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Tips and rumours

Aug 24, 2017

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From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Enrolment confusion. The postal survey is upon us (assuming the High Court doesn’t shoot it down) and today is your last day to enrol — so if you want to participate, make sure you check your details, even if you’re pretty sure it’s taken care of. A tipster got a fright when she received a letter from the Australia Electoral Commission that seemed to imply she wouldn’t be able to update her details in time.

It reads: “I recently wrote to you advising that the Australian Electoral Commission intended to update your enrolment to the address below based on information received from another government agency” followed by an address. However, it goes on “due to the announcement of the Australian Marriage law Postal Survey, I will not be able to update you on the electoral roll by the close of rolls deadline.”

The letter then tells the recipient she can complete an enrolment form online and that this process needs to be done by August 24 to complete the survey.  

We called the AEC to check what the go was and a spokesman told us this was down to a legislative requirement. The AEC automatically collects information on address changes when people update things like their driver’s licences. In the normal run of things, the AEC contacts these people with a letter saying the AEC has established that a change of address has occurred and if the recipient doesn’t contact the commission within 28 days, the person’s details will be automatically be updated with the AEC. Of course the postal survey came along and ensured this would not be the normal run of things. Those who have moved house will have to update their own details if that 28-day period was set to expire after August 24. The spokesperson told us that, even if the recipient contacted the AEC to confirm the details were correct when they initially received the letter, the AEC was legally required to wait 28 days before updating the details, meaning the onus would always fall back on the individual to update their details in time. 

No one expects the Belgian Inquisition. Long-time Crikey favourite Mathias Cormann remains the government’s rock, the only credible senior minister in a stormy sea of chaos and confusion, especially after Julie Bishop’s bizarre meltdown the other week. Indeed, we occasionally indulge a long-term fantasy for the Teuton From Eupen to take a lower-house WA seat and lead the Liberals. Occasionally, however, even the mighty Cormannator develop a glitch in his software (who can forget him lavishing praise on Bill Shorten during the election campaign?). While last night he was railing at Shorten as the actual reincarnation of Karl Marx, he warned: “Australia under Bill Shorten would be both duller, poorer — and less equal.” Um, that’s three things, not the two implied by “both”, minister. Fortunately you’re not in a portfolio that requires counting.

Pratt fall. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had a great time walking around Tumut with billionaire Anthony Pratt yesterday, just tagging along while Pratt announced his business expansion (kudos to the journo who asked “there’s no federal government funding in this announcement today, so what are you doing here?”). Pratt is a keen user of Instagram and regularly posts pictures of himself with US Vice-President Mike Pence and letters of support from US President Donald Trump. He told his followers to stay tuned for two big announcements this week. We’ve got one of them, now we are just waiting on the second.

We’re also waiting to see if Pratt posts photos of himself with Turnbull in the plant as he talks up the jobs created (we’re not having a go, everyone uses Instagram for bragging purposes), but so far nothing. Maybe it’s not as prestigious as the big factories in the US?

Robots for marriage equality. A Crikey spy got a robocall last night encouraging her to stand up and fight for marriage equality by checking and updating her electoral details with the AEC. The friendly robocall voice let our tipster know she had 24 hours to update her electoral details, encouraging her to share the message with friends and family to ensure she showed her support. There was also an offer to acquire a pro-marriage equality flag and display it proudly. Has anyone else had the same recorded message? Let us know. And you can stay anonymous

The One Nation knees-up. Keep an eye out for One Nation news coming out of Brisbane today, as the party holds its annual general meeting and the Queensland state conference. The event is supposedly only open to One Nation members, but we’re sure it will be interesting after a year in which the party has faced numerous scandals about the way it is run and where the money comes from.

“Be there for exclusive speeches from all One Nation Federal Senators as well as appearances from Elected State Members,” (bold theirs) the invite reads, which makes governance sound much more fun that it really is.

Will there be questions from the floor about the citizenship of Malcolm Roberts? Will someone ask exactly who owns (and paid for) that plane? And just how much money does the party have? We wait with interest.

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

Tips and rumours

Aug 18, 2017

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Tips and rumours

We found out exactly how Pauline Hanson was identified by Senate security ... early deadlines mean the AFR misses the news again ... and ABC is happy with Uhlmann's editorialising ...

From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Is it really about security? One Nation Senator Pauline Hanson’s burqa stunt was all about security, she says, but she hasn’t made it clear exactly what kind of security she expects at Parliament House. Hanson is unrepentant about the stunt, saying she did not mock religions: “I am actually proving a point here. There was no security checks.”  

So what actually happened as Hanson entered the Senate chamber with her face covered? Senate President Stephen Parry said as she entered: “I’ve been advised by the clerk via the attendant that the identity of Senator Hanson was established before she entered the chamber.”

But how? Crikey understands Hanson entered the chamber with fellow One Nation Senator Brian Burston, who was stopped by an attendant and asked to identify who was wearing the burqa. Burston said it was Hanson, and Hanson confirmed that verbally. She wore her senatorial pin on the outside of the burqa (it’s visible in photos in the chamber). We understand that the attendant did not require her to lift her veil. The identification of Hanson ultimately rested with the discretion of that attendant, who was clearly satisfied it was her.

