Traffic program poured billions into Coalition seats before election
Analysis has revealed 83 per cent of cash doled out under an Urban Congestion Fund went to Coalition-held seats and those targeted by the Government in the lead up to the May election.
Annika Smethurst, National political editor, The Sunday TelegraphSubscriber only|February 23, 2020 12:00amClosePauseLoaded: 64.42%Current Time 0:06/Duration 1:17FullscreenNOW PLAYINGResumePopulation growth poses infrastructure challenge1:17UP NEXT
Infrastructure Australia has warned a new wave of investment is needed to ensure roads and public transport, schools, water, electricity and health services support people’s
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‘The $4 billion Urban Congestion Fund was designed to reduce traffic gridlock and remove bottlenecks that slow down commuters.
But an analysis of more than 160 projects funded under the scheme reveals 144 projects — 83 per cent — were located on roads in Coalition or marginal Labor seats that the government thought it could win.
In NSW,more than 76 per cent of the $541 million allocated went to projects in Liberal-held seats or marginal Labor electorates.’
In Western Sydney, the Coalition couldn’t find any traffic bottlenecks to fix in the safe Labor electorates of:
-Blaxland, Chifley, Fowler, Greenway, Parramatta, Werriwa and Watson.
But more serious problems in the battleground of:
-Lindsay — which it won
-with the Penrith area picking up four projects worth $118.5 million
-6 projects totalling more than $80M funded in Liberal marginal seat of Banks and $50M in Warringah
‘In an echo of the so-called “Sports Rorts” scandal that saw Bridget McKenzie forced to step down as a minister, while more than 20 urban seats held by Labor missed out entirely, not one Liberal-held marginal city seat missed out.
Construction has started on just four projects, with 70 to start this year.’
-applications are not subject to a competitive grants process unlike sporting grants
‘Instead state governments, local councils and federal MPs can make representations to the government for funding. It is not known how many local and state governments requested funding in Labor seats but the government said only one Labor MP — Graham Perrett from the marginal seat of Moreton — asked for cash.’
-the government submitted two-thirds of the projects were election commitments
-Catherine King accused the government of using billions for its “own political purposes”.
“The Don is the head of the organisation … a dictator who has the power to order anything and everything from anyone in the ‘Family’.”
Photo: The Urban Developer on Meriton entering the Melbourne market.
Harry Triguboff … could he have instigated the Property Ponzi?
THE Founder of Meriton, Australia’s most prolific apartment developer, Harry Triguboff.
When interviewed on ‘One Plus One’ by Jane Hutcheon when she enquired if Harry had a hand in the way the Sydney landscape has changed he responded:
“Well, since I am not a modest person I say I had the biggest hand in it because I devoted myself to Sydney. I did a little bit in Queensland, but absolutely I am Sydney!”
In an interview with Robert Harley from the Australian Financial Review in October 2016 Harry said he was not worried about the oversupply of apartments … ‘There will be oversupply when rents are going down … ‘Then I will bring in more migrants’. Said Mr Triguboff!
Apparently the Federal Government does not set the Migrant quotas! But the Don does!
THIS is how Harry, it seems, has been able to continue to source his client base from China and its 1.4 Billion population when interviewed by the AFR in July 2017 Harry said:
“The problem with Australians is they are very slow. They ask their lawyer, they ask their financial adviser, they ask their family, they ask everybody.TheChinese don’t ask anybody, they come off the plane, buy their unit and go.”
So Harry not only runs NSW through the Urban Taskforce Australia, but through his business model in high immigration and economies of scale!
Property billionaire Lang Walker says greenfield estate areas are particularly undersupplied. Photo: Edwina Pickles
IS LANG WALKER‘THE LIEUTENANT’?
The Lieutenant is described as the second-in-command in the organisational hierarchy of the Australian Property Family … the M.fia?
His level of authority varies … is that because others too from the developer lobby groups, the PropertyCouncil of Australia, the Urban Taskforce Australia and the Urban Development Institute of Australia … are all ready to stand in for The Don (the Boss) at any given moment?
It could be that Lang is the second most powerful man in the M.fia. However, the Boss is the only one that has power and authority over the Lieutenant (the UnderBoss).
IF the Don dies (86) … normally the UnderBoss would take the reigns … but hey he doesn’t look to be far behind? Oh, he’s only 73 or 74 … all that wealth, power and authority is ageing …
Photo: Daily Telegraph
DOES it seem that The Mob are ensuring Sydney runs out of land having driven the Librats Population Ponzi? As they promote ‘the end of the backyard‘! Their population Ponzi has fuelled the explosion of apartment precincts across Sydney … and land is expected to run out within a decade!
When billionaire developer Lang Walker talks property, everyone listens. In June 2019 Lang’s hot tip for the future … Masterplanned Communities of house and land packages … the consequence sadly … the destruction of the Koala habitat, urban fringe farmlands of the Macarthur and Wollondilly.
Lang: ‘Now those old-time big blocks have been cut into three … ‘
Are greenfield areas (the Greenfield Housing Code allowing lots as tiny as 200M X 6M wide) under-supplied because they cannot meet the foreign demand? Cough … cough …
THIS SUMMER’s Bushfires have shredded core koala habitat, the campaign to protect the crucial colony west of Sydney has become even more important!
IT is up to the People of Australia to demand a stop to The Mob’s overdevelopment and destruction for their foreign buyer market … time to Lobby … it can start in your street! And spread across the Nation … there arestill more of us than ‘the $uits’ …
WHO IS ‘THE CONSIGLIERE’ … the Advisor, or Counselor?
The Right-hand Man, is it Meriton’s General Counsel, Joseph Callaghan?
Because Joseph is very powerful in the Meriton organisation, he must be a close and trusted friend and confidant of the Family Boss, The Don, for strategic information, diplomatic counsel, and sound advice.
