GetUp hits back at ‘extraordinary attack’ by the PM

GetUp and very many supporters hit back .. and remind the PM … of all that has been stuffed up …

SOME gems from among the comments …  584 at last count!

-I wouldn’t worry about GetUp Scotty, I’d worry about the general public.

– Morrison’s outrage against GetUp is that long-noted loathing of the ‘petty bourgeois’ against any who would want to unsettle the status quo, especially if they’re from the undeserving ranks of the great unwashed (i.e., the left). The mess he made of the Pacific Forum is proof that the urgent global issues of our day are way above his head, hence his attempts to make us turn inwards to our own little worlds. And the empty words he uses to cover up are so transparent. We need someone who has what it takes!

-This is a very worrying development, but it is also a distraction (like A Jones’ sock comment) from the policy failures of the Liberal-IPA coalition.
I do not have anything to do with Getup! and they do not figure in my cogitations. They are irrelevant. I also think that the influence of groups like Getup! is over blown. The reason? They lack the clandestine access to power of groups like the IPA, which refuse to reveal their funders and membership, Unlike Getup! which is transparent. The Liberal party is merely the political arm of the IPA.

In a democracy any group can have a rant. But it must face scrutiny. As it stands, the IPA and the plethora of other right and extreme right “think” tanks do not.

The Liberals want to stop scrutiny. They use the instruments of state to attack their opponents (the AFP (M Cash), ASIO, Parliamentary committees – (T Wilson?). As for accusing Getup! of being misogynistic – well any member of the Liberal party would know about that.
I really do fear for our democracy now.

-While you’re at it Morrison you can “treat” The Institute of Public Affairs, The Mining Council & various other Conservative organisations as arms of the Liberal Party…
…Hey, why not include News Corp & the United Australia Party as well.

-Australians “have a go” through GetUp , now theyre going to get a “going over” by Morrison.

Or so he thinks.

Someone far smarter and more astute than Morrison may whisper in his ear about the absolute political stupidity of this idea.

Does Morrison really think that this obvious diversionary attack on GetUp will interest most Australians , who are daily confronted with issues which are much more pressing and which are not being addressed by this government?

The next election is supposedly 3 years away.

But go ahead Morrison , go after GetUp, then go after the IPA, and Advance Australia and any other group which involves itself in politics in Australia these days.
See how much more public money your Liberal Party can waste on its ideological agenda.

Someone in the right wing of the LNP are still smarting and very upset that their erstwhile leader was shot down in flames and lost his seat at the last election , arent they?

Gee I wonder who that could be?

GetUp hits back at ‘extraordinary attack’ by the PM

Dana McCauley
By Dana McCauley

View all comments

Left-wing lobby group GetUp has slammed Scott Morrison for an “undemocratic attack” on the organisation, after the Prime Minister announced a new crackdown aimed at curtailing its influence before the next federal election.

Mr Morrison used his speech to the Liberal Party’s state conference in Adelaide on Saturday to announce a renewed assault on GetUpblaming the group for “vile, personal attacks on our candidates” in the May poll, describing it as “misogynistic” and “shady”.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has launched a fresh attack on GetUp.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has launched a fresh attack on GetUp.CREDIT:AAP

He promised to “revisit GetUp’s claim they are politically independent”.

GetUp national director Paul Oosting hit back, defending the group’s right to engage in political debate and accusing the Prime Minister of trying to set up a “kangaroo court” after the Australian Electoral Commission upheld its independence earlier this year.

Mr Morrison wants the group to be treated as an arm of Labor and the Greens and subjected to the same laws that apply to political parties.

“GetUp have to be accountable for what they say and do,” he told reporters on the sidelines of the Liberal party conference on Saturday.

“They want to be in the political space, fine, call yourself a political party. You’re against the Liberal party, we get that, that’s okay there’s no problem with that – just don’t pretend you’re independent.”

The Prime Minister would not give details of how he planned to revisit the question of GetUp’s electoral status, saying only that the government would “have more to say about it as time goes on”.

Mr Oosting said that forcing the AEC to investigate the group again would be “a political stitch-up and a waste of public money”.

“Politics belongs to everyone,” he said.

Scott Morrison wants to "revisit" a ruling by the Australian Electoral Commission that GetUp is an independent entity.
Scott Morrison wants to “revisit” a ruling by the Australian Electoral Commission that GetUp is an independent entity.CREDIT:JON REID

Mr Morrison said Australians knew where Liberals stood but that GetUp had not been “straight up” with the public, saying the group was now “a wolf in wolf’s clothing” after its actions in the federal election campaign.

Backbench MP Nicolle Flint recently accused GetUp and unions of “creating an environment” where abuse, harassment, intimidation and even stalking became the “new normal” in South Australian politics, but did not offer any direct evidence that GetUp officials had directly carried out that behaviour.

Mr Morrison also referenced GetUp’s controversial advertisement depicting Tony Abbott as a lifeguard ignoring pleas to help someone drowning, which the group pulled after a public outcry.

And he sought to link the group with an “anti-Semitic attack” on Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, although GetUp has condemned a legal challenge to the Kooyong MP’s constitutional eligibility – based on the Hungarian citizenship of his mother, who fled the Holocaust – as “beyond offensive”.

Mr Oosting said none of the events the Prime Minister referred to could be “fairly be attributed to GetUp or our supporters”.

“There is no evidence – that’s why the AEC has ruled on three occasions in our favour,” he said.

