Menu lock

News

Sep 21, 2017

5 comments

Federation Square in Melbourne was sparkling new, 20 years ago; its deconstructive crap-clad style has dated so badly that it may now require a heritage listing. City Square — a genuine public space — was destroyed by the Kennett government, and Fed Square put up instead, a warren of restaurants, bars and cafes. The political intent was obvious: to deprive Melburnians of a central place to hold large political and social movement rallies.

So it proved on the weekend, when the management of Fed Square censored a political rally held by the “Stop Adani” movement, which had hired the square’s big screen to show a series of slides and information about the Galilee coal project. According to a report in The Guardian, the rally was threatened with eviction at the last minute unless they removed a whole series of slides, deemed to be “political”. Faced with a possible lockout, the rally complied — even though they weren’t told which slides were offensive.

Federation Square is managed by a private company, Fed Square Pty Ltd, which is wholly owned by the state government. Doubtless, whoever imposed the ban was a junior functionary, making an error of judgement, but the Fed Square board makes for interesting reading: one of its five members is Patrick Conlon, former South Australian Labor minister, for everything at one time or another, but mainly infrastructure. Once of the Left, Conlon left it in 2010, realigned as “non-factional”, left the ministry in 2012, and took part-time lawyering work while still an MP in 2013.

The chair of Fed Square Pty Ltd is Deborah Beale, otherwise known as the first Mrs Bill Shorten. Shorten divorced the daughter of former Liberal MP and minister Julian Beale in 2000, before marrying the daughter of former governor-general Quentin Bryce in 2009.

Just the board, of course, but not a good look is it? Labor is already taking flak for the outrageous double-duty role of lobbyist Cameron Milner, simultaneously representing Adani through his “bipartisan” lobby group The Next Level, and advising Queensland Labor Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk. Milner is a former operative in the Victorian Labor Right, who headed north after one of the incomprehensible battles of the rightoids here. He left lobbying work with Adani to become Shorten’s chief of staff, and then left that role after the 2016 election to return to spruiking the Galilee basin and Queensland Labor, apparently a devotee of doomed projects.

[How much you’re paying for Adani’s polluting mine to save Turnbull and Palaszczuk’s jobs]

To add to the mix, Conlon has previously worked with Minter Ellison from 2013 onwards — an engagement absent from his CV on the Fed Square website. Minter Ellison has earlier, in 2011, advised GVK, another Indian company, which is the second-largest investor in the Galilee basin, through the Hancock-Alpha project, part-owned by Gina Rinehart. 

Deborah Beale herself is tied into Queensland finance, as a director of Pinnacle Investment Management, helmed by Queensland “Medici Prince” Steve Wilson, who once had an investment company with current Queensland employment minister Grace Grace. Wilson founded Hyperion Asset Management (Beale’s current gig, as CEO), which gained funds management business from Queensland union super funds in the early 2000s (when the Queensland Council of Unions General Secretary was … Grace Grace).

There’s quite likely not much to see here. Most smart political operatives know that censoring or obstructing a peaceful protest only extends the publicity and discussion. The ALP is going to be fighting for its life in the Northcote byelection in November, against the Greens; for people in Northcote, watching a PowerPoint presentation in the open-air on a late winter Saturday night is about as much fun as you could possibly have. Labor’s embrace of Adani may or may not hurt them in Queensland, but it’s going to rip the hell out of them in inner Melbourne, first at state, then at federal level.

Does the Andrews government really want to be the fall-guy for federal and Queensland problems? Or is it possible that it could draw on what remains of its civic and popular traditions, and remind Fed Square Pty Ltd that Federation Square is a public gathering place for the free exchange of ideas. The place should be in public hands, through the council or a public board, not a private company. It might avoid the regrettable influence that Adani, Queensland Labor, Shorten et al, are so freaked by the “Stop Adani” movement that even a slide show represents a threat.

Tips and rumours

Jul 26, 2017

5 comments

From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Deflating statistics. Inflation for the June quarter is likely to get the pessimists going again — it was well below expectations at 0.2%, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics this morning. In the year to June, headline inflation was 1.9%, down from 2.1% in the year to March. Both of the Reserve Bank’s preferred inflation measures, the trimmed mean and the weighed median, came in at 1.8%. Forecasters had expected a result of around 0.4%; the result was driven by falls in fuel and clothing; only health insurance premium rises showed strong positive growth. On the bright side, that means it’ll be harder for wages to slip into negative real growth territory. The March Wage Price Index was 1.9%; if continued in the June quarter, that’ll mean that wages are only stagnant, not falling. Celebrate!

Was our invitation lost in the post? A caller to 3AW says a government agency spent $43,500 on a going-away party for its CEO, which sounds like a hefty price tag. So who was the event for? Could it have been Australia Post’s shindig to farewell Ahmed Fahour? If you know more, drop us a line.

Good on you Mum, tip top’s the one. The political world is still saying “Mamma mia!” about the resignation of Senator Matt Canavan from the ministry after it turned out his mum signed him up as an Italian citizen without his knowledge when he was 25. The case will now go to the High Court, as Canavan believes he couldn’t renounce citizenship he didn’t know he had. So it got us thinking in the Crikey bunker — what have other people’s mums signed them up for? For most of us, once we were past school our mums stopped with surprises such as that. Ms Tips’ mum is more likely to visit with a shopping bag of vegetables and a lecture than a new passport. Let us know, what has your mum signed you up for well after you were old enough to be doing it yourself? Drop us a line.

Surely this is a porky. The world of Aussie rules football is often quite weird, but this story from the last weekend of footy has taken the world of sledging to a new level. Adelaide forward Josh Jenkins told FIVEaa radio in Adelaide last night he had been the victim of a prank by his Geelong opponent Harry Taylor after Friday night’s match. Jenkins almost missed the game after some dodgy ham left him bedridden with food poisoning for two days, but he managed to get on the field for the win. Jenkins said Taylor used the incident as inspiration for a joke at the end of the match: “He shook my hands and when we separated there was ham in my hand — probably 25gms worth from the deli. I don’t think it was smoked. I wasn’t getting too close to it … I was going to throw up.”

