5 March 2021
5 March 2021
5 March 2021
As a child our family moved to Port Kembla, and we lived on Hill 60, just above the rocks where a lot of people have drowned recently.
I went to Port Kembla Infant’s School, which was overcrowded but interesting. Half the kids there came from the migrant hostel in the old WW2 army camp where ‘displaced Persons’ (as WW2 refugee families were called) lived. These kids arrived in kindergarten without a word of English. This was taken as normal by the teachers, who just plugged on. The kids from the hostel were called ‘Hostels’, but it was a descriptor rather than a pejorative. By the time we got to 2nd class in our 4th year (Kindergarten, Transition, 1st Class, 2nd Class) there was no difference between Aussie borns and Hostels. There were 46 in my 2nd class and girls filled the top 6 places. There was minimal racism in kids leaving this school.
There was no anti-discrimination legislation or bureaucracy in the 1950s but all the parents had jobs in the steelworks or associated industries and the Housing Commission was building suburbs full of affordable housing as fast as it could. If you had a go, you got a go. The ABC Radio had an awkward segment before the news called ‘Learn English with us’ where some somewhat stilted practical speech exercises lasted about 2 minutes. I used to wonder how the new migrants all tuned in for this little segment if they could not understand the rest. But the intention was there.
In 1966 there was a movement demanding ‘State Aid for Church Schools’ on the basis that they had paid their tax, and now they had left the state system they were paying twice. The government wanted to win the election, and this was seen as critical for the Catholic vote. The Democratic Labor Party, which had split from the ALP were the champions of this and still represented a significant threat to the ALP as they preferenced the Libs. State Aid came in.
Some time later there was a lot of emphasis on ESL (English as a Second Language) classes at TAFE, which were held during school hours. Their target was migrant women and their objective was to encourage English speaking to allow the women both to meet each other and to participate in society more easily. John Howard defunded the programme; ‘user pays’ was the new paradigm.
I now live in Sydney in a relatively central affluent suburb. Each morning 8 private school buses start near my door ferrying students to 8 private schools. No public transport needed- the school takes care of it all. Others students in private school uniforms catch subsidised public transport to the schools of their parents’ choice. But the cost of ‘choice’ is ‘residualisation’. Schools where there are a lot of ethnic students suffer from ‘white flight’, and so have concentrated social disadvantage and a lack of native role models. One school I visited in Western Sydney had had a stabbing in the playground about 25 years ago. The school photos in the foyer had no white face for the last 20 years. That was as far back as the photos went.
When we wonder if the Cabinet have any idea how the poorer folk live, my opinion is that they do not. These social dynamics have now been going for long enough that it is possible to be old enough to be in Cabinet and have no idea how the other half live. Some think that people without jobs have ‘wasted their opportunities’ or have alcohol or gambling problems. Add a little self-ri ghteous religion, ‘the poor are always with us’, a touch of arrogance and a peer group that thinks the same, and you have policies that are increasingly dismantling the fair go and equity that should be at the heart of our culture. It may be that you cannot make all people equal, but you can give all children equality of opportunity, and all adults enough to live on. We have to change direction and do just that.
Here, at the risk of being repetitive, is an article on Christian Porter.
3 March 2021
I just watched Attorney-General Christian Porter out himself as the Cabinet Minister accused of rape. He was live on ABC News Channel 24 at 3pm (but 8 minutes delayed, so they played the newsflash of NSW Sports Minister resigning after his property dealings were referred to ICAC).
I had deduced that Porter was the minister, as there had been a 4 Corners about him in November and his birthday made him the exact age that the alleged victim said her rapist was. We knew what he would say, as the media said that he was not going to resign, so as a debater I was as interested in his rhetoric as its contents.
He started by saying he was very sorry for the family of the alleged rape victim for their loss. He said that he had heard rumours of the allegation since November but he was unaware what was alleged. He denies the allegation completely, but was concerned about the effect on his colleagues.
