Criminal Code Amendment (Sharing of Abhorrent Violent Material) Bill 2019 has led to concerns about the lack of defences for individuals who may be whistleblowers or media companies who are publishing atrocities that they are trying to draw to the world’s attention. The law means whistleblowers may no longer be able to deploy social media to shine a light on atrocities or raise awareness of human rights abuses.

Journalism is being criminalised and whistleblowers who seek to expose wrongdoing are being punished — all for having the temerity to aid in the public’s right to know.

ACOSS today pays tribute to former Prime Minister Bob Hawke

ACOSS today pays tribute to former Prime Minister Bob Hawke as a great Australian leader, whose transformative agenda made Australia a fairer, kinder, more equal and inclusive country.

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said:

“Bob Hawke’s unique leadership combined great intellect, with humour and heart. Where others discriminated or shamed, he offered respect and dignity. As Prime Minister, Bob Hawke rejected racism in all its forms, recognised Australia’s First Peoples’ right to self-determination, celebrated our cultural diversity, welcomed refugees and made concrete advances towards gender equality.”

“Among Hawke’s greatest social policy achievements was his success in reducing poverty among Australian children, lifting the unemployment payment, the establishment of today’s Medicare scheme, the creation of ATSIC and significant investments in public housing and child care.

“Bob Hawke’s famous commitment to end child poverty led to an extraordinary reduction in child poverty by 30%, transforming so many young lives.

“In 1987, the Hawke Government delivered a comprehensive child poverty reform package that increased assistance for low-income families and benchmarked income support payments to the cost of children. The package also put in place housing, education, training, childcare and tax reforms to help low-income families. This package reduced child poverty by an extraordinary 30 per cent.

“Hawke demonstrated that poverty was not intractable, but a choice about Government priorities. He had the courage to lead this reform.

“Hawke pioneered a new model of collaborative leadership, working with business, union and community groups to tackle complex policy challenges and his approach led to a fundamentally different Australia.

“We pay tribute to his social, economic, environmental, human rights and international legacy.

“Like so many, we will miss him.”

Friday, May 17, 2019

ACTU – Vale Bob Hawke

Bob Hawke
16 May 2019

Statement from ACTU Secretary Sally McManus and President Michele O’Neil on the passing of Bob HawkeIt is with immense sorrow and gratitude that the Australian union movement acknowledges the passing of Bob Hawke.

As a leader of our nation and of our movement, Bob was a hero to working people – an architect of the accords, the father of Medicare, and a founder of universal superannuation.

The Australian union movement has enormous pride that a great and respected representative of working people and ACTU President went on to become a loved and legendary Australian Prime Minister.

Millions of working people owe their health, their prosperity and their dignity in retirement to Bob’s work.

All our thoughts and sympathy are with Bob’s family and loved ones during this time.

The entire union family is grieving as are all Australians.

We will never forget him.

Solidarity and Vale Bob Hawke

More on Hawke

Born in December 1929 in Bordertown, South Australia, Robert James Lee Hawke was the son of a Congregational minister and a schoolteacher. The family moved to Western Australia in 1939, and Hawke was educated at the Perth modern school and the University of Western Australia, before attending Oxford as a Rhodes scholar.

He returned to Australia and married Hazel Masterton in 1956, his long time girlfriend.

In 1958, he took up an advocate’s position at the ACTU. Hawke prospered there, taking the presidency in 1970 and serving in that role for a decade.

As head of the trade union movement, Hawke was instrumental in opposing apartheid in South Africa and led several protests against all-white sporting teams that visited Australia.

Hawke became a household name as president of the ACTU but his relentless drinking and womanising was well known and was seen as a major handicap to his political ambitions.

Hazel Hawke said in one interview she realised Hawke was serious about becoming prime minister when he gave up drinking. He had made a couple of earlier attempts to enter parliament but in 1980 was preselected as the member for Wills, and elected that year.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Acoss – Joint Media Release

Joint Media Release: Community groups condemn mock rent increase notices and negative gearing scare tactics

Community groups condemn mock rent increase notices and
negative gearing scare tactics

Housing, homelessness and community peaks today condemned the use of mock rent increase notices as election material, which target people already living in rental stress.
The groups said that the mock notices distributed to renters by the LNP are grossly misleading and likely to cause unnecessary anxiety amongst vulnerable renters.
ACOSS, National Shelter, the National Association of Tenant Organisations, 

Homelessness Australia and the Community Housing Industry Association are calling for an end to scare tactics around negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions.
“We strongly condemn the use of mock rent increase notices which target people who already live in rental stress. 