“The Prime Minister is levelling extraordinary attacks on everyday people who participated in politics this election.”

Senior Labor frontbencher Mark Butler said GetUp was “very clearly not a political party” and blamed the ongoing scrutiny on “an obsession within the hard-right of the Coalition party room”.

“They’re not running candidates,” Mr Butler said in Adelaide on Saturday.

“There are a range of other third parties that participate in Australia’s democracy and they should all be subject to appropriate regulation.”

Mr Oosting said GetUp members were “teachers and nurses, mums and dads, students and pensioners” who had spent the election campaign having “heart to heart conversations” with voters.

“Afraid of being challenged or held to account on having no policy on climate change and the lack of support for raising Newstart, [Mr Morrison] is trying to shut down democratic participation, slurring the name of everyday people participating in our politics.

“This would be the fourth attempt by the hard right to shut down independent grassroots campaigning.”

Dana McCauley

Dana is health and industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.





Left and right unite in calls for an investment allowance

By Unconventional Economist in Australian budget

August 16, 2019 | 8 comments

Earlier this week, the Business Council of Australia (BCA) called on the federal government to introduce an broad-based investment allowance to help stimulate the economy.

Now, the BCA has received support from the Australia Institute. Ben Oquist, the executive director of the progressive think tank, says an investment allowance is preferable to a general cut in the company tax rate. The Institute believes any investment allowance should only apply to investment in Australia, while it should also be limited to new investment, not to investment that would proceed anyway. From The AFR:

AFR Photo: Ben Oquist

“Given the weakness of the Australian economy, with interest rates heading towards zero and monetary policy effectively being exhausted, other measures to stimulate the economy deserve support,” Mr Oquist said.

“An investment allowance is preferable to an across the board company tax cut. Australia Institute research has shown a cut in the company tax rate would provide a large windfall gain to overseas investors, and only provide a small benefit to local investment.

“A targeted approach to investment incentives with a sunset clause would provide the stimulus we need today without the revenue problems in the future.”

In a similar vein, the Grattan Institute has argued that policies like accelerated depreciation allowances and investment allowances would promote new investment directly and at far lower cost than cutting the company tax rate:

There are alternatives to a full-blown company tax cut that could boost investment without delivering large windfall gains to foreign investors at such cost to the budget bottom line…

An investment allowance, via a tax deduction to businesses for the purchase of new assets, would provide incentives to boost investment. Since the deduction would apply only to future investments, not past ones, it provides incentives to investment without sacrificing tax revenue on existing investment.

Clearly, expanding investment allowances would deliver far more ‘bang for the buck’ than cutting company taxes.





Frydenberg and anti-Semitism spin

By Jennifer Wilson | 13 August 2019  20 comments

It is glaringly obvious that Frydenberg is not being denied a place in Parliament because his family was forced to flee the Holocaust, writes Dr Jennifer Wilson.

The ongoing furore over Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s eligibility or otherwise to sit in the Australian Parliament springs from his Jewish family’s journey from post-war Hungary to Australia in 1950 and, particularly, the citizenship status of his mother, Erika, who was born in Hungary in 1943.

Frydenberg has consistently and somewhat mystifyingly refused to make public legal advice he claims confirms that he has no citizenship entitlements in any country other than Australia — a move that would likely lay the matter to rest. It is difficult to see how Frydenberg, his family or the Government are benefitting in any way from this drawn-out process and yet, here we are.

Frydenberg first came under scrutiny two years ago, in November 2017, when he was Minister for Energy in the then Turnbull Government. At the time, conflicting accounts of his mother’s citizenship were published in the media.

Turnbull reacted swiftly to concerns about his Minister’s eligibility, describing them as a “witch hunt”. He then embarked on one of his more memorable episodes of confected outrage, invoking the Holocaust, the gas chambers and anti-Semitism as the drivers behind the questioning of Frydenberg’s status.

At the time, the Labor Opposition was divided about pursuing Frydenberg, with Deputy Leader Tanya Plibersek arguing it was “a bridge too far” to hound someone whose Jewish family had declared themselves stateless after World War Two, while Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus felt that Frydenberg’s family history should not be used to prevent scrutiny of his status.

When it became clear to the major parties that citizenship issues raised by what is now commonly referred to as s44 of the Constitution would detrimentally affect them both, parliamentary referrals ceased and the fraught agitation for Frydenberg to clear up his status subsided. 

Aaron Dodd@AaronDodd

If anyone is any doubt that Frydenberg’s mother was NOT stateless as he claimed when she arrived in Australia, please see this. #auspol

View image on Twitter

1591:06 PM – Aug 10, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy149 people are talking about this

Fast forward two years to 2019. On July 11, a few weeks after the May Federal Election, lawyer Trevor Poulton published a substantial legal opinion on Frydenberg’s citizenship status which he forwarded to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese as an argument for the Treasurer’s referral by parliament to the High Court, under s44 (1). This document is a thorough deconstruction of Frydenberg’s claims thus far, and well worth reading.

Morrison’s reaction was to declare Poulton an anti-Semite:

Josh Frydenber[g] received full support from Prime Minister Scott Morrison was [sic] at a media doorstop: “Is it time to draw a line under Section 44, and amend the constitution to deal with these issues?”