He was also concerned that the journalists were trying him by media and were not following due process. He said that they had flowed due process when a previous Opposition Leader was accused of sexual harassment, clearly implying that the media were giving him a worse time. (There was no mention that one was alleged sexual harassment, the other alleged rape and suicide).
He said that he, unlike the media, was following due process.He in his professional life had been a prosecutor and had always tried to stand up for the victims and protect them.
He is now working hard but may now be removed by an accusation. If he were to resign it would mean ‘no rule of law’ and that an unsubstantiated media accusation would be enough to force Ministers to resign, so he will not stand down and set a bad precedent.
(Presumably the alternative is that no one stands down until ‘proper process’ has them convicted, which will very convenient for sports rorts and other current government activities).
He is taking a 2 week break on his doctor’s orders, and his friends are standing by him.
He expanded on the story somewhat during the questioning. There were 4 people in the debating team, 3 men and one woman. They went to her room and she showed him how to iron a shirt as none of them had ever ironed a shirt. He may have told her that ‘she would make a good wife one day’. He may have gone to dinner but he absolutely denied that he demanded oral sex or raped her. It did not happen. He pleaded with the media to ‘imagine for a second that it is not true’. Their faces were not shown on TV, but it seems from their voices that they found this hard to imagine.
He had had no contact with that person since January 1988, for 33 years, so he could not remember details, but she was a ‘bright, happy person’.
He cannot explain the story and he cannot test the evidence, so he does not favour an inquiry as he will be ‘asked to disprove something that did not happen’. Others may decide to have an inquiry. He wonders at ‘conspiracy theories everywhere’.
He spoke to the Prime Minister on Wednesday, presumably 8 days ago, not yesterday, and believes that he has the Prime Minister’s support.
My bet is that there will be a delay, then an inquiry, and then he will resign to save the government from embarrassment, but not be charged with anything. I could be wrong. Certainly the ‘Me Too’ movement has changed the paradigm in the entertainment industry and now even in Australian politics. But we are still nowhere near the old standard when Barry O’Farrell resigned as NSW Premier when he did not remember receiving a bottle of wine from a dodgy donor, or the Dutch Cabinet all resigned recently over a situation like Robodebt.
If Porter limps along, he will be lead in the Liberals’ saddlebag for a while. The election is a year away, so many will forget, but some will not, and a negative impression of the government grows stronger. These impressions eventually coalesce onto a ’gut feeling’ that the government has to go and the government becomes doomed. Usually the Canberra bubble of both politicians and their journalists are the last to realise.
27 February 2021
Former Supreme Court judge Patricia Bergin has made a referral to the Australian Federal Police following her inquiry into Crown Casino.
Bergin, whose inquiry found Crown Resorts unfit to hold a casino licence in New South Wales, made the referral at least three weeks ago.
While the AFP has declined to name the subject of its inquiry, a spokesperson said: “The AFP has received a report from Commissioner Bergin resulting from the Inquiry under the Casino Control Act 1992 (NSW). That report relates to potential telecommunications offences. While this report is investigated, it would not be appropriate to comment any further.”
Justice Bergin, who ran the 18-month independent inquiry that spectacularly halted the opening of the centrepiece high-roller floors in James Packer’s $2.2 billion Barangaroo development in Sydney, declined to comment.
The Saturday Paper can also reveal that the Australian Securities and Investments Commission is actively looking at current and former board appointees of Crown Resorts in relation to potential breaches of “care and diligence” requirements.
It is understood the corporate watchdog is aware of a number of “serious matters” raised in the Bergin report, which cut into the commission’s federal jurisdiction.
Crown Resorts and its current and former directors are now under scrutiny from inquiries and investigations in every Australian jurisdiction in which the company operates.
On Monday, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced a royal commission into the suitability of Crown Melbourne Limited to hold its casino licence in that state. With more than 16,000 staff, Crown Melbourne is the largest private employer in Victoria.
