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Federal

Aug 1, 2017

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A former One Nation candidate has received invoices in July for membership fees paid in January that were backdated to December 2016. A bewildered Sandy Baraiolo received two invoices from Pauline Hanson’s One Nation on July 13 after five months of chasing the party for a record of the transaction.

She joined One Nation in January 2017 in order to be able to run for the party in the Western Australian election, held on March 11.

Automated e-mails sent from the party on July 13 this year state that the invoices were for two amounts — a membership fee of $45 and a donation to the party of $55 — and that the “amount outstanding of $AUD 0.00 is due on 31 Dec 2016”. Baraiolo paid $100 on January 11 to a PHON bank account in full.

Baraiolo wrote to the party of her concern about PHON’s provision of receipts that did not, in her view, align with her banking records to Greg Smith, the party treasurer and party agent responsible for co-ordinating candidate claims for public funding.

“I find it incredibly amusing and perplexing that you have now given me receipts/invoices, what’s more curious is they have been BACDATED (sic) to the 31st December 2016?,” Baraiolo wrote. “Very strange when I had no thoughts on the party at that time, nor any contact with the party and or any member of the party. I paid $100 as requested by QLD PHON, on the 11th January 2017 by direct bank deposit.”

Baraiolo disputes that she authorised a $55 donation to be paid to the party as a donation. A One Nation membership for an adult is $45 inclusive of GST.

“I will tell this to whoever asks me I would not ever give the party a donation, what’s more bizarre I have been asking for receipts since the 12th February 2017 and all email’s have been ignored, I even asked you for receipts and received none until yesterday,” Baraiolo said.

While Smith responded to other matters relevant to public funding issues arising from her running in the Western Australian state election in a subsequent email, he did not respond to the concern raised by Baraiolo related to the timing and date of the receipts.

Baraiolo’s personal trials with One Nation began during the campaign, when she set up a campaign page for herself on Facebook. She says a campaign team member gave her approval to go ahead to do this, but the party later commandeered this page, revoking Baraiolo’s administrator privileges. Baraiolo took exception to this behaviour and emailed party officials to say so. This molehill became enough of a mountain that eventually Pauline Hanson got involved.

Baraiolo was later dumped as a candidate after she criticised the One Nation-Liberal Party preference swap deal in WA. She then ran as an independent candidate but also had unfinished business with PHON. Baraiolo began to send many emails requesting, among other things, her membership number. No confirmation of paid membership was sent to her when she paid $100 back in January, and Baraiolo did not receive any communication that contained her membership number in the month that followed.

This was a curious situation for Baraiolo because she was selected to run as a candidate for One Nation without having documentary proof of her membership. While the party may have been able to retrieve her membership number from its systems, if the candidate list had been interrogated by electoral authorities, there was no way that Baraiolo could present proof of her membership to One Nation.

Little did she know, One Nation would eventually satisfy her demands for further information: they eventually informed Baraiolo of her membership number but that came to her in a letter telling the feisty former candidate she was being cast adrift.

Baraiolo was member number 6446, and she was told by Rod Miles, the national executive secretary for the party, that she had been turfed, in a letter dated May 22.

“I write to you on behalf of the National Executive for Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party, to advise that the Executive has, on review of your conduct, formally cancelled your Membership effective from the above stated date on this letter,” Miles wrote. “A vote regarding this decision was put to the National Executive today and was subsequently Seconded with recommendation for immediate action to be taken for contravention of National Constitution rules.”

Miles then cites the rule from the party’s national constitution that states that the party is able to expel an individual who “while being a member of the Party, by or through the member’s acts or statements, causes damage to the good name and reputation of the Party or brings the Party into disrepute”. Miles does not specify what actions or words from Baraiolo caused the party to expel her, but Baraiolo tells Crikey she suspects it has to do with the fact she has repeatedly requested receipts for the monies paid to the party on January 11 and other information.

The date of the expulsion letter coincides with the date of a conversation held between Smith and Baraiolo regarding her electoral expenditure. Baraiolo sent Smith an email two days later referring to the conversation and also demanding that the party refrain from taking 25% of any public funding to which she is entitled because she did not sign the candidate agreement at the time.

Queensland

May 1, 2017

5 comments

The One Nation renaissance is once again inviting comparisons to Groundhog Day, as the party faces the possibility of deregistration in Queensland over irregularities in its legal structure.

The latest development adds to an accumulation of bad news not just for One Nation, but also for Queensland’s Liberal National Party opposition, which has been hoping that One Nation will provide the key to a quick return to office after its shock defeat in January 2015.

At issue is the registration of One Nation Queensland Division as an incorporated association in November, the principal benefit of which is that members of the party executive will not be exposed to personal liability for legal action against the party, so long as they are judged to have acted in good faith.

Since the move did not involve changes to the party’s state constitution and regulations, it was evidently deemed to be no concern of the Electoral Commission of Queensland, which must be informed of changes to party constitutions under pain of deregistration.

But according to business regulation specialist Tom Ravlic, who wrote at length on the matter for The Saturday Paper, the party’s incorporation under the model rules provided to make life easy for small clubs and societies means it now has a “foundation governance document” that potentially fails to meet the requirements of the Electoral Act.

