Doctor and activist


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Author: Arthur Chesterfield-Evans

Government protects Bonuses of iCare Executives while workers are dudded.

20 May 2022

Some things make me unspeakably angry.

In the SMH online today the government giving bonuses to executives who presided over iCare cheating injured people out of their payments and treatments.

In my real job, I treat injured workers and motor vehicle accidents. Many wait more than a year for surgery- my longest was 9 years. They are subjected to Independent Medical Examinations that find any other reason than their accident for the cause of their pain. Age, previous injury and arthritis are the commonest ones.  It is stated that they are fit for work, when they are obviously not, or that they can get another job when they obviously have no physical or mental capacity to do another job, let alone compete for one. 

The ongoing inefficiency of the computer algorithms making decisions without even anyone being responsible was the brainchild of John Nagle, whose other bright idea was to change his KPI (Key Performance Indicator) from getting people back to work, to having them declared fit to be back to work.  Nagle resigned after a bad day at a Parliamentary inquiry. All this happened while iCare was under Treasurer Dominic Perrottet. 

A friend of mine injured his back lifting on a Friday. He called his GP and visited him on Saturday. He had an MRI scan on Monday which showed a bad disc injury, saw the neurosurgeon on Thursday, had a discectomy on Saturday and went home on Monday. All fixed in 8 days. That is what should happen. It never happens in the WC or CTP system.

The Workers Comp system takes 14 days to accept liability, then has to ‘decide’ if the treatment is appropriate, so weeks go by, and if they dispute it, years. People wait 3 months for the insurer’s medical examination, 6 weeks for the result of it, another couple of months for their specialist examination and a few months for the government medical to settle the dispute.  And they blame the injured people for the worse results out of the system, and give bonuses to those who managed to reduce the costs.  Given the huge administrative machinery, the clerk, investigators, extra medical examiners, lawyers, dispute resolvers and the rest, all the savings come from not treating people.  And those responsible get bonuses, and the government, ever keen not to upset the private sector ring-ins makes sure that they are amply rewarded for this appalling situation.  Perrottet, the most recent architect of iCare, had a 2nd inquiry by McDougall to kick the can down the road, then rose to be premier before his report was out. 

Here is the SMH article:

Government votes to protect bonuses for icare executives

By Lucy Cormack

May 20, 2022 — 5.00am

The Perrottet government has protected bonus payments for icare executives, rejecting a bid to ban the practice after revelations millions of dollars in bonuses were handed out while injured workers were underpaid.

The attempt to strip bonuses from executives at the state insurer was contained in Opposition amendments blocked in the lower house this week during a vote to amend the state insurance and care legislation.

Icare has been the subject of intense scrutiny since an investigation by the Herald and ABC TV’s Four Corners in 2020 revealed the underpayment of workers while senior executives claimed almost $4 million in salaries and bonuses.

The insurer, which provides workers’ compensation insurance to 3.6 million public and private sector employees in NSW, has since been forced to repay $38 million to 53,000 injured workers.

The scandal prompted the government to amend legislation governing icare, following a review by former judge Robert McDougall, QC.

More than 200 icare employees are entitled to bonuses, including chief executive officer Richard Harding, who is entitled to an incentive of $411,000.

Opposition treasury spokesman Daniel Mookhey said there was little justification for bonuses while the insurer continued to record billions of dollars in underwriting losses.

“Employers are staring down the barrel of a decade of rising premiums, yet the government is protecting bonuses for top executives at Australia’s most disaster-prone insurer,” Mookhey said.

“We intend to stand up for employers and injured workers. We will fight against lavish bonuses for icare’s top executives in the Legislative Council next week.”

During debate on Wednesday, Minister for the State Insurance Regulatory Authority Victor Dominello said the McDougall Review had not found executive bonuses at icare were excessive.

He said McDougall noted the benefit of allowing icare to set competitive salaries to “attract appropriate talent”

The Herald last year revealed icare hired 18 new executives with potential annual bonuses collectively worth more than $1.2 million, while employee operating costs have increased from $162 million to more than $200 million since 2020.

However, an icare spokesman previously told the Herald no executive bonuses have been paid in the past two years.

Unions NSW boss Mark Morey wrote to NSW MPs last week calling for reforms to address “repeated governance, financial and operational crises”, including ending executive bonuses.

Other proposed reforms included enforcing the same procurement laws that govern the NSW public sector, from which icare is exempt, and appointing an injured worker to the board.

Morey on Thursday said the government had missed an opportunity to “clean up” the state insurer.

“How can the premier justify continued bonuses for highly paid executives when sick and injured workers have been dudded and small businesses are paying increased premiums?” he said.

Other changes sought by the government included additional powers for the State Insurance Regulatory Authority and expanded access to commutation, which allows injured workers to negotiate lump sum payments and exit the system, rather than remain on weekly payments.

However, the government agreed to withdraw its proposal to allow changes to commutations via regulation and reconsider them in future legislation.

Opposition spokeswoman for industrial relations, work, health and safety Sophie Cotsis said she was pleased the government had agreed to consult further on lump sum payments, arguing that regulation should not be used to expand the system.

The State Insurance and Care Legislation Amendment Bill 2022 will now move to the upper house, where the opposition will make another attempt to ban bonuses.

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Easy Money Philosophy the Key to Australia’s Undoing

May 13 2022

Australia’s lack of vision in its leadership is the cause of most of our problems. (warning- long post)

Undeveloped economies rely on capital input and land development, and sadly the philosophy of making an easy dollar has dominated our approach to public policy.