We just want to know where Taylor kept the ham during the match. Or maybe we don’t.

Don’t mention coal. Indian coal-mining giant Adani is starting a public relations assault in Australia, full of smiling faces so glad to have jobs. After a four-page spread in The Sydney Morning Herald on Sunday, the company is back at it, this time with a spread in The Australian. “You might have heard of us,” the glowing copy reads as it explains “when you hear ‘Adani’ think ‘energy’, think ‘future’ and think ‘long term’.”

As pointed out in Junkee over the weekend, nowhere does the advertisement mention the word coal — while it talks about the Galillee mine, there’s nothing about what will actually be mined. It does mention that the company is planning solar projects in Queensland and South Australia though. If coal is “good for humanity” as former PM Tony Abbott said, we’re surprised it didn’t get more of a run in the ad.

*Heard anything that might interest Crikey? Send your tips to boss@crikey.com.auuse our guaranteed anonymous form or leak to us securely

Crikey Worm

Jun 8, 2017

5 comments

BRIGHTON FALLOUT CONTINUES

On day three of the reaction to the Brighton terror incident, the focus has shifted to what the security and law enforcement agencies were doing in the lead up to the attack. The Age reports that the man who killed serviced apartments clerk Kai Hao on Monday, Yacqub Khayre, was recommended to be involved in deradicalisation programs in 2011, but this was rejected by law enforcement agencies. The AFP has denied this, stating it is a matter for the states. The Australian also reports this morning that ASIO had lost track of Khayre, and had to ask the Victorian parole board for his mobile number in May. It could be something to do with ASIO’s workload, which is at more than 400 cases at the moment (The Daily Telegraph has claimed this story as an exclusive, but Attorney-General George Brandis dropped the figure in an interview with 2GB yesterday).

The Daily Telegraph also reports that the NSW Government will today announce that 100 police officers in the riot squad in Sydney will be armed with M4 Colt Carbine weapons as part of the government’s first response to the Lindt cafe siege inquiry.

NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman has also come out and suggested that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull‘s idea that the federal attorney-general should have the final say on parole would be “dangerous”.

LET IT GO, LET IT GO

After a decade of war between the political parties over climate change, there are signs that there might be peace in our time. Maybe. Ahead of the release of the Finkel Report on the energy sector on Friday, Bluescope Steel CEO Paul O’Malley has told The Australian that the steel giant backs a Low Emissions Target, and follows opposition leader Bill Shorten signalling that Labor would be open to the idea of a well-constructed LET. But, like clockwork, former prime minister Tony Abbott has signaled he may be opposed to an LET, now that it looks like it might actually resolve the divisive political issue.

“The Liberal Party has got to be the party of cheap power, let Labor be the party of expensive power,” he said. Energy businesses want certainty on policy for investment, but it seems unlikely they’re about to get it if Abbott is planning to lead a backbench revolt.

There is also expected to be new rules for renewable energy projects like solar and wind farms, to require them to have storage or back-up energy supplies in the event that there isn’t enough being generated to support the network.

INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS VICTIMS OF ANTI-ADANI CAMPAIGN

Indigenous academic Marcia Langton has used the annual mining industry lecture in Melbourne to state that the Greens and environment groups have delayed the passage of native title reforms in parliament in order to use the current state of the laws in their campaign against the Adani coal mine. Langton says the green groups are presenting “small handful” of Indigenous activists as representing the whole, and often rely on flimsy evidence in their opposition to the project. It wasn’t just the Greens that have delayed the passage of the legislation. The government attempted to bring on the legislation for debate in the senate before the budget estimates period last month and extend the sitting until it was passed, but there were no negotiations with Labor before it made this move, so the vote to extend the sitting never got up. It will return to parliament next week.

ATO WANTS $1 BILLION FROM CHEVRON

Fairfax reports today that due to the interest associated with the $340 million transfer pricing case Chevron lost against the Australian Taxation Office in April, the ATO is claiming Chevron owes the Australian taxpayers over $1 billion in back taxes with interest.

READ ALL ABOUT IT

Rushed changes to 457 visa laws are unlawful, say senior migration lawyers.

Man involved in car fire at Australian Christian Lobby HQ pleads not guilty due to mental impairment.

Bernardi calls for ABC to ditch Al Jazeera.

Housing prices the biggest threat to the economy.

WHAT’S ON FOR TODAY

SydneyDirections hearing for Adam Cranston, the son of deputy ATO Commissioner Michael Cranston over the $165 million tax fraud case.

Sydney: Deputy Labor Leader Tanya Plibersek to speak at Gerard Henderson‘s Sydney Institute this evening.

Canberra: Hearing for the parliamentary inquiry into research for cancers with low survival rates.

Melbourne: Rebel Wilson defamation trial continues.

St George: One Nation leader Pauline Hanson is at the Isolated Children’s Parents conference in Queensland.

THE COMMENTARIAT

Time fascists were victims instead — Andrew Bolt (Herald Sun $): “I hit the head of one so hard that my knuckles are still tender, and when he was down, legs sprawled apart, I kicked.”

Uluru proposals deserve better than a knee-jerk reaction — Fred Chany (The Age): “Is giving people a chance to be heard so radical? Surely it is a conservative position to want Parliament to look and listen before it makes yet another legislative leap?”

We have word for it: opportunity — Niki Savva (The Australian $): “Malcolm Turnbull will decide [on a reshuffle], but after the Islamist attacks in Manchester, before even London and Brighton, the mood was hardening against delay, with momentum building for action sooner rather than later.”