[Former One Nation heavyweights call for inquiry in wake of Four Corners report]

Labor Senator Murray Watt has moved quickly to refer the matter to Queensland’s Electoral Commissioner, which could potentially torpedo the party just in time for an election that Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk is reportedly considering holding later this year.

Given the distinction between the party’s constitution and its rules of association, and the historic tendency of courts to deem that party internal matters are beyond their jurisdiction (albeit that this has come under challenge in recent decades), such an outcome is by no means assured.

Nonetheless, it’s remarkable that the party could potentially be in legal hot water over its organisational structure, considering the events surrounding the party’s deregistration in 1999 and Pauline Hanson’s related conviction (later quashed) and imprisonment in 2003.

It also adds to the accumulating impression of disarray following the party’s chaotic Western Australian election campaign, recurring embarrassments surrounding candidate selection, and an Australian Electoral Commission investigation into claims the party failed to disclose the gift of a light aircraft from a property developer.

Notwithstanding the party’s success in winning three upper house seats, the Western Australian result discredited the notion that its prospective support base is impervious to such concerns.

State-level polling trends provide further evidence that support for the party gets softer in proportion with its exposure to media scrutiny.

An aggregation of federal poll results conducted a month ago found the party was maintaining a consistent level of support in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.

But in Western Australia, where the party’s presence was one of the defining issues of an election campaign that ran through February to early March, its support slumped from a double-digit peak in late January to just 6% — a downward trend that has been maintained in polling conducted in April.

[Poll Bludger: making sense of the WA election result]

In Queensland, the other state where the party has been most visible, polling conducted by Galaxy Research last week for The Courier-Mail found One Nation had dropped three points since February on federal voting intention, from 18% to 15%, and six points on state voting intention, from 23% to 17%.

In terms of its potential parliamentary presence, there is a dramatic difference for One Nation between 23%, which equals its performance in 1998 when it won 11 seats, and 17%, which, in all but a scattered handful of seat, would reduce it to third place, beyond the help of preferences from the LNP.

With each point lost, the prospect of a One Nation crossbench delivering power to the LNP — either as a minority government or, as foreshadowed last November by former premier Campbell Newman, through a coalition arrangement — rapidly diminishes.

What’s more, the rest of the Galaxy numbers suggest the voters who are deserting One Nation are taking their business to Labor — just as they did in Western Australia.

After suffering the worst defeat in the state branch’s history a month ago, the nightmare for Western Australia’s Liberals might be just beginning.

Analysis of federal polling trends at state level finds hostility to the party spilling over to federal voting intention, to an extent that will be causing sleepless nights for a number of Liberal MPs — including one of cabinet rank.

Based on published state breakdowns from Newspoll, unpublished ones from Essential Research and a few stray results from Ipsos, ReachTEL and Galaxy, the poll aggregate credits Labor with a 52.5-47.5 lead in a state where it hasn’t won the two-party vote at a federal election since 1987.

That amounts to a swing of over 7% to build on the 3.6% swing Labor received at the federal election last year, while still leaving them 3% shy of what they achieved at the state election last month.

Such a result would certainly topple sitting Liberals in the traditional marginals of Hasluck and Swan, and would, at the very least, put the pressure on in Stirling, held by Justice Minister Michael Keenan, and Canning, held by Andrew Hastie, a rising favourite among the party’s conservatives.

But perhaps the loudest of alarm bells will be ringing for Social Services Minister Christian Porter, who some rate as a future leadership prospect.

A former treasurer and attorney-general in Colin Barnett’s state government, Porter made the switch to federal politics when he was elected to the seat of Pearce at the 2013 federal election.

Pearce had been held by the Liberals since it was carved out of the hinterland north and east of Perth in 1990, by margins of never less than 5.3%.

However, what looked at first like a secure base for Porter to pursue his ambitions may be turning into quicksand.

Beneath the picture of stability it painted between 1990 to 2013, Pearce was undergoing dramatic change as it accommodated rapidly emerging new developments on the northern fringe of Perth.

[Poll Bludger: making sense of the WA election result]

Owing to the Howard’s government fabled success at courting outer suburbia with low interest rates, income tax cuts and handouts to families, the electoral impact of this transformation was not immediately apparent.

But the outer suburbs and their dominant demographic of young families are a great deal more volatile electorally than the small town and semi-rural territory that makes up the rest of Pearce, as they have lately found occasion to demonstrate.

The first tremor was a 5.8% swing to Labor in Pearce at last year’s federal election, which reached or exceeded 10% in the burgeoning suburban developments of Ellenbrook and Banksia Grove.

That was merely an appetiser for the state election, at which Labor picked up swings of 18% in the suburban booths covered by Pearce, along with 10% swings in the country booths.

If the results were replicated federally, Labor’s winning margin in the seat would run into double digits.

Needless to say, there are good reasons to doubt that the federal pendulum will swing quite that far.

Federal and state election results have persistently failed to align in Australia over recent years, and there is little doubt that some of what pollsters are picking up at the moment is short-term state election static.

However, the state election results aren’t the only reason the Turnbull government has to be fearful of what the state might have in store when the next federal election rolls around.