The Consigliere is someone who the Boss trusts and goes to for advice, counsel or information regarding the organization, operations, or businesses.
Unlike the underboss, the consigliere is chosen solely for his abilities and the amount of vast knowledge, and intelligence he possesses. Generally, only the boss and underboss have more authority than the consigliere in the property family … the m.fia …
The Consigliere is very powerful in the command hierarchy, he is the “third in command”.
THUS … a summons was filed in the Land and Environment Court of NSW against four respondents – the Premier of NSW; the Minister for Planning; Secretary for the Department of Planning & Environment and the Greater Sydney Commission.
AND a Media Release was issued!
Closing with the threat …
‘There is a bigger picture here. A thriving residential construction industry is a key indicator of the economic success of NSW, but both sides of politics seem to be in a race to the bottom when it comes to stirring up anti-development sentiment. They show no real leadership on this issue and I tell you one thing, they’re going to miss the stamp duty when it’s gone.”
THE DON … using the threat of the loss of stamp duty coffers to maintain the enormous wealth of the Property Titans (the M.fia … )as they destroy where we live … with high-rise slums or terraces as many as 10 on a 600M2 lot … meaning Millions X Sewage … as the Communists displace our Communities …
The Liberal Party voted down a 2017 Labor push to ban property developers from councils, but is considering putting in ban before September’s local government elections.
IT would seem obvious that their family members, business associates and political lobbyists should equally be banned!
PERHAPS this is now being floated by the Libs following World-wide media reports of … tottering towers … the Opal Tower … Mascot Towers … toxic sites … damp … mould … water ingress … cracks … defective wiring … combustible cladding and Towering Infernos … the buyer resistance with ‘new apartments’ 85% defective on completion …
STRATHFIELD has boulevardes of beautiful Australian Heritage Homes now threatened by the Berejiklian Grubment rezoning, and higher density of high-rise and medium-density of terraces … perhaps a step too far even for this government?
AND if this MOB are not banned from Councils … how will the Berejiklian Government even make their way out of this mess … this time?
Liberal mayor: ‘Brothel owners treated better than developers’
Strathfield Mayor and property developer Antoine Doueihi’s argument that brothel owners are being treated better than property developers within the Liberal Party has been slammed as “crass and illogical”.
Ben Pike, Urban Affairs Reporter, The Sunday TelegraphSubscriber only|February 23, 2020 12:00amClosePauseLoaded: 44.94%Current Time 0:15/Duration 2:13FullscreenNOW PLAYINGResumeConcrete Kings of Sydney: the developers who cashed in on the property boom2:13UP NEXT
‘Strathfield Mayor and property developer Antoine Doueihi has blasted his party’s moves to ban property developers and real estate agents from running on local councils.
The 70-year-old — who recently completed a 24-unit development in Sutherland worth at least $15 million — said property developers are okay to be on councils “as long as they are not being bribed by someone”.
“So a brothel owner can sit on the local council but a property developer can’t,” he told The Sunday Telegraph.
“According to this idea, it doesn’t matter if he is a brothel owner. I don’t think this idea will survive in the high court.
“You can’t live without property developers; they build everyone’s home.”
*Mr Doueihi, who was endorsed by the NSW Liberal Party so sit on both Strathfield and Burwood councils, is still being investigated by the NSW Office of Local Government for not declaring his interest in at least 11 companies.
*The investigation into 20-year Liberal Party member has been running since December 2018 and relates to failures to declare property interests on his pecuniary interests register.‘
-Mr Doueihi said his decision not to contest the upcoming local government elections is because of “family reasons”; unrelated to the OLG investigation
-that it is not related to the party’s push from Don Harwin to ban property developers from running on councils
Strathfield Council Deputy Mayor Matthew Blackmore said:
“Property developers by nature are intimately involved with local councils for their daily business – brothel owners are not,” Mr Blackmore said.
“Brothel owners have also not been banned from making donations to political parties since 2009.”
-2013 Mr Doueihi was fined $43,000 by the L & E Court after pleading guilty to carrying out development without development consent
-four additional boarding house rooms were added to his Burwood Road, Burwood development; for a potential net extra income of $hundreds of thousands
-often seen with Liberal Party insider and lobbyist Joe Tannous but denies doing business with him
‘The Liberal Party voted down a 2017 Labor push to ban property developers from councils, but is considering putting in ban before September’s local government elections.
A senior Liberal told The Sunday Telegraph “information like the Antoine Doueihi matter will weigh heavily on the decision of the Liberal Party about whether to endorse candidates at the local government elections in September”.’
Following the airing of the 8 to 1 Developer Political Donations to the Librats … the Sports Rort … and now this!
WATCH THIS SPACE!
… it may meet its nemesis …
NEWS Over the past year, the government has allocated nearly $5 billion through measures hidden from public view, bypassing the senate. Experts now warn this may be illegal. By Karen Middleton.
GOVERNMENT SPENDS ‘UNLAWFUL’ BILLIONS
The federal government is allocating billions of dollars in grants and making significant policy changes in a way that is likely unlawful, legal experts warn, using a mechanism that bypasses parliament and obscures decisions from public view.
Some of the Coalition’s own senators are starting to push back forcefully against the growing use of such regulations – also known as “delegated legislation” – to authorise a stream of government grants and other policy moves.
In the past 12 months, almost $5 billion was allocated this way – nearly half of that immediately before and after last year’s federal election. This does not include the hundreds of millions more dollars handed out through the Community Sport Infrastructure Grant Program – which is at the heart of the sports rorts scandal – and via other separate schemes across government.
One of Australia’s most eminent constitutional experts, Sydney University law professor Anne Twomey, says the legal authority for governing by regulation is increasingly flimsy, in most cases – especially when allocating public money.
“Effectively, the Commonwealth is spending potentially billions of dollars unlawfully,” Twomey told The Saturday Paper this week. “The way the system is set up is that the Commonwealth knows there is pretty much no one with an interest who is going to challenge this.”