But that is not the entire story — the security process doesn’t begin and end with entering the chamber itself. The general public are not allowed into the lobbies surrounding the chamber without clearance. There are guards and attendants ensuring anyone they don’t recognise has a pass.

The Department of Parliamentary services deals with, among other things, security in Parliament House. A spokesperson for DPS told Crikey: “At the request of Senator Hanson’s office, Senator Hanson and Senator Burston were escorted by Parliamentary Security Service Officers to the rear of the Senate Chamber. This was after Senator Burston verified her identity.”

“All people given access to the private areas of Parliament House have been identified and screened,” the spokesperson said.

Crikey contacted Hanson to clarify how she was identified, and what she would consider an appropriate level of security in situations where someone attempts to enter the chamber wearing a full face covering, but she didn’t reply before deadline.

Hold the front page (and the whole paper). The Australian Financial Review‘s early deadline has bitten again, with the paper missing one of the big political stories of the day. Deputy Nationals leader Fiona Nash announced just before the Senate rose for a two-week break about 7pm yesterday that she was also a dual citizen by descent. It was a story big enough to be splashed above the fold in The Australian. But the Fin‘s early print deadline meant it was caught short, with the biggest development of the day in a growing dual citizenship fiasco missing the hard copy paper entirely.

Don’t speak too soon. Still on the Hanson stunt, while we know that expecting consistency from Hanson is probably a bridge too far, we found this passage from John Safran’s book Depends What You Mean by Extremist interesting in light of yesterday’s events. It starts with Safran asking if it’s likely Hanson will change her opinion on Islam in the future (as she was claiming she had never been against Asian immigration in the 1990s):

“‘How do I know I’m not going to bump into in fifteen years’ time and you’re going to be –‘

‘Wearing a burqa?’

‘Yeah and you’re going to have some excuse abou –‘

‘It won’t happen,’ she promises. ‘I will never wear a burqa!'”

Never say never, we guess.

Chris Uhlmann’s anti-renewable rant A-OK. Is the ABC’s political editor Chris Uhlmann completely unbiased when it comes to reporting on renewable energy? We have reported before on his controversial (and largely discredited) rant about wind power in the wake of the South Australian blackout, and a viewer thought his recent report on electricity prices was beyond the pale. During the report Uhlmann said: 

“The cause is more than 10 years of bad policy. State governments loosened the rules around poles and wires in order to boost their own revenues. Blackouts a decade ago caused some kneejerk spending on network back-ups. There’s less competition with fewer owners in both electricity generation and retail industries. Add to that the cost of stunningly over-generous green schemes, and now sky-high gas prices. It all adds up to electricity bills that have doubled in a decade.”

Is that a fair assessment, or pushing his own anti-renewables barrow? The ABC responded to a viewer complaint by saying Uhlmann was in the clear: 

“In our view, the statement that green schemes had contributed to increased electricity prices was a material fact for the purpose of this story and reasonable efforts were required to ensure that it was accurate and presented in context. Mr Uhlmann’s statement … identifies six factors as contributing to increased power prices.  We note that these same six factors have been identified by the ACCC in its current inquiry into electricity affordability.”

Evolving offshore at Telstra. We hear Telstra is planning to offshore another lot of jobs in its accounting systems and data management areas.  The catch is, a tipster tells us, this offshoring will only affect the business relating to Australian individual clients, with “government and big corporate business deemed too important” to offshore.

We asked Telstra whether there were plans to send roles relating to accounting systems and data management overseas, if so, how many and which customers would this affect, and a spokesperson did not deny it:

“We continue to look for ways to reduce complexity within our business so that we can deliver better experiences for our customers. This includes digitising some systems and developing agile ways of working.

“While our size and shape will evolve, our success will continue to be built on people with deep connection to customers, expert knowledge and recognised technical expertise.”

You may have noticed that the statement makes it no clearer if Telstra actually is offshoring jobs in accounting systems and data management, so we’ve asked Telstra to directly answer the question and we’ll let you know when we do.

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

Federal

Aug 18, 2017

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“Oh my God,” yelled someone in the corridor outside the rambling Crikey offices in Parliament House. I glanced at the television, where question time had just stated, apparently smoothly. A photographer bolted past, heading not toward the House of Reps, but the Senate. I went out and headed down to the Senate press gallery. Had another protest erupted in the Senate? That seemed insufficient to elicit the level of excitement on display. It wasn’t immediately clear what was going on, until my attention was drawn to a black-shrouded figure sitting where Pauline Hanson normally sat.

She looked for all the world like a B-horror movie ghoul, a black-sheeted figure pretending to sit in still, silent judgment. It would be an apt metaphor — a shitty, low-rent invocation of the evil that One Nation is within politics and Australia generally, Hanson the pinchbeck Ghost of Racism Past and, sadly, all-too Present. But there was no metaphor. Hanson doesn’t rise to the level of metaphor. She represents nothing other than what she is. To steal from Freud, sometimes a bigot is just a bigot.