The Liberals’ dominance in Western Australia was largely built on a rising tide of affluence that crested along with the mining boom at the turn of the decade, the sharp reversal of which over the past five years may prove of enduring benefit to Labor.

Another factor at federal level has been the ingrained hostility of Western Australians to Canberra, which has been of benefit to the party that has historically identified with states’ rights.

That too could be in the process of being turned on its head, now that it’s state Labor taking on a federal Coalition government over the running sore of GST revenue, the state’s share of which has recently been determined at 34 cents out of every dollar raised.

Western Australia’s reputation as a politically conservative state is in very large part a phenomenon of the past three decades. At present, there are no guarantees it will make it to four.

Tips and rumours

Apr 7, 2017

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Is WA Labor trying to hide the promises it made before the election, now it has gained government and worked out how hard it will be to actually deliver them? If you visit the WA Labor website, you will find it free of anything relating to election commitments. Perhaps Labor would rather people couldn’t easily remind themselves exactly what those promises were.

Yesterday, the crumbling scenery of Western Australia’s budget situation– new Premier Mark McGowan called them “the worst since the great depression” — seemed to have caught everyone in WA Labor unawares. We knew it was bad, but not this bad was the general line — indeed, Labor’s prediction of a $43 billion net debt by 2020 is worse than the $41.1 billion predicted by Treasury back in February.

The homepage offers standard options, like “about WA Labor” and “find your local Labor MP” — almost as if an election never happened at all.

The “about” section offers the opportunity to view WA Labor’s platform, which contains only the 2015 platform document, and stresses it “outlines WA Labor’s core beliefs and policy priorities” and that it “does not contain specific election policies or commitments”. We are directed to visit party leader (and now Premier) Mark McGowan’s website for “election information” — indeed, that’s where one would find the “200 fresh ideas for WA” Labor claimed to have had during the campaign.

However, visitors to markmcgowan.com.au are greeted by the following message:

“Thank you Western Australian! For putting your trust in a McGowan Labor Government.”

Down the page it says:

“We’re getting to work — and we’ll have a new site live soon. In the meantime, please sign up for updates by clicking on the link below.”

Ms Tips signed up and will keep an eye whether those email updates will contain any change to Labor’s approach to, say, the $2.5 billion first stage of the Metronet project (which Labor has committed to delivering by 2023), the tough new drug laws, which would result in life sentences imposed on meth traffickers (perhaps at odds with their recent declaration that prison populations had to be thinned), or more modest policies like “medihotels“, or the freeze on TAFE fees.

*Heard anything that might interest

Federal

Apr 4, 2017

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A commission of inquiry must be held into the financial affairs of One Nation from the party’s earliest days to lift the lid on the political movement spearheaded by Senator Pauline Hanson, according to the founder of the Pauline Hanson Support Movement (PHSM).

PHSM founder Bruce Whiteside has been calling for a commission of inquiry for some time, given his concerns over a long period about the party’s treatment of candidates and members when it came to transparency of its financial dealings.

The renewed call for a formal investigation into Hanson’s political movement — which is also supported by Lyn Vickery, former president of One Nation WA Inc, and former WA candidate Sandy Baraiolo — follows last night’s episode of Four Corners, which revealed:

  • Party supporters in regional Queensland see a need for a party like One Nation because they feel the major parties have been neglecting the issues and concerns in the bush, including immigration;
  • Former treasurer Ian Nelson confesses he did not do research into Hanson’s senior adviser James Ashby before allowing him to meet with her. Ashby met Hanson after offering to print material for the party at cost price;
  • Former marketing manager and national secretary Saraya Beric is disappointed in the way in which Pauline Hanson treated her;
  • Emails sent by property developer Bill McNee on several occasions prove he was keen to meet with Hanson and provide the party with funding. McNee ended up meeting Hanson, Nelson and other associates on April 11, 2015;
  • Allegations that Bill McNee paid for the airplane, which is flown by Ashby to ferry Hanson around, via a direct payment to Ashby rather than to the party despite Hanson stating to Nelson that the plane was hers. Nelson told Four Corners Hanson had been told she needed to declare the plane if, in fact, it was the party’s plane. According to Nelson, Hanson told him to not worry about it;
  • Allegations that Ashby pressured Nelson to breach electoral laws by not naming Bill McNee as a donor in disclosure to the electoral commission for donations totalling almost $70,000 on the basis the amounts were confidential. Nelson insisted the donations had to be disclosed with the donating party named if the sum involved was over $1000. Nelson also told the program that Hanson called him an obstructionist for wanting to comply with the law; and
  • Candidates in the WA election were asked to sign onerous contracts that contained a $250,000 administration charge if they were to resign from the party during a parliamentary term; and
  • Candidates also told Four Corners that they were pressured into using Ashby’s printing company for election material.

Bruce Whiteside established a support movement for Hanson in the mid-1990s, which was a precursor to One Nation, because he saw a need for an alternative voice in the political scene. He says there are events described in the Four Corners investigation into One Nation that are similar — if not the same — as those that have occurred in the past.

“I’m saddened that Pauline did not end up realising that she could be the difference between the two major parties,” Whiteside told Crikey.