*Issuing a regulation allows the government to change laws without parliament having a direct say, though each regulation must link back to a main piece of enabling legislation.
*The only way the senate can influence a regulation is to vote to disallow, or reject, it within 15 sitting days of it being tabled.
*In the federal election period between March 1 and May 23 last year, almost $2 billion in grants across 20 programs were effectively rubberstamped through regulations. A further $1.75 billion in low-interest agricultural loans to farm flood victims was also authorised during the same period.
*A separate regulation tabled in February last year granted specified “researchers” access to voters’ unlisted mobile phone numbers and their associated postcodes.*
Primarily said to be for health research, it included access for registered political parties and candidates, giving rise to privacy concerns.
*While the parliament was out of session over the summer – between December 4, 2019 and January 16 this year – the government tabled regulations authorising another $476.145 million in grants to be rolled out over the next four years.
Before that, between November 21 and December 3, regulations authorised $79.5 million more in grants, including two one-off $10 million allocations to establish scholarships in memory of former prime minister Bob Hawke and former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer. There was also $19.8 million to establish the new Australian Space Agency, which Prime Minister Scott Morrison opened this week in Adelaide.
Historically, this funding would usually have been included in standalone legislation, meaning parliament would debate and amend if necessary before a vote.
Among the more recent spending allocations by regulation was the November bailout payment for a Victorian country nursing home – which subsequently closed anyway – in a Nationals-held electorate.
*The government refused to disclose the amount it gave the DP Jones home, arguing it was commercial-in-confidence.
It is reported to have been about $400,000.
“IT’S NOT APPROPRIATE TO BE SPENDING IT BASED ON WHERE A MARGINAL SEAT IS OR WHETHER IT IS TARGETED OR NOT. IT IS ABSOLUTELY APPALLING. THIS IS COMPLETELY IRRELEVANT TO WHAT IS IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST.”
*A separate $345,000 grant was made recently to News Corp to set up and run a children’s news website and competition called The PM’s Spelling Bee.
In total, since March 1 last year, the grants authorised by regulation were valued at $4.69 billion.
Some of these grants have been publicly announced and others have not.
The figures come from the senate standing committee for the scrutiny of delegated legislation, which is tasked with examining every regulation and alerting the senate to any concerns.
*For the past year, the six-member committee of Liberal, Nationals and Labor senators – formerly chaired by now-retired Nationals senator John “Wacka” Williams and now chaired by Liberal senator and former minister Concetta Fierravanti-Wells – has been sounding an alarm about the use of regulations, including their constitutionality.
These warnings have increased in recent months.
The committee has declared an intent to disallowa number of regulations while awaiting explanations, and in some cases changes, from relevant ministers.
It is yet to follow through and call for a disallowance vote on one of the government’s measures. But Fierravanti-Wells says she, her deputy chair, Kim Carr, from the ALP, and their colleagues are willing to do so if their warnings are not heeded. “Scrutiny of delegated legislation … will ensure that we not only respect the institution of the senate and the work of its committees, but we also uphold and promote the principles of parliamentary supremacy and the rule of law,” she told The Saturday Paper.
“This scrutiny includes examination of instruments, placing of notices of motion for disallowance in the senate and, where necessary, pushing for disallowance of instruments that fail to comply with these principles.”
*While praising the committee’s work,Professor Twomey said her legal concerns about regulations were twofold.
*She queried whether the government has the statutory authority to engage in the kind of spending increasingly included in regulations – specifically, whether some of these regulations actually align with criteria in their enabling legislation. She also doubts that they fall properly under the various constitutional heads of power that authorise federal government activity.
*One power frequently being relied on to pass regulations is the “nationhood” power, which indirectly authorises the Commonwealth to engage in activities for the benefit of the nation that can’t be carried out otherwise.
*But there are limits to that power and Twomey argues they are regularly being exceeded. “The Commonwealth has never really profoundly taken in this notion that they can’t just spend money on whatever they want to spend it on,” she said.
*The High Court reinforced that principle in what has become known as the Williams case, which was in fact two cases involving a challenge to the Commonwealth government’s expenditure of taxpayers’ money to fund chaplains in public schools.
The plaintiff, Ronald Williams, had four children attending a Queensland state school that was part of the chaplaincy program.
The then Labor government had signed a contract with the Scripture Union organisation to deliver chaplaincy services at the school. In 2012, Williams challenged its authority to do so.
The High Court agreed that the federal government had exceeded its constitutional authority in the way it made the grants. A second case followed, confirming the principle.
An earlier case about tax bonuses, brought in 2009 by lawyer Bryan Pape, also highlighted problems with the way government payments were made.
*“How many court cases does it take for the Commonwealth to accept that a lot of its spending is unlawful and to stop doing it?” Twomey asked. “We’ve been through three High Court cases and they’re still doing it.”
*In the wake of these cases, governments have been more careful to either obtain authority from parliament via legislation or create an instrument – a regulation – each time, linking back to legislation already passed.
But the practice has become more and more loose, infringing various rights as well as potentially breaching the law, as the senate committee protested in a report last year from an inquiry it held on the subject. “As parliamentarians, we owe it to the Australian people to act independently, and to remove from the statute book delegated legislation which does not respect individual rights and liberties or the right of parliament to control the content of the law,” its report said.
*It made a series of recommendations aimed at improving accountability and transparency.
*The government accepted only part of one of the committee’s recommendations, rejecting the rest.
*When the committee sought then to strengthen its own powers of scrutiny – including adding the power to scrutinise on constitutionality – the government tried to block Senator Fierravanti-Wells from speaking in the chamber.
*With Labor and the crossbench in support, the committee’s changes went through.
The committee has warned repeatedly that new grants programs require new appropriations bills and must not be slipped through as “the ordinary services of the government”using a regulation the senate can’t amend.