A key element in this has been the approach to housing.  Negative gearing of property has made housing a commodity, and the no-brainer way to make money has been to buy property with as little deposit as possible, so as it rises on an endless speculative bubble, the return on capital invested is as great as possible.  The unit of real estate development might be thought to be what a person can borrow and pay off in a lifetime. That is what would be home owners go to the auction with, so developers can charge that, and do. The huge profit margin then makes developers able to influence the political system, such that it becomes largely controlled by them. 

Of course it is all a Ponzi scheme.  As someone sells with their huge capital gain, where does the money come from?  The buyer has to borrow it, of course.  The property is the same as it was. They borrow it from an Australian bank, who borrows it from a foreign bank.  So Australia’s private debt is close to the highest in the world, largely because we have arbitrarily over-valued our houses, and given tax concessions to achieve this. Our kids now cannot afford houses unless their parents give them theirs.

But it is more extensive than this. Banks do not have to evaluate business proposals carefully.  It is much easier just to demand the mortgage on your home, or not to lend to risky stuff like businesses when real estate is so easy.  So we have no money nationally to develop our own industries and we sell our assets.

It permeates the national psyche. The status of professions tends to follow their incomes, with a bit of a lag.  Teachers, nurses, GPs, and middle-grade public servants have had large relative falls in incomes. Public service experts are neglected, their consistent plodding in their niche area undervalued. When knowledge in that niche is actually required ‘Consultants’ charging exorbitant rates replace them, pandering to the political minders or residual managers who do not know what they do not know.

Gambling in Australia has been huge.  With no serious research on the effect of gambling on society, it was assumed that if the clubs were non-profit that they would put back as much into society as they took out.  No one actually measured the social effect and they just kept growing. The hotels were not able to compete. They tried live music for a while and Australia had a rash of world-class bands, but then they got into pokies as well so that NSW has a huge percentage of the whole world’s poker machines  All easy money; no independent research please.   We have ads for gambling.  Basically people always lose, so there might as well be ads that say, ‘Do not have a financial plan or savings- give your money to us’.  But no one comments.

But even that was not enough. We had to have a casino, just one, to get some foreign money.

And was it to be in the middle of the desert, like Las Vegas to make some industry and jobs out there? No, after minimal discussion it was in Sydney.  And after a bit more time, we had two. After all, Packer was a favoured son.  Now, or course it will be foreign owned, so the profits, as far as they can be calculated (or not) will go offshore.

Some years ago I went on a political study tour to the USA.  We went to Las Vegas and stayed in Caesar’s Place.  The casino people were pleased to talk to those who were assumed to be Australia’s future political leaders.  Their message was clear, ‘Leave us alone. We are just like other businesses. Do not interfere. Enjoy the shows’.  After we had seen them, we were shown the rest of Las Vegas. The city officials were very proud of their new ‘one-stop shop’ for social problems. All the facilities were in one place, homelessness, alcohol, drug addiction, domestic violence, and gambling.  It took a quite a few questions to get past the euphemisms to the fact that Las Vegas had about the worse social problems in the USA.

Just as Al Capone profited from alcohol being illegal, so gambling profits from the fact that organised crime needs to launder its money. There is so much of this money that it forms an imperative- no business could possibly ignore that much money.  So the regulator does little, the political class turn a blind eye, and of course some well-connected political folk get on the board to smooth government relations and pick up a generous pay packet for their services. They don’t really need to know what goes on- ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’.

So organised crime gets a huge foothold, but we don’t prosecute rich people here, the worst that happens is that someone has to say that they are humbled and shocked and resign.

Now as we read daily of one gangland shooting after another, we can conclude that the prohibition of hard drugs is going about as well as the prohibition of alcohol went, with the added benefit of the casinos to attract overseas crime profits as well.

We might ask what is to be done?

At a crime level, it would be good to close the casinos and systematically try to reduce gambling on poker machines and everything else.  It would be smart to look at alternatives to criminalising drug use, and systematically make legal drugs like alcohol and vaping less attractive; ban the marketing and have some health promotion for starters. And at a national level, stop any new negative gearing and build houses as they did on the 1950s where families could rent and then purchase. Build the public service and public expertise, and fund education, health and an equal opportunity for all.  It is not rocket science, and naturally there are resource constraints, but as much money and effort is wasted, and human misery sown there is a lot of money to be saved.

It might be called a vision or even, more modestly, common sense.  But if you look at the strength of the lobbies that have been created by the decades of appalling public policy, one has to admit it will be difficult.  So difficult that not a word of any of this has been in any election discussion at all.

Here is today’s SMH article on how crime is out of control.   

Criminals Run Rampant

Nick McKenzie SMH 13 March 2022

TOP OFFICER’S BRIEFINGS

Organised crime is running rampant across Australia and agencies are struggling to fight it, according to secret briefings given to cabinet ministers and public servants by the highest-ranking fighter of organised crime in NSW.

The briefings challenge ‘‘tough on crime’’ rhetoric by state and federal governments while also revealing claims from officials that NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has ignored calls for counter-crime reforms from the offices of two of his senior ministers.

The problems are so severe that the person who delivered the briefing, NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Stuart Smith, claimed that: ‘‘With the current legislation and the current powers, we’re [police] swinging a pool noodle and they’ve [crime bosses] got guns.’’

It is extremely rare for a confidential assessment from a serving, high-ranking police official to be made public, and Smith’s candid views are likely to cause significant political and agency discomfort.