[How One Nation disendorsed WA candidates who didn’t strictly toe the party line]

Vickery told Crikey that ONWA had been “on the warpath” for years against the absence of financial disclosure, and the failure to maintain proper records of election and membership finances for all divisions across Australia.

Vickery and his Western Australian ONWA colleague Brian McRae told Crikey last month that One Nation’s Queensland headquarters had been trying to shut ONWA down since 2002, including attempts to close the association’s bank account without its knowledge.

Former candidate Sandy Baraiolo told Crikey after the program aired in Western Australia that the party and its leader must be held to account for the way in which they had run party affairs.

While Australians digest the details from the Four Corners program, Crikey can reveal that over the past month that One Nation has changed its governance status and added another business name to its collection.

The business name “Pauline Hanson’s One Nation — Tasmania” was registered with the corporate regulator, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, on March 29, 2017. It joins Pauline Hanson’s One Nation as a business name that is registered “One Nation” and linked with the ABN 53 975 273 862.

One Nation incorporated had been run for many years as an unincorporated association, which is a structure that exposes all members to legal risks, but it was incorporated with the Office of Fair Trading in Queensland on November 16, 2016.

The incorporated body is called One Nation Queensland Division Incorporated.

[One Nation divided over WA election backroom dealing]

An extract obtain by Crikey reveals that Hanson is listed as the president and that her senior adviser and occasional pilot Ashby holds the powerful position as secretary of the association. This means that Ashby is responsible for the maintenance of the member registers, the calling of meetings of members including the preparation of agendas, the keeping of minutes of each meeting of the incorporated body and maintaining a file of all correspondence and other documents related to the association. That role can be expanded if rules or articles of association provide for a broader remit.

The law also requires the party to hold an annual general meeting of the incorporated association’s members within six months after the end of the incorporated body’s financial year. Members of One Nation have not had the opportunity to attend an AGM to hear about the body’s financial performance for several years.

Federal

Mar 31, 2017

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Much has been written over the past several months about the grumbles, grizzles and outrage of former One Nation candidates regarding the manner in which they were disendorsed by Pauline Hanson’s party. The angst and anger is deeply felt. It has been on public display with emails flying left, right and centre, which, in some cases, have included language that would not be used in polite company (or even moderately impolite company).

What is not well understood is to what extent the procedures One Nation uses to endorse and disendorse candidates are — or aren’t — in accordance with the relevant constitutions that have been lodged with the Western Australian Electoral Commission (WAEC) and the Electoral Commission of Queensland.

The constitution lodged with the Electoral Commission of Queensland is a public document, while the other constitution — the one that seems to be actually governing the state-based affairs of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation (PHON) in WA — remains a secret. People know it exists, but the WAEC is refusing to hand over a copy to former candidates. Requests in writing from Crikey for a copy of the document remain unanswered.

Crikey is aware that no member or candidate was provided with a copy of the constitution for the WA branch of PHON upon joining the body. In other words, it left people in the dark about their rights as members.

[Disendorsed One Nation candidates unleash on Hanson and Ashby]

In both states, we are looking at an unincorporated association, which is simply a group of people organising for a joint objective: to promote policies and get people elected to Parliament. This means that every member is entitled to understand the rules under which the organisation is being run. Plus, in any properly constituted organisation, there is always an avenue of appeal before someone is expelled or disendorsed by that organisation.

Imagine playing football, tennis, cricket or rugby without having access to the rules of the game. How do you keep score? Under what circumstances do players get a free? What constitutes a reportable offence on the pitch or court? Club administrators, coaches, players or umpires could not function without an understanding of what the rules were, irrespective of the sport being spoken of. Imagine attempting to resolve a dispute between individuals or the group overall without access to the rules related to dispute resolution, discipline, endorsement and disendorsement. 

Inside sources tell Crikey the template on which the secret WA constitution was prepared at the time of their involvement was the version of the New South Wales constitution. According to this document, the candidates should have been subject to an interview by no fewer than a panel of 10 people for their preselection processes. They should have delivered a speech in front of the selection panel. This was never done. Similar provisions exist in the Queensland constitution and the process contained in that constitution was also not followed.

Both the NSW constitutional template and the active Queensland constitution have an appeal mechanism for people being disendorsed. These procedures were not followed in the cases of Shan Ju Lin, Peter Rogers or Elise Cottam in Queensland. There was no appeals process or process of natural justice followed in the case of the disendorsed WA candidates such as Sandy Baraiolo, Dane Sorensen and Stephen Piper.

Crikey understands that other areas of governance have fallen into disrepair. According to sources, there has been no annual general meeting for One Nation Queensland Division — which is the actual entity that bears the PHON business name — for several years, despite the constitution mentioning the need to hold AGMs as well as ensure members receive a report on financial affairs, receive audited accounts, appoint branch or state executives and also appoint an auditor.

Members deserve to know about the financial state of the organisation in which they hold an interest, and they are entitled to have at least one occasion a year where the association’s affairs are discussed with them.

[Rundle: jumpin’ around with One Nation and the micros at the election after-party]

Clause 6.4(b) of the Queensland division’s constitution states that branch treasurers shall present an audited financial statement for the previous financial year. The constitution also requires the AGM for a branch to be held between July 1 and August 31 of each year with 21 days given to members of a meeting.