Renters in Australia already face some of weakest regulatory protections, from which landlords currently benefit. Many tenants have faced repeated rent hikes which cause deep financial stress,” ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie said. 

The Chair of the National Association of Tenants Organisations, Penny Carr, said:
“This kind of political tactic is irresponsible and deliberately designed to alarm renters, including many who are already deeply concerned about paying the rent every week or in fear of unfair evictions by their landlord.”

Shelter CEO Adrian Pisarski said the current tax concessions for housing investors have driven up house prices and rents and should be wound back.

“We have together advocated for reforms to housing tax concessions for more than a decade. These concessions overwhelmingly benefit higher income households, do nothing to increase the supply of housing and are unsustainable”, said Mr Pisarski.

“There is no evidence to suggest that rents would increase as a result of Labor’s proposed reforms. To the contrary, these changes are likely to reduce pressure on the housing market, improving affordability for both buyer and renters. 

“Labor’s proposal will not apply to properties that are currently negatively geared, so existing investors will not be affected. Instead of scare campaigns we need to pursue a sensible reset of these concessions so that our housing system works for everyone.”
CEO of the Community Housing Industry Association, Wendy Hayhurst, said the property and real estate industries were lone voices in their opposition to reforming investor tax breaks.

“Two thirds of voters support government investment in social and affordable housing over negative gearing tax breaks for property investors,” Ms Hayhurst said.

“We need proper bipartisan support for policies that will address all pressure points in our housing system.”

Homelessness Australia Chair Jenny Smith said that the campaign scare tactics would instil fear in people at risk of homelessness.

“The major parties should be offering hope to people experiencing or at risk of homelessness in this Election, not creating fear. 

That means putting homes ahead of investment portfolios, making renting fairer for tenants, investing in more social and affordable housing for the 811,000 households struggling in the private rental market, and developing a national plan to end homelessness in Australia.”

“We appeal to all political parties and candidates in the last days of the Election campaign not to exploit the fears of vulnerable people with misleading scare tactics.”

ACOSS: 0419 626 155
National Shelter: 0417 975 270
Community Housing Industry Association: 0421 046 832
National Association of Tenant Organisations: 0418 747 921
Homelessness Australia: 0435 966 251

Morrison – Liberals only have a plan for big business, the rich and their mates.

We are just days away from election day. This is it. Our chance to change the government and change the rules so working people get a fair go at work.

Throughout this election campaign Sally and I have been all over the country and everywhere we have been people talk to us about what it’s like trying to keep up with the cost of living when wages have not been growing at all. So many working people are living in poverty and struggling to just do the basics like paying rent. Everywhere and in every industry people have told us about insecure work, casual, contract and labour hire jobs that you can't rely on.

This is not the country we want. We need a better future for this generation and the next.

Help get the word out in these last few days by sharing this video on social media.


Scott Morrison and the Liberals have nothing to say and no plan for fair wages, no plan for secure jobs. They only have a plan for big business, the rich and their mates.

On election day this Saturday, this is our chance to change the country, change the government and change the rules, so we can have a more equal society.

Find your nearest election day polling place here and remember, if you are unable to vote on Saturday because you are working or away you can vote any day this week at an early voting centre.

We are on the cusp of changing our country for the better. Don't waste a minute. Let’s get this done. Let’s vote to change the government.

In unity,

Michele O’Neil
ACTU President

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Remember when the Liberal Government declared "no cuts to the ABC?" That was a lie.

Remember when the Liberal Government declared "no cuts to the ABC?" That was a lie.

Since then the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government has slashed funding many times and they've lined up another $83.7 million in cuts to kick in this year.

An article in the Sydney Morning Herald this week detailed "inevitable job cuts and program disruption" if Scott Morrison is re-elected on 18 May.

We can expect more of the same cuts and chaos from his budget, which gives a $77 billion handout to the top end of town, but fails to reverse funding cuts to our national broadcaster. 