One of the briefing attendees, NSW cabinet minister Victor Dominello, told Smith (pictured) that if the public learned of the assistant commissioner’s unguarded views, ‘‘that would freak everybody out. They would shoot us because we are not looking after the public interest,’’ Dominello said. Another official in the meeting was the chief of staff for then police minister David Elliott.

Smith also claimed in his December briefings that the fight against organised crime was hampered by the lacklustre approach of the nation’s financial crime agency, Austrac. Smith said Austrac was ‘‘not swinging hard enough’’ and had failed to more aggressively combat organised crime because of its focus on banks. At one point, Smith described Austrac as ‘‘nitwits’’.

‘‘Stop picking on the banks and start picking on organised crime,’’ he said.

Smith also savaged what he described as abysmal anti-organised crime laws in NSW, the state with the highest number of nationally networked organised crime and bikie gang bosses.

He warned that crime groups were carrying out ‘‘assassinations’’ in NSW and in Europe and vast resources were required to effectively monitor them as they not only trafficked in drugs but rorted federal and state government schemes such as the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

In a statement, Perrottet said yesterday that the government was working closely with police on a ‘‘range of options’’ to deal with the problem.

‘‘Money laundering and organised crime are completely unacceptable in any form,’’ he said.

‘‘In December last year, I welcomed the decision of the NSW Crime Commission to commence an inquiry into money laundering at licensed premises in NSW. The inquiry is being conducted in collaboration with the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission.’’

Perrottet said the commission had extensive powers and had the full support of the NSW government. ‘‘We will consider the findings of the inquiry when they are made available.’’

On Tuesday, Comanchero national sergeant-at-arms Tarek Zahed, 41, was injured in a Sydney shooting attack that claimed the life of his brother Omar Zahed, 39.

There have been more than 40 incidents of organised crimelinked violence in the past two years in NSW, including 12 murders.

In his briefings, Smith also singled out poker machine venues, including clubs, pubs and casinos, as having been exploited by money launderers, as well as the crypto market and the property market.

An overview of Smith’s briefings

– sighted by this masthead – also reveal Dominello warned the assistant commissioner that lobbyists from the gaming industry would use their political contacts to fight efforts to combat money laundering in pubs, clubs and casinos.

‘‘The gambling lobby is very, very powerful and they have very, very deep roots inside the cabinet and opposition,’’ Dominello told the senior officer.

There was also deep frustration among others briefed by Smith at the government’s failure to fully engage with efforts to more aggressively counter organised crime and crack down on the exploitation of poker machines by money launderers.

NSW’s chief gaming regulator, Philip Crawford, told officials at the briefing that it was ‘‘scary’’ how gaming officials had ‘‘very few regulatory levers to pull on this industry’’.

Crawford chairs the NSW Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority and unsuccessfully pushed Perrottet in December for a public facing inquiry into money laundering and problem gambling at poker machine venues.

‘‘The industry doesn’t want us anywhere near it,’’ he said.

Smith said in his briefings that his frustration at the failure to get political backing to bolster the fight against organised crime had led him to seek and gain backing from state and federal agencies to privately brief politicians and public servants on the severity of the problem.

Smith said the then police minister David Elliott had been left ‘‘out on the ledge’’ trying to get legislation through to solve the problem.

The Herald has confirmed the authenticity of detailed records of the briefings Smith delivered last December to senior politicians and public servants from the offices of the Premier, then police minister David Elliott and then minister responsible for gaming, Victor Dominello, who both lost their portfolios during recent reshuffles.

Descriptions of the briefings reveal Elliott’s chief of staff, Tanya Raffoul, revealed she had tried repeatedly to alert Perrottet about the police’s organised crime concerns but been rebuffed by the Premier’s office.

‘‘I’ve tried three times to get it through … and the answer has been no,’’ Raffoul said, describing efforts to get backing for reform as a ‘‘war of attrition’’.

‘‘The Premier wouldn’t be able to stand up and say that we’ve got the toughest money laundering laws in the country. They are significantly weak,’’ Raffoul said.

Dominello was moved out of the gaming portfolio by Perrottet after pushing for inquiries and reforms to combat money laundering and problem gambling at The Star Sydney, Crown Resorts and at pokies venues.

The casino inquiries exposed major organised crime infiltration and abysmal governance within the gaming sector, while the NSW Crime Commission is probing criminal infiltration of pubs and clubs.

Smith’s briefings build on comments from the federal police’s top organised crime official, Assistant Commissioner Nigel Ryan, who last October warned the majority of organised crime was operating with impunity.

The head of the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, Mike Phelan, has also warned organised crime had become a multibillion-dollar behemoth that was corrupting Australian public officials and penetrating border security via corrupt insiders.

In his briefing, Smith warned that organised crime in Australia was earning almost $40 billion via its main source of income – drug trafficking – and by rorting state and federal government programs, including the NDIS.

‘‘Micro grants, they [organised crime] love those things. Childcare schemes, they’re into that. The NDIA [National Disability Insurance Agency], they steal from that.’’

He warned of drug-laden ‘‘ships circulating Australia’’ whose cargo was put out to auction. The highest bidder won the right to have the drug shipment delivered via an entrenched corrupt ‘‘transport network’’.

Smith described NSW as the epicentre of organised crime and as the host of the largest numbers of outlaw bikie club members, nominating other states as key drug markets and the Gold Coast as Australia’s new version of the infamous 1980s Kings Cross vice strip.