[Pauline Hanson shines light on disgraceful truth: Muslims kill live cows]

Hanson in many ways resembles Clive Palmer, whose MO was to keep moving from stunt to stunt, never worrying about consistency or the failures that accumulated behind him, always on the move to the next event or media conference where something outrageous would be offered to distract us all. But Palmer at least has some human decency and rigorously avoided the kind of racist garbage that is second nature to Hanson. Hanson, too, must stay on the move; to stop is to perish politically, because supporters might start to wonder what One Nation has achieved — which is nothing — or delivered to its constituents, which is again nothing.

When a smirking Hanson removed her garment to ask — in her usual incoherent, “I hate migrants but I can’t speak English myself” style — George Brandis a question, Brandis was faced with a dilemma. Did he give Hanson what she clearly craved, which was a public dressing down that would legitimise her further in the eyes of racists, or did he try to downplay it and move on as quickly as possible? As long-time readers might have detected, I’m not the biggest fan of Brandis, but I think he made the right call yesterday. In a week when Trump had rightly been savaged on all sides for failing to speak out against Nazi terrorists on the streets of American cities, saying nothing was not a plausible option, even if it would have been the option least conducive to Hanson’s purposes.

[Pauline’s plight hard to hide from when it’s in the books]

So an emotional Brandis upbraided her in an outstanding off-the-cuff speech, made with constant glances at the clock to see how he was faring against the time limit. And he hit Hanson right where she should have been hit, on national security. He argued that, based on the advice from security agencies that he’d received for years, mocking and demeaning Muslims communities made the task of fighting terrorism in Australia harder, and that was exactly what Hanson was doing. The ovation from Labor and the crossbenchers was well deserved; Brandis had performed his role of our first law officer brilliantly.

Hanson, of course, couldn’t care less about national security. Indeed, it’s in her political interests to see more terror attacks in Australia, all the better to serve her foul cause. One Nation’s interests seem to coincide with the murderers of al-Qaeda and IS. Perhaps Hanson’s burqa was an appropriate garment after all.

Australia

Aug 18, 2017

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Ghosts of the past keep on popping up for Senator Pauline Hanson even as she dug in her heels over the latest public debate regarding the eligibility of Senator Malcolm Roberts to hang out in the red chamber. She’s in the national spotlight now for her burqa stunt, but maybe she should think twice about inviting intense scrutiny. 

The One Nation leader spent part of last week batting away media questions related to her Senate colleague. Roberts has been referred to the High Court by his own leader to get clarity over his citizenship, dual or otherwise.

She must have been too busy doing that, opining once more on Muslim immigration and making very odd sartorial choices, as she did not answer an email sent to her and other party officers by Crikey inquiring about the party’s practices of managing finances. One Nation was scrutinised not so long ago by the Electoral Commission of Queensland (ECQ) as a part of a review of party records over 2014 and 2015.

Hanson is the party’s registered officer in Queensland, while her brother-in-law, Greg Smith, is the party treasurer and party agent for the political disruptor.

One Nation has been the subject of a range of other claims related to either electoral or internal party affairs over the past six months, including:

  • Senator Murray Watt — the “shadow minister for chasing One Nation” — has this week sent another missive requesting that the ECQ review the 2015 electoral return and public funding received by the party. He is alleging that the party may have lodged false claims for services in order to maximise public funding;
  • Former One Nation heavyweight David Ettridge has made public his disappointment about the party not having paid a $150,000 indemnity for his court costs dating back to 2003. The party wrote back to Ettridge via Pauline Hanson’s lawyer, Danny Eid, earlier this year stating that he had no claim; and
  • Bruce Whiteside, the founder of Pauline Hanson’s Support Movement, has continued his almost two-decade quest to have a commission of inquiry into Hanson’s political operations on his personal website. Whiteside recently stated he believed One Nation Queensland leader Steve Dickson was a better leader than Hanson.

Papers released by the ECQ revealed that Hanson’s party had some problems throwing numbers together for the ECQ when it came time to present the commission with proof of payment for a range of transactions.

Rookie accounting and record keeping errors were made by the party officials. Somebody forgot that an invoice is not a proof of payment, for example, and invoices addressed to James Ashby and his business trust were not invoices addressed to the political party. The ECQ was expecting a tax invoice from Coastal Signs & Printing for a $1,399.84, which was the cost of the insurance for the famous Jabiru two-seater aircraft but “was supplied instead with an invoice from QBE Insurance (Australia) Limited, which identified James Ashby & Black Bull Business Trust as the recipient, not PHON”. 

There were problems accessing accounting records at One Nation when former secretary Rod Evans moved on from the role. The ECQ demanded data from the party, but Greg Smith told the electoral authority that they could not get into the computers because Evans had passwords he did not hand over.

How much time will be spent talking with members about the ECQ’s findings on August 24 at the party’s first annual general meeting for some years is unclear. The meeting agenda sent to party members last week does state that a treasurer’s report will be tendered to the meeting.  That email, which was signed by party secretary Rod Miles, provides no indication whether members are being given access to the financial statements of the party before that August 24 meeting.