TODAY IN TRUMP

Former FBI chief James Comey has released a lengthy statement ahead of his highly anticipated testimony before Congress tomorrow. Comey alleges that President Donald Trump demanded his loyalty at one point, and in another meeting asked aides to leave before imploring Comey to drop an investigation into his former National Security advisor Michael Flynn. “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go,” Trump allegedly said.

Trump also asked Comey to help lift “the cloud” of the FBI’s probe into his presidential campaign. Uncomfortable being left alone with the President, Comey recorded the interactions in a series of memos.

Trump has also announced his new pick for FBI director, unveiling Christopher Wray, a Bush-era Justice Department official who represented Chris Christie as he was investigated over the “Bridgegate” scandal. 

THE WORLD

Twin attacks in the Iranian capital Tehran have left 12 dead after suicide bombers and gunmen struck both the parliament and the Mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini. The powerful Iranian Revolutionary Guards blamed Saudi Arabia for the attack, while the Islamic State claimed responsibility. Such attacks are rare in Iran, and the incident is likely to empower hardliners in the country, to the detriment of recently re-elected President Hassan Rouhani. — Reuters

Iraqi Kurds will hold an independence referendum on September 25. Quasi-official, the vote will be used to pressure the central Iraqi government if it is successful. — BBC

WHAT WE’RE READING

How Donald Trump shifted kids-cancer charity money into his business (Forbes): “In reviewing filings from the Eric Trump Foundation and other charities, it’s clear that the course wasn’t free — that the Trump Organization received payments for its use, part of more than $1.2 million that has no documented recipients past the Trump Organization. Golf charity experts say the listed expenses defy any reasonable cost justification for a one-day golf tournament.”

The radical crusade of Mike Pence (Rolling Stone): “Pence is the nation’s 48th vice president. Nine vice presidents have assumed the presidency as a result of death or resignation. That’s a 19 per cent ascendancy rate. Between Trump’s trigger-happy Twitter persona, the ethical nightmare of his business empire, his KFC addiction and possible entanglements with Vladimir Putin, I’d say the chances for Mike Pence are more than 50-50.”

Egypt: the new dictatorship (New York Review of Books): “Recent events in Egypt have raised the question of whether the tradeoff General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has offered the Egyptian public — keeping them safe in exchange for an authoritarian state and far-reaching restrictions on civil society — is working.”

The oldest human fossils ever discovered have stories to tell (The New Yorker): “In any case, there was a long period — two hundred thousand years, it now appears — during which ‘human culture’ involved only stone tools, as with pretty much every other Paleolithic hominin. Were we like them, or were they like us? “

HOLD THE FRONT PAGE

Companies

Jun 7, 2017

5 comments

Because Adani’s Carmichael coal mine project is primarily seen as an issue about coal, climate inaction and the death of the Great Barrier Reef, the extraordinary nature of what governments are doing to encourage the project has received less attention than it should have.

It’s barely three years since the Abbott government virtually chased General Motors and Toyota out of Australia, because the age of entitlement was over. According to the Productivity Commission, we spent around $2 billion a year in tariffs and direct assistance supporting an industry that, in its last years, was employing around 40-50,000 people but which a few years earlier had employed up to 80,000.

Since then, the tide has swung dramatically back toward protectionism as state and federal governments have rushed to find local projects to lavish cash on — projects that make car manufacturing look like value for money.

The Queensland government is deferring around $320 million in royalties from Adani’s coal mine, in a royalty “holiday” to help the project along. To the extent that it enabled Adani to, bizarrely, declare that it had decided to go ahead — if it could find some more money — this worked. Despite the insistence of the Queensland government, Queensland taxpayers are unlikely to ever see that $320 million — why on earth would the corrupt, tax-dodging Adani ever pay a cent if all it needed to do was warn that the end of the royalty holiday would make the mine unviable and lead to job losses?

Politicians always find ways to tell themselves they’re not really engaging in protectionism. It’s always a “special case”. Or the industry just needs some initial assistance, but once it develops it will stand on its own two feet. Or there are “flow on benefits”. State governments are particularly good at devising ways to kid themselves, whether it’s long-term electricity subsidies for smelters, or paying millions to the grubby spivs of Formula 1 to stage a race on Melbourne, or give tax concessions to multinationals to base offices and plants locally. Annastacia Palaszczuk’s reassurance that the royalty holiday will end and Adani will stump up is just another version.

Losing $320 million to employ, by the company’s own admission, 1460 workers isn’t too bad an outcome — that’s around $220,000 per job in total — we used to spend around $10,000 a year on car workers. But that’s before you factor in the lazy billion from the aptly named NAIF that perpetually outraged resources minister Matt Canavan wants to throw at the rail line to get the coal from the middle of Queensland to a port — a handout that either is crucial to the project, or just a nice extra, depending on which day you ask Adani. That makes it around $900,000 a job. And that’s not counting assistance the Queensland government has already given to the company so far.

We’ve swapped the age of entitlement for the age of largesse, it seems.

Palaszczuk’s royalties holiday, however, gets the Carmichael problem off her back and puts it squarely on Malcolm Turnbull’s. Queensland is crucial to the next federal election — not to mention the small matter of the looming Queensland state election. Palaszczuk can tell Queensland voters that she’s bent over backwards for Adani; any failure from here will be down to the failure of the federal government to spend a billion dollars on concrete sleepers and (overpriced Australian) steel tracks. 

It’s a policy race to the bottom that dodgy multinationals like Adani exploit to perfection. Dangle the prospect of jobs in front of electorally desperate politicians like Palaszczuk and Turnbull and they fall over themselves to deliver handouts. Taxpayers, meanwhile, lose out. But taxpayers have always lost out when it comes to protectionism in Australia. And these days, when it comes to the cost per subsidised job, they lose out far more than they used to.