Newcastle’s port and transport industry was a weak point, said Smith, given it was deeply infiltrated by serious organised crime. Smith named fugitive Comanchero bikie leader Mark Buddle as one of several crime bosses damaging Australian interests from offshore.

Buddle has been instrumental in creating ‘‘The Commission’’, a crime cartel that charges drug traffickers a fee to allow them to import drugs into Australia and promises to regulate the drug market using its muscle.

FAILING LAWS

Smith also repeatedly highlighted the role of ‘‘clever lawyers and clever accountants’’ in helping crime bosses and corrupt officials hide their money.

The veteran crime fighter’s comments highlight the 15-year failure of successive federal governments to introduce financial crime reforms targeting lawyers, accountants and real estate agents.

Smith identified alleged organised crime boss Mostafa Baluch as an example of those who police suspect had employed accountants and lawyers to defeat law enforcement efforts to identify the proceeds of crimes.

His comments will increase pressure on the major parties to commit to introducing long-stalled anti-money laundering laws – known as ‘‘Tranche 2 reforms’’ – that place far greater obligations on lawyers, accountants and real estate agents to report suspected money laundering.

The changes have been backed by almost every policing agency in the country.

Smith also savaged the state of NSW’s proceeds of crime and money laundering laws, describing them as ‘‘wonky’’, ‘‘old’’ and easily defeated by organised crime.

Smith said other jurisdictions, including Western Australia, had far more effective laws that shifted the onus onto suspects to explain the origins of unexplained wealth. ‘‘We just need to put the balance back in the [legislative] weaponry, so that these drugs pay for the damage they do,’’ he said.

Smith described how policing agencies had identified poker machines and venues as having been used to launder drug money. The assistant commissioner said the pokies floor at The Star casino in Sydney had hosted a money laundering syndicate but also warned that NSW clubs ‘‘are either turning a blind eye, or being utilised to launder large sums of money’’.

‘‘We don’t want a club industry and pub industry following the same stupid operational model’’ as those businesses already infiltrated by bikies and organised crime, Smith warned. But he said NSW ‘‘hasn’t got the weaponry’’ in terms of laws or regulators to fight money laundering in pubs, clubs and casinos.

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A Russian Perspective on Ukraine- (Gregory Clark article below)

25 April 2022

While the brutal tactics of the Russians in Ukraine make horrendous continuing news, significant aspects of the origins of Russia’s Ukraine invasion have been ignored by Western media.  This does not justify the invasion, but one might wonder if the Donbas region in the East could ever have been retained within Ukraine.

It is well known that there is a gradation across the Ukraine from West to East, those in the West favouring Europe about 90%, but those in the East, the Donsek region, has almost 90% keen to merge with Russia.  There was a strong separatist movement in these provinces, with ongoing fighting. The Ukrainian army was not keen to fight other Ukrainians and it was said that neo-Nazi groups were involved in fighting the separatists using very Fascist tactics. 

Historically there had been some strong right wing groups in the Ukraine, and it might be noted that when Germany invaded, troops from Ukraine were recruited and fought with them against the Russians.  At the end of the war, naturally these groups were not seen, but it has been said that the CIA was in touch with them, and that they facilitated the successful storming of the Ukrainian Parliament in the coup in 2014, which led to the Donbas region in the east attempting to secede from Ukraine and Russia seizing Crimea.  It might be noted that Crimea was given to Ukraine by Russia in 1954 when they were both part of the USSR. The transfer was facilitated by Nikita Khrushchev who needed the Ukrainian votes to further his own career, and made little difference while Ukraine was in the USSR.

Fighting continued in the Donbas region which includes the provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk. The fighting led to the Minsk Agreement in September 2014, but the agreement failed leading to Minsk II in February 2015.  Luhansk and Donetsk were supposed to become autonomous regions, but it has never happened.  Fighting has continued, so Russia’s claim that they are fighting Nazis is not as absurd as it has been painted, at least in those regions.

When the USSR was collapsing the US Secretary of State James Baker promised Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev on 9 February 1990 that NATO would not recruit countries to the East.  However, those countries were fearful of a Russian resurgence and wanted to join NATO.  The USSR collapsed in 1991. The Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland joined in 1999 and Russia objected.  Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia joined in 2004.  Note the marked move of NATO to the East.  Albania and Croatia joined in 2009, Montenegro in 2017 and North Macedonia in 2020.  The Balkan countries presumably joined as protection against Serbia, which started the wars as Yugoslavia disintegrated in 1991-1999.  Serbia was a strong Russian ally. 

Prior to invading Ukraine, Russia wanted a guarantee that Ukraine would not join NATO, but Ukraine along with Georgia and Bosnia-Herzegovina have expressed membership aspirations.  No one was willing to give a guarantee the Ukraine would not join NATO even as the Russian troops massed for the invasion, though some hoped that Putin was bluffing.

Russia is now the 11th biggest economy in the world, ahead of Spain and Australia at 12th and 13th, so economically it is only a middle power, but having been a superpower with an empire recently, it has weapons far in excess of other middle powers and as it pursues a commodities-led recovery it hankers for its old Empire.

The German Social Democrats, the coalition partners of Angela Merkel, assumed that if Russia were integrated into the European economy by Germany buying their gas there would be no wars.  This has been a major miscalculation. Germany was dependent on Russia for 55% of their gas, this having gone up when then they closed their nuclear plants after the Fukushima disaster.  They still get 39% of their gas from Russia and are reluctant to turn it off as it would cause a major recession there.  This is very controversial in Germany at present.  Someone calculated that German purchase of Russian gas can pay for a tank every 20 seconds.