Labor will save our ABC.

A Shorten Labor Government will provide $40 million to the ABC and $20 million to the SBS over three years to boost Australian content and stories on Australian screens.

We understand the importance of the ABC as a trusted news source, and provider of quality Australian content.

We will support the ABC by restoring every cent of the $83.7 million in cuts, providing a $60 million funding boost, protecting ABC independence and keeping the ABC in public hands. 

ACTU welcomes closure of corporate tax loopholes

10 May 2019

The peak body for working people has welcomed the ALP’s announcements that they will close loopholes used by multinationals and the extremely wealthy to funnel funds away from schools, cancer treatment, hospitals, roads and universities into offshore accounts.

Currently a tiny percentage of taxpayers – less than one thousandth of one percent – are abusing a loophole to deprive Australians of funding for essential government services. This will affect the budget to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars over the medium term.

The ACTU has repeatedly called for measures that make corporations pay their fair share of tax so we can live in the kind of country we deserve.

In 2016-17 – the most recent years for which figures have been released – one third of large companies paid no tax at all.

In the same year 69 people were paid more than one million dollars and didn’t pay any income tax – not even the Medicare Levy.

Twenty-seven of those 69 people paid an average of $600,000 to the tax advisers who helped them avoid contributing to our hospitals, schools, roads and universities.

The ALP has promised to cap the deductibility of tax advice, closing another loophole.

Quotes attributable to ACTU Secretary Sally McManus:

  • “Our country works best when everyone pays their fair share and everyone gets a fair go.
  • “It’s clear that some corporations and very wealthy individuals have been rorting the system, abusing loopholes to rob our schools, hospitals, roads and universities of money by funnelling it offshore.
  • “It’s right that these loopholes should be closed, and we welcome the ALP’s promise.
  • “These changes will mean a better, fairer country for everyone.”

ACTU – Desperate Morrison lashes out at working people

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s has targeted 1.6 million working people and millions of retirees this morning in his front-page comments in Nine newspapers. Nurses, teachers, tradies, carers, office workers, bus drivers – his fellow Australians who work hard for a living.

The nation’s newspapers today lead with the Prime Minister threatening to “crack down on” and “choke” people who want to win a fair go; pay rises that keep up with the cost of living, and end to the casualisation of permanent jobs, equal pay for women and to restore penalty rates.

Hard-working Australians deserve the respect of their Prime Minister, not threats. But the more desperate he becomes, the less he cares about insulting, demeaning and bullying working people and retirees.

We deserve to know exactly what the Prime Minister would do if re-elected.

His backers at the Institute of Public Affairs have called on him, as recently as last month, to abolish protections for unfair dismissal, repeal laws that grant working people paid leave, and to abolish the minimum wage.

Various employer lobby groups have also called for workers to be stripped of more rights.

Will the Prime Minister back the demands of big business? Will he go to an election silent on what will happen to working people’s rights, just as John Howard did before WorkChoices?

Working people deserve a leader who is up-front about what they’re planning. They deserve leaders who are backing a fair go for all, that includes working people.

Scott Morrison must withdraw his slur on working people and release the detail of his plans for industrial relations if he is re-elected.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Acoss – Youth voice funding commitment welcome first step in funding for advocacy

The ALP announcement today that it will, if elected to form Government, restore funding to the national youth peak body is an important and welcome commitment to the role of civil society organisations as advocates in the policy development and reform process.

“ACOSS is thrilled that Labor has committed to funding a national youth peak to do the vital work of ensuring that the priorities of young people inform national debates about employment, affordable housing, education, income support and services”, said ACOSS CEO, Dr Cassandra Goldie.

“We know that public debate in Australia is heavily influenced by well-resourced interests who can drown out the voices of groups with few resources. The government has a unique role to play in addressing this democratic deficit, by ensuring that marginalised groups are resourced to participate in public debate.”

“Yet over the past five years we have seen major cuts to organisations that represent the interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, young people, refugees and migrants, people experiencing homelessness and those struggling in the housing market.”