It is extraordinary that any organisation should leave it for so long to provide members with an insight into what they are doing with member funds and what activities the organisation plans to undertake in the coming year.

Even more curious is the fact that it appears to have been forgotten that members are more than just cheap labour on polling day or possible candidates to be thrown at the public to help the party achieve a required percentage of the vote to boost the coffers.

They each individually have the same rights in the association as any other member, as well as the same exposure to liabilities should the association be hit by a sizable legal payout.

A 70-year-old grandmother, for example, who has purchased a membership of PHON has the same rights as Senator Pauline Hanson in such an unincorporated body.

This coming Monday, Four Corners presents a report on One Nation’s governance issues and the party’s “brutal backroom politics”. Perhaps then we’ll get some answers.

Federal

Mar 21, 2017

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From meet and greets with punters to a complete and utter train wreck on vaccinations and transfers of GST, Western Australians saw a lot of Senator Pauline Hanson during the recent state election campaign, where the party managed to pull about 5% of the votes. But Hurricane Hanson swept through the west during the election campaign for a different reason — as part of a plan for Pauline Hanson’s One Nation (the party’s most recent incarnation, based in Queensland), to take over an entity that has been properly registered and governed for 15 years, One Nation Western Australia Inc (ONWA).

The spat between Hanson and her party members in the west has garnered a lot of media attention, with Hanson accused of age discrimination against the state party president and secretary, who were unceremoniously dumped from their positions. What hasn’t got as much coverage is the underground power struggle between Hanson and another group — the incorporated WA branch of the party which can operate separately and tried to get the current iteration of One Nation (now known as Pauline Hanson’s One Nation) blocked from registering before the election.

Tactics designed to disrupt the WA group, which has been running since it was incorporated in 2002, include:

  • Numerous attempts to freeze out Western Australian elected officers from being a part of the national committee;
  • The passing of sham motions at a One Nation national committee as an attempt to wind down ONWA, an incorporated body over which that committee had no authority;
  • The failure of national committee members to respond to repeated requests from the Western Australian representatives for information related to the financial state of the entity;
  • An attempt to close a bank account belonging to ONWA by writing to the association’s bank with a demand that funds be transferred to a Queensland-based bank account;
  • Threats to call in police when the incorporated body was attempting to set up a branch in the Northern Territory, which ultimately turned out to be an attempt to take control of the branch and its finances; and
  • Misappropriation of a member database that was used by the Queensland-based party to promote Pauline Hanson’s One Nation to people who were already members of the incorporated body.

These actions are a part of an ongoing attempt to shut down the political party that has run as a transparent incorporated association for which constitutions and other documents are publicly accessible.

Crikey this week received a copy of the incorporated association’s constitution, and other critical documents may be purchased from the register maintained by the WA government.

Contrast that with Pauline Hanson’s One Nation that operates out of Queensland using the structure of an unincorporated association, which is the description of the body on “ABN Lookup“.

Crikey has requested access to the constitution for the WA division of Hanson’s political gaggle via an email copied to both Senator Pauline Hanson and Senator Malcolm Roberts.

[One Nation micromanages candidate accounts, on the hunt for dissidents and suppressive persons]

The constitution, which is currently as elusive as the Holy Grail for journalists following the West Australian election, is believed to contain the relevant preselection and disendorsement procedures that apply to the Western Australian election.

Former candidates have spoken to Crikey and are seeking a copy of the constitution to better understand what the rules filed with the commission state.

No response or assistance in relation to getting hold of a copy of the constitution lodged with the Western Australian Electoral Commission to register the party has been received from the One Nation media advisers, or Hanson or Roberts, at the time of publication, despite the sending of two emails requesting assistance on the matter.

ONWA state secretary Brian McRae told Crikey he was disappointed in the way the officers and members of the incorporated body have been treated over the years, despite those members being supportive of Pauline Hanson over an extended period of time.

McRae and another ONWA stalwart, former association president Lyn Vickery, were both branded by Senator Hanson as being “ratbags” in recent months.

The slur from Hanson hits hard for people like McRae. He has provided assistance to Hanson with the registration of political parties and logistical support for elections from the first time she came on the scene. “That was a major disappointment to me,” McRae said. “Pauline knows that is not correct.”

Vickery shrugs off the Hanson barb and told Crikey that he “wears it as a badge of honour”.

Both McCrae and Vickery have spent much of their time as office holders at ONWA holding what appear to have been money-hungry Queenslanders at bay. This includes the time when Queenslanders decided to try to bluff the ONWA’s bankers into closing an account and sending cash up to the sunshine state.

A letter sent by the national committee to the ONWA’s bank on September 28, 2012, requested that the incorporated body’s account be frozen and that it be transferred to the Heritage Bank based in Beenleigh, Queensland.

“Moved and carried at a national teleconference on the 19th September 2012, that the abovementioned division is no longer constitutionally supported and therefore is closed,” the letter drafted by Pat Loy, the then-One Nation national secretary, said.

“Any signatory officers registered with you are to be struck off.”

[What happened when Guy Rundle scored an interview with Pauline Hanson]

The Queenslanders forgot one minor detail: you had to be an office-bearer of the incorporated body to close down bank accounts and take similar action.