Crikey Worm

Jun 7, 2017

5 comments

BRIGHTON SIEGE PUTS FOCUS ON PAROLE

“How was he on parole?” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said of Yacqub Khayre, the Somalian refugee shot dead by police in Brighton, Victoria yesterday after taking a sex worker hostage and killing the receptionist who worked in the serviced apartments. The Herald Sun reports that Khayre had a long history of thefts and assaults, and setting fire to prisons. The Age reports that Khayre was charged and acquitted over plans for a suicide attack on the Holsworthy army barracks, and he was considered a “peripheral player” in an anti-terror investigation. He was released on parole in December 2016, despite reportedly little belief he could be rehabilitated.

The Victorian opposition is calling on Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews to resign over the incident, but Andrews accused them of grandstanding, pointing out that Khayre was sentenced under the former Liberal state government. Turnbull has said that parole laws would be a focus of Friday’s Council of Australian Governments meeting, and The Australian reports that the PM will push for uniform parole laws across Australia.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten focused his attention on internet giants Twitter, Google, and Facebook, calling for “big internet” to step in and fight terrorism online.

ADANI GETS NOD, NEEDS CASH

The $16.5 billion Adani coal mine in Queensland has the green light after seven years of court cases and approvals processes. The Courier-Mail reports that some of those alleged thousands of jobs that the project will bring to the region will come very soon, with Downer Group and AECOM commencing mine development and the rail link, and Adani’s regional headquarters to be set up in Townsville.

There is still a $3.3 billion funding hole that Adani will need to fill before the first stage of the mine is complete, including the $1 billion the mining giant wants from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund. Environment groups have told The Australian they will amp up pressure to sway the NAIF against giving the loan to Adani. NAIF should make its decision before the end of this year.

DONATIONS, DONATIONS

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten was fired up after being inundated with questions by a journalist at an event yesterday over Labor Senator Sam Dastyari‘s lobbying on the behalf of a Chinese donor to the Labor party. Shorten said Dastyari had paid the price over his “indiscretion” last year in resigning from the shadow ministry. Turnbull said that Dastyari still had questions to answer, while 4 Corners also revealed that former Coalition minister Andrew Robb walked out from parliament into an $880,000-per year part time consulting job with a Chinese billionaire. Both Labor and the Coalition support a ban on foreign political donations, but the government has yet to introduce any legislation into parliament to support this policy since Turnbull announced it at the National Press Club at the start of this year.

Part of what still needs to be worked out will be whether foreign donations will be banned for third party organisations — like GetUp, or environment groups, or the Institute of Public Affairs — as well as political parties.

THE NUMBER TO REMEMBER: $18.29

That’s the new hourly rate for the minimum wage. The Fair Work Commission yesterday ordered a 3.3% rise in the minimum wage of $0.59 per hour to $18.29 per hour — or $22.20 extra per week. It is much less than the $45 per week sought by unions, and the Fair Work Commission said that research has said that modest and regular increases in wages do not increase unemployment, and yet some are still crying poor, claiming that the increase will cost jobs. One expert quoted in the AFR suggests that the Fair Work Commission is engaged in “magic pudding talk“. ACTU Secretary Sally McManus said that the decision showed the system was broken and would keep people who are working in poverty.

HE REALLY SAID THAT

“Well, Islamophobia hasn’t killed anyone. Islamist terrorism has now killed tens of thousands of people, that’s why it is absolutely critical that there be the strongest possible response at every level.” — Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Security agencies have said the former PM should know better, and it comes just after Islamophobia resulted in the murder of two men on a train in Portland.

READ ALL ABOUT IT

Andrew Bolt fights back, throws punches after protesters “spray” him.

Pisasale had $50,000 in cash at airport before raids and resignation.

Xenophon urges GetUp deputy chair to quit Press Council.

WHAT’S ON TODAY

Sydney: Prince Harry is in Sydney to launch the Invictus Games.

Sydney: The final day of Eddie Obeid‘s appeal hearing will be held.

Canberra: Former US Director of Intelligence James Clapper to deliver a speech at the National Press Club.

Melbourne: Education minister Simon Birmingham to deliver a speech at the Parent Engagement Conference.

Brisbane: A protest by doctors and students against CBA investing in the Adani Carmichael Coal Mine is planned.

Perth: AMEC Mining Conference gets underway.

THE COMMENTARIAT

Adani’s trick of the ‘green light’ — Matthew Stevens (Australian Financial Review $): “My concern is that the economics of this mine and rail project appear to be so shaky that the two proponents (yes, there are two) require direct taxpayer funding in the form of a large, long, low-cost loan from the Commonwealth and a generous, cash-flow sustaining, royalty concession by the state.” 

Fair Work Commission shows caution on minimum wage ruling — Ewin Hannan (The Australian $): “Neither unions nor ­employers are happy at the commission continuing its practice of splitting the difference between their competing claims.”

If major party politicians want to avoid oblivion they will embrace donation reform — Nick O’Malley (The Age): “Each year the same handful of industries and interest groups — developers, gambling, unions, resources, tobacco and pharmaceuticals chief among them — pour buckets of money over our politicians while they continue to insist it has no affect on how they run their diaries or departments.”

Faux Muslim leaders worse than no leaders at all — Janet Albrechtsen (The Australian $): “If you’re not familiar with Khan, picture Waleed Aly.”

TODAY IN TRUMP

Donald Trump has bragged about his role in moving Saudi Arabia to diplomatically isolate US ally Qatar. “During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology,” he tweeted. “Leaders pointed to Qatar — look!”

The brag has put Trump at odds with his Secretaries of State and Defence, as well as the Pentagon, which has a key airbase in the now isolated Gulf country from which attacks on the Islamic State are launched. Qatar has often been accused of funding violent Islamist groups in the region — but so too has Saudi Arabia.

