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Federal

Sep 6, 2017

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When Labor backbencher Rob Mitchell swanned up to Parliament House on August 17 with a tinfoil hat and the theme from The Twilight Zone queued up on his phone, the Crikey office thought it would probably be the most striking attire-related stunt we would see that particular day. Within a few hours, however, a pale, immaculately manicured hand emerged from a shimmering black burqa in the Senate, and Mitchell had to settle for third place behind One Nation Senator Pauline Hanson and daylight in second. Hanson’s stunt achieved its desired effect, with the Nationals now wanting to “ban the burqa” and tedious hours devoted to the (non)issue on TV and radio.

In among the tangle of the many, many questions asked in the aftermath of Hanson’s stunt was: was she allowed to do that? Should Senate President Stephen Parry have ruled her out of order? As with many rules in politics, the answer appears to be: it depends.

Attire

As we mentioned at the time of Mitchell’s stunt, the sixth edition of the House of Representative Practice tells us that acceptable standards of dress in the chamber are ultimately up to the discretion of the speaker. In 1983, speaker Harry Jenkins Sr. (part of the only father/son team to both occupy the speaker’s chair) said his rule in the application of this discretion was “neatness, cleanliness and decency”. There is some leeway here — for example, in 1959 it was ruled by Sir John McLeay members could not remove their jacket in the chamber, but in the heady, anything-goes late 1990s, speaker Neil Andrew ruled it it would be acceptable for members to remove jackets if the air-conditioning failed.

In 2005, this statement was endorsed by speaker David Hawker, who nevertheless argued it was not “in keeping with the dignity of the House for Members to arrive in casual or sports wear” — dignity expert Tony Abbott however got away with arriving for a division in the chamber in his gym gear the day after the Mid-winter Ball. Clothes with printed slogans are not generally acceptable in the chamber, and in the Senate, Ian Macdonald was ruled “disorderly” for wearing a high vis “Australians for Coal” shirt back in 2014. However, it is acceptable for members to wear a tailored safari suit without a tie — a loophole frequently enjoyed by noted enthusiast Philip Ruddock. Members are permitted to wear hats in the chamber but not while entering or leaving or while speaking, although hat aficionados Pat Dodson and Bob Katter do without their trademark headgear.

The rules of the Senate state “there are no formal dress rules in the standing orders and the matter of dress is left to the judgment of senators, subject to any ruling by the President”  — so if we take Hanson’s burqa as a simple dress choice, it was up to Parry to decide whether it was in order or not.

Props

But of course, Hanson was not donning a burqa as a sartorial choice; her motivation was to make a political point. Regardless of anything else, the burqa was a prop. As we pointed out at the time, regarding Mitchell, props are tolerated but not encouraged. Writing on the subject in Crikey, Rob Chalmers said “props are not allowed in the Senate and the President always rules them out of order”, so under that reading, Hanson shouldn’t have gotten away with her stunt. 

There’s more leeway in the House of Representatives  — the Standing Committee on Procedure’s 2009 report on the display of articles tells us: “When considering articles displayed by Members in the Chamber and Main Committee, a distinction can be made between the use of legitimate visual aids, which are intended to enhance understanding, and ‘stunts’ staged for dramatic effect or to make a political point.” 

No prizes for guessing which category deputy speaker Anna Burke ascribed to the opposition bringing a cardboard cutout of then-prime minister Kevin Rudd in 2008, when Rudd was absent from Parliament.

In 1980, the chair ruled that the display of a handwritten sign containing an “unparliamentary word” (apparently by Labor member for Robertson Barry Cohen) was out of order — sadly, Hansard does not record what that language was. Since then, the chair has ruled many times that the displaying of signs was not permitted. Back when Macdonald caused a stir with his sartorial choices, Greens senator Scott Ludlam was also knocked with a “disorderly” ruling  for holding up a piece of paper with “SRSLY” written on it. It is not in order to display a weapon — but Liberal senator Bill Heffernan got away with brandishing a fake pipe bomb in Senate estimates to protest recent changes to security.

Language

Unparliamentary language doesn’t just have to include naughty swears — calling an MP a “liar” is considered unparliamentary, but then so is calling a senator “Dumbo”, which was ordered withdrawn in 1997, despite senator Bob Collins’ fairly adorable defence: “Dumbo is a lovable creature with big ears — Dumbo the flying elephant”.