The more recent intrusion into ONWA’s governance is the use of the member database of ONWA for the recruitment of members for the Hanson forces based in Queensland. McRae says that the association had received complaints from people who had received an invitation.

The use of another organisation’s membership list, without the permission of that organisation or its members, comes bundled with legal risk for those that pass it on.

Vickery sees this and all of the other activities that have gone on as a part of someone else’s long game.

“It is a culmination of a long series of events designed to undermine One Nation Western Australia,” Vickery said.

Australia

Mar 17, 2017

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It may not be a fashionable sentiment, but this may be an appropriate time for us to pay sympathetic consideration to the hard lot of the politician — for our own sake, if not for theirs.

Practitioners of the art have just suffered mass layoffs in Western Australia, where 24 out of 89 members seeking re-election were turfed out last Saturday by an increasingly capricious electorate.

Labor now finds itself with a team that’s almost too big for the parliamentary party room to accommodate, but recent history suggests they shouldn’t get too comfortable.

While the scale of Labor’s win is without precedent in Western Australia, it forms part of a clear trend in the national context that raises questions about the ongoing suitability of Australia’s prevailing electoral and constitutional arrangements.

The trend in question is illustrated in the chart below, which shows two-party swings at every mainland state election since the mid-1980s.

The series of defeats suffered by state Labor governments in the late 1980s and early 1990s seemed extraordinary enough at the time, but they have been put in the shade by what voters have had in store for governments on both sides of the fence over the present decade.

Saturday’s result was the fifth time going back to 2011 that a swing exceeded 10% — and you can make that six if you include the Tasmanian election in 2014, which is not included because its Hare-Clark electoral system does not allow for a cleanly determined two-party swing result.

No doubt many would think the victims of these results got no less than they deserved, but there are good reasons why such enthusiasm should be restrained.

Single-member electorate systems, which are characteristic of the British tradition, are noted for producing blowout results in favour of the party with the highest share of the vote.

With the electorate apparently containing increasing numbers of swinging voters who stampede in the same direction, this is leading to ever more lopsided results.

For all Labor’s very considerable achievement in Western Australia on Saturday, it still registered (on latest numbers) only 42.2% of the primary vote — less than Gough Whitlam managed when he led Labor to its historic disaster of 1975, but in the current environment, good for a thumping majority and monopoly on executive power.

Once the euphoria wears off, McGowan’s government will face the challenge of keeping out of mischief its bloated contingent of backbenchers, which includes a few dumped members of the former shadow cabinet.

This is, admittedly, not a bad problem to have compared with the one faced by the Liberals and Nationals, who must now spread a workload of shadow ministry and parliamentary committee roles among a dramatically depleted line-up.

But there’s another concern raised by the result that’s not quarantined to one side of politics.

It’s the example that’s been set to anyone contemplating a parliamentary career, who must reckon with the fact that there’s scarcely such a thing as a safe seat any more, and that even routine swings of the pendulum can bring all their hard work crashing down.

To each one of these problems, there’s a ready answer that’s tried and tested, and better accepted internationally than what we have at present: proportional representation (PR).

In its purest form, a PR election would have reduced the Liberals and Nationals from 31 seats to 22, rather than 38 to 18.

The arguments commonly levelled against PR are losing force when evaluated against a status quo that’s best suited to a two-party hegemony that no longer exists.

Advocates for single-member electorate systems typically point to their tendency to produce majority government, which is said to be conducive to strong leadership and a clear line of accountability.

However, the first of these has been little in evidence in Australia lately, and the second is, at the very least, complicated by the need for governments to negotiate with powerful, proportionally represented upper houses.

At state level at least, proportional representation in lower houses would render upper chambers elected along the same lines redundant, thereby allowing for their abolition — surely a popular move.

The main obstacle is the entrenchment of the existing system in Australia’s political culture.

The importance of this factor is illustrated by a study of the international history of electoral reform conducted by British political scientist Alan Renwick, which identified only one occasion where a country had moved from a single-member to a proportional representation system, or vice-versa.

Happily, that example is both highly auspicious, and helpfully close at hand.

In 1993, New Zealand voted to junk its old British-style single-member first-past-the-post system in favour of the mixed-member proportional model, and it confirmed the decision by an increased majority at a second referendum held in 2011.

The conservative government that currently rules the roost under this system managed sweeping tax reform in its first term after coming to office in 2008 — including, incredible as it may seem from the Australian perspective, a rise in the goods and services tax from 12.5% to 15%, balanced by cuts in income tax.

It has since been re-elected twice with increased shares of votes and seats, and had only one change of prime minister, after John Key went out top in December.

In the same period, Australia has endured three leadership coups and as many successive electoral disasters for whichever party happened to be in office at the time.

It may perhaps be going too far to put this entirely down to the electoral system. But given the parlous state of public confidence in politics at our own end of the Antipodes, it’s hard to understand why New Zealand’s successful experiment hasn’t stimulated more discussion here.

Economy

Mar 15, 2017

5 comments

Two quite separate events yesterday illustrated, in painful detail, exactly how badly policy-making in Australia has run off the rails. For a country with a proud record of making tough but eventually worthwhile economic and fiscal decisions over the last 30 years, our process for making decisions has now gone badly awry.