Here is an article by Gregory Clark, who spent 10 years with the Australian Dept. of External Affairs (which was the Foreign Relations Dept.) and resigned in 1965 in protest at Australia going into Vietnam. He went to Tokyo and was the lead correspondent for The Australian in Japan 1969-74 and a Japanese academic. He came back as an advisor to Prime Minister and Cabinet in 1974-76 (the Whitlam era), and returned to Japan after that. 

Western media have failed dismally in reporting the Ukraine war

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What is Needed in Health

12 May 2022

Dr Stephen Duckett was an architect of Medicare and is one of our leading health policy experts. His opinion of what is needed for the health system has a lot of implied criticism of what has been happening, with excessive resources on late-stage treatments rather than prevention and early diagnosis, which comes in Primary Care.He speaks of the dis-cordination, cost shifting and political nature of decision-making.

He does not even mention the need to fix Medicare- saving it is not enough!

What I would do if I were the Minister for Health and Ageing in the next government

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Huge Corporate Rort with Petroleum Resource Rent Tax

24 April 2022

Foreign companies are paying no tax due to deficiencies in the Petroleum Resource Rent Tax (PRRT). You may recall that the Rudd government tried to bring in a realistic tax based on the one that they have in Norway with a sovereign wealth fund set up to tide the country over a rainy day (like a COVID epidemic perhaps).  The extent of the tax avoided is currently 13% of GDP!

Rudd was targeted by a combination of the miners and Murdoch, who he was trying to stop getting a virtual monopoly of the Australian media.

When Rudd fell, Gillard came in and introduced an alternative tax, which allowed her to save face, but one commentator some time later noted that the increase in miners’ profits that year was almost exactly what Rudd’s tax would have raised, and the new tax raised almost nothing.  It was also said that the Tax Office had not modelled the new tax, and it came from the miners.  This fits the theory that it was a face-saver so that Australians would still think that the government was actually in control.

Here we are a few years later, with a whole election debate is about tax, tax cuts, handouts and the cost of living, yet neither of the major parties have the guts to call out the real tax avoiders, who actually changed the legislation in their favour.  The Greens do and for that they are called radical lefties!

The government takes credit for the COVID bounce-back recovery, which has nothing to do with their policies, and for the low unemployment rate which relates to the lack of backpackers and students, who usually do the dirtiest and least safe jobs for sub-award wages, not to mention the definition of ‘employment‘ as having at least one hour of work a week.  The claimed 4% unemployment rate is actually a bad joke.

Here is an article in Crikey from Bernard Keane:

www.crikey.com.au/2022/04/20/prrt-could-be-biggest-theft-in-history/

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Australian Human Rights Commission Defunded and stacked by Morrison.

23 April 2022

“The Australian Human Rights Commission, who investigate matters of discrimination, have just lost their international A- minus rating due to massive funding cuts and the LNP appointing three people as Commissioners who are unqualified!

Here is an extract of the April 2022 newsletter from the AHRC president:

“A key issue we have been navigating recently has been the re-accreditation review of the Commission by the international accrediting committee of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions – the international standards body. ��The accreditation reviews are a peer review process conducted every five years. The review considers whether a national human rights institution (NHRI) continues to meet the criteria for independent status set out in the UN Principles on National Institutions. ��If an NHRI meets these criteria it is accorded ‘A status’, which provides crucial standing in various international fora — particularly the reviews of compliance against each of the key international human rights treaties. ��The question asked in an accreditation is whether the NHRI under review operates with the necessary level of institutional independence to ensure the effective promotion and protection of human rights. It is an assessment of government action and the legislative and policy environment for the operation of the NHRI, as well as the advocacy of the NHRI itself as an independent body to seek change. ��The Commission faced three possible outcomes through this review: reaccreditation as an A-status institution; downgrade to a B-status institution; or deferral of reaccreditation for a period of time for serious matters of compliance to be addressed. ��The Commission was not reaccredited as an A-status national human rights institution. Its reaccreditation was deferred. ��The key concern of the Committee that led to the deferral was the selection and appointment process for Commissioners. This latest report reflects feedback from the Committee over a 10-year period about Australia’s appointment processes, with three appointments in this timeframe not meeting the accreditation requirements. ��The Commission has advocated consistently for open, merit-based, appointments of Commissioners and that the expectations against the international standards of independence for NHRIS are set higher than the Government’s Merit and Transparency Guidelines. ��With respect to the two Commissioners who have been appointed during my period in office otherwise than through an open process, we have sought to support them strongly in their work as independent officeholders.��Please see below for the Commission’s statement about the decision and its implications.

With my very best wishes,

Rosalind

Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher AM�President”

An accepted claim now has a waitlist of at least six months before they can begin to investigate your complaint.

I had missed an earlier article about their funding in The Guardian of 17/3/22

www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2022/mar/17/australian-human-rights-commission-to-slash-staff-after-budget-cuts-and-surge-in-workload

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$55 Billion in grants in Federal Ministerial grants in less than 4 years!

21 April 2022

The Easter Saturday Herald had the story that Ministers have had the ability to give out $55 billion in less than 4 years, $20 billion last year alone!

Clearly this is used as a pork barrel to buy re-election and the public service and proper process has been sidelined by this government, which has set new lows in moral standards.

Morrison, when quizzed, has stated that he could not introduce an ICAC because Labor would not support his model.

There are two things wrong with this argument:

1. When did the government ever need support of the Opposition to introduce legislation?  The main thing wrong with Australian democracy is the ‘winner takes all’ nature of the debate.