But don’t think that this requires members to be exceedingly genteel. In 1942, Labor backbencher Sydney Max Falstein called Robert Menzies a “boneless wonder”, and got away with it. In 2014, Christopher Pyne only appeared to call Manager of Opposition Business Tony Burke a “cunt” (earning a gentle rebuke from speaker Bronwyn Bishop that “the minister will refer to people by their correct titles”), though a detailed analysis of the spectrogram of the sound in Crikey proved the offending word to be, in fact, “grub”. 

Famously, in 1965, external affairs minister Paul Hasluck called then-deputy opposition leader Gough Whitlam “one of the filthiest objects ever to come into this chamber”, and got a glass of water emptied into his face for his trouble. Whitlam’s response was recorded as calling Hasluck a “truculent runt”, but Whitlam himself conceded that might have been a transcription error.

Tips and rumours

Aug 29, 2017

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From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

How to get rid of a statue. Just like that, the country is busy arguing over whether or not we should get rid of statues of our our colonial ancestors, change their plaques or leave them up unchanged. One of the statues under fire in the culture war is that of founder of Melbourne John Batman — artist Ben Quilty says that since as “a bounty hunter in Tasmania he killed hundreds, perhaps thousands of people” means his statue should be taken down from the car park where it stands (it is not clear where that car park is).

The statue stood on the corner of William and Collins streets in Melbourne since 1979, but it was fairly uncontroversially removed within the last year — the site (across the road from the Crikey bunker) is being redeveloped into a fancy new skyscraper. 

We liked this set of photos from a Facebook page set up to track the efforts to protect Melbourne’s heritage buildings — going, going, gone. The Melbourne Heritage Action page says the statue was surrounded by the demolition of the old National Mutual building, then hidden by the fences, and now there is nothing but a giant pit. 

Perhaps the most effective way to get rid of a statue isn’t through culture wars, but just property development.

A significant day. Today is International Day Against Nuclear Tests — perhaps no one told North Korea.

The day Malcolm Turnbull didn’t like some foreign investment. As a spruiker for the big company tax cuts he wants to give to large companies, the Prime Minister has argued that Australia needs to be a more attractive investment destination, particularly when Donald Trump is pushing to cut the US company tax rate. But there seem to be some types of foreign investment that Malcolm Turnbull doesn’t welcome. Yesterday, Turnbull attacked Bill Shorten for Labor’s continued opposition to changes to media ownership laws in light of US giant CBS moving to acquire the Ten Network.

“What Bill Shorten is doing by opposing these reforms is he’s guaranteeing that foreign-owned media companies will continue to be able to advance at the expense of the Australian businesses.” Apparently we don’t want foreign investment now. Perhaps Turnbull was simply annoyed that, for once, laws to protect media diversity literally protected media diversity — the entry of foreign media company with no pre-existing presence in the Australian market will actually enhance the diversity of voices in the Australian media market. And what was the alternative, Prime Minister? News Corp acquiring the Ten Network? News Corp’s a foreign company as well. Why is advancing the foreign-owned media company controlled by the Murdoch family OK, but advancing the foreign-owned media company controlled by the Redstone family not OK? Maybe Turnbull thinks News Corp owning Ten wouldn’t be as bad because Bruce Gordon would also have owned a substantial stake. Bruce Gordon might be Australian — but where does he live? Bermuda. Damn foreigners.

Who am I? 24601! Back in 2003, having served 11 weeks of a three-year prison sentence for electoral fraud, Pauline Hanson was philosophical about what led people to end up in prison and the toll incarceration took on people. At a doorstop interview upon her release, Hanson had this to say:

“The message that I’d like to say is — I got caught up in the system that I saw fail me and I just, I am so concerned now for the other women behind the bars here — and men — that have also seen the system fail them and that’s my biggest concern … The system let me down like it’s let a lot of people down. And there are other girls in there that the system has let down. And it’s only because of money, power and position that stops them from getting their freedom.”

By 2015, Hanson, talking to author and filmmaker Anna Broinowski (in an excerpt of her book, just published by The Guardian), had slightly changed her tune on the failures of the system when it comes to prisoners rights.  As it turns out, prison is really quite nice: 

“You have air conditioning, a clean cell, hot meals, access to education, a gym instructor, so many benefits. Hang on a minute, they’ve committed a crime against society! And I thought of the elderly. Where’s their heating, their air conditioning? What about the homeless? They don’t have a roof over their heads and three square meals a day!”