The senate has a constitutional right to amend proposed laws that appropriate revenue for matters beyond ordinary services and has resolved previously that the definition of those does not include spending on new proposals.
The committee publishes reports every parliamentary sitting week, outlining all regulations about which it has concerns. Last week, it highlighted controversial new dairy industry regulations drafted when Bridget McKenzie was Agriculture minister.
Since Fierravanti-Wells took over in mid-2019, the committee also publishes a full list of every spending regulation and how much is involved.
Where it has concerns about these or any other regulations, it writes to the relevant minister and demands an explanation and response. Queries may include why the measure does not have its own piece of legislation, any privacy implications, whether the public has free access to relevant information and whether the regulation is constitutionally sound.
There are now about 1700 regulations produced every year.
*Anne Twomey’s legal concerns go to the nature of the federal spending – in many cases, community-level grants for basic infrastructure that would normally be funded by state or local government.
“It’s completely and utterly wrong,” Twomey said. “It’s not appropriate to be spending it based on where a marginal seat is or whether it is targeted or not. It is absolutely appalling. This is completely irrelevant to what is in the public interest … The public would rightly think that public money would be spent in the public interest.”
Attorney-General Christian Porter rejected any suggestion that the Williams decision had been ignored. “Great time and resources are devoted to assessing the constitutionality of government spending of a variety of types,” he told The Saturday Paper. “Not only is Commonwealth expenditure rigorously evaluated as a matter of course before any money is spent, but all delegated legislation authorising expenditure is also subject to public scrutiny through the senate committee process. The results of that scrutiny are published by the committee and accessible to the public at large.”
*However, Twomey’s legal concerns are echoed by two other eminent jurists – Melbourne University laureate law professor Cheryl Saunders, who is an expert in public administration, and Bret Walker, SC, a constitutional lawyer and among the nation’s most accomplished barristers.
“There’s all sorts of reasons to be concerned about delegated legislation,” Saunders said this week. “In the context of spending, the Commonwealth parliament’s reaction to Williams was unsatisfactory. The parliament did not take the opportunity to really clear up spending then … It’s never been cleaned up and, if anything, it’s got much worse in these new initiatives that are using grants for political purposes, which was never being done before.”
She said it undermined a valuable commodity: people’s faith in government.
Bret Walker represented Ronald Williams in his two High Court cases. He says any regulations authorising spending must clearly demonstrate their legal authority more directly than they often do.
“I strongly agree that is an essential test for the propriety of government spending and if it relies on delegated legislation, everything has to be lined up constitutionally and also as a matter of simple legislated authority,” Walker told The Saturday Paper.
“You can’t get authority to spend only by delegated legislation. It’s a really basic part of the machinery of government.”
Walker supports the use of legally sound delegated legislation.
But he is concerned about the growing resort to secrecy for everyday governance and governments’ increasing reluctance to face public scrutiny.
Last week, giving evidence to an unrelated senate inquiry into press freedom, Walker outlined his views about the need for scrutiny in the “free and confident society” that Australia purported to be.
“Freedom is, at least in comparative terms, something we might feel relaxed about,” Walker said. “I’m not at all relaxed about whether we are a confident society. That is, in relation to understanding what is being done in our name and understanding how the processes of government are actually achieving executive action – and in particular whether the rule of law is being observed as intimately as it should.”
He said he was particularly concerned about statutory authorities.
“I earnestly think that legislators should have towards the top of an agenda something which … is chronic. This is not a crisis, it’s something that we, bit by bit, boiling-frog style, are losing and that is an expectation – part of being free and confident, particularly confident – that we will have means of finding out what’s being done in our name and what’s being done, if you like, to us.”
It’s a reasonable expectation. The government doesn’t always make it easy.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 22, 2020 as “Government spends ‘unlawful’ billions”. Subscribe here.
”It’s a matter of historical fact that the CCP has been busy trying to corrupt Canberra.” Wrong: The CCP has already corrupted Canberra. Canberra sold out long ago:
– Julie Bishop’s “Glorious Foundation” sold out for $450,000 while she was foreign minister. – Bob Carr also got richer in a similar way. – Andrew Robb sold out on trade deals and the Port of Darwin for $800,000 – The current LNP government owes it majority to CCP member Gladys Liu.
Magellan legend demands Canberra kowtow to Beijing
Magellan Financial Group chairman and chief investment officer Hamish Douglass has accused the nation’s parliamentarians of whipping up “xenophobic” sentiment about China and playing “national security out as a political issue”, undermining Australia’s most important economic relationship.
…”I don’t see the coronavirus issue being in any way tied in the geopolitical and economic issues between and Australia and China. The coronavirus is largely a short term economic impact that won’t have longer term ramifications,’’ Mr Douglass said.
Echoing the warnings of former prime minster Paul Keating and Kerry and Ryan Stokes about the dangers of demonising China, Mr Douglass said any moves to undermine the nation’s open and productive economic relationship with its biggest trade partner “would be incredibly damaging to the long-term future of Australia”.
Lordy. What xenophobia? If Douglass means Andrew Hastie and company’s observations about the Nazi parallels in the CCP then he’s way off base.None of those objections target the Chinese people. They aim to defend them. Describing such as xenophobic is preposterous.
Perhaps Douglass means the pushback against CCP bribery and largesse in Canberra? It’s a matter of historical fact that the CCP has been busy trying to corrupt Canberra.
Defending the integrity of your democracy is hardly xenophobia either.
To be honest, I don’t know who Douglass is attacking. Or why.
If anything, the Government has gone out its way to abuse Australians for being racist for being concened about openly dodgy MPs like Gladys Liu or worrying about coronavirus. *
A word of advice, Hamish. I wouldn’t be too trusting of the CCP. When you’re investing in China, make sure you’re very liquid. You never know when the CCP will turn its baleful gaze upon you and simply close the exit, as it did in 2015/16 stock market crash.