The transactions were subject to ECQ scrutiny date back to the 2014-15 financial year, which coincides with the time Hanson consolidated her hold over the party organisation again. This was partly achieved, according to an e-mail seen by Crikey dated April 18, 2015, with Hanson threatening to resign from the party if the national executive failed to have her back.

“Let me make it quite clear Jim. I went through all this crap years ago and I have no intention of going through it again. For the first time the party has a big financial backer and will only back me as the leader, not the figurehead but the leader,” Hanson told Savage at the time. “I have till the next election to pull this together if I can. If my hands are tied and members are not prepared to work with me I will walk away from the party. This is not a threat but a reality.”

Hanson told Savage that a person called “Bill” — later to be revealed as property developer Bill McNee — was offering to pay the rent for the first year of the office upfront. Office arrangements were being co-ordinated at that time by Saraya Beric. Beric was the national secretary at that time but she is now on the outer with Hanson and One Nation following her participation in a Four Corners report earlier this year that raised allegations related to the absence of appropriate disclosure about the Jabiru to electoral authorities.

The April 18 email was sent exactly a week after McNee met with Hanson and others at Hanson’s property to discuss McNee’s involvement in providing assistance to the party.

Speaking of the plane — nobody is saying anything about the plane at the present time. Crikey is still waiting for a response from the Australian Electoral Commission on whether the investigation has actually been concluded on the much debated transaction. We’ll give you the latest on the plane when we are able.

Media

Aug 17, 2017

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The Coalition’s capitulation to One Nation and their ABC paranoia is bad policy, and bad politics. But not as bad as it seems.

In his leather-jacket Q&A days Turnbull never hesitated to defend Aunty’s virtue and independence. Now, as the price of Hanson’s support in the Senate for the so-called “media reform” legislation, it stands as depressing evidence (as if we needed more) of our prime minister’s willingness to ditch any previously-held principle he may have had in the desperate cause of being seen to get something substantial — anything — through parliament and into law.

Changing ownership restrictions to please what’s left of the old media mogul class has long been a political objective of the Liberals. But, with key senator Nick Xenophon seeming unlikely to be convinced, that little bird of opportunity has largely flown.

Sucking up to proprietors won’t yield anywhere near the levels of political protection and preferment it once did. The popular media landscape is too fragmented and ownership of the major mastheads and networks much more diverse. So, with the notable exception of US citizen Murdoch, there’s little dividend left in pandering to the blokes who buy their ink by the barrel.

At another level the prime minister might kid himself that the appearance of acting tough with the ABC will endear him to the restive ultra-conservatives within the Coalition who see the national public broadcaster as akin to a terrorist organisation. But they are unlikely to be assuaged by a few bland words about balance and fairness, or vague directions that Aunty should be doing more for the bush. They want the ABC abolished, broken up, or sold off. Even tin-eared Turnbull knows that would be political poison.

In that context, allowing Hanson this “get square” with the public broadcaster as the condition of One Nation support for the media legislation must have appealed to the PM and Coalition strategists as a relatively low-cost option. What they would have us overlook, though, is the ugly precedent it sets.

Hanson has now learned from Xenophon the cynical Washington trick of making entirely unrelated legislative and budgetary demands as the ransom for their vote.  The tactic is as old as politics itself, but rarely has it surfaced in our parliamentary system at the brazen level as practiced daily by the congressmen and senators who govern The Land of The Free. We should brace for more of this blatant standover stuff in Canberra.

Meanwhile, should we be worried about what comrade Keane yesterday described as “the greatest assault on the ABC’s independence in decades”? Only if you think:

(a) it will come to pass,

(b) the legislation will have any real teeth, and

(c) the people who generate the ABC’s key content will take any notice.

Governments of all persuasions tend to move very carefully when contemplating significant changes to the ABC’s legislated existence and charter. These instruments have gradually become more prescriptive, but the new wordings always leave plenty of wriggle room for the defenders of Aunty’s independence.

Adding the Hanson requirement that news and current affairs coverage must be “fair and balanced” might seem like a major restriction, but in practice that phrase places no more obligation on ABC reporters and producers than they would already recognise as part of the corporation’s existing editorial policies.

The words would not, at least to my mind, make it mandatory that opposing viewpoints be balanced within the same item. (That’s often impossible in live programming anyway.) The current, implied understanding of “balance over time” would continue to apply.

As any seasoned current affairs executive knows there are many situations in which the search for balance will always be fruitless. The late This Day Tonight reporter Tony Joyce once memorably barked at a pusillanimous producer: “Fifty percent truth and fifty percent bullshit isn’t balance!”

In the late 1960s government ministers thought they could use the requirement for balance to stop critical ABC coverage. They refused to appear. TDT responded by showing an empty chair in the studio while explaining in voice-over that the minister had declined their invitation to take part in the debate.