THE WORLD

A man has been shot by police outside Notre Dame cathedral in Paris after hitting an officer with a hammer and yelling “this is for Syria”. Holidaying families were forced to shelter inside the building as the incident took place. French prosecutors have opened a terrorism investigation. — Reuters

A 25-year-old American has been charged after allegedly leaking documents to news website The InterceptReality Leigh Winner was arrested before the website published the resulting story, which detailed an attack by Russian hackers targeting US election officials. It is the first leak prosecution since Donald Trump became president. — Washington Post

“Rideshare” service Uber has fired more than 20 staff after an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct. The company has been on the defensive since a blog post aired allegations about poor treatment of women in the workplace. Senior executives are thought to be among those dismissed. — Bloomberg

WHAT WE’RE READING

Top-secret NSA report details Russian hacking effort days before 2016 election (The Intercept): “The report indicates that Russian hacking may have penetrated further into US voting systems than was previously understood.”

Qatar crisis: This is why Saudi Arabia and its allies have suddenly cut ties to their Sunni Arab neighbour (The Independent): “Under Mr Trump, the degree of protection it can expect from the US is uncertain and Prince Mohammed bin Salman, eager to secure his own path to the Saudi throne, cannot afford a failure. He may even want to go the limit and eliminate Qatar as an independent state, the first time this has happened in the Gulf since Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990.”

We found Mike Flynn’s secret Twitter account (Daily Beast): “In March 2015, zulutym tweeted a picture at Flynn Jr. ‘The ability to speak multiple languages is an asset, but the ability to keep your mouth shut in any language is priceless,’ the image’s caption read.”

Popular people live longer (New York Times): “Research suggests that despite the great temptations to gain status, those who achieve it ultimately experience greater unhappiness and dissatisfaction, while those who are likable have far greater satisfaction and success.”

How being a news junkie makes you racist (Ozy): “We all have that racist aunt, or that friend who says questionable things about the news without really understanding what’s going on. But staying well-informed helps the masses understand nuance and avoid the prejudices of ignorance, right? Not so fast. Recent research suggests that the more news you watch, the more Islamophobic you become.”

HOLD THE FRONT PAGE

Companies

May 2, 2017

5 comments

One of the many sounds I can’t excise from my head is President Trump saying “We’re going to have clean coal, reeeelly cleeeen co-al…”

As the Truth Wars rev up, patently silly things said by powerful people become white noise. Our own politicians are adapting with impressive speed to the licence Trump has given everyone to construct their own reality and attack their enemies with weaponised hypocrisy. 

Clean coal is a noble oxymoron not just in West Virginia, of course; it has a regular seat at the Australian feast of energy policy failure. You’d think, from the degree of political capital the Australian government continues to sink into its irrational insistence that the Adani coal mine in Queensland must be built no matter how economically pointless and environmentally disastrous it is expected to be, that there were some massive national stakes at play. But no.

Adani is really about, weirdly, ideology. Coal, of course, has no ideological basis (the Bible is silent on the subject of fossil fuels and renewables). Then again, neither does Anzac Day. It commemorates personal sacrifice, not our national beliefs. Yet these and so many other random subjects are being constantly co-opted into what are usually referred to as the culture wars but are actually a struggle for ideological supremacy. In this war, truth and untruth are wielded as weapons of equal power.

Ideological wars have a couple of problems. One is that they tend to be extremely shouty, which just makes everyone switch over to Masterchef. Another is that, when you’re arguing simultaneously for a position you insist is gospel truth, and against the right of your opponents to speak their alternative truth (on the basis that they’re obviously wrong), you get caught out. A lot. 

Today’s prize idiot is Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, the National Party’s Matt Canavan, who is so outraged by Westpac’s announcement of its refusal to lend money to Adani that he’s calling for a consumer boycott of Westpac.

[Call in the Green Army! Threat of ‘green lawfare’ takes down … wait … only two projects?]

In a press release that should have had pictures, the minister went to town on Westpac, suggesting it should revert to its old name as the Bank of NSW since it’s come over all anti-Queenslander. After pointing to the ever-expanding number of jobs the Adani mine will create if only our banks would join the government in throwing money at the Indian billionaire who wants to secure our energy future — the 1400 jobs Adani’s own expert predicted is now sitting at 16,000 in the government’s mind and still rising — Canavan closed with this call to state arms:

“May I suggest those Queenslanders who are seeking a home loan or a long-term bank deposit or some such in the next few months might want to back a bank that is backing the interests of Queenslanders.”

Ooh, that sounds like a direct call for a consumer boycott of Westpac, does it not? At which point, Canavan disappears into the suck-hole of the National Irony Generator.

He is, after all, of the very same government some of whose members have been calling loudly for years for secondary boycotts by environmental groups to be criminalised.

Wait, what? A secondary boycott is a thing that the Competition and Consumer Act makes illegal. It’s what happens when some people get together to take actions that prevent or hinder a business from doing its usual business. For example, by maintaining a picket line outside the store or conducting a social media campaign telling everyone not to shop there.

That’s what section 45D says. It’s one of the sections in the act about which I, wearing my competition lawyer apron, get asked most frequently and with almost 100% irrelevance. In reality, it rarely applies. One of the main reasons for that is section 45DD, which exempts boycott activity engaged in for the purpose of environmental protection or consumer protection.

Greenies, therefore, can chain themselves to as many trees as they like, and be openly collusive about doing so, without fear of prosecution. Likewise, Choice can tell us to stop wasting money on dietary supplements or bottled tap water, no problem.

This exemption for do-gooders has long stuck in the craw of many in the Coalition, especially the free market-loving Nationals. When the current review of competition law, which will probably outlive us all, began several years ago, they jumped on the opportunity to argue for removal of the exceptions to the secondary boycotts prohibition.  

The libertarian position on this subject is, of course, entirely confused. The IPA’s free-market warriors generally insist on the untrammelled right of businesses to do business without interference from pesky complainers. As IPA alumnus and current government MP Tim Wilson once famously tweeted about the Occupy protesters, set the water cannons on them. Capitalism needs elbow room.