That inquiry, led by Raymond Finkelstein, QC, will also examine the appropriateness of the parent company, Crown Resorts, and has been asked to report with recommendations by August 1.
That announcement came after the Gaming and Wagering Commission of
Western Australia announced on February 17 an independent inquiry at the direction of the state’s minister for Racing, Gaming and Liquor, Paul Papalia. It will have the same powers as a royal commission.
Crown only operates two casinos in Australia – at Melbourne’s Southbank and Perth’s Burwood – and had hoped to open a third in Sydney before Bergin’s inquiry. It is now up to the independent regulator in NSW to make a final decision about the fate of the company’s licence in that state.
There is nothing in the state legislation that insists the second casino licence in Sydney has to go to Crown.
In theory, at least, any suitable operator can be awarded permission to launch or run another casino in the city.
While the AFP did not name the specific telecommunications offence it is investigating under Commonwealth law, most of these relate to using a carriage service such as phone or internet connection to make threats, harass or menace others.
In her 800-page public inquiry report, Bergin uncovered a culture of cavalier decision-making at Crown Resorts, with company failures that resulted in the arrest of its own employees in China. She pointed to systems that should have identified money laundering involving criminal elements attached to junkets, but did not.
Junkets, in the gambling world, are third-party outfits that specialise in bringing high-net-worth individuals to casinos.
The junket owners typically take fees from casinos on a commission basis and also share the risk of losses made by their clients. Often, they also provide lines of credit to their clients.
As such, they are responsible for collecting their own debts and in some markets have turned to organised crime to achieve these ends. It was these close associations that spelled trouble for Crown.
Although Covid-19 has largely rendered junkets moot in Australia – their clients are mostly non-residents who have flown in for leisure and big bets – the WA regulator on Wednesday issued directions to Crown banning them from hosting junkets in Perth.
The mandate also stops Crown Perth from participating in “table games activity with patrons who are non-residents of Australia with whom Crown Perth has an arrangement to pay the patron a commission, or provide transport, accommodation, food, drink or entertainment, based on the patron’s turnover or otherwise calculated by reference to such play”.
Justice Bergin’s public report raised serious questions about the conduct of billionaire tycoon James Packer, whose private investment vehicle CPH remains the largest shareholder in Crown.
Packer resigned as chair of the publicly traded Crown in August 2015 but remained a director until December that year. Even after he left the company, however, his influence was repeatedly demonstrated in discussions he had with serving Crown directors who remained loyal to him, according to Bergin’s report.
At times, confidential information relating to business strategy and accounts was not only shared with Packer but also developed at his instruction.
Bergin also noted that confidential information was provided to Packer by John Alexander, who was Crown’s executive chairman; Ken Barton, chief financial officer; Barry Felstead, then chief executive of Australian Resorts; and Todd Nisbet, in his capacity as Crown’s executive vice-president of strategy and development.
Barton provided financial reports to Packer “on an almost daily basis”, Bergin noted, from the time the magnate executed a secret controlling shareholder protocol.
In late November 2018, Packer emailed Barton with curt instructions: “I know Mike has spoken to you about preparing a downside plan for me. I don’t believe your FYF [financial year forecast] and am sick of always missing budgets and being unlucky in VIP.”
Of that exchange, Bergin said in her report: “Mr Packer was issuing an instruction to Mr Barton to not only specially prepare that information, but also to do so in accordance with the conservative parameters he had specifically identified.”
These conversations occasionally became terse. On March 1, 2019, Packer again emailed Barton.
“Ken I think all of you have had your heads in the sand this year. We never meet our plans and I’m sick of it,” he wrote. “Make sure for your own sake that we achieve the FY 20 plan.”
The inquiry found the “language employed by Mr Packer reflects aggressive expectation and entitlement and properly characterises Mr Packer’s communications as instructions, not mere requests for information or the giving of ‘advice’ ”.