“In this Election, ACOSS is seeking a commitment from all major parties to ensuring that marginalised voices are heard in our public debate. This requires the removal of current contractual and funding restrictions on advocacy as well as a commitment to additional funding, of at least $5 million per annum, to resource peak bodies and advocacy organisations representing people affecting by poverty and inequality.”

For more detail on ACOSS Election priorities related to advocacy and community services, see:

Sunday, May 05, 2019

Shorten and Vintage Keeting

No story moves without a potent cast of supporting characters, and Bill Shorten was surrounded by so many top-tier extras on Sunday it was hard to decide who was the star of the show.

There was Shorten’s wife, Chloe, dazzling with her declaration of love for the man she described as caring, sweet, funny, gentle...and yes, “a wonderful dad”.

There was the Queensland Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, Labor's leader in the Senate, Penny Wong, and the deputy leader of the opposition, Tanya Plibersek.

Bill Shorten, introduced by wife Chloe, spoke at the Labor campaign launch in Brisbane.
All women, no one could fail to note, all powerful, confident enough for one of them, Senator Wong, to cruelly dismiss the luminaries of the Coalition, Barnaby Joyce and Tony Abbott, Scott Morrison and Michael McCormack, as “small men with small ideas”.

And there was Australia’s first female prime minister, Julia Gillard, almost comfortable in the company of the prime minister with whom she once was locked in a dance of political death, Kevin Rudd.

A prime minister of an earlier, more stable age, Bob Hawke, was missing, consigned to home by the shortening years. No matter. Shorten declared: “Bob, we love you, and in the next 13 days we are going to do this for you.”

And then there was Paul Keating.

Former prime minister Paul Keating arrives at the Labor campaign launch in Brisbane.

When Shorten had finished promising an Australia returned to its sunlit uplands, it was Keating who took a seat in front of the ABC’s TV cameras and reminded anyone watching that he never was a mere extra.

He was always the leading man with the best lines, whether the audience saw him as hero or villain or both.

The old saw that elections were all about the economy was too limited, he insisted, flipping every question into an opportunity to scorn the Coalition government.

“No, no, it's about the economy and society,” said Keating.

“The economy is there for society. The Liberals have nothing to offer. You know, I'm surprised how threadbare their program is. If you look, there is no panorama. There's no vista. There's no shape... And what's their plea? Trickle down economics and a tax cut five years away.”

As for the Coalition’s reliance upon coal for future power production...

“Look, coal is the fuel of the industrial revolution 250 years ago,” pronounced Keating.

“It's all over.

“There's the Prime Minister walking around with a lump of coal. Coal is a fossil. The Prime Minister is a fossil himself, a fossil with a baseball cap, but a fossil.

Burying the hatchet: Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and Paul Keating at Labor's campaign launch on Sunday.

“This is the land of sun. So this is the place, perhaps first in the world, where renewables could be the primary source of energy. Yet, we have the Liberals going back to Mr Stephenson's steam train of 250 years ago.”

There was a lot, lot more. There always is when Paul Keating has run of the script.

Labor leader Bill Shorten rouses the party faithful at its official campaign launch in Brisbane.

Labor pledges tax breaks for small business and crackdown on multinationals at campaign launch
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Still, he was there to support another Labor leader, Shorten, and he did his best to pay a form of homage when asked whether the success of the Hawke-Keating period could be repeated in today’s on-line world.

“Big ideas are always winners,” Keating advised.

“The Twittersphere prospers when there are no ideas out there. But once you shape the debate and you put the big ideas out there, like Bill Shorten has done today, what it does - it gathers followers. You know, you become the Pied Piper.

“And when you become the Pied Piper, you pick up adherence. But if there's no Pied Piper, the Twittersphere takes over.”

Sydney May Day March 2019

Friday, May 03, 2019

School students and Climate Action

School students who want action on climate change will target Tony Abbott’s office in Warringah and Josh Frydenberg’s seat of Kooyong on Friday, as the two senior Liberals face tough re-election fights.

After staging two national days of protest in the past six months, the school strike movement is turning its attention to key seats in the upcoming 18 May election.

On Friday, students will also protest outside the offices of Labor’s Anthony Albanese and Jason Clare, prime minister Scott Morrison in his southern Sydney seat of Cook, and Liberal MP Trevor Evans in the seat of Brisbane, among others.