Perhaps her reflections on the comforts of prison account for the precisely zero policies One Nation has on prison conditions or prisoners’ rights, as previously observed by Crikey.

Potato, potahto. For a short time yesterday, lazy researchers might have been alarmed to find Wikipedia’s description of Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s early years and background. According to his page, he was created in a laboratory, acquired a taste for human blood while working as a cop with Queensland Police, and once had a job at Circus Oz: “his robot-clown character enjoyed playing with matches and poking himself with a beer bottle in the eyes until one would fall out. This performance proved alarming to most casual circus goers, and he was quietly let go.”

The description was corrected, but his headshot as a potato remained on the website into the evening.

 *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

Australia

Aug 23, 2017

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When the numbers don’t add up you’ve got a story.

As the Abbott family’s war on same-sex marriage escalated on Twitter and 2GB this week (that’s the Abbott, not Addams Family), Peter van Onselen asked Anthony Albanese on Sky News where the Labor politicians were who oppose same-sex marriage. Why weren’t they speaking out?

We had seen Bill Shorten and Victorian Premier Dan Andrews flanked by rainbows in Melbourne over the weekend.

Albo reaffirmed that he was, and always will be, in favour of a conscience vote. But he ducked the real question: where were the Labor No campaigners?

I think I can throw some light on the issue after something that happened in the Senate last week. The Xenophon Team’s Senator Skye Kakoschke-Moore solicited my support, and that of the Greens, to cleverly tag a same-sex marriage amendment to another nuts and bolts technical bill that had the words “Marriage Act” in it.

I believed Labor was on board too. Labor, Greens, X and Hinch — we were home.

It didn’t happen. Labor withdrew support. Why? Because, according to Senate corridor rumours, four, five or even six Labor Senators will vote No in the postal survey — if it gets a High Court green light. And presumably they would later in the Senate, as well. You can use that, Peter.

***

As the political dominoes kept falling, and Fiona Nash and Nick XenaPom joined Crocodile Dunedin in the High Court queue, probably the best Twitter line (for me) came from the bloke who tweeted that the way things were going “the humanheadline will be PM in a few weeks”.

I must admit that tickled my fancy, as they used to say. Not because of any desire to take Troubled Turnbull’s precarious job — but because so many major party nabobs had not done their homework.

Let’s be blunt here. If a political greenhorn like me — with the Justice Party only officially registered with the AEC three months before the 2016 election and working with a handful of volunteers — could get my shit together and papers in order, why couldn’t the big boys? Assign one staffer to check on citizenship obligations.

Hey, I’ve been an Australian citizen for more than 35 years, but I read section 44 and knew what had to be done. And I did it. That’s why this is a sympathy-free zone.

After Turnbull, Bishop, Brandis, and Joyce conspired with Nash for her to do a “dump and run” just before the Senate shut down last Thursday night (even though she knew the previous Monday that she was a UK citizen) I was, coincidentally, on an estimates hearing of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs committee the next morning.

Most pollies had fled the capital, but Senator George Brandis had to be there as head of the Attorney-General’s Department.

I can confess that Labor’s Murray Watt, the Greens Nick McKim and I ambushed committee chairman, the irascible Ian Macdonald (the Father of the Senate), and forced a private committee meeting, literally in one of the Senate “corridors of power,” and got the Nash-Joyce Section 44 issue on to the hearing agenda.

To be fair to the Attorney-General, he signaled he was happy to answer questions on the issue.

***

The least Pauline Hanson could do would be to thank me. If I hadn’t got the rules changed last year to let TV cameras and photographers record everything going on at any time in the Senate, the nation would not have seen her dramatic burlesque burqa entrance. Nor other senators’ reactions.

Under ancient Senate rules, she would only have been recorded on film when she “had the call” and stood to ask a question of Attorney-General George Brandis.

You would have been robbed of seeing the standing ovation for Brandis from Labor, the Greens and the crossbench as President Stephen Parry futilely called for order.

***

Back to the dual citizenship schmozzle. To me, Bill Shorten looked stoopid on Q&A this week when asked by Tony Jones if he’d provide proof that he’d renounced his British descent citizenship. To others he would have looked shady — a tag he’s managed to shed since the royal commission spotlighted his union money-shuffling days.

Four or five times Jones pushed the Opposition Leader, which concluded thus:

TJ: OK, let’s just confirm this. You’re not going to release the documents, is that right?

BS: Well I know what I am, and the point is we have a screening process. I’ve been clear four times.

TJ: No but, just … so that’s a no, you’re not going to release the documents?