Over in the west, as part of the landslide victory of Labor, Nationals leader Brendon Grylls lost his seat of Pilbara, despite the Nationals overall suffering only a tiny fraction of the big swing against the Barnett government. Despite leading a more independent National Party than the Liberal Party minions back east, Grylls was every bit the traditional advocate for regional boondoggles and wasted spending that we see in the eastern states. But he also supported an increase in mining royalties, and as a result became the target of a $2 million mining industry campaign across all media platforms. Labor opposed the royalty hike as well, and in the end was the beneficiary of the mining industry’s largesse.

You can bet every politician in Australia, to the extent they weren’t aware of the power of the mining lobby after the fate of the Rudd government, now fully comprehends that mining companies can blast you out of public life entirely if you dare to suggest they pay a fair level of royalties or a fair share of tax. As journalist Michael West has been demonstrating for years, the big mining companies are serial tax avoiders and routinely resort to the figleaf of pretending that royalties and taxes are the same thing in order to hide their failure to contribute. And as Ross Gittins pointed out recently, this mostly foreign-owned industry also regularly wildly overstates its economic importance.

[Rundle: no matter who wins in WA, the west is lost]

While the mining industry, which is a tiny employer, generates significant export revenue and high commodity prices help the budget bottom line, in policy terms the mining industry is a parasite, a leach on the body politic that uses its money to skew political debate. It pumps out a torrent of “independent modelling” designed to justify its rent-seeking and attack policies that are in the national interest but which don’t benefit the mining industry, it has handed over $3.5 million in donations to the federal Liberal Party alone since 2010, and it stands ready to deploy millions in advertising dollars not merely to influence debate but to shut down politicians who might challenge it altogether. On climate policy, on energy policy, on fiscal policy, on environmental policy, the mining industry has engaged in constant wrecking that has led to terrible policy outcomes for taxpayers and voters.

Meanwhile in Adelaide, Jay Weatherill and Tom Koutsantonis were announcing the South Australian government’s energy package, a curate’s egg of incentives and grants for battery storage, new gas-fired power generation, access to existing gas supplies and greater gas exploration, including giving affected farmers royalties from gas development. Within minutes, federal Energy minister Josh Frydenberg had attacked the package and said he would try to stop it, claiming it would lead to price rises and harm users in other states (apparently oblivious to the fact that energy prices have risen far more quickly since the carbon price was repealed in 2014 than before it). You can bet that if Weatherill and Koutsantonis announced they were embracing “clean coal”, Frydenberg would have been cheering them on — albeit with a rebuke for their previous embrace of renewables.

It’s impossible, it seems, for the Turnbull government to stop playing politics on energy policy. Today’s meeting between Malcolm Turnbull and gas company executives is likely to see more criticism being leveled at Labor states for fracking moratoria.

[The one election promise Mark McGowan should break immediately]

But South Australia and the Commonwealth are agreed on one thing — governments need to get back into power generation. South Australia proposes to establish a new back-up gas-fired power plant. The Commonwealth is considering subsidising coal power, like it’s 1974 again.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. We were coming to the end of a nearly-three decade-long process of getting governments out of power generation and distribution and establishing a market mechanism to achieve the most efficient power network. A carbon pricing scheme would have used market incentives to drive the transition to a renewables-based power network without the need for clumsy mechanisms like a renewable energy target. Instead, the Coalition’s bloody mindedness, industry rent-seeking and climate denialism from the minerals sector and other key players and a lost decade on climate policy have trashed investment, and now the backwash from that is threatening to tear apart a market-based power network.

And from the ordinary voter’s point of view, an immensely complex long-term experiment in establishing a national energy market has delivered only rapidly-climbing prices and power blackouts. No wonder they’re disenchanted with economic reform — the reformers can’t even keep the lights on. It’s a policy failure on a vast scale, the likes of the parasitic minerals sector own it as much as anyone else.

Federal

Mar 15, 2017

5 comments

Protest against the privatisation of Western Power outside state parliament in Perth, Nov. 16, 2016

The Western Australian government’s proposal to privatise Western Power — the government-owned electricity utility — was one of the factors contributing to the extraordinary anti-Liberal swing in Saturday’s WA election. Privatisation of electricity has also been an issue in the eastern states. While the coal lobby and climate change deniers have blamed South Australia’s blackouts and shortages in other states on renewables, more detached observers, such as John Quiggin, have pointed out the part played by privatisation in raising prices and contributing to electricity shortages. 

Airport privatisation has also become prominent in recent days, with the release of the ACCC report on airport charges, confirming what people who park at airports already know, and pointing out how privately owned airports are using their monopoly position to extract high fees from airlines — fees that flow through to ticket prices.

When corporations have a degree of market power, they prioritise profits over service provision — every Economics 101 student, every farmer who has dealt with a stock and station agent, and every person who has had a bank loan knows that. There has always been a good reason for governments to own certain essential monopolies.