David Llewellyn-Smith is Chief Strategist at the MB Fund and MB Super. David is the founding publisher and editor of MacroBusiness and was the founding publisher and global economy editor of The Diplomat, the Asia Pacific’s leading geo-politics and economics portal.
He is also a former gold trader and economic commentator at The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, the ABC and Business Spectator. He is the co-author of The Great Crash of 2008 with Ross Garnaut and was the editor of the second Garnaut Climate Change Review.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his representative on the NSW Liberal State Executive Alex Hawke. Picture: Kym Smith
SERIOUSLY … we can’t buy this … can you? Does it seem staged that the NSW Grubment is attempting to block developers from running for local councils?
A move to appease NSW voters?
AGREE it should happen but …
With the recent past history of NSW INC …
NSW planning minister hands reins to developers
In June 2019, Stokes announced a scheme to speed up approvals for higher density developments in suburban developments, telling an Urban Development Institute of Australia NSW annual luncheon that he hoped to ensure that all local councils in the state adopt the ‘missing middle’ scheme by the end of 2019.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian Picture: Bianca De Marchi
The NSW Government is attempting to block developers from running for local councils. However, the motion has reportedly been blocked by Alex Hawke, who is Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s representative:
As revealed by The Sauce last week, a motion backed by both the moderates and Right faction members was put to the NSW Liberal State Executive last Friday for the party to use its own powers to stop developers from running as endorsed Liberals.
However, the bid – supported by Premier Gladys Berejiklian – was blocked by Centre Right powerbroker Alex Hawke, who is Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s representative on the committee…
While the motion failed, The Sauce has confirmed talks are ongoing among several senior Liberals with legislation among options being explored.
It is understood any draft legislation would likely have the support of Labor and the Greens…
A senior Liberal source said it was still “early days” but talk of legislation was “absolutely under way”.
“There are definitely talks, and it is likely the matter will again be raised at the next executive meeting,” a Liberal source said.
“It is a problem that is not going away and there are Liberals that want it sorted before the local government elections in September.”
The federal election – the one that delivered the miracle – took place in May 2019. But because our disclosure system is deeply suboptimal, voters had to wait until February 2020 to learn where the money came from.
When the Australian Electoral Commission finally published the returns at the start of this week, we were able see that the mining magnate Clive Palmer invested $83.3m in fronting, but more importantly, influencing the political contest that returned the Coalition to power. Let me just say that again – $83.3m.
This number is both staggering, and not really a shock, given you couldn’t traverse many parts of Australia during the election run up without being bombarded with Clive’s stupendous insights. Being ubiquitous certainly ain’t cheap.
But just consider dropping a wad of cash north of $80m on an election. Also consider the precedent of Clive19: high-wealth individuals (as opposed to broadly based social movements tilting conservative or progressive), creating and bankrolling pop-up political shopfronts, crowding out incumbents and any rival insurgents with fewer resources.
Consider having the means to swing an election outcome, and facing no prohibitive barriers to entry.
That’s some innovation in the Australian system. Give yourself a minute to reflect on how you feel about it. Are you comfortable? Does that feel like participatory democracy with equality of opportunity?
As well as the game changing adventures of Clive, there was also the curiosity of the big donation from the philanthropist Isaac Wakil.
*I’m anxious about the health of Australian democracy
Tips like this are needles in a haystack if nobody wants to help. So we had to wait almost a year to resolve the mystery of the generous benefactor, because in Australia, we don’t have continuous disclosure of political donations.
We have a system geared to ensuring contributions can be made discreetly , without the inconvenience of the public knowing about, and potentially objecting to, people’s choices.
We allow contributions to be made, but not disclosed publicly until after the election caravan moves on – a deft little conjuring trick which renders these insights old news by the time they surface.
If it’s not already obvious where I’m going this weekend, let me be clear.
I’m anxious about the health of Australian democracy. I’m concerned about governance corroding and degrading.
The whole system feels like it’s fighting off viruses.
I’m also concerned that my profession, the media, is failing to arrest this slide, in part because we tell this story in silos. We report diligently on the increments of failure, of scandal, of negligence, of dissembling, of cock-up, but we fail to bring the story together. We fail to join the dots.
This needs to change. We need to find ways to tell the story of the whole, rather than the story of the parts, to invite Australians to focus on whether their democracy is working for them, or whether standards that were once considered essential are being replaced by new norms that might work for powerful people but don’t serve the rest of us.
Harry Potter fans know about the Room of Requirement – the magical place of help that materialises for people in need. Think of the past week in politics as a room of requirement for people increasingly perturbed about our standards of governance.
In so many ways, key themes of the story I’m intent on narrating unfurled over consecutive days.
*There was the lagged disclosure returns, and a galling sense of deadlock. As recently as last year, the Liberal party told a parliamentary committee it did not favour a shift to continuous disclosure because, to quote federal director Andrew Hirst, there was no case to “unnecessarily add to the already considerable administrative and compliance burdens placed on political parties”.
*Now before knee-jerk outrage ensues, Hirst has a point. We certainly don’t have enough transparency. We also don’t fund our politics sufficiently.
Political parties, ramparts of the system, are under-resourced. If the system flips to require more disclosure, campaign directors will have to move scant resources from campaigning to compliance, and that would feel like a zero-sum proposition.
So let’s pay that. But this isn’t an argument for blocking continuous disclosure. “We don’t have the resources to supply the transparency” is an argument for fixing the underlying structural problem, not for resisting real time candour.
One more observation about cash and politics before we keep joining our dots.
*The AEC returns highlighted the significant influence of the resources industry in Australian democracy.
The summer has made us painfully aware that we still haven’t reached a sensible landing point to address the climate crisis, and the Coalition is trapped debating the same tortured fundamentals that it has been debating since the mid-2000s. Could these things be connected? Bugger me. Perhaps they are.