A far more serious exchange, which occurred in late 2015 as the billionaire contemplated privatising Crown Resorts, was partly suppressed by the Bergin inquiry, but nevertheless received special attention in the final public report.
Packer, attempting to raise capital from private equity firms for the buyback of Crown, had discussions with one such company in particular but, when it came time to commit, a businessman attached to the investment firm told Packer he could summon only $400 million.
“On 25 November 2015 in response to the advice that he had received from the firm, Mr Packer wrote an email containing a serious threat to one of the businessmen in the firm,” the Bergin report says.
“Mr Packer accepted that his conduct in making the threat was ‘shameful’ and ‘disgraceful’. He also accepted that the communications were ‘totally unsuitable for a director of a public company as a close associate of a licensee of a casino’.
“Mr Packer accepted that he understood that at the time of this conduct, he had obligations to Crown to act ethically and with the highest standards of integrity. He said that at the time that he wrote the email he had ‘clearly forgotten’ he had an obligation to Crown not to engage in conduct likely to bring discredit upon Crown.”
Packer made it clear during public testimony before the inquiry that he was experiencing a medical episode at the time relating to subsequently diagnosed bipolar disorder, for which he is now receiving treatment.
The Saturday Paper is not suggesting these emails are involved in the report referred by Justice Bergin to the AFP.
Former Howard government minister Helen Coonan is one of the few remaining directors at Crown, taking on the role of executive chairman on February 15 with an annual salary package worth $2.5 million.
One-time AFL boss Andrew Demetriou, Crown’s former chief executive Ken Barton and Packer right-hand man Michael Johnston have all resigned from the company. So, too, has Guy Jalland and advertising heavyweight Harold Mitchell. Company secretary and general counsel Mary Manos has also stepped down. Non-executive director John Poynton terminated a consultancy with Packer’s company CPH in the wake of the report’s findings, in a bid to sever the last link between Packer and Crown.
In a statement to the market last Monday, Coonan said she “welcomes the announcement from the Victorian Government” to hold a royal commission.
“It provides an opportunity to detail the reforms and changes to our business to deliver the highest standards of governance and compliance, and an organisational culture that meets community expectations,” she said.
With more than 16,000 staff, Crown Melbourne is the largest private employer in Victoria.
The outcome of the AFP investigation could determine whether its subject is banned from being a company director for acting in a manner that affects the reputation of a company or adversely affects shareholders. Given some of the Commonwealth telecommunications offences carry maximum penalties with jail time up to three years, this would also factor into ASIC’s decision-making about the appropriateness of a person being a company director in the future.
More broadly, ASIC can ban directors who fail their duties under section 180 of the Corporations Act, although such cases are notoriously difficult to stack up because a court must be persuaded such behaviour was detrimental to shareholders.
On February 18, Crown Resorts Limited released its half-year results, which were severely affected by Covid-19 restrictions and a “number of regulatory investigations”.
Statutory revenue was down 62 per cent to $581 million, while earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation fell almost 100 per cent to just $4.4 million.
But, as ever in gambling, Crown is still hoping for a big win.
“Crown will work cooperatively with regulators as it seeks to restore public and regulatory confidence in its operations,” it said in the investor presentation.
“The [Bergin] Inquiry Report outlines a pathway towards suitability to allow Crown to give effect to the Restricted Gaming Licence.
“All gaming areas [at Barangaroo] are complete and ready for opening, subject to the receipt of all regulatory approvals.”
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 27, 2021 as “Exclusive: Crown report referred to the Federal Police”.
27 February 2021
Texas just had a major problem with electricity supply caused by an extreme weather event and the fact that their grid was not connected to the rest of the USA to allow them to import power to the state. But Australia has a similar market-driven model where generators bid to put electricity into the grid. The price is set by the last bid to get to the quantity that is needed. This allows the gaming of prices by collusion between generators, which is probably the reason that prices have remained high- the competition that is supposed to lower prices is ‘imperfect’. Interestingly, no one gives this as a reason.