In an election post-mortem, Geoff Gallop, former premier of WA and now director of Sydney University’s Graduate School of Government, said:

“Privatisation in and of itself is not an economic reform. It’s a change that may or may not create better productivity in the community. One thing we do know about it: we’ve had lots and lots of it in Australia over a long period of time; it hasn’t produced a public benefit sufficient to convince the people that it’s a good thing. We need economic reform, productivity is stagnant — we need to deal with that as a nation — but just to assume flogging things off is economic reform — that’s the mistake of too many Liberals in this country and it’s why they’re in a mess politically.”

The outcome of privatisation has often been high prices through exploitation of monopoly power (electricity, airports), shonky business practices (technical education), poor performance (employment services), and economic distortions (tolled roads in an otherwise untolled system).

[Mike Baird’s secret privatisation strategy]

Privatisation has spawned new private bureaucracies, such as electricity “retailers”, new public bureaucracies of regulators who can never keep up with firms’ capacity to game the regulatory system, and whole new lobby groups trying to influence governments. The advertising industry has benefited tremendously in the name of “competition” for simple undifferentiated products such as electricity and water that were once delivered cheaply and efficiently, without fuss or hype, by government utilities.

Although the push for privatisation has generally come from the Liberal Party, Labor has also been on board. Anna Bligh, the former Labor Premier of Queensland, must be feeling some sympathy for Colin Barnett, because it was her government’s decision to privatise some transport assets that cost her the 2012 election.

So if privatisation is so unpopular, why do governments persist?

I suggest four reasons, starting with the only defensible one.

Reason 1: changed conditions

In a few cases, the conditions — the market failures — that originally called for public ownership may have changed. Government ownership of a domestic airline (Trans Australia Airlines) made good sense in 1946 when the country was going through postwar reconstruction; left to the market, aviation would have been a dreadful mess. By 1992, when our government-owned airlines were privatised, the market was much more developed.

Sometimes changed conditions may call not for privatisation, but for a change of ownership within the public sector. There was probably no enduring case for the Commonwealth to own airports and ports, but there is a good case for cities to own them, following the model of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the government body that owns New York City’s three airports. Eager for a quick and lucrative sale and overlooking possible security problems, the Howard government bypassed that opportunity and sold our airports to private corporations.

Reason 2: fiscal opportunism

The second and possibly main reason for privatisation is fiscal opportunism. Selling an asset is an easy way for a government to raise cash. Sometimes the stated reason is that if the public want certain new assets they have to sell existing ones – the Commonwealth’s “asset-recycling” policy has been about getting states to sell ports and electricity utilities in order to finance urban transport projects. And sometimes it’s simply in the name of “budget repair” — achieving some reduction in public debt.

It would patronise the readers of John’s blog to point out the irresponsibility of selling assets to pay for recurrent expenditure, or to explain that it’s quite reasonable for a government to borrow for capital purposes, just as businesses do. So why do governments persist?

The reason lies in the political rhetoric established during the Howard-Costello years, when so much virtue was attached to the idea of governments running a cash surplus. It’s a simple concept that can furnish easy headlines in the tabloid press, and that journalists who have never studied economics or accounting can craft into a story. The business cycle was kind to the Coalition with its simplified message. It could hardly have avoided running cash surpluses during the boom times of the Howard-Costello years, just as the Rudd-Gillard government had no responsible option but to run deficits in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

Hence the simple message: “Surplus good, deficit bad, Liberal surplus, Labor deficit.”

In that political atmosphere, so conditioned by a focus on the cash bottom line, it has been virtually impossible for governments to return to a balance-sheet idea of sound economic management — the idea that what counts is not the level of debt, but rather the government’s net asset situation. As a result our governments, state and federal, are like under-capitalised businesses, missing opportunities for productive investment.

It’s ironic that the Barnett government has fallen victim to this cash obsession. It has accumulated significant public debt while investing heavily in public assets. If we had a mature balance-sheet approach to public economic management the Barnett government may not have done so badly last Saturday.

[Essendon plane crash and the fatal consequences of profit before people]

Reason 3: a lazy substitute for reform

The third reason for privatisation is that over time many (but certainly not all) government business enterprises become burdened with inefficient work practices, featherbedding and a lack of responsiveness to customers. It happens in many established businesses, public or private. (Older Australians remember waiting three months for the PMG to install a telephone.) Privatisation has been the lazy substitute for reform. Many Liberal Party politicians believe, as a matter of faith, that governments are intrinsically incapable of running efficient and customer-friendly operations (a belief to which they’re contributing with their management of Centrelink, the NBN and the NDIS). 

Reason 4: cronyism

The fourth is straight cronyism. Shareholders and executives of privatised enterprises have made fortunes, particularly when they have been able to buy assets with strong monopoly power and when they have been able to pressure governments into loose regulation or measures to protect their market power. Australia’s permissive lack of controls on political donations and post-government employment have paved the way for cronyism.

Let’s have economic reform by all means. But don’t give economic reform a bad name by associating it with Australia’s ill-advised and costly privatisations of the last 20 years.

 *Ian McAuley is an Adjunct Lecturer in Public Sector Finance at the University of Canberra and a Fellow at the Centre for Policy Development. He and his colleague Miriam Lyons have written on the economics of privatisation in their work Governomics: Can we afford small government?.  

*This article was originally published at John Menadue’s Pearls and Irritations