[Water cannons and blowjob receipts: the adventures of Freedom Boy, possible member for Goldstein]

But isn’t protest as much an exercise of freedom as building a coal mine? And isn’t refusing to lend money to the owner of said coal mine also a pure exercise of free will?

Ah, no, not in the Clean Coal wonderland. Coal, as Tony said, is good for humanity. Or, as Canavan has it: “Westpac say they are making this decision to try and tackle climate change, yet the coal in the Galilee Basin is 60% better, it has an energy content of 60% greater than the coal in India which it will displace by the development of this basin.” 

Wow, 60%! If you suspect that sentence of being gibberish, that’s because it is.

Still, truth and untruth are just opposite sides of the same two-headed coin in Wonderland. Coal is good. Clean coal is double-plus-good. We, in the national (National?) interest, should all have absolute freedom to speak well of coal and those who would dig it up.

The same does not apply to those who speak ill of coal. They are not good. They say things that are untrue, or rather that contradict the self-contradicting narrative of coal as the solution to the existential crisis of climate change. In Canavan-speak, “to reduce emissions around the world, our coal industry has an important part to play”. Yep.

The point, as Qantas discovered when it dared speak for marriage equality, is that corporations are free to do whatever they like, within the prevailing dimensions of what is Right and True. The rest of us, the citizens, are free to alternatively acquiesce in silence or storm the parapets, as we are instructed. The resulting festival of hyperbolic hypocrisy, in which this government is learning to excel, rolls on. Coal is clean. Black, don’t you know, is white.

Tips and rumours

May 1, 2017

5 comments

From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

When will Fairfax swing the axe? The consultation period between Fairfax management and staff over proposed cuts worth $30 million ended last week. Now it’s the waiting game until the company announces just how many jobs will go from The Age, Sydney Morning Herald, Brisbane Times and WA Today mastheads. Will management time the announcement to coincide with either tomorrow’s Victorian budget announcement or next Tuesday’s federal budget in order to make it harder for staff to go on strike? Fairfax staff have already threatened industrial action over the cuts, which come after 120 staff were made redundant last year. Know more? Drop us a line here. You can remain anonymous if you wish.

Westpac’s Adani decision just good business. Unsurprisingly, the peak body of Australia’s mining industry was apoplectic at Westpac’s announcement last week that it would not lend to Adani’s white elephant Carmichael coal mine, nor to any future coal mines that did not meet a high coal energy requirement. “A textbook case of cynical virtue signalling,” bleated Minerals Council head Brendan Pearson (we’re disappointed he didn’t dip into other parts of the right-wing dictionary and label Westpac as “snowflakes” or “precious petals”, although the perpetually enraged Queensland anti-abortion senator Matt Canavan lashed Westpac for being “wimps”). Unsurprisingly, mining columnist Matthew Stevens at the Financial Review hopped into Westpac today.

“Perhaps it is the product of a life spent constantly living under the shadow of the Commonwealth Bank, but whatever the reason, Westpac suffers from an almost obsequious need to please,” wrote Stevens — one of many pieces of snark directed at the bank.

The editors of the Financial Review might want to be careful. What happened the last time there was a high-profile decision not to invest in fossil fuel projects? That would be when ANU divested in Santos and several other companies in 2014. That elicited not merely a furious reaction from the Abbott government but an equally aggro campaign from the Fin Review, with reporter Ben Potter penning article after article savaging the university. And what happened next? Santos’ share price fell off a cliff in the most dramatic vindication possible for ANU. Speaking of which, how’s that Santos share price faring now? Today it was $3.47, which is almost exactly a quarter of its price when Tony Abbott labelled ANU’s decision “stupid”.

Stand by for RBA frenzy. Tomorrow is the first Tuesday of the month, which means it’s interest rates day for the Reserve Bank. But interest rates will take a backseat in tomorrow’s statement from Reserve Bank governor Phil Lowe after the central bank’s May board meeting. It will be what Lowe says about house prices (April’s figures are out today) and especially investor lending and interest-only loans that will hold the greater interest. Comments in these post-meeting statements from the governor and detailed minutes of the past two board meetings have revealed the sudden rise in regulatory concern about the house price boom in Sydney and Melbourne. And this time won’t be any different, especially with Lowe due to make a major speech on house prices in Brisbane on Thursday. Entitled “Household Debt, Housing Prices and Resilience”, the speech will be at a lunch of the Economic Society of Queensland. On Friday the RBA releases its second Monetary Policy Statement of the year, which will not only contain new forecasts for economic growth and inflation, but also expand on what will be in tomorrow’s statement from the governor (which will also make reference to the updated forecasts). Lowe’s speech in Brisbane is unusually close to the federal budget on May 9 and will focus on a one of the more contentious of current policy debates — house prices, which is also unusual. In 2015 and 2016, former governor Glenn Stevens made speeches a bit further away from the day of the budget being handed down, and on less contentious subjects. The last time Lowe spoke on house prices his comments were seized on by MPs across the spectrum, so the frenzy could be even worse this time around.

It’s the constitution, it’s the vibe. Labor was quick off the mark to lodge a formal complaint against Pauline Hanson’s One Nation after The Saturday Paper broke the story over the weekend about recent changes to its governance structure. The story is by Tom Ravlic, who has broken multiple stories on issues with One Nation’s governance structures in Crikey. Labor Senator Murray Watt went straight to the Australian Electoral Commission with a detailed complaint before we made it to Sunday.

As David Marr told Insiders on Sunday, with Hanson, it’s all about her power and access to public funding. The only problem with that is the need to consult with members and have democratic processes.

The same questions could be asked of Family First and Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives. Were members given a vote on that merger? Did the decision to merge comply with both parties’ constitutional requirements?