The Prime Minister answered: “I’ll tell you what it’s a time to draw a line on, and it’s anti-Semitism. I mean, the scourge of anti-Semitic graffiti that we’ve seen in Melbourne just this year, it is absolutely sickening and disgraceful. And for a Holocaust denier and an anti-Semite to seek to progress that agenda by pretending to have some sort of constitutional purity on Josh Frydenberg, I’m just going to call it out for what it is. And I think Australians… I think they would share that. Anti-Semitism has no place in this country.

I mean, I saw also what was happening with the graffiti against our colleague Julian Leeser up in Sydney. It’s sickening. And so, we have no truck with these anti-Semitic thoughts or practices or what they’re about. I mean, he shouldn’t be in the Labor Party for a start, how he’s even in there I’ve got no idea because I know that is as abhorrent in their way of thinking as it is to ours. So I’m calling that what it is. Thanks very much.”

Mr Poulton is understandably upset by the Prime Minister publicly describing him as anti-Semitic and has sent him a cease and desist letter, which was also published in Independent Australia.


@TrevorPoulton responds to Morrison about defamatory comments the PM made about him – from the safety of Parliament. PM tries to make it anti-semitism. Its not, it’s citizenship and entitlement to same. Bravo TP!,12966 …Trevor Poulton responds to defamation by Scott MorrisonLawyer and Labor Party member Trevor Poulton was the victim of defamatory comments made by the Prime Minister.independentaustralia.net16:35 PM – Aug 3, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacySee Jackie’s other Tweets

We now have two prime ministers dealing with the matter of Frydenberg’s citizenship by accusing anyone who questions his status of anti-Semitism. By now, it is tempting to conclude that the charges of anti-Semitism are a highly unsavoury effort to silence through shaming. No doubt, there are those with anti-Semitic sentiments who would enjoy seeing Frydenberg undone. However, requesting his citizenship status be clarified is not in itself an anti-Semitic act. If the High Court judges find against him, will they be accused of anti-Semitism?

It is also reasonable to conclude that Frydenberg is his own worst enemy by claiming simultaneously that he has no citizenship issues and refusing to furnish us and the Parliament with his evidence of that claim.

Poulton does not live in the Kooyong electorate so he cannot mount a High Court challenge. However, a citizen in the electorate, Michael Staindl, has exercised his right under the Constitution to request a High Court ruling on whether or not Frydenberg is an Hungarian citizen. Mr Staindl has undertaken to drop the High Court challenge if Frydenberg discloses the legal advice he claims confirms his eligibility. Frydenberg, even more mystifyingly, continues to withhold this advice.

Enter GetUp. The activist group, known more for its disagreement with and some may claim harassment of the Coalition Government, issued a statement saying that the group does not support the referral of Frydenberg to the High Court under s44.

The statement reads in part:

‘The challenge against Josh Frydenberg on the grounds of dual citizenship is beyond offensive and we condemn it.

No one should be denied a place in Parliament because their family was forced to flee the Holocaust.’

It is glaringly obvious that Frydenberg is not being denied a place in our Parliament because his family was forced to flee the Holocaust. There is something deeply shameful and morally murky in the appropriation and spinning of such an enormous tragedy into an argument for avoiding legitimate scrutiny. Nothing is being asked of Josh Frydenberg that has not been asked of many other politicians, some of whom have paid the price for not checking their citizenship status. Section 44 may well be an outdated and unnecessary Constitutional precaution; however, that is another argument. The point is, we should not make exceptions as long as this law exists. There is sufficient contradiction in Frydenberg’s family’s story with documents from his grandfather declaring them stateless, while his mother appears to have a valid Hungarian passport. It is not for laypersons such as myself to make decisions on this. We have a process, it’s been followed by others and Frydenberg must follow it as well. To expect equality under the law is not an act of anti-Semitism and to argue that it is, is viscerally offensive. No doubt Frydenberg thought he was out of the woods when parliamentary referrals on dual citizenship ceased to be a thing. Perhaps it seemed unlikely that any citizen would avail him or herself of the opportunity to exercise the 40-day right to challenge elected members. Yet, here we are. And here he is.


Another good article from @independentaus re Frydenberg lying his ass off re citizenship saga -as usual, with the added bonus of a particularly fine description of Morrison as our ‘tongue-speaker in chief’. –,12986#.XVAmgX7fqRB.twitter … @IndependentAusFrydenberg caught out on citizenship lieFacts are surfacing about Josh Frydenberg’s mother’s citizenship and the lie he tried to spin.independentaustralia.net3712:35 AM – Aug 12, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy38 people are talking about this

You can follow Dr Jennifer Wilson on her blog No Place for Sheep or on Twitter @NoPlaceForSheep.

Creative Commons Licence

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License





Investigation into the govt agency founded by Angus Taylor, shows “IPFA” is yet to do much apart from overpay associates of Angus. Story by @jommy_tee & @MsVeruca could be script for ABC’s Utopia.

Sleek pay, oblique performance: Angus Taylor’s first government agency, the IPFA

by Jommy Tee | Aug 8, 2019 | BusinessFeaturedGovernment

Sleek pay, oblique performance: Angus Taylor’s first government agency, the IPFA

Artwork by Jonas DeRo. Source:

*When Angus Taylor was first promoted to the ministry as Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation in February 2016, he drew on his wealth of knowledge of consultancies to set up the little-known IPFA, the Infrastructure and Project Financing Agency.

Intrigued by its absence of regular reports, Jommy Tee and Ronni Salt check out this elusive little agency.