Most Australian retailers buy power, average the wholesale prices and sell to the consumer. Wholesale prices on the National Energy Market vary widely and can be watched for free in real time on apps such as NEM Data.
When a massive weather event occurred in Texas the wholesale price went through the roof. Would our bills be similarly affected? Possibly, as when South Australia had a similar problem their connection to the national grid was blown down.
A few electricity retailers in Australia merely sell at the wholesale price and take a fixed supply fee, which is cheaper unless huge price spikes come due to unforeseen events.
One aspect that has been neglected in public discussion in Australia is Demand Management, which involves cutting demand, rather than increasing supply. It would be possible, for example, to have customers notified that prices were very high and have them shut off unnecessary power, such as air-conditioning. This could be refined to be more selective, turning off the cooler but not the fan intermittently. It could even be done remotely and houses could have circuits that could be cut off if power was short, and circuits that were considered vital, like lights and frigs.
It would be possible to get an SMS us to tell us that power was very expensive and to turn off whatever was possible. This assumes the customer is on wholesale prices- otherwise it is the retailer’s problem. But the issue and some technological and behavioural options need to be discussed.
In the meantime I am on wholesale pricing and am writing to my retailer about SMSs.
27 February 2021
Most of the wealth of the West is built on the labour of countries that are paid less.
The British Empire was built on exploiting other countries. India the most, being the biggest, but the gold of Africa and the riches of Australia and Canada were not trivial.
Colonialism pre-1900 insisted that the coloniser took over, and in Britain’s case put their flag on the colony’s flag. After 1900, things became a bit more subtle. The financial arrangements were made, but not advertised on flags. The US in the Philippines is a good example, or its efforts in South America.
It is good that this is discussed as in the article below. It is the first step in change, though note that the article is from 2018, so the discussion is by no means inevitable.
As there is free trade since WW2 top level capitalists get stuff made in low cost countries then sell it in high cost countries. The rip-offs continue but there is still a gradual transfer of both capital and expertise to developing countries, as well as the transfer of jobs, that is squeezing developed country jobs.
The greatest challenge for the next generation is to have justice between nations without the West’s lifestyle being destroyed; you could call it a controlled climbdown. Some method of evening the wealth within Western countries might be a start.
21 February 2021
There are two quarantine stories extant, one short-term, one long-term:
The Sun Herald front page story is ‘State Debt Collectors eye hotel millions’. It is about how 5264 invoices covering 7214 travellers who stayed at quarantine hotels have not paid and thus have to be chased for the money. The fact that they had to stay at these very expensive hotels for 2 weeks to be allowed to come home seems irrelevant. The fact that they may have had to stay in hotels for 9 months overseas in lockdown situations, had to come home on very expensive flights and may have no money and no job is also not mentioned. What might have been thought of as repatriating citizens caught in a situation that was not of their making is now a routine debt like a speeding fine, to be chased by the NSW government’s privately contracted debt collectors.
Meanwhile down in Victoria in today’s Age there is talk of building a quarantine hotel at Avalon Airport. Avalon airport was ex-RAAF and is about 3 hours from Melbourne (as I discovered to my cost when taking a Jetstar fight to Melbourne without looking where it landed). It is now owned by Linfox Transport group, and the Wagner Corporation of Townsville was keen to build the quarantine facility. When asked by an interviewer what accommodation would cost, Mr Wagner replied that this was ‘commercial in confidence’. There was none of this nonsense about giving arriving travellers a ‘fair go’; presumably such assurances are not necessary to get the contracts these days.
The colonial-era Manly Quarantine Station, which was saved from developers some years ago and remains in the dangerous situation of being a historic site in NSW used to have 3 levels of accommodation, for the rich, middle class and poor. At least the financial reality was recognised then.