Before Monday, there was Sunday, and sports rorts. Scott Morrison persuaded Bridget McKenzie to take a long walk off a short plank. Cue applause (at least until the defenestration helped embolden Barnaby Joyce to storm the Nationals leadership on a day when parliament was supposed to be honouring bushfire victims). You’d say stay classy guys, but seriously, what would be the point?
Morrison’s method of defusing the sports rorts stink was to instigate a process within his department which ended up second-guessing the inquiry undertaken externally and by the Australian National Audit Office.
When the ANAO looked at sports grants, it saw payments skewed to targeted seats rather than decided on merit, and grants made with questionable legal authority. But Morrison’s process delivered alternative facts. Nicer ones.
Implicitin Morrison’s reframing exercise was a prime minister asking voters to choose which reality they preferred – the reality where public administration was demonstrably off the rails, or the reality where it wasn’t.
Like truth was a vending machine. Or a box of chocolates, except you can only be told about the chocolates, you can’t actually have one, because Morrison declined to release the advice underpinning “the opposite is also true” report from his departmental head, Phil Gaetjens, and the attorney general, Christian Porter.
As a consequence of bad decisions cleaned up with crap decisions, Gaetjens, who once worked as a political staffer for Morrison, has found himself rebuked by public sector eminences. People like Michael Keating – a former head of the prime minister’s department.
(Keating wrote this week Gaetjen’s first duty was to “uphold the values and integrity” of the public service, not to engage in end-of-lease cleaning. The precision scolding went on. “Gaetjens should be setting an example for the rest of the APS – indeed the head of any organisation has their greatest impact on its culture.”
*Scolding too from a former New South Wales auditor-general, Tony Harris, who delivered the most brutal assessment of all.Harris said this week if the national affairs caravan moved on blithely from the sports rorts case study, this would be tantamount to permitting “corruption in the federal government”.
*Now we arrive at robodebt, and the deeply uncomfortable proposition that the government we all elected to represent our interests may have rolled out an unlawful program targeting vulnerable people, largely to prop up the budget bottom line.
The specific development this week was a new dump of correspondence revealing that different parts of the government were talking among themselves about legal advice suggesting debts based solely upon income averaging of ATO annual tax data were not lawful.
It’s not clear when these conversations took place. But pause here for long enough to absorb the possibility of your government engaged in unlawful action. Also note the government has been painfully slow in admitting there’s a problem, and fixing the debacle, which it continues to try and minimise as just a bit of fine tuning.
*Then we get to the cops and Angus Taylor. We’ve been waiting. Would the cops get to the bottom of the origins of a dodgy document used by the minister for emissions reduction in a puerile political attack against the Sydney lord mayor?
Would they establish whether any offences had been committed under NSW law?
Well, no, as it turns out. The NSW police had a look, then handed the case to the federal police, then the federal police looked at what they’d done, and concluded they wouldn’t investigate because it was too resource-intensive, it was a minor scrap, and Taylor had apologised.
Nobody would answer questions about how those inquiries had proceeded, and voters remain none the wiser about how false travel figures came to be deployed by a ministerial office during a public debate. Apparently that’s a set of circumstances that doesn’t require any sort of corrective, beyond saying sorry.
*People will insist the answer to the current malaise is a federal anti-corruption body, and I have no argument with that. A body like that might check some of the creeping excesses, and it would help restore confidence in a system that people are losing confidence in.
But it’s not the only element that’s needed.Two other things are required.
*Political reporters, like me, need to communicate the seriousness of the times to readers and viewers, and keep showing up to work, pulling on the threads, and then putting the facts back together, no matter how difficult it feels to counter obfuscation, stonewalling and hostility.
*And voters have to value their democracy enough to remain engaged, and keep speaking up when they see signs that the system that doesn’t work for them.
*People have to be vigilant too. She’ll be right mate isn’t an antidote. Demanding good governance is the most powerful act of resistance there is.
Liberal insiders say Isaac Wakil was never present in high-end donor circles. So what prompted the reclusive 92-year-old to donate $4.1 million to the Liberal Party? By Rick Morton.
The biggest party donor you’ve never heard of
This is a love story.
It ends, at least to public view, at a dinner party in a glass-fronted room above the botanic gardens in Sydney. The venue was the American Club, now closed.
Susan and Isaac Wakil had invited their closest friends. The couple were famous for their hospitality. They were reclusive and shy, but almost always they were described as elegant.
“Nobody knew it was their last dinner party, they didn’t tell anyone,” a long-time friend says.
“Susan was ill, but after that she didn’t want anyone to see her, so she decided she no longer wanted to go out. So, Isaac closed the doors to their home and they never left. He became her sole carer.”
Several years later, after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease, Susan died. It was May 2018. That Christmas, Isaac made his first significant donation to the Liberal Party. By the following May, two days before the election, he had given $4.1 million – the largest individual political donation in Australian history.
The money was notable for its scale. More than that, however, it was unusual for the fact there were no other terms: no quid pro quo, no favours asked or given, none wanted.
“It is incredibly rare and unusual in politics to receive a donation that significant, especially when they don’t want anything in return,” a veteran of Coalition campaigns told The Saturday Paper.
“And I wasn’t aware they were involved in politics at all. I’ve not seen them at any of the high-end Liberal events I’ve been to – ever.”
A friend of the Wakil family, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to Isaac’s fierce desire for privacy, said that Wakil, now 92, had “got it into his head that he wanted Scott Morrison to be the prime minister”.
By all accounts it was Susan who had the knack for property.
She had fled to Australia as a child, after being held in a Soviet concentration camp while her father was imprisoned in a gulag. Her mother died and she was brought here by an aunt.
Isaac had come from Iraq as a young boy, after increasing violence against the country’s Jewish population.