The name IPFA sounds a bit like the Nation Building Authority, the fictional agency from the ABC’s satirical comedy series, Utopia but is it as comical or does it have a critical role to play in delivering infrastructure?

No person within the federal ministry knows more about consultancies and performance fees than Angus Taylor.

*The embattled Taylor, before he entered parliament, was associated with the following consultancy firms: McKinsey & Co, Port Jackson Partners, Centaurus Partners, JRAT International. The latter two were not declared to Parliament.

*In addition, as the Watergate imbroglio exposed, Taylor worked as a consultant for Eastern Australia Agriculture and Agricultural Managers Limited (Caymans registered), even though he was also listed as director of these companies at the time.

Angus Taylor was also very familiar with performance fees and had established an elaborate web of companies.

*Performance fees would be paid to companies he had established as the vehicle for his ambitious but unsuccessful attempts to buy Cubbie Station between 2010 to 2012.

*This background is important because when Taylor was promoted to a ministerial position as Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation (February 2016 to December 2017), he drew on his background and in 2017, created one of the least known public sector agencies — the Infrastructure and Project Financing Agency (IPFA).

Tom Burton writing in The Mandarin, a public sector newsletter, believed the idea of the agency was modelled on the British Infrastructure and Projects Authority. In the UK’s case, the authority took commercial funding models and applied them to large scale infrastructure projects, especially transport projects. According to Burton, the approach being championed by Taylor had “been distilled among Port Jackson partners over the last couple of years” Port Jackson Partners being one of Taylor’s previous employers.

“A positive change agent”

So let’s take a look at the agency which Taylor was responsible for injecting into the public service.

IPFA has produced one annual report (2017-18) and a corporate plan (2018-19 to 2021-22). It held a few meetings and done very little else, at least publicly.

*Behind the scenes, who knows what achievements the agency has had as we hear nothing about them. The annual report says they’ve provided much support and assistance to other government departments working on the Inland Rail Project, Western Sydney City Deal and the WestConnex Motorway, among others.

And they’ve done a lot of engagement, heaps of engagement according to IPFA, so much that IPFA “are being recognised as a positive change agent for Australia’s infrastructure sector”.

Organisation of engagement activities

One of IPFA’s key performance indicators (KPI)s contained in its 2017-18 annual report is organising development programs, events and forums. That definitely sounds like engagement.

*The solitary annual report states IPFA was to run ten forums with a targeted 75 per cent satisfaction rating being its KPI. IPFA’s annual report says “IPFA did not seek or receive any specific feedback on its knowledge-sharing activities”. Perhaps people just forgot to action this item. It was hardly an auspicious start for a fledgling organisation priding itself on engagement activities.

Despite that glitch, IPFA is a remarkable agency. It is small in staff numbers (approximately 20 people) but boasting two offices: Sydney and Canberra.

It is a workplace where the “salaries” for key executives are investment-banker-like and are based on fee-for-service for at least three of the managing directors that sit below the CEO.

It has high finance pretensions for a small government agency. Taylor would be proud. Utopia’s Nation Building Authority would be proud too.

*Its small size and obscurity means IPFA seldom faces scrutiny.

Engaging origination and development of remuneration

IPFA started life when Angus Taylor appointed an interim CEO to get the agency up and running. John O’Neil, who has an investment banking background, was appointed to head up the agency in June 2017. O’Neil was paid approximately $195,000 for six months work. Although he did advise Senate estimates on 23 October 2017 that he would be a candidate for the top job, alas, O’Neil was unsuccessful. Leilani Frew, formerly from NSW Treasury, was appointed as full-time CEO in December 2017.

It’s not unusual for handover to occur when an interim CEO passes the baton to the new permanent CEO. What is unusual is that O’Neil was paid $64,000 to perform that role for six weeks over the period January to February 2018. That’s good money for having a fireside chat with the new CEO, or as it’s officially been listed — “transitional support to new CEO”.

It must have been a fruitful, if lengthy, discussion, because O’Neil was able to acquire a contract to work for IPFA and provide “professional services” for $298,000 for the period March 2018 to end of February 2019. The contract was awarded as a result of a “limited tender”.

O’Neil is, indeed, a busy man and in such demand that he continued to pick up contracts at a drop of a hat, albeit not with IPFA, but predominantly with Mathias Cormann’s Department of Finance — the very department charged with overseeing the judicious expenditure of government monies on contracts.

The use of “limited tenders” is usually frowned upon by the bean-counters in the Finance Department but remarkably, since June 2018, John O’Neil has snagged three contracts valued in total at $489,000.

Two of these contracts are again “limited tender” and the other one was a “pre-qualified tender”. The pre-qualified tender contract started life originally as a $52,800 contract that was amended to eventually to reach $217,800. Public information as to value-for-money is not available.

*The advice that O’Neil appears to be providing is associated with government business enterprises (GBEs) such as NBN, Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), Western Sydney Airport, Snowy Hydro, Moorebank Intermodal Terminal and Defence Housing Australia (DHA).

Better than Newstart

Not content with all these contracts and obviously working simultaneously for the IPFA and the Department of Finance, John O’Neil was awarded another contract. Again as a “limited tender”– this time by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade – to provide advice on development finance. What started off as a contract for $165,000 ballooned out to $335,500 through a contract variation and extension.