Presumably backpackers who needed to come home would be happy to stay in backpacker accommodation, whereas some business folk really cannot manage less than the Ritz. But the government ought to make provision for Australians who want to come home and returning travellers needing to be quarantined should have the right to return without having to pay whatever a privatised accommodation facility chooses to charge them, without the government’s contribution being to unleash the debt collectors.
20 February 2021
I like to think that my credentials as a mental health advocate are pretty good. I was responsible for the NSW Parliamentary Select Committee of Inquiry into Mental Health in December 2001 which reported in 2003. The result of this inquiry was an increase in the mental health budget in the following year of $320 million, a new accounting system so that the money could not be transferred by hospital administrations to other areas, and publicity which led to a similar Senate Inquiry in Canberra. This reported in 2006 and led to psychologists being put on Medicare. (Not that my contribution was noticed by the Parliamentary press gallery).
One of the elements of recognising mental health is having it treated the same as physical health.
But I am also a tennis fan, not a tragic, but a fan. In the quarter finals of the Australian Open, Ash Barty, Australia’s favourite and No 1 seed was eliminated by Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic. This might not be remarkable were it not for the fact that the game had Barty winning easily until Muchova took a 10 minute medical timeout. After this, the game and momentum swung totally Muchova’s way and she won. Muchova admitted that she wasn’t injured, she just took time off to get her head together. Obviously she did that, and Barty was sufficiently disconcerted to lose the match. The public waited the 10 minutes and the TV filled the break as usual.
Barty was magnanimous in defeat, saying that Muchova had the right to take a medical break, but one has to ask whether taking a 10 minute break to compose one’s head if one is not doing well in a match will become the new norm Hey, there is no rule against it, and now a precedent for it!
It will be hard for a tournament referee to say to a player, ‘I do not accept you injury, get back on and play’, but what is the alternative? This is a bad precedent. This is not mental illness. Any suggestions how it should be dealt with?
20 February 2021
What else would a PR driven government do to lessen criticism of its rorts?
Here is an SMH article today by Katina Curtis entitled:
‘Cuts Mean Government Agencies will avoid scrutiny’.
The watchdog in charge of keeping the government accountable for its use of taxpayer money says his budget has fallen so much, some agencies might only face scrutiny once every 20 years and auditors are tolerating ‘‘uncomfortable’’ risks in financial statements.Auditor-General Grant Hehir says over the next four years he has to cut the number of performance audits his office does, which in the past year has uncovered the sports rorts scandal and the $30 million paid for the Leppington Triangle land valued within a year at just $3 million.The cut will reduce the number of audits by a quarter, from a historical average of 48 a year to 36, the lowest number this century, bar 2016 when the double dissolution of Parliament meant fewer sitting weeks to deliver his reports.‘‘In effect, I am unable to provide the Parliament to the same extent with the evidence it has used to hold executive government to account, thereby reducing accountability and transparency,’’ Mr Hehir yesterday told a parliamentary committee reviewing the Australian National Audit Office.Over the past two years, the performance audit section has lost 20 staff, equivalent to the capacity for eight audits. ANAO funding as a proportion of government spending is now half what it was 10 years ago.‘‘Should it be going up proportionately? I’m not arguing that, but I think it shouldn’t be going down,’’ Mr Hehir said.Since 2013, the Australian National Audit Office’s budget has been cut by nearly $6.3 million – or more than 22 per cent in real terms – although Mr Hehir told the committee ‘‘we probably wouldn’t use the word cut, it’s fallen’’.While the budget has shrunk, the number and complexity of financial statement audits the office must do has grown. Mr Hehir said the budget squeeze meant he’d had to increase the risk tolerance of these audits to a point where he was ‘‘uncomfortable’’.As well as a reduced number of audits, their scope will be narrower, and they will focus on higher-risk activities in large entities such as the Tax Office and the Defence Department.‘‘Many smaller agencies may not be audited for extended periods of time, potentially over 20 years,’’ Mr Hehir told the committee.