The demand to publish the salaries of higher-paid ABC and SBS personalities grabs headlines but achieves little. As the old News Corp warhorse Mark Day correctly observes, this is no more than Hansonite “window dressing propelled by the politics of envy and retribution for the hard time her party has received at the end of investigations by programs such as Four Corners”.

In any case, there is a reasonable case to me made that we should all be able to know the salaries of public servants (and anything that might help narrow the pay gap between presenters and their unseen production staff is welcome).    

But the prospect of an inquiry into “competitive neutrality” is more concerning. That phrase, enthusiastically enlisted by Fairfax and News Corp, actually means “we’re getting hammered in the online market by the ABC so change their Act to handicap them somehow”.

Drafting legislation to hobble the ABC in a free market without compromising its independence is not easy. It has been an enduring principle underlying the relationship between government and the public broadcaster that while parliament decides the quantum of the ABC’s annual budget, the ABC decides how to spend it.

If it has been unobjectionable, for more the 80 years, for the ABC to buy advertising space in the commercial media to promote its radio and TV programming, why is it now objectionable for it to buy exposure for its online services on Google?

News Corp is particularly illogical in pressing its self-interested argument that the public broadcasters should be forced out of any digital platform where they compete with commercial services. Today’s lead editorial in The Australian (where else?) thunders that the ABC and SBS “have been given digital free rein and $1.5 billion in annual funding to expand into every media crevice to compete with or crowd out private media”.

The fact that, for this same $1.5 billion, the ABC and SBS also provide multiple TV and radio services — national, metro and regional — seems to have escaped the Murdoch mindset. Nor can they see the hypocrisy of attacking the ABC for its expansion into online news while themselves boasting that the News Corp papers have now introduced audio and video to their sites — in direct competition with TV and radio.  

In my view — and despite the predictable hand-wringing from all the usual suspects — it is doubtful that any of the provocative One Nation conditions on Senate support for the media ownership changes will come to pass into law. The Coalition might go through the motions, but without Nick Xenophon and his crucial block of votes, there’s no deal.

Meanwhile, Hanson and One Nation might do well to watch their steps. The combined news and current affairs troops of the ABC make a formidable army. They will redouble their scrutiny of the Oxleymoron and her rag-tag bunch of senators and staff. In a “fair and balanced” way, of course.

Federal

Aug 16, 2017

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The government’s proposed deal with One Nation to secure its media ownership reforms will be — easily — the greatest assault on the ABC’s independence in decades, far outstripping anything the Howard government proposed.

The deal, announced by Pauline Hanson and Communications Minister Mitch Fifield yesterday, involves a rewrite of the ABC charter, other amendments to the ABC’s legislation and an inquiry that could dramatically curb the ABC’s activities.

The proposal to insert — literally — the former Fox News motto into the ABC Act is the least of the proposals. It is currently a duty of the ABC board under section 8 of the act “to ensure that the gathering and presentation by the Corporation of news and information is accurate and impartial according to the recognized standards of objective journalism”. Courtesy of his deal with One Nation, Fifield is proposing to amend that “to ensure that the gathering and presentation by the Corporation of news and information is fair, balanced, accurate and impartial according to the recognized standards of objective journalism”. [Fifield’s emphasis]

What’s the problem? This creates a requirement for immediate balance — the ABC will be required under all circumstances to counter every viewpoint with an opposite viewpoint, no matter what the context. Compare the SBS Act, which does address the issue of “balance”, but does so differently and more realistically. It’s a duty of the board there “to ensure, by means of the SBS’s programming policies, that the gathering and presentation by the SBS of news and information is accurate and is balanced over time and across the schedule of programs broadcast“. [my italics]

No such flexibility for the ABC. If the public broadcaster has a vaccination expert on, it would need to have an anti-vaxxer on (and that is literally what One Nation wants). Sorry, guys, but it’s a duty of the board to ensure it. Good luck on science shows.

[Hanson’s attack on the ABC takes a leaf out of Malcolm Fraser’s book]

ABC and SBS staff would also be targeted with an extraordinary requirement that all staff salaries and allowances totalling over $200,000 be revealed publicly. If the broadcasters refuse to comply  — and they might not legally be able to comply, given privacy laws — this, too, will be imposed by legislation, which will presumably be needed to be drafted to override any restrictions of the Privacy Act. Hanson goes further and says her agreement will require the revelation of “wages and conditions”. That means all contracts, including non-financial details, will be exposed.

It is standard for senior public servants, like politicians, that their salaries are known. After all, they are determined publicly by the Remuneration Tribunal. There can be no expectation of privacy when an independent umpire sets your salary. But for other employees, the One Nation-Coalition attack on their privacy is extraordinary and plainly designed to make the ABC and SBS less attractive places to work.

The ABC Act will also be amended five times to add clauses requiring the ABC to undertake more regional activities — without a single dollar in extra funding being provided. In 2001, when the Howard government wanted the ABC to increase its regional activities, it gave $19 million to the broadcaster to established entirely new local radio stations in the bush, expand existing ones and fund new content from regional communities — and it did it without changing the ABC Act.