Don’t say we didn’t tell you. Let’s cast our minds back to Thursday last week, where we noted that Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade bureaucrats had told Senate estimates on notice that Yassmin Abdel-Magied’s trip to the Middle East last year had cost a paltry sum, and that she hadn’t spoken about female genital mutilation or the death penalty on the speaking tour. “While there doesn’t seem to be a scandal here, that hasn’t stopped The Australian before,” we wrote. Now, we present to you, page 5 of the Oz on Saturday:

 

*Heard anything that might interest Crikey? Send your tips to boss@crikey.com.au or use our guaranteed anonymous form

Companies

Apr 18, 2017

5 comments

If you are going to tell a lie, tell a big one. And if that fails, like it has for the Adani coal mine, tell an even bigger one.

The fanciful “10,000 jobs!” claim, which has been under sustained attack but is still being repeatedly made by the Adani spruikers, has collapsed. As Crikey has previously reported, the figure from Adani’s own economist — who swore an oath to it in court — is only 1464 direct and indirect jobs, on average, over the life of the mine. The jobs claim is symptomatic of the broader unravelling of the economic arguments for the giant coal mine.

But like a bad Demtel TV ad from the ’70s: Wait there’s more! It seems “10,000” was not a big enough lie to be believed, so Resources Minister Matt Canavan did some new calculations which ran on the front page of The Australian yesterday declaring “Adani rail ‘to deliver 15,000 jobs’”.  Sensibly the paper had the claim in quotes and more sensibly still, their online story headline read “… ‘could deliver 15000 jobs…’”.  Canavan then awkwardly told Patricia Karvelas on RN yesterday evening that he was as confident of the jobs figures as he was of his marriage.

No Australian mine employs 10,000 people, directly or indirectly, and nor could the Carmichael project. Anyway, Adani has said it wants to automate its operations from “mine to port”. However, it’s not just the jobs lies that are leading the economics of this project to collapse. Corporate structures involving the Cayman Islands  suggest company tax will not be pouring through Australia’s Treasury doors. 

And then there is the issue of how much Adani will pay in royalties for the Queensland coal it seeks to sell. For years now, there has been a mysterious silence about how much per tonne the mine owners will actually pay for the coal, when they will start paying it, and even whether any payment to the state government will be made at all. Former Queensland premier Campbell Newman had offered Adani a so called “royalty holiday” (free coal) and the current Queensland government has consistently refused to reveal what price Queenslanders will get for shipping 60 million tons of low-quality coal through the barrier reef every year. 

But nature abhors a vacuum. Political commenter Ross Cameron has filled the breach, claiming that in five years of operation the mine will bring in a staggering $20 billion in total royalties and taxes. Others have declared the entire Queensland economy would be saved. As the economics of the project get weaker, and the appeals for a government loan get more bellicose, the economic lies just get bigger.

Once upon a time, the right took economics seriously. They argued their position firmly — even if, for example, it meant some in the community would get left behind. Now they just barrack for their mates, no matter the lack of evidence. It’s unedifying, really. 

It is left to the odd newspaper editorial to bell the cat:

The Australian Financial Review agrees with federal Labor leader Bill Shorten, as selectively opportunistic as he is, that ‘the deal should stand up under its own merit’. We expect most Liberal MPs would agree. If the financials stack up, the project should proceed. If they don’t, then Australian taxpayers should not subsidise a project run by a company that is 75 per cent owned by an ultra-wealthy Indian family.”

In the short term, with the budget just weeks away, the Coalition frontbench is wasting huge amounts of scarce political capital explaining why subsidising a new coal mine via a loan from the scandal ridden Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) is a high priority for a government that claims to be short on funds.

And now some Liberals are breaking ranks. First Queensland federal MP Bert Van Manen came out to say he was against the billion-dollar NAIF loan going to Adani and then just before the Easter weekend Victorian Liberal MP Sarah Henderson also publicly questioned the project. Now, former Liberal leader, John Hewson, has weighed in.

As the economics of Adani begin to crumble, more Liberals will be under pressure from constituents missing out from the budget who will ask “why do I lose out while an Indian miner gets $1 billion?”. No guarantee of how much company tax paid will be paid, no guarantee of royalties, and jobs claims crumbling risk the whole economic mirage being spotted by an electorate increasingly sceptical of multi-national tax avoidance.

And then there is Alan Jones. Sydney’s radio host is back on air both for the true believers on Sky in the evening and the mums and dads of the western Sydney marginals each morning on 2GB. And he is letting fly to both audiences, assaulting the economic claims of the mine as well letting listeners know what he thinks of the unlimited free water the Adani mine will churn through.

While Alan Jones, government backbenchers, the Financial Review, a former liberal leader all add to the case against a $1 billion tax payer hand-out for a giant coal mine, the right and economic rationalists have gone missing.

For the government, there is the potential humiliation that will arrive if and when the independent board of the NAIF confronts the public, and the Turnbull government, with the conclusion that the numbers for the Adani mine simply do not stack up. Of course, any attempt by the government to suggest that such an outcome is impossible is an admission that the government does not think the NAIF is an independent body.

And, in the long term, after Barnaby Joyce and Matt Canavan are gone, the Coalition’s determination to subsidise the Adani coal mine at a time when global coal demand was already declining will cruel any hopes that the Coalition will be able to claw back notions that they are “good economic managers” or “fiscally conservative”.

The Prime Minister’s trip to India should have been a chance to look statesmen-like and above politics. But the trip was wrecked when it was overshadowed by the controversy of an increasingly dubious-looking NAIF board apparently on the verge of lending a fifth of its equity to a rich Indian coal baron pursuing a marginal project. From the foreign policy front through to environmental and economic concerns, Malcolm Turnbull is letting a National Party boondoggle churn through a lot of prime ministerial credibility.