The couple became engaged in 1953.
They worked in the rag trade and begun purchasing empty or rundown commercial properties in Surry Hills and Pyrmont, then unfashionable suburbs with apparently few prospects for revitalisation.
Eventually, they owned the enormous Griffiths Teas building on Wentworth Avenue, as well as Key College House, the Terminus Hotel on Harris Street, and a string of other properties and warehouses.
They left the buildings unoccupied, neither leasing them nor selling them for decades.When developers called, they were told to speak to Mrs Wakil. The answer was always the same: it was too much trouble.
“IT IS INCREDIBLY RARE AND UNUSUAL IN POLITICS TO RECEIVE A DONATION THAT SIGNIFICANT, ESPECIALLY WHEN THEY DON’T WANT ANYTHING IN RETURN.”
The couple developed an eccentric reputation. Their empty buildings became a source of speculation. While they rarely spoke to journalists or appeared in public, their cream Rolls-Royce was often seen parked in the driveway of their offices in Pyrmont.
By the turn of the last decade their portfolio was worth $75 million. Then Sydney property prices exploded, and so did their net worth. In 2014, they began selling buildings, raising more than $200 million.
Unravelling the details of the Wakil donation, declared in party returns filed with the Australian Electoral Commission and released on Monday, is an exercise in cold leads and dead ends.
In a series of on- and off-record conversations with friends and acquaintances, The Saturday Paper has pieced together the story, which is bound up in Isaac’s great love for his wife and in the grief that followed her death.
A friend says Wakil had a particular desire to see the Liberals win Wentworth, where he and his wife had lived for more than four decades in the same grand Vaucluse home: “Dave Sharma, especially, he wanted to see elected. I know for a fact that quite a lot of that money went to Sharma.”
Although Wakil spread his $4.1 million donation across the country, several sources close to the deal say he was clear the New South Wales Liberals should make sure Sharma won back Malcolm Turnbull’s former seat, which had been lost to Kerryn Phelps in a byelection.
The pattern of Wakil’s donations is interesting in itself. The first significant donation was for $1.5 million, made to the federal Liberal Party secretariat on Christmas Eve 2018.
From there, he made a smattering of other big gifts to the same national branch – in February, March, April and May, including a final $400,000 just two days before the May 18 poll.
Wakil also donated $70,000 to the Victorian Liberals, in two transactions in January and February last year. There was $60,000 to the Tasmanian branch through donations in January and April, and $50,000 each to the South Australian Liberals and the Queensland Liberal National Party in late January and early February respectively.
Second to the federal secretariat, however, his greatest donation – just over $500,000 in total – was for the NSW branch.
Most of these 26 transactions were made in January and February, with a late flurry worth more than $80,000 in April.
Sharma denies any special contribution to his campaign. “Wentworth’s share of the donation was very small and certainly not the vast majority,” he said.
Since winning the seat, he has been coy about the total cost of his campaign. He told well-read local magazine The Beast he didn’t “want to put a dollar figure” on what was spent.
“I don’t know the final figure, but it was, in the course of a closely contested election campaign, a normal sort of figure,” he told the publication last month.
“I think my campaign and the Phelps campaign probably spent similar amounts of money, but I don’t want to put a dollar figure on it, I’d prefer not to.”
Phelps, who briefly held the seat as an independent, scoffs at the suggestion. She says Sharma’s campaign outspent hers five to one.
“They weresending personalised correspondence to every home in Wentworth,” she says. “The mailouts alone would have cost them $300,000. From the early stages in the second Wentworth campaign we knew we were up against a massive budget. It was beyond the wildest dreams of any independent.”
Phelps estimates Sharma’s campaign spent at least $1.5 million. When asked about Wakil, she said she had never heard the name. “It was news to me.”
The quiet isolation of Susan Wakil’s final years must have been a departure from the cacophony of the couple’s early days in Sydney society.
Spread after spread in The Australian Women’s Weekly charts their glamorous rise. By 1969, they were attending the most stylish parties in Sydney – not simply to keep up appearances, although Susan wore almost exclusively Yves Saint Laurent and Chanel, but also for charity.
“Susan wasn’t just a name on the Black and White charity committee,” says a friend, “she was a very hard worker.”
Women’s Weekly called her one of the “most glamorous” attendees at a 1969 banquet held at the Art Gallery of NSW, to raise $1 million needed to rebuild the space.
It was, according to the magazine, “an eight-course dinner prepared from 200-year old recipes … served to 280 guests by footmen and serving-maids in 18th-century costume”.
By 1975, Susan was hosting cocktail parties for significant guests, notably Madame Dewi Sukarno, the widow of Indonesia’s former president Sukarno. She became personal friends with the designer Yves Saint Laurent during her frequent winter trips to Paris.
In their twilight years, the couple created their own foundation – the Susan and Isaac Wakil Foundation – and began to donate enormous sums to the arts and education.
Having divested themselves of most of their long-dormant property portfolio, the couple had more cash than they wanted or needed. They had no children: their closest relative is a nephew.
In 2015, a gift of almost $11 million was made to the University of Sydney to provide 12 annual nursing scholarships, half of them for regional and rural students.
The following year, the couple gave $35 million to the same university for the construction of a health sciences building. It remains the largest donation in the history of the university.
“By this stage Susan had advanced Parkinson’s,” their friend says. “The chancellor put on this great big event to thank them, but Isaac didn’t come. He would not leave Susan’s side. Then when the designs came through, they showed the building with both of their names right there on the structure.”
Isaac rang a friend involved in the process and begged him to have his name removed from the building. He wanted it to be only Susan’s achievement.
Federal Liberal MP Julian Leeser told The Saturday Paper it was Isaac’s abiding love for and deep devotion to his wife that brought forth this flood of money in recent years.