2. The model Morrison wanted was so weak that all the activities that people have objected to would not have been able to be investigated, and presumably he would have stacked the toothless tiger with people who would have been hard to remove. 

Labor was quite right to oppose his model, and of course if they put in a functional one and it goes after the rorts of the current government it will be accused of being party political.

And it seems that there is $13.8 billion still to be given out between now and the election according to an article by David Crowe in the SMH of 31/3/22!

Here is the SMH article:

Taxpayers fund $55.6 billion in federal grants over less than four years

By David Crowe

Updated April 16, 2022

Taxpayers have funded $55.6 billion in federal grants over less than four years under rules that give ministers sweeping powers to decide the payments, with new research fuelling an election row over calls to establish a national integrity commission to safeguard public funds.

The findings show the grants reached $20 billion last year alone across federal departments from health to transport and industry, revealing the scale of the payments and sparking a new proposal for tighter rules and stricter oversight to prevent corruption.

The analysis shows the government issued $3.4 billion in grants in the four months after Scott Morrison became prime minister in August 2018 and this climbed to $16.9 billion in the following calendar year.

After Prime Minister Scott Morrison refused to commit to setting up an integrity commission in the next term of parliament, former judges have stepped up their calls for a powerful watchdog and accused him of breaking his election promise three years ago to act on the problem.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese will sharpen the divide on the key issue of trust in politics on Saturday by pledging to pass laws this year to establish a federal integrity watchdog, with a challenge to Morrison to deliver on a promise made 1200 days ago.

“That’s 1200 days of rorts, waste and jobs for mates,” Albanese said. “Time’s up.”

The analysis of the federal spending, conducted by the Centre for Public Integrity, shows the government issued $3.4 billion in grants in the four months after Morrison became prime minister in August 2018 and this climbed to $16.9 billion in the following calendar year.

The total fell to $14.2 billion in 2020 before rising again to $20 billion last year, with another $1.1 billion spent on grants in the three months to the end of March.

“This is public money being spent, at times, without any criteria or reporting,” said Michael Barker, QC, a barrister who was a Federal Court judge for a decade after serving on the Western Australian Supreme Court.

“With billions spent in grants through the pandemic, and billions more earmarked in this year’s budget, it is time for an overhaul of the grant administration process.”

The new findings follow years of concern about the growing use of grants after criticism by the Productivity Commission and scathing reports by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) into spending on sports facilities, commuter car parks and other projects Morrison promised at the last election.

“The audit office has revealed, repeatedly, problems with the current system and particularly the way that ministers are making grant decisions,” said Gabrielle Appleby, a law professor at the University of New South Wales.

“These decisions are uninformed by expert analysis, reasons for decisions are not recorded, and there is very little transparency and therefore accountability.

“The system needs a total overhaul.”

Tracking trends in government grants is challenging, however, because the federal GrantConnect database only reports data from the beginning of 2018.

The row over the integrity commission has highlighted different opinions among the Liberals, with Morrison dismissing the idea of a “kangaroo court” but Liberal backbenchers saying there was a case for setting up the new agency this year but not in the form Labor wants.

Bennelong MP John Alexander, who is not contesting the coming election after 12 years in parliament, called for bipartisan cooperation if the party leaders could not agree on the best model.

“I don’t think it’s the worst thing if it’s being alleged that it’s very weak,” he said of the government proposal.

“Float it and see where it leaks, and as it leaks, fix it up. It would be good if it’s next term we can get it started.”

The new report, based on research by Catherine Williams at the Centre for Public Integrity, recommends that all significant grants are subject to an independent assessment, strict criteria and greater transparency about the reasons for each decision. The centre is a not-for-profit think tank, which relies on donations and is not linked to any political party.

All grant programs worth less than $100 million – the size of the “sports rorts” program at the last election – would be subject to published merit selection criteria under the proposed reform.

Programs worth more than $100 million would be subject to guidelines set out in legislation and approved by parliament, setting boundaries for ministers over what they could approve.

The reporting scheme would require ministers to tell parliament every three months about spending decisions where they did not follow department advice. As well, departments would have to table documents in parliament on all grant programs worth more than $100 million.

The Centre for Public Integrity is expected to issue its findings in coming days with a call for a national integrity commission as another element to safeguard the use of taxpayer funds.

The new report shows all grants recorded by GrantConnect including essential work by the federal government such as grants to states for health and education, with no findings about waste or corruption. The object of the report was to highlight the money at stake and make the case for greater scrutiny.

The report finds that $17.5 billion has been spent on health grants, $9.3 billion has gone on transport and infrastructure, $5.7 billion on social services and $5 billion on education, skills and employment.

In a series of criticisms of political decisions over government grants, the audit office found that “funding decisions were not appropriately informed by departmental briefings” in the Safer Communities Fund and the reasons for decisions were not properly recorded.

The audit office found that applications “were not soundly assessed in accordance with the program guidelines” in the Regional Jobs and Investments Packages and warned of “insufficient scrutiny” of proposals for a $433.4 million grant to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.

It found that aspects of the Supporting Reliable Energy Infrastructure Program “did not comply” with Commonwealth grant rules and warned of the absence of published guidelines or eligibility criteria or merit criteria in the Commuter Car Parks Program under the Urban Congestion Fund.

Morrison called the May 21 election last Sunday after a federal budget that included at least $13.8 billion in programs that could fund specific grants during the campaign, separate from road and rail projects in each state.