Since then, the ABC is the only broadcaster that has stood by the bush, continuing its extensive Local Radio network, acting as a vital emergency service broadcaster, serving local communities online — while commercial broadcasters in radio and TV have cut programming, slashed jobs and reduced local news and current affairs. When it comes to regional services, it seems, no good deed by the ABC goes unpunished.

Finally, and worst, is “an inquiry into whether or not the practices of the national broadcasters are breaching the general principle of competitive neutrality and that they are operating on a level playing field with their commercial counterparts. The Government’s inquiry process will examine these issues and make recommendations.”

This will be justified by commercial media as being targeted at the ABC purchasing space on Google for its news. But the problem is that the inquiry isn’t limited to that, or even the ABC’s online operations generally. It’s focused on all the practices of the national broadcasters. And the problem is, the entire rationale for the national broadcasters violates competitive neutrality. Competitive neutrality principles require that government bodies are not subsidised to compete with commercial entities. But that’s the entire raison d’etre of the ABC and SBS. If they were required to only engage in activities where there was market failure, what would they provide? Regional services, multicultural services (there’s precious little of that on SBS TV now, for that matter), and kids’ programming that wasn’t designed to sell junk food and toys to them.

[Local content rules not needed for ABC: Michelle Guthrie]

Properly applied, competitive neutrality principles would require the ABC to to take advertising to fund the services that compete with commercial broadcasters, rather than taxpayer funding — including for news and current affairs.

Of course, the problem is that the ABC’s wealthy demographics are exactly the kind of viewers advertisers would love to access — and the ABC would suck tens of millions from free-to-air and pay-TV broadcasters.

The commercial media — which overnight were lining up to cheer Pauline Hanson — should be careful what they wish for.

Federal

Aug 10, 2017

5 comments

One Nation media conferences don’t tend to go the way most media conferences in this building go. In the latter, journalists politely listen to the statement of the person who has called the presser, ask questions about it and then, usually with a segue like “on another matter”, move the discussion to other issues, if there are any.

One Nation media conferences are more like feeding time at the zoo as journalists flock around to feast on the carcass of reason and decency that is Pauline Hanson and her rather mutable crew of senators. The fact that the feeling of animosity is decidedly mutual makes the whole affair rather entertaining.

Yesterday at lunchtime, Hanson called a presser to announce that Malcolm Roberts would be referred to the High Court to determine his eligibility to sit in the Senate. “Called” is being generous — some TV networks were told, but not merely did the likes of Crikey not get an alert (we haven’t been on One Nation’s distribution list for a long time, if ever) but radio outlets and photographers only found out when they saw the event unfolding on their office TV screens, prompting them to rush downstairs to the Senate courtyard.

The problem was, Hanson and Malcolm of India weren’t keen to actually talk about the subject on which they had called the gathering, claiming that, 1) it was complicated, and 2) the media would misrepresent any evidence that Roberts might furnish that he had renounced his British citizenship before last year’s election. You may have already seen the ABC’s Chris Uhlmann grilling Roberts on why he wouldn’t answer the simple question of when he renounced his citizenship; BuzzFeed’s Mark Di Stefano, who has diligently compiled the evidence that Maharajah Malcolm is a Brit, showed up late — having not got an alert, like many of us — and proceeded to demand of Roberts why he’d lied about his citizenship. Another journalist then caught Hanson out by nastily and unfairly asking what, exactly, was so complicated about the issue, leaving Hanson at a loss for words.

Plainly annoyed by this, Hanson then stormed off, just as Roberts was answering another question, requiring him to give up and follow in her wake. Also bobbing in her wake was Roberts’ troubled adviser Sean Black. Black is normally happy to give Crikey the benefit of his views — indeed has been known to do so unprompted — but, curiously, didn’t respond to our repeated inquiries as to his welfare. Perhaps he has banned himself from talking to the media, something that undoubtedly leaves the world poorer.

If Hanson appeared cowardly and foolish retreating from her own presser, Attorney-General George Brandis didn’t look much better. When the Greens and others were mulling referring Roberts to the High Court earlier this week, Brandis was aghast at the idea and quick to say the government wouldn’t be backing the referral. Brandis, of course, works hard to keep One Nation on side — he memorably lavished praise on Rod Culleton’s legal nous not long before a court found Culleton bankrupt, and he was turfed from the Senate. With One Nation itself deciding there was a real problem with Roberts’ eligibility, Brandis had to limply back Hanson’s motion, albeit warning that it was “a very dangerous course” when parties began pursuing other senators over their eligibility.

Backflips rarely look elegant, but when someone like Brandis performs them, they look ungainly indeed. 

Federal

Aug 1, 2017

5 comments

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.

Crikey Worm

Jul 28, 2017

5 comments

OH THAT DUAL CITIZENSHIP

It is likely that One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts was still a dual citizen when he was elected to Parliament last year, the embattled senator has revealed. He went on Sky News’ Paul Murray Live last night to try to end the confusion (he has created) over his citizenship. He showed the documents showing he had renounced his British dual citizenship to host Paul Murray but did not release them to anyone else, claiming the “Twitterati” would manipulate them. Importantly, however — in contradiction to all his previous claims that he never held another citizenship other than Australian, and that he renounced all citizenship before the election — Roberts claims that while he did apply before the election, he didn’t receive the confirmation documentation from the UK until December last year. This means that it is entirely possible that for all intents and purposes Roberts was still a dual citizen when he nominated and was elected. 