BS: What is the case to release it?

TJ: I’m just asking you.

Jeez. Even Barack Obama published his Hawaiian birth certificate to try to shut up the crazy Birther Movement over there. A nutty conspiracy theory cynically pushed along for years by the man who now occupies the White House.

Federal

Aug 18, 2017

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The government’s dual citizenship woes have now spread to the friendly crossbenches. Yesterday Queensland Senator Pauline Hanson announced that she was likely to also hold citizenship of the Islamic State of Iraq & the Levant (ISIL). The matter will now be referred to the Sharia Court of Australia.

Well, not quite. Hanson, however, did enter the chamber wearing a full body dress frequently worn by an American Jewish convert to Islam named Margaret Marcus. Following her conversion, Marcus became known as Maryam Jameelah. She moved to Pakistan to live with Islamist leader Abul Ala Maududi. As a former Jew, Marcus’ writings on Judaism, Zionism and Israel were very influential in South Asia, much like the works of Ayaan Hirsi Ali are about Islam.

Closer to home, my mum used to wear a burqa as an undergraduate student at the Aligarh Muslim University in India. Not too many women at Aligarh wear much on their heads these days, but things were different back in the 1950s when my maternal grandfather, Mirza Yaqub Baig Nami, taught philosophy there. Mum grew up in a large family with five brothers and three sisters. Her father wasn’t terribly religious in his personal life, but he insisted on certain cultural practices often associated with Islam.

Among these was purdah, the strict segregation of women from public life, practised by aristocratic Indian families of all faiths including Hindus and Sikhs. The word purdah literally means “curtain”. The institution of purdah involved families guarding the honour of their women by not allowing them to appear in public except in a manner where they could not be seen. It was common in those days for wealthy women to go out shopping while seated in a special compartment called a dohli. This was basically a large comfortable box-like structure with plenty of cushions for women to laze in while their male servants (or even male relatives) carried them. The curtains around the box had a screen through which the women could peek and decide which shop they would visit. Women would also have their own private quarters in their home which no man (apart from direct relatives) dared enter.

[There’s nothing beneath that burqa]

I wasn’t brought up to understand purdah as something oppressive to women. My mother always spoke of purdah as an essential part of the luxurious existence aristocratic women of that time enjoyed. In fact, Mum would tell me how much fun it was to be carried in the dohli by her brothers (though Dad often speculates as to whether carrying Mum even at that age may have caused them some back injuries). Mum’s father seemed obsessed with planes and would always make her go inside each time a plane flew over their house. “Daddy, I can’t see the people in the planes. Why should you be worried?” she would say. “You may not be able to see them, but how do you know they cannot see you?” he would reply. It’s amazing what bionic vision Indian men could achieve in full flight.

Mum recalls the women’s quarters being a place where women enjoyed themselves, freed of any domestic duties, as their husbands or fathers employed servants to perform all cooking and other chores. Men were expected to lavish gifts on their female relatives (and in-laws) using the household income, which women were usually responsible for managing (no doubt to their own advantage). Men were also expected to do all the shopping for food and other household needs. Women only shopped to buy clothes, jewellery and other luxury items for themselves. I imagined my mother and her friends reclining like Roman aristocrats on sofas holding bunches of grapes above their mouths, lazily chewing one grape at a time.

Mum’s privileged existence came to an abrupt end when her father died without leaving much of an inheritance for his children. Mum’s family were forced to vacate their home provided by the university and they soon started to live a rather hand-to-mouth existence.

Mum moved to Pakistan in the early 1960s, when she was in her early 20s. She removed her burqa permanently. She stayed with her maternal uncle in Karachi who had a large home and a thriving business. It was around this time that she met, fell madly in love with and married a young scholar who would become my father.

[Now we know, racists may well represent the ‘silent majority’]

Pauline Hanson is one  of a very few women in Australia to have worn a burqa in public. Ironically she isn’t a Muslim. The only Muslim woman in Parliament is Anne Aly, who I’ve never seen wearing anything other than the garb of any other Western woman.

Perhaps Hanson’s problem is that she lives in the era of Gertrude Bell, the English aristocrat who became known as “Queen of the Desert”, so ably portrayed by Nicole Kidman. The reality of Arab and Muslim women’s lives isn’t just about FGM and forced face covering. Next time Senator Hanson pulls off a stunt like this, she should come dressed as Sabiha Gokcen, the world’s first female combat pilot. Or she can borrow one of my mum’s post-burqa outfits.