But the Productivity Commission called five years ago for stronger oversight of transport grants because of the “relatively weak” accountability.

“With no consistent framework for allocating grants, projects made possible through such funding can be particularly subject to the political imperatives of the day, rather than determined by either the performance of roads against consistently assessed need or consistently developed service standards,” the commission said.

Warning that decisions were subject to “political suasion” over taxpayer funds, the commission called for changes to grant rules as part of a wider boost to productivity in its landmark Shifting The Dial report in 2017, most of which has not been acted upon.

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Belated Federal Govt. Action on Vaping

13 April 2022
The Federal government has made statements to try to lessen vaping especially in children. Health Minister, Greg Hunt has made statements and asked for State help on the issue. This is only days before the Federal government goes into ‘Caretaker’ mode before the election, so can have no real effect. Hunt himself is retiring at the election. Perhaps he is doing his best, but he has been undermined by a determined ‘pro-vaping’ group within the Liberal government, which includes Trent Zimmerman, MP for North Sydney. (One might wonder whether the vaping groups are funding the major parties, as they have significant tobacco company ownership. Presumably this will come out eventually- too late to be relevant)
Vaping has been increasing due to the same sort of marketing that launched tobacco, making it exciting, sexy and rebellious. With the internet, social marketing and ‘social influencers able to be paid and target certain groups, this can happen much more under the radar than in former times. As my son commented recently, ‘People believe what their algorithm feeds them’. Older folk who are not fed the ads do not notice what is happening. But now even student correspondents are complaining that there is so much vaping that the school toilets are polluted.
As one Professor of Medicine commented on Radio National Life matters today, ‘We should not be comparing vaping to smoking, we should be comparing it to breathing fresh air’. Exactly.
There were two articles in the SMH this week, ‘Federal bid to stop children vaping’ by Dana Daniel on 7/4/22 and on 9/4/22 (below).
We can only hope that the vaping members lose their seats and that the new Labor government takes a much more active stance. It is late to act on this, but better late than never.

Greg Hunt urges state governments to stop vapes being sold to children

By Dana Daniel April 9 2022

Health Minister Greg Hunt has written to his state counterparts urging them to halt the illicit sale of e-cigarettes to children, but state health ministers want the federal government to stop them at the border.
Community concern is growing about e-cigarettes in schools as increasing numbers of teenagers take up vaping – despite state laws making it illegal to sell the devices to under-18s, regardless of whether they contain nicotine.
“I ask that you take active steps to enforce these laws by taking action against retailers contravening your laws, for example by selling NVPs to school children,” Mr Hunt wrote in the letter, seen by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Under Commonwealth law, it has been illegal to import liquid nicotine, unless prescribed by a GP as a smoking cessation aid, for the past six months.
But e-cigarettes and vape juices containing nicotine remain widely available through a black market both online and in retail stores and schools are grappling with an escalating problem.
Mr Hunt’s letter dated March 18 linked to a report in The Age about a five-year-old boy who was hospitalised with breathing difficulties after vaping with his brother and a seven-year-old classmate at school.
In that case, the vape was not alleged to have been sold to a child by a retailer, with the child’s father telling the ABC it belonged to another student’s mother.
Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley hit back on Friday, telling the Age and Herald: “We need more action from the Commonwealth to strengthen e-cigarette regulation at a national level – and we encourage the Morrison Government to get on with it.”
A spokeswoman for NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard, who is recovering from COVID-19, said a national approach was needed to tackle vaping, which the state had formally requested “on multiple occasions, including during feedback on the new National Tobacco Strategy”.
“The federal government previously tried to get a uniform approach on e-cigarettes, but was met with opposition from supporters of vaping,” the spokeswoman said.
Mr Hazzard had already asked NSW Health to “step up its compliance action” before receiving Mr Hunt’s letter.
“Hopefully, it will be possible for federal compliance to be stepped up to minimise the importation of illegal vaping products.”
The federal health department is finalising the National Tobacco Strategy, a draft of which recommends new restrictions on “the marketing, availability and use of all e-cigarette components in Australia, regardless of their nicotine content”.
Australian Border Force Commissioner Michael Outram told a Senate estimates hearing in February that the ABF had not committed any additional resourcing to the detection and seizure of nicotine vaping products since the ban on importation without a prescription began last October.

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Stacked Tribunals- the Liberals’  legacy

10 April 2022

There is an election on May 21.  The Liberals are likely to be decimated.  So what is their response?  To stack mates into as many tribunals as possible.

The Fair Work Commission has been totally underfunded by the Liberals, as with the deliberate demise of the Unions it was the only hope for some sort of wage justice and an unsuccessful enforcer against wages theft. Obviously if Labor comes in, it is likely to boost its resources and appoint more judges. So what do the Libs do at 5 seconds to midnight?  Appoint a resource industry human resources manager as Deputy Commissioner.

The Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association CEO, Andrew McConville was made head of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.

A Josh Frydenberg minder has been made a commissioner in the Productivity Commission.

The Administrative Appeals Tribunal has become immensely busy due to people having to appeal for NDIS resource allocation decisions and in the absence of resources, its waiting times have blown out.  It was very involved in the early Robo-debt cases.  M Attorney-General Micaela cash has appointed 19 new appointments and extended 26 others. Six of the 19 were not in the ‘expression of interest’ register, so effectively they are Liberal recruits.