It will just depend on whether he is challenged in the High Court on it, and whether it is considered he took “all reasonable steps” to renounce before nominating (as set out in the constitution), even if it wasn’t accepted by the UK until December. Given Roberts has been shown to have lied about this matter at every turn, it seems unlikely that it is about to go away quietly. Roberts’ office has now threatened to report journalists who ask questions about it to the police for “pestering or harassing”, Fairfax’s Bevan Shields has revealed: 

WHO ISN’T A DUAL CITIZEN?

Following Matt Canavan‘s Italian fiasco, The Australian reports today that 21 MPs in the House of Representatives have talked about their migrant heritage in Parliament, opening up debate over their heritage and whether they are eligible for dual citizenship. Those MPs include Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce (who said earlier this week he had never been to England, which was untrue, as he had traveled to England a few weeks ago), Trade Minister Steve CioboJulia Banks, deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek and Steve Georganas. Banks in particular could be in trouble as although she was born in Australia, she is of Greek heritage and might be automatically eligible for Greek citizenship. 

It is a precarious position for the government to be in. While a loss of a senator is easily fixed by a recount down the ballot, the resignation of a member of the House of Representatives would trigger a byelection, and the government only has a single-seat majority. Labor is already chasing David Gillespie because of an Australia Post outlet leasing space in a shopping centre he owns.

Labor has so far been refrained in calling for an overall review of politicians’ eligibility, suggesting that it might lead to mutually assured destruction.

TRUMP HURTING AUSTRALIA

The mess US President Donald Trump is making in the United States is hurting Australia, according to former US Federal Reserve economist Vincent ReinhartThe Australian Financial Review reports that the dysfunction in the United States has pushed the Australian dollar through the 80 US cents mark for the first time in two years, hurting Australian trade, tourism, education and manufacturing sectors. 

On the other hand, it means that interest rates aren’t likely to go anywhere any time soon, meaning mortgage holders — those who can get into the property market — are fine for now. It is in contrast to warnings from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last week that mortgage holders should be saving for the time when rates rise.

OZ GETS NEW FREE SPEECH TEST CASE

Someone has made complaints about two Tasmanian preachers to the state’s Anti-Discrimination Commissioner over comments they have made about homosexuality and atheism, The Australian reports. As the debate over whether or not to have a debate about marriage equality continues, opponents of marriage equality are likely to point to the complaints as evidence anti-discrimination laws silence dissent. It is worth reading the blog of one of the preachers — Campbell Markham — for an idea of the sort of stuff he says about homosexuality (and he has a lot of not very nice things to say). 

READ ALL ABOUT IT

Tony Abbott wants a brawl over coal in the Coalition partyroom.

Calls to dump Barnaby Joyce over recording on Murray-Darling controversy

NSW Government abandons council amalgamations for richer suburbs.

World may need to accept nuclear North Korea.

WHAT’S ON TODAY

Sydney: Eddie Obeid, Moses Obeid, and Ian Macdonald arraignment over mine exploration licences.

Sydney: LGBTI groups to protest an anti-Safe Schools event held by the Australian Christian Lobby.

Adelaide: Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young to meet with Coorong environmentalists. 

THE COMMENTARIAT

Britain to seek stronger ties with Australia after Brexit — Boris Johnson (The Age): “My conversation was studded with words like “bonzer, mate” or “you little ripper”, and on the streets of London in broad daylight I insisted on wearing the same “stubbies” daks – shorts of appalling brevity – that I had worn in the bush until my then girlfriend said that it was her or the stubbies daks.”

Shorten shaping up to be the Corbyn to our kids — David Crowe (The Australian $): “Students are paying 90 per cent of the course costs in subjects such as law, accounting, economics and business. The question is not why students do not pay their fair share. It’s why the government stopped doing so.”

Home Affairs and Intelligence will be driven by the dollars — Laura Tingle (Australian Financial Review $): “The biggest question in bureaucratic Canberra in coming months will be who will fill two very powerful new jobs as director-general of ONI and head of the new Home Affairs Department.”

Our aged have earned right to make choices about voluntary euthanasia — Philip Nitschke (The Australian $): “The [Victorian] law is so ridiculously cautious that few people will be able to use it. With its 60-plus safeguards, the law is destined to fail even if it passes.”

TODAY IN TRUMP

The White House has somehow become an even less united front over the last 24 hours, with Donald Trump’s staff brawling in public. Most of the action is coming from new communications director Anthony (‘Mooch’) Scaramucci, who last night implied on Twitter that he wanted Trump’s chief of staff Reince Priebus investigated by the FBI for leaking.

This morning, Mooch called in to a live TV segment and walked back from — but then walked back up to — his public feud with Priebus. In his first press conference, Scaramucci said Priebus was like a brother to him. This morning, he gave that simile a biblical update: the pair are like Cain and Abel, he said.