“They were both remarkable migrant success stories,” he says. “They did well for themselves, they loved this country. He loved her and he continues to love her, and I think one way of doing that is to fund things about which she cared deeply.”
While Susan was still alive, they made generous overtures to friends, but were often unable to enjoy these things themselves. When Opera Australia opened La Traviata, they booked the first three rows of the dress circle, but didn’t go.
A year before Susan died, the couple’s foundation made a $20 million donation to the Art Gallery of NSW. It was the largest donation the gallery has ever received, and will allow for the completion of its new wing.
When Susan was laid to rest in 2018, Isaac announced he was entering a period of mourning for one year. It has been almost two, now, and few have seen him.
“The Liberal Party was very important to Susan,” Leeser says, when asked why Isaac would add a political party to his and Susan’s philanthropy. “She was a supporter during her lifetime.”
Numerous accounts suggest nobody asked Isaac Wakil to donate to the Liberals. It was a grieving man, it seems, who made that decision on his own. He wanted Scott Morrison to be prime minister, and he got it.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 8, 2020 as “The biggest party donor you’ve never heard of”. Subscribe here.
WILL the Berejiklian Government ‘see reason’ and return the Design and Building Practitioners Bill to the upper house with what appear to be reasonable changes submitted by the Greens for an independent building commission to support the work of Mr Chandler, and the Labor proposal for the establishment of a professional engineers’ registration scheme?
WHAT’s the problem?
THIS should happen as soon as the last week of February! Especially since the report aired of the $6,371,572Property Development Sector donations to the Liberal Party May 2019 Election Campaign!
Fresh cracks have shown in Sydney’s infamous Mascot Towers.
“There are some really regrettable things out there that abhor me,” he said.
“We’ll be in a much better position by 2022 once we’ve started to change the culture of the industry and get people back to what they should be doing.”
Many of Mr Chandler’s measures to better protect owners from shoddy industry practices hinge on the Berejiklian government being successful in a renewed attempt to push its building reform package through the NSW upper house later this month.
“If I can substantially reduce the incidence of [building defects] and ensure that’s not what’s coming through the pipeline – that to me is the most impactive thing we could do,” Mr Chandler said.
Mr Chandler said he had been “actively out there” on sites in an attempt to ensure owners and residents being crippled by building defects was “not the case for the future”.
“We’ve set up a framework for much clearer accountability of the parties. Until now that clarity hasn’t been there,” he said.
“At the moment there’s no order – there’s grey areas everywhere.”
Former NSW treasury secretaryMichael Lambert, who led a landmark review into building regulations in 2015, said he had greater confidence in the most recent measures planned to rectify the shortcomings in building standards.
But he warned there would continue to be a risk over the next two to three years in the large strata buildings erected.
“There will be dodgy brothers around building dodgy buildings,” he said. ‘‘There is not a magic wand – I wish this process had been commenced some time ago.”
Mr Lambert said the key to improving standards was developing a “risk-based approach” that targets high-risk developers, builders and buildings and ensures they have insurance.
“For builders, that means professional indemnity insurance. It is about using that to try to put pressure on builders which are not up to standard,” he said.
“The approach [the building commissioner] has adopted is sound.”
The government abandoned an attempt to pass key legislation by the end of 2019, when it pulled its building reform bill from the NSW upper house as it faced defeat on significant changes proposed by Labor and the Greens.
The Greens wanted an independent building commission to support the work of Mr Chandler, while Labor was proposing the establishment of a professional engineers’ registration scheme.
THIS issue raises even more questions about the so-called benefits derived from selling out Australia’s National Estate … was this with the sanction of the ‘Foreign Investment Review Board’ ?
IT took public outrage that led to a Channel 9 Media investigation to reveal the owner of the Victorian hunting lodge was Tom Zhou, a wealthy Chinese businessman, international fugitive and a Crown casino partner with alleged crime links … it would appear the FIRB has been somewhat remiss in its role … why is this so?
SEARCH CAAN WEBSITE … to find out more about the Foreign Investment Review Board
Victorians welcome wombat protection laws after hunting revelations
Wombats are now protected all over Victoria. Photo: Getty/TND
Wombat lovers are celebrating the Victorian government’s decision to overturn a legal loophole that left the animals open to being killed without a permit.
The amendment to the Wildlife Act 1975, which came into effect on Thursday, officially revoked a law that declared wombats unprotected in some parts of the state.
Until Thursday, Victoria was the only state in Australia that had areas where wombats could be killed without question.
It followed a state government inquiry into wombat protection laws that was triggered by public outrage after The New Daily revealed wealthy international tourists were being invited to a Murrindindi farm in northern Victoria to hunt the animals.
Revelations that wombats were being offered as hunting targets for foreign tourists exposed a “confusing” loophole in the Wildlife Act that meant the animals were not protected in 193 parishes in Victoria.
In a statement to The New Daily on Thursday, Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio conceded “the previous rules were outdated”.
“Wombats deserve the same protection as other native animals – and that’s what this change delivers,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.
“This change will ensure wombats can’t be exploited by an old rule.”
The original law dated back to 1986 when the Victorian government initially declared wombats vermin because the heavy-set marsupials could charge through rabbit-proof fences at a time when rabbit plagues were a big problem.
Once rabbits stopped wreaking havoc across Victoria, wombats became protected under the Wildlife Act – except in 193 parishes east of the Hume Highway where the animals could be killed without a permit.
Kerry Smith, who lives in one of the parishes in East Gippsland where wombats had been unprotected, said for decades locals had been taking “full advantage” of the loophole.
“These people don’t respect wombats – they classify them as a pest,” Ms Smith told The New Daily.
“There are no real relocation options so if a wombat enters their property, they resort to shooting them. It’s disgusting.”
Ms Smith described the Victorian government’s decision to update the state’s wombat protection laws as an “absolute blessing”.
“Now wombats are up on a pedestal with our koalas and echidnas and other native animals,” she said.