There needs to be an impeccable neutral process for the appointment of judicial officers and members of significant QUANGOs. The abuse of office in appointments to the US Supreme Court are a major issue in terms of long appointments, dictating conservative policies for years. The Liberals seem to be taking a leaf from the US Republicans’ playbook. The question is whether Labor will fix the system, or just tit-for-tat put in their people when the time comes.

www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/news/politics/2022/04/09/coalition-stacking-liberals-across-the-boards/164942640013668

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Liberal Preselection problems are significant in a Binary System

10 April 2022

Now that the election is called, progressives might delight in the bad publicity associated with the Liberals pre-selection battle.

The Saturday Paper had 3 articles yesterday, a front page about Morrison’s personal pre-selection scheming double-cross, an article about ‘How Morrison became a tin-pot dictator’, by Stephen Mutch, a moderate Liberal who was a NSW State MLC and briefly member for Cook, and a comment by ex-Federal leader John Hewson saying that Morrison’s willingness to ride roughshod over constituent processes shows total disregard for rank and file members.

In the immediate term of this election, it may hurt the Liberals, though 6 weeks is long time in politics so many people will forget. In my own experience door-knocking in the North Sydney by-election when Treasurer Joe Hockey resigned to go to New York, a Liberal told me that the local branch had pre-selected a candidate with 36 votes out of 40, and Trent Zimmerman had 2.  But Head office and the branch both had 40 votes, and put in Zimmerman with all their votes, giving him 42.  The local branch members were disgusted and did not help hand out.  Liberals came from other areas to staff the booth; it was a blue ribbon seat and a predictable victory.  Zimmerman is a moderate and the branch had a harder Right candidate, so head office favoured the moderate, who is now asking us to vote for him so that there are some moderates left in the Liberal party.

Similarly, Felicity Wilson, a moderate was parachuted into the State seat of North Sydney against the branch’s desire and against the branch’s more Right-wing candidate. 

Craig Kelly was kept in his seat when the branch wanted to dis-endorse him before last election, but were over-ruled by Morrison’s intervention.  What a success he turned out to be; anti-climate change, and then an anti-vaxxer.  The Libs stuck with him as they needed his vote only to be rewarded as he became an independent and now fronts Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party.

According to Mutch a ‘troika’ determines pre-selections in NSW; Morrison, Perrottet and he does not name the third person.  The question must be asked, what would happen if the troika did not control the numbers.  Who controls the branches and who would control the pre-selections if it were democratic?

Morrison has claimed to be a moderate, but Alex Hawke, Morrison’s hatchet man as the minder of David Campbell an evangelical Liberal right-wing numbers man in the NSW Upper house in the early 2000s, and was then given a safe seat.   The Right are in control.

The US Republican Party is completely out of touch with the common person in the US and acts in the interests of banks, big business, the gun lobby, fossil fuels, voter restriction and gerrymandering to maintain power.  They seem totally beholden to Donald Trump.  This has happened in about 15 years.  In their campaigning and some of the philosophy the Liberals follow the Republicans closely.  We must ask, ‘Who is joining the Liberal party?’  Fewer and fewer people join political parties, so they are correspondingly easier to stack or influence.  Lobby groups work on politicians, but if they can have members beholden to them for their pre-selections, it would make their lobbying much easier.  The Liberals are perceived as very right wing and very influenced by the right-wing Christian lobby.  Why would anyone else join?  And if they don’t, who will be left to control the grass roots?

In an article in the Sun Herald today (‘Infighting could cost seats: top Liberals) Liberal Federal Vice President Teena McQueen said that sitting members like Trent Zimmerman and Katie Allen could lose their seats but ‘with a couple of lefties gone we can get back to our core philosophy’.

This may not matter for 6 years if Labor wins and gets a second term, or even 9 years if they get a rare third term, but in a binary system the Libs will win eventually, which is why the nature of a major party membership and their pre-selection processes are of interest.  If the Liberals go the way of the US Republicans we are in danger.

Australians generally are sick of the two major parties and their capture by their lobby groups.  The High Court declining to intervene to support the branches was on the ground that political parties are Private entities.  They are not mentioned anywhere in the Constitution so have become almost privatised lobbies.  Labor have declined to release many policies to remain a small target because negative campaigning is more cost-effective than positive ideas. The question is whether Labor will actually do the right thing when they get in, or will they be conservative, do very little and leave things as the Liberals have made them in order to stay in power?  Pundits have described the ‘right-wing ratchet’ where the Conservative parties privatise and increase social inequality and the Progressive parties make noise and minor changes, but never actually undo what the Right has done.

The Independents are a fresh start, and the negative campaigning does not work as well against them.  There is a website ‘notindependent.com’ that is owned by the Liberals asking which party the independent will support? This of course tries to turn the whole thing into a binary contest again and the Independent effectively into a major party backbencher.  They also want the Independents to have a comprehensive set of policies, as if the Liberals do!

In the medium term, it may be reassuring to think that if a tradition of Independents can be established the major parties will not have it all their way, but this does not solve the problem of a Republican-like Liberal Party.

My own answer is a major change to the constitution with citizen-initiated referenda at 3 levels of government able to overturn Parliamentary decisions, part-time politicians limited to 2 terms so that politics is not a career and there are no significant party hierarchies to climb, multiple political parties so that no single one ever has an absolute majority and the members’ retirement plan is their current job.  This will take years of campaigning to achieve, so we’d better get on with it, or the increasing power and vulnerability of a private political party will have us following the US model, just a few years behind. 

www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/opinion/topic/2022/04/09/how-scott-morrison-became-tin-pot-dictator/164942640013667#mtr

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