What was good for the former interim IPFA CEO, also appears to be fair cop for three of the appointed managing directors of IPFA.

Bear in mind that under the IPFA organisational structure, the CEO is supported by five managing directors. Three of these were appointed from the private sector and they have non-standard remuneration conditions.

The three managing directors are: Rob Ritchie,  Chris Allen; and Catherine Black. The first two were appointed under Angus Taylor’s watch. Responsibility for IFPA moved in December 2017 to infrastructure minister and part-time Elvis impersonator, Michael McCormack.

The first IPFA managing director

*Rob Ritchie was appointed to IPFA in September 2017, while Angus Taylor was running the show, having previously come from a legal background working for Ashurst. Ritchie went to the University of Sydney and studied both economics and law over the period 1986 to 1989. Remarkably, Angus Taylor studied economics and law at the University of Sydney from 1986 to 1993.

*Those familiar with #Watergate will also recall that Ashurst is the same firm that Angus Taylor deployed to put out a statement on his behalf to deny that he had received any payment associated with the controversial $80 million water buyback.

Ritchie has been fortunate to be awarded two contracts by IPFA — both through “limited tender”. The “professional services” that Ritchie delivers to IPFA come at the price of $298,300 for 12 months’ work from October 2017, and an additional $397,210 for 12 months’ work commencing August 2018.

The second IPFA managing director

This brings us to the second managing director, Chris Allen, who was also appointed in September 2017. Allen comes from an infrastructure financing background being a director, together with his partner Donna Allen, at Rhumbline Advisory Pty Ltd.

IPFA does not directly pay Allen. However, IPFA has awarded two contracts to Rhumbline Advisory Pty Ltd. You guessed it – again under “limited tender” – for “economic evaluation of projects”. The terms and payments under those contracts are remarkably similar to those received by Chris Allen’s IPFA associate, Rob Ritchie.

For the 12 month period commencing September 2017, Rhumbline Advisory was paid $285,000. In addition, for the 12 month period commencing July 2018, Rhumbline Advisory was paid $379,500.

The third IPFA managing director

The final managing director, Catherine Black, is an ex Queensland Treasury Corporation director. Black is a bit of a johnny-come-lately being the newest appointed director of IPFA. Her appointment commenced in September 2018, under Michael McCormack’s watch.

IPFA does not pay her directly either, instead it pays Noir No 64 Pty Ltd; not an alluring perfume but rather a company, a company which was awarded a “limited tender” contractof $379,500 for the “economic evaluation of projects”. The contract term is for one year, commencing September 2018.

It is unusual for a newly-formed company such as Noir No 64 Pty Ltd, which only registered for business in July 2018, to win a contract of that size.

It’s even more remarkable that the IPFA would know of its existence.

The mystery can, of course, be explained by the fact that Noir No 64 Pty Ltd only has one director: Catherine Black. See details of the company here.

For the record, the chief executive of IPFA, Leilani Frew, is paid in the old school, traditional manner receiving an annual salary of $372,890 plus a fixed annual loading of $75,000.

As we move into August and September 2019 – the expiry date for the contracts of the three IPFA managing directorsit will be interesting to see whether new “limited tender” contracts will be issued.

*IPFA is a unique agency. It has no visible achievements, although the management team is paid handsomely, and some in an unusual fashion.

This is the legacy of Angus Taylor’s time at the helm when he was Assistant Minister for Digital Transformation and Cities. Things change though. Given the substantial remuneration for Key Management Personnel at IPFA, and the time the KMP have now had to engage in the achievement of their Key Performance Indicators, the best may be yet to come.

On the other hand, it may not.


Jommy Tee and Ronni Salt

Jommy Tee is a long-time career public servant, having worked in the policy development field for 25+ years as well as an independent researcher interested in politics, current affairs, and Nordic noir.

Ronni Salt is also an independent researcher, who comes from the land and has  an interest in politics and current affairs. The identities of the authors are known to the editors of this publication.

You can follow Jommy Tee and Ronni Salt on Twitter  @Jommy_Tee and @MsVeruca.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Taylor-underwater-SMALL-1.jpg




AUSTRALIAN CONSTITUTION ….there’s more to Section 44

“Grubby” politicians change laws to prevent being kicked out of parliament

By Unconventional Economist in Australian Politics

at 1:15 pm on August 8, 2019 | 27 comments

No wonder trust in Australia’s politicians and institutions is at an historical low. From 10 daily:

Labor and Coalition politicians stitched up a deal to protect themselves from being kicked out of Parliament.

In April, in the dying hours of the last Parliament, with the Federal Budget being debated and the election about to be called, Labor and Coalition politicians got the deal done.

Labor senator Deb O’Neill said the elimination of 15 MPs and Senators over citizenship issues had “plagued this Parliament and this democracy.”

But the solution agreed with the Coalition essentially sidelines the High Court, not just on citizenship but on every other Constitutional ground for politicians to be disqualified.

“Basically it’s another grubby deal between the Government and the Opposition to protect their own in the Parliament,” independent MP Andrew Wilkie told 10 News First.

Section 44 and 45 of the Constitution disqualify people from Parliament on a range of grounds, including foreign citizenship, being bankrupt, having pecuniary interests involving Commonwealth funds and being a criminal subject to up to a year in jail.

The changes, snuck through on April 3 and 4, effectively prevent any shrewd politician from being thrown out on those grounds.