Federal

Aug 18, 2017

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One Nation Senator Pauline Hanson’s burqa stunt yesterday did exactly what she wanted — cut through a wild week of news and politics. Hanson’s stunt prompted a passionate speech from Attorney-General George Brandis, and politicians united in their condemnation of Hanson.

Within minutes of Hanson’s appearance in the Senate chamber, journalists and photographers were tweeting from the gallery, Sky News brought in a counter-terrorism expert to discuss Brandis’ speech who said such mockery could fuel terrorism, and Hanson was booked in for appearances on 2GB and Paul Murray Live. All the TV news bulletins carried the story, and all the metropolitan and national newspapers today carried the story on their front pages as a pointer, if not as the main story. Hobart’s The Mercury was the only capital city daily not to have any mention of the story on its front page. Even the NT News, known for ignoring big national stories in favour of crocodiles and other quirky yarns, had a front-page pointer, with picture, to the story.

Banning the burqa was not part of the national conversation yesterday morning, but after Hanson’s stunt, it well and truly is now.

Political marketing strategist Toby Ralph said Brandis’ response had only fueled more coverage: “Ms Hanson exercised her right to be a bigot again yesterday, and was slapped down magnificently by the oft-maligned George Brandis. But while most of Australia cheered the wonderful rebuke from Brandis, sadly it is likely to increase coverage of and sympathy for her position from her target audience of dim xenophobes.”

Centre for Advancing Journalism senior research fellow Denis Muller said the media couldn’t ignore Hanson, and provided the context and opposition to her position was included, the media should report on it: “She’s a public figure, she’s a senator, she’s in the Senate, she’s in Parliament. The media can’t ignore that, and yes, it’s a stunt and it’s sure to get plenty of publicity, but publicity of what kind? So long as the media report (the condemnation) as well, I think they’ve done what they can do.”

Muller says that the public interest in the matter overrides the censorship that would be involved in ignoring Hanson. “There is a public interest in knowing what a member of the Parliament is doing,” he said. “I don’t see how you could fail to give the public interest more weight than the argument about denying oxygen.”

 

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

Media

Aug 18, 2017

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One of the unintended consequences of Pauline Hanson’s burqa stunt is that it has exposed the murky recesses of attitudes to racism at The Australian.

Those of us with a background in daily journalism were startled at the way the newspaper “For The Informed Australian” handled the story. You could almost see the senior editorial staff shifting their weight from foot to foot in embarrassment as they watched the coverage take shape on their computer screens last night.

By any measure this was a front-page screamer. Within minutes of Hanson’s provocation and Brandis’ inspired response, radio, TV and the internet were featuring little else. The scheduling of question time in the Senate allows at least eight hours for a morning newspaper to assemble comprehensive news coverage, analysis and comment. But the primary obligation is always to nail the hard news task, and to present those accounts in an appropriate way.

So what did The Australian feature on their front page? Opinion, not that it was labeled as such.

Where we should have been reading a factual report of the incident we got Chris Kenny instead, favouring us with repeated expressions of personal bias. He opines that Brandis “overreacted,” and goes on to say what the Attorney-General “should have” said. This was followed by a series of rhetorical questions, all based on Kenny’s assertion that the burqa is an “instrument of female oppression”.

This extended anti-Muslim dog-whistle of questions spilled onto page 4, where Kenny — the paper’s associate editor — resorted to the oldest trick of the demagogue: pretending that the masses share his prejudice. “But rest assured,” he writes, “these are questions many Australians will ponder.” That is uncomfortably close to the regular chant of Hanson supporters that “she’s only saying what we’re all thinking”.

Kenny is, of course, entitled to his opinions, but the ethics of his profession demand that they should have been tagged as “Comment” or “Opinion” beside his byline. And to position this sludge prominently on the front page, where any responsible newspaper would have run straight news coverage, was an offence to basic journalistic standards.

Elsewhere, today’s Australian is uncharacteristically silent on the Hanson stunt. Despite plenty of preparation time there is no editorial on the subject. Nothing on the Commentary page. Not one of the 22 letters to the editor deals with the incident. It is as if yesterday’s burqa confrontation had shocked the editors into the realisation that the paper’s latent anti-Muslim position is no longer tenable. Better to say nothing — and wait until the next phone call from Rupert lets them know what to think.

Federal

Aug 18, 2017

5 comments

“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

5 comments

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

5 comments

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.