THE WORLD

The counting of results in Papua New Guinea’s national elections has been marred by confusion and violence. In one incident, former prime minister Sir Mekere Morauta was declared the winner of a seat, only for the returning officer to disappear and then declare the third-placed finisher the winner. The final outcome of the election, and the formation of a government coalition, might not be confirmed for some time. — ABC

More than 100 demonstrators have been injured after further clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinians at the Noble Sanctuary/Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Israel has now removed the extra security measures that helped escalate the conflict, leaving Benjamin Netanyahu under attack from his political rivals on the right. He’s also facing a diplomatic stoush with Jordan, after evacuating an Israeli guard accused of killing an innocent Jordanian in an incident Israel believes was a terror attack. — Reuters

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos briefly overtook Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates to become the world’s richest person today. Bezos surged past Gates thanks to the increasing value of his Amazon stock, which took his net worth to over $92 billion at one point, though that number eased back and Bezos returned to second place. — Bloomberg

WHAT WE’RE READING

The hijacking of the Brillante Virtuoso (Bloomberg Businessweek): “Everyone at sea that night survived. But the danger was just getting started.”

38 years on books: the essential Michiko Kakutani reader (New York Times): “To read a stack of new and reissued books about Mr. Trump, as well as a bunch of his own works, is to be plunged into a kind of Bizarro World version of Dante’s “Inferno,” where arrogance, acquisitiveness and the sowing of discord are not sins, but attributes of leadership; a place where lies, contradictions and outrageous remarks spring up in such thickets that the sort of moral exhaustion associated with bad soap operas quickly threatens to ensue.”

The manipulative tricks tech companies use to capture your attention (TED): “There’s a hidden goal driving the direction of all of the technology we make, and that goal is the race for our attention. And the best way to get people’s attention is to know how someone’s mind works. And there’s a whole bunch of persuasive techniques that I learned in college at a lab called the Persuasive Technology Lab to get people’s attention.”

Justin Trudeau: the north star (Rolling Stone): “Trudeau’s skeptics have declared him ‘emotionally intelligent.’ This is Canadian for ‘the man is a mimbo.’  But that’s not the case. Trudeau is the son of Pierre Trudeau, a 15-year prime minister and Canada’s iconic 20th Century Man. There are things he should have learned at the knee of Papa, as he called his father. But sometimes Justin doesn’t think things through.”

Listen to Russian pranksters trick Rick Perry into a conversation about pig manure (Washington Post): “During the conversation, which was posted in its entirety on Vesti, a Russian news site, Perry was convinced he was talking to Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman.”

HOLD THE FRONT PAGE

Companies

Jul 18, 2017

5 comments

Rod Culleton is set to appear before his former colleagues when he gives evidence tomorrow to One Nation’s Senate’s inquiry into Lending to Primary Production Customers. The bankrupt Culleton was forced out of the Senate in January 2017, but continues to style himself “Senator Culleton” and address complaints to the Senate about his treatment. The highly litigious Culleton, who has long argued many courts in Australia are unconstitutional, was reported by a conspiracy theory news site to have also filed criminal conspiracy charges against both his former leader Pauline Hanson and Attorney-General George Brandis.

Culleton had a long dispute with, inter alia, ANZ over a $3 million loan and has lodged a 10,000-word submission with the inquiry about it (this was the debt over which Culleton was made bankrupt). ANZ hit back with its own response that details its numerous efforts to reach a settlement with Culleton and his wife, and a judge’s response to Ioanna Culleton’s efforts to have the debt set aside, in which the judge found about ANZ:

“I am unable to detect a whiff of misconduct, any disregard of conscience, or a degree of moral obloquy to provide a sufficient basis for an argument by Mrs Culleton to take to a trial, to support the setting aside of what was a regularly obtained default judgment standing against her.”

The Senate ommittee, which, to the chagrin of the Nationals, was backed by the government in an effort to win over One Nation, is chaired by Rothschilds conspiracy theorist Malcolm Roberts; the deputy chair is Nationals Senator John Williams. Both appeared in a peculiar video pleading for submissions after the initial establishment of the inquiry only elicited a handful of submissions from a supposedly enraged rural sector. The inquiry, however, still only has 53 submissions, nearly a third of which are from banks, government departments or regulators.

Despite submissions closing in mid-June, Roberts is still urging people to lodge one. A Facebook post from anti-bank group “Bank Reform Now” last week said “there have been further discussions with Leon Ashby today, who is Malcolm Roberts’ [One Nation] assistant and further submissions to this inquiry are requested from anyone who has been captured by the bankers criminality.” Ashby — he appears unrelated to Hanson’s chief of staff James Ashby — is a Canberra climate denialist who has previously stood for far-right parties in Western Australia. Unusually, however, would-be submitters have been told to direct submissions to Ashby, in Roberts’ office, rather than the apolitical Senate committee secretariat, which normally handles submissions and deals with requests for confidentiality and other sensitivity issues. Ashby did not respond to Crikey’s request for an explanation.