No longer can Parliament directly refer ineligible MPs and Senators to the High Court for judgement. They must now be referred to the House of Representatives’ Privileges Committee or the Senate equivalent…

Without a High Court judgement, the suspect politician can remain in Parliament.

“I think that’s a very significant development in this country when parliamentarians think they can sideline the High Court,” Wilkie said.

It’s time to drain the swamp!





Kenneth Hayne made a series of recommendations about how to clean up Australia's banking system.

Kenneth Hayne sure doesn’t like Josh Recessionberg

By Houses and Holes in Australian Politics

August 8, 2019 | 46 comments

And why would he? Via Domain:

In his first public statement since handing down the findings of the financial services probe in February, Justice Hayne contrasted the independent and transparent nature of royal commissions against the “opaque” and “skewed” decisions of politicians influenced by those “powerful enough to lobby governments behind closed doors”.

“The increasingly frequent calls for royal commissions in this country cannot, and should not, be dismissed as some passing fad or fashion,” he said.

“Notice how many recent inquiries relate to difficult issues of public policy: how can we, how should we, look after the aged? How can we, how should we, respond to mental health?

“We need to grapple closely with what these calls are telling us about the state of our democratic institutions.

“Trust in all sorts of institutions, governmental and private, has been damaged or destroyed.”

Alas, yes. When we began MB in 2011, there was still some policy integrity. We have been shocked beyond shock ever since at the decline and fall therein.

That this has been largely a period of LNP Governments is probably not coincidental. That party has been swept away in a tide of ideological lunacy that can best be described as an outright scab grab for public funds.

Labor is not blameless. It began the rot with the post-GFC bailouts, mining and carbon tax disasters and invention of the “Big Australia” concept.

But the Coalition has taken all four to such extremes that the notion of “public good” or even “national interest” is today meaningless.

Then there is poor old Josh Recessionberg, who could smile under wet cement and explain how 1+1=7 without breaking stride, and whose crowning achievement is a singular determination is to undo Kenneth Hayne’s good work by restoring mortgage fraud to re-inflate the property bubble:

It’s no wonder Kenneth Hayne doesn’t like the bloke.




COAL RESEARCH GROUP turns hand to advertising in bid to make Australians ‘feel proud’ about rock

The sort of organisations and people that the truth is up against …

-is it akin to those who worked for (and some still are) Big Tobacco?

-is it about creative methods of PR and image and to hell with the truth?

-are the same sort of people engaged in this also found working in the background for developers?

Coal research group turns hand to advertising in bid to make Australians ‘feel proud’ about rock

By Stephen Long

Updated about 10 hours ago

A reclaimer places coal in stockpiles at the coal port in Newcastle, Australia

PHOTO: COAL21 says it wants to enhance “the public standing and reputation of Australia’s coal industry”. (Reuters: Daniel Munoz)

RELATED STORY: Secret industry report shows mining’s reputation is in the pits because of coal

RELATED STORY: BHP set to leave World Coal Association, threatens Minerals Council withdrawal

RELATED STORY: Coal-fired power station lobbied Environment Minister for help, FOI documents reveal

An organisation set up to research low-emission coal technologies is funding a multi-million-dollar media campaign aimed at making Australians feel “proud about coal”, according to advertising industry insiders.

Key points:

  • A research organisation established to develop low-carbon emission coal is spending millions in a pro-coal advertising blitz
  • COAL21 is closely linked to the Minerals Council of Australia ,which in turn is largely funded by mining companies
  • BHP has endured a testy relationship with the Minerals Council over its advocacy of coal-fired power, with the big miner preferring to promote “decarbonising the economy”

COAL21 — established 15 years ago to research carbon capture and storage (CCS) — intends to roll out the campaign across media platforms including television, digital, print, radio and social media next month.

It is planning a $4 million to $5 million media spend, say people familiar with the issue.

COAL21 denies the advertising blitz is part of a back-door lobbying effort to swing public sentiment in favour of continued use of coal-fired power and expanded coal use, which would put it at odds with BHP, one of COAL21’s major funders.

“We are not sure exactly what the focus of it is to be,” COAL21’s chief executive officer Mark McCallum told the ABC.

“[But it will be] CCS sort of technologies.

“What [the public] want more information about is what the industry is doing to lower its emissions.”

Yet carbon capture and storage does not rate a mention in a document sent to creative agencies and media production companies outlining the brief.

‘Soft converters’ targeted

Instead, it describes the campaign effort as “part of maintaining and enhancing the public standing and reputation of Australia’s coal industry and Australian mining more generally” as well as “rebutting false campaigns by activist groups and optimising opportunities”.

The “referral for proposal” sent to agencies, and obtained by the ABC, says the campaign “is targeted at men aged 18 to 39 and women aged 40 and over — ‘soft converters’ identified by previous research as having limited information about the Australian coal industry and open to being convinced of its future role”.

It includes a link to a current TV commercial featuring mining engineer “Raelene”, which advocates that new-generation coal-power plants with higher efficiency and lower emissions be built in Australia.

While it was issued under the banner of COAL21, the PDF sent to agencies was actually created by an executive assistant to the chief executive of the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA), the main lobby group for the Australian coal industry, the document’s properties show.DOCUMENT PAGES TEXT Zoom

«Page 1 of  2»

Close ties

The two organisations have close ties.

COAL21’s Mr McCallum is also employed as the general manager of climate and energy at the Minerals Council.