Companies

Apr 12, 2017

5 comments

Even as Malcolm Turnbull and his ministers warn against the rising tide of protectionism, his government is rapidly becoming the most protectionist since the Fraser era, with the way being prepared to hand a $900 million concessional loan to the corrupt, tax-dodging Indian company Adani for its unviable Carmichael coal mine project.

The cheap loan to fund the rail line needed to connect the mine with port facilities would come from the government’s National Party boondoggle fund, the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, which lacks even the most basic accountability mechanisms and has minimal staff. There would be no assessment role for Infrastructure Australia, which is expressly designed to assess major infrastructure projects on a national and regional basis, and certainly no role for a body like the Productivity Commission.

Turnbull claims the project will create “tens of thousands of jobs”, which even The Australian pointed out was wrong. The company itself has admitted the mine and rail project would create less than 1500 jobs, while the Queensland Resources Council has suggested 2400 jobs.

Even accepting Turnbull’s fictional claim that 20,000 jobs would be created by the Carmichael project, the loan would amount to a cost of $45,000 per job — three or four times what we used to spend a year keeping automotive workers employed, and with no guarantee of repayment even at the lower interest rate that Adani apparently needs to make the project viable. In reality, the loan is likely to support 1500 jobs at a cost of $600,000 each. 

For that amount, it’d be cheaper to give every family in Townsville an interest-free loan of $10,000 and tell them to do what they want with it.

[Do politicians care about the cost of infrastructure promises?]

According to Infrastructure Australia, the highest priority infrastructure projects in the country — some of which are funded, some of which are not — are all in urban areas: mostly road and rail projects, and the western Sydney airport. The highest priority initiatives (that is, projects that don’t yet have a business case) are nearly all urban road and rail projects too, many of which will deliver major economic and productivity benefits in terms of reduced travel time in major cities, as well as jobs. One high priority project, the WestConnex project in Sydney, for example, which has received a $1.5 billion grant and a $2 billion loan from the federal government, will, by itself, generate 10,000 construction jobs over a decade before any economic benefits from its operation.

To his credit, Malcolm Turnbull has abandoned the Coalition’s long antipathy toward urban infrastructure investment and is genuinely committed to public transport. But the Adani loan would be straight from an older Coalition playbook — regional, without economic merit, and intended to benefit the fossil fuel industry.

As with most other forms of protectionism, Labor is on board: the Palaszczuk government has bent over backwards to fund and clear hurdles for Adani and supports the loan. But unusually, Bill Shorten, until recently a supporter of the project, has now expressed reservations about it, as has LNP backbencher Bert Van Manen, from the southern Queensland suburban electorate of Forde.

Shorten may have picked up on the extraordinary contrast between a government handing nearly a billion dollars to a foreign company to export coal, and the death of the Great Barrier Reef from warming sea waters. The government may think it is increasing its chances of regaining, and keeping, northern Queensland seats with the loan, but as the death of an Australian icon becomes more apparent, this dodgy loan might end up being a political dead-weight on an already overburdened government.

 

Federal

Feb 16, 2017

5 comments

The Coalition appears set to demand environmental groups be treated like political parties when it comes to transparency over donations.

The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters held a hearing on the issue of foreign donations on Wednesday, ahead of its report due back to government early next month. The report is expected to recommend that donations to political parties and associated entities or third parties from non-Australian citizens and businesses based outside Australia be banned.

While the focus of the hearing was supposed to be on foreign donations, many Liberal members of the committee (in particular Ben Morton and Linda Reynolds) remained focused on the campaigning activities of GetUp and the recent news that three environmental groups — 350.org, Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) and Sunrise — were targeting Coalition MPs in their electorates in Queensland over the controversial Adani coal mine.

Reynolds asked Erickson if the rules around financial disclosure for political parties were changed and foreign donations were banned, whether that should also apply to groups like GetUp or the ACF.

They’re actually actively involved in these self-declared political activities. Shouldn’t they be involved in the same ban or disclosure?” she asked.

Erickson said if that campaigning in specific electorates was done around election time, it might be appropriate that they be treated the same as political parties.

Nutt said there should be a level playing field where all groups participating in the democratic process were bound by the same rules and obligations in regards to where their money was sourced, and what had to be disclosed.

There shouldn’t be loopholes or ways for people to use money or resources … We’ve got a lot of people now who are aggregating a lot of resources,” he said, adding that the new third-party players like GetUp were “highly aggressive” in their political campaigning.

One suggestion from the Coalition senators was for groups like ACF and 350.org to report not only their donations related to political activity, as they have to declare today, but also donations made in relation to their administrative work, payroll and other general expenses. Reynolds indicated that environmental groups had received $600 million in donations over the past 10 years, but very little of it had been publicly disclosed.

Morton complained that GetUp had been invited to appear before the committee — the group did appear late last year — but had declined three times. It will be making an appearance in another committee later this week. Morton said 350.org, Sunrise, World Wildlife Fund and ACF all also declined to appear. The trip to Canberra, he said, was much less than the groups’ travel expenditure.

I think it is quite shameful.It’s a $90 bus ride from Sydney to Canberra.”

In what is surely just a coincidence, the Minerals Council of Australia’s submission to the inquiry — uploaded to the committee page shortly after the hearing — contains many of the same criticisms of the environmental groups levelled by the Liberal senators:

“The MCA is not questioning the right of environmental groups to pursue political objectives or to raise money for this purpose. However, these groups should not be exempt from reasonable disclosure obligations that help maintain public confidence in Australia’s political system.”

Labor’s assistant national secretary Paul Erickson and Liberal national director Tony Nutt both agreed that there should be restrictions on foreign donations, both saying that their view was in line with what the community now expected. Nutt said the law must not be “vague with draconian penalties” and said dual nationals, Australians living overseas and businesses operating in Australia but with ties overseas, should not be banned from making donations.

The committee will today hear from the Minerals Council of Australia, fresh from donating Treasurer Scott Morrison a lump of coal he used as a prop in question time.