Warringah and Kooyong, two formerly safe Liberal seats, may be at risk of falling to climate-focused challengers.

Abbott is up against the independent Zali Steggal, and Frydenberg faces the Greens’ Julian Burnside, Labor’s Jana Stewart and independent Oliver Yates, a former head of the Clean Energy Finance Council and former Liberal member.

Fatima Kidwai, 18, who lives in Kooyong, said she felt frustrated that Frydenberg, who was environment minister from July 2016 to August 2018, had “not made much of a difference”.

“I’ve been living in Kooyong ever since I lived in Melbourne,” Kidwai said. “I once ran into Frydenberg at the train station. He has been in the seat for nine years, he has been environment minister, he had a lot of time to make a difference and advocate for change and we feel like he didn’t do as much as we’d like him to do.

“For the first time climate is such a big issue in this election. It’s a climate election – and [that’s] kind of thanks to all the students and all the work they have done.

“This time people are talking about how Kooyong is becoming a marginal seat. That’s why we’re so pumped to have a rally going outside the office just to keep up the pressure, to show him that we’ve had enough. You’ve had it pretty easy for a couple of years and now there is a change coming.”

In Warringah, Vivienne Paduch, 15, said she would be attending the protest against Abbott, describing him as “one of the most destructive climate deniers in Australian politics”.

“My whole life he has been my federal member, and it is a huge source of shame and disappointment,” she said. “He has proven time and time again that he doesn’t care about climate change. During his time in power, he abolished the carbon tax, which was successfully bringing down emissions at the time.

“He needs to know and he needs to see that the actions he has done are not OK and we won’t stand idly by.”

Paduch said older people were very receptive of the school student strike movement.

“There has been a lot of support especially from older generations, who are really concerned that one day we might not be able to have grandchildren of our own,” she said. “There has been a lot of support not just from our parents, and our grandparents. And adults are invited to come along and they have been coming to the last two climate strikes as well.

Bomaderry high school students Zara Podmore, 16, and Cedar Podmore, 15, took part in the last climate strike on 15 March and will strike again on Friday. Photograph: The Guardian“The outcome is to have as many people as possible and to really get the message across that he either has to change or he will get voted out.”

In the NSW seat of Gilmore, Bomaderry high school students Zara Podmore, 16, and Cedar Podmore, 15, took part in the last climate strike on 15 March and will strike again on Friday. They estimate around 200-300 students took part in Nowra.

“Last time there was a march across the Nowra bridge, yelling stuff,” Cedar said.

Zara said: “I think on Friday we’ll be marching through the town.

“But on the last one – it was interesting – there was a Liberal meeting across the road, we were yelling very loudly to get to them. I think Scott Morrison was even there.”

Cedar said: “He didn’t even come to the protest – he was in Nowra and he didn’t even come to say hi, which was rude.”

Asked what her message for the prime minister would have been, Cedar said: “We probably would’ve told him to get better policies on climate change.”

Zara said climate change was “not as real” for politicians because “they’re not going to have to deal with all of the consequences we have to deal with”.

Their mother, Sue Cuninghame, said she accepted the opinion of parents who did not let their children out of school and noted that other parents let their children skip school but did not disclose it was to attend the strike.

“We really wanted the girls to be able to be honest so we signed them out, to say it was for the climate change strike ... We were strong about it – that if you want to take action, you’re proud of what you do, and you’re happy to put your name to it and say that is what is happening.”

School climate strikes: 1.4 million people took part, say campaigners
 Read more
Stephanie Liow, 15, lives in the electorate of Chisholm, and will be attending a central Melbourne protest.

“Both major parties are quite frustrating given neither party has an effective climate policy. Us young people were hoping that Labor would fight Adani, except they haven’t taken a clear stance against Adani and they even just introduced a 1.5bn gas pipeline that is clearly not in support of urgent climate action.

“It matters to young people so much. It will be our futures, and we’ll suffer the consequences of the government’s poor decisions.”

Kidwai, in Kooyong, said she was optimistic.

“It’s my first time voting in an election,” she said. “I’m pretty excited. The pre-polling booths will be on the way, I am probably going to be voting before the rally starts.

“Kooyong is really stepping up their game. The people are really explicitly talking about how they want climate action. It does make me really happy.”