The link between the powerful coal lobby group and a foundation which ostensibly exists to research ways to cut carbon emissions is drawing fire from critics.

“COAL21 is now essentially the MCA’s advertising department,” said Dan Gocher, director of climate and environment at the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility, a pressure group which campaigns for corporations to address environmental and climate concerns.

“There is no effective separation between the two organisations, and the MCA’s fingerprints are all over this pro-coal advertising campaign.”

COAL21 attracted controversy after money that detractors say was intended for research on “clean coal” technology was channelled into a multi-million-dollar lobbying and pre-election advertising campaign under the banner “Coal. It’s an amazing thing”.

A change to COAL21’s mandate allowed it to use funds originally meant for researching low-emission coal technology to fund “coal promotion”.

A carbon capture and storage plant

PHOTO: COAL21 was originally established to fund research into “clean” coal technology, such as carbon capture and storage. (Supplied: COAL21)

‘Simple emotional campaign’

Its latest campaign follows on the heels of BHP’s major strategy announcement on “decarbonising” aimed at addressing greenhouse gas emissions within and beyond its operations through a $400 million program.

BHP — which part funds COAL21 through a levy on coal producers — has had serious rifts with the Minerals Council over its advocacy of coal-fired power in recent years.

A company spokesman said BHP was comfortable about COAL21’s multi-million-dollar media blitz after being assured it would be a public information campaign about carbon capture and storage.

But the ABC been told that, although carbon capture and storage and low emissions technology were touched upon, they were not the focus when media and creative agencies were briefed on COAL21’s requirements.

“They wanted a simple emotional campaign to make people feel good about continued use of coal [for generating electricity],” one industry insider said.

A staffer at one creative agency staffer made notes during a meeting which record that COAL21 sought a campaign that would “invoke national pride” about Australian coal.YOUTUBE: Coal21 video

Representatives from both COAL21 and the Minerals Council of Australia attended meetings to outline what was needed from the campaign, the ABC has been told.

BHP support questioned

Mr Gocher said BHP should withdraw its support for COAL21’s advertising.

“While BHP positions itself as a climate champion, it continues to fund coal propaganda campaigns through COAL21,” he said.

“COAL21’s latest multi-million-dollar effort to improve public sentiment towards the coal industry is at odds with BHP’s oft-repeated expectation that its industry associations’ advocacy be ‘technology neutral’, not to mention its CEO’s public acknowledgement that we are approaching a climate crisis.”

COAL21 appears to be relying on feedback from market research to frame the campaign.

It has contracted market research firm JWS to “have input into the themes and direction of creative executions” and “test any creative concepts and executions through qualitative research”, the document sent to agencies says.

PWC partner Russel Howcroft — a veteran advertising expert who rose to public prominence as a panellist on the ABC TV program The Gruen Transfer — has been hired as a “creative consultant” by COAL21.





IS this what it is about … ensuring a trade surplus returns the budget to a surplus no matter what?

SO it seems we will have …

-shrinking expenditures on just about every non essential items
-only defence, homeland security and some expenditures specifically dedicated to rural concerns will be exempt from strict controls on spending 
-recent tax cuts will make these tactics imperative because total tax receipts are also at risk due to other headwinds facing the broader economy 
-have our pollies put in place the ingredients for a future perfect storm?


Trade surplus record papers over Australia’s worrying domestic economic trends

By business reporter Michael Janda

Tuesday 6 August 2019

Iron ore drops from a conveyor belt into the hatch of a ship at the FMG port at Port Hedland.

PHOTO: A 5 per cent increase in metal ore sales was the biggest contributor to the rising exports. (ABC Rural: Eliza Wood)

RELATED STORY: Iron ore boom delivers a record $5.7b trade surplus

RELATED STORY: Rate cut and trade war wrongfoot the markets (again)

Australia has posted its biggest trade surplus on record and is on track to post its first current account surplus since Gough Whitlam was prime minister.

Key points:

  • Australia posted its biggest ever monthly trade surplus in June, at $8.04b, up from the previous record of $6.17b in May
  • The nation is now poised to record a current account surplus for the first time since June 1975
  • A 3.6pc slump in imports boosted the trade surplus cars and planes accounted for much of the fall in imports

In June, Australia sold $8 billion more goods and services to the rest of the world than it imported. That is a whopping $1.8 billion higher than the previous month, which was itself a record trade surplus.

Over the quarter, the trade surplus widened to just under $20 billion, more than $5 billion above the March quarter, and over the year Australia accumulated surpluses totalling almost $50 billion.

As Westpac economist Andrew Hanlan pointed out, the March quarter current account deficit was only $2.9 billion — the lowest in many years — meaning there is a very good chance Australia will post its first current account surplus since the June quarter of 1975, when the June quarter figures come out in a few weeks.

A current account surplus basically means the nation is earning more from overseas than it is paying out.

But, even if it eventuates, Australia’s stay in the black as against the rest of the world looks set to be fleeting.

“Given the terms of trade has only limited upside from here and the income account remains in structural deficit, our expectation is for the current account to return to deficit in the medium term,” JP Morgan’s Tom Kennedy warned.

Although, in the short term, the record trade surplus is likely to stave off any risk that Australia’s economy shrank in the June quarter, with analysts agreeing it will contribute more to GDP than they had previously expected.

EMBED: Imports, exports and trade balance

Iron and coal boost exports

There are no prizes for guessing how Australia is posting record trade surpluses, with surging iron ore prices and shipments of LNG contributing much of the improvement so far this year.

Brazil’s tragedy boosts Australia’s fortunes

Brazil's tragedy boosts Australia's fortunes

The collapse of another tailings dam in Brazil, which has killed hundreds, has also driven iron ore prices to multi-year highs and will boost the profits of Australian miners and taxes to the Federal Government.

Again in June, iron ore and other mineral exports rose 5 per cent, adding a further $554 million to the positive trade balance.

While iron ore prices have slumped more than 20 per cent in recent weeks, they were higher than June levels for most of July, meaning there is a chance of an even bigger contribution to the next set of trade figures before this effect eases off.

The other big export contributors to the improvement that month were coal (up by 4 per cent, or $232 million) and metals (excluding gold, up 21 per cent, adding $230 million).

The biggest fall in exports was in rural goods, which dropped 4 per cent, led by a 36 per cent ($207 million) slump in grains, due to the drought conditions persisting across much of the country.

As Citi’s economists noted, this export growth has come despite a trade war raging between China and the US.

What next in the US-China trade fight?

What next in the US-China trade fight?

The US has now declared China is a “currency manipulator” — but what does that mean and what effect will it have on the trade war?

“The record run of Australian trade surpluses has occurred despite Australia’s largest export partner and most important strategic partner engaging in a trade war,” Citi’s Josh Williamson said.

“Australia is also exporting more to both nations. In original terms, exports to China increased by 5.9 per cent month-on-month and 35 per cent year-on-year, while exports to the US increased by 9.9 per cent and 15 per cent, respectively.”

JP Morgan believes the trade war has actually boosted Australia’s export performance, with this the 18th consecutive monthly trade surplus.

“Since the first round of tariffs was implemented in March 2018 Australia’s external sector has strengthened,” Mr Kennedy said.

“With local government infrastructure likely to be an important part of any further stimulus offset, we retain the view that the US-China trade conflict will have only a limited impact on the external sector.”

Concerning import fall

However, while a 1.4 per cent rise in exports overall boosted the surplus, a 3.6 per cent slump in imports contributed more than twice as much to the improvement in the trade balance.

On the one hand, the decline in imports may be a sign that the lower dollar is causing people to buy Australian.

The other more concerning, and more likely, explanation is that the import slump simply reflects the fact that Australians are cutting back on spending in general.

That is reflected in a 5 per cent drop in consumption good imports, which boosted the trade surplus by $450 million.

According to the Bureau of Statistics, more than half of this decline in imports was due to “non-industrial transport equipment” — cars and bikes — which fell 13 per cent, or $260 million.

This is further confirmation of a very weak trend in new car sales that has persisted for many months.

It is terrible news for car dealers, but not necessarily so bad for the economy now that all the nation’s cars are imported.

Camry in a coal mine?

Camry in a coal mine?

Are plunging car sales a harbinger of economic doom or a shock-absorber for more labour-intensive parts of the economy?

Much more concerning was a 9 per cent ($600 million) slump in capital goods imports.

This is the machinery and equipment that firms import to assist in their businesses and a fall in this category can signal weakness in investment and expansion, ultimately meaning lower economic and employment growth.

The good news in the June figures was that the very volatile (because each one is so expensive) civil aircraft sector fell 46 per cent, accounting for $307 million of the drop, with industrial transport equipment accounting for most of the rest ($213 million).

The volatile nature of some of these factors also means it is possible that June 2019 was as good as Australia’s trade surplus gets for quite a while, but while it lasts it is a welcome fillip for an economy that is generally otherwise spluttering.

Iron ore drops from a conveyor belt into the hatch of a ship at the FMG port at Port Hedland.





ANALYSIS of how the NBN plan was to roll out fibre to almost every premise in the country … but what has been built is a slower, far more complex network

… perhaps the first mistake was HOWARD government’s decision to privatise TELSTRA

…under the ABBOTT government the deal with Telstra was renegotiated to $11Bn to include older technologies incl. hybrid fibre coaxial cable … it will need to be upgraded to a finished standard …

AND the SCOMO Govt ought carry the can and write down the value of the NBN by some $20Bn!


NBN fix involves a $20 billion write-down of the project that would hurt Morrison Government surplus goal

By business editor Ian Verrender

5 AUGUS 2019

NBN Connection Box

PHOTO: The NBN is currently a high-cost monument to the pitfalls of Government-run infrastructure projects. (ABC Radio Adelaide: Malcolm Sutton)

RELATED STORY: Internet ‘prices will have to go up’ if NBN doesn’t cut access costs, says Telstra boss

RELATED STORY: NBN write-down ‘inevitable’, warns ratings agency S&P

John Howard spawned the idea, Kevin Rudd forced it into existence, Tony Abbott wanted to throttle it, Malcolm Turnbull saved it from almost certain death and now Scott Morrison will have to carry the can for it.

As a cautionary tale of the potentially caustic brew that can result from the intersection of government and investment, politicians and infrastructure, the National Broadband Network has it all.

What should have been a landmark project that projected Australian telecommunications into the modern era has turned into a decade-long debacle, marked by political infighting and cheap point-scoring.

After a series of roll-out miscalculations, what will be delivered on completion next year will be an expensive, sub-standard product incorporating a mix of retrograde technologies with higher running costs that, ultimately, will require a great deal more investment.

A side-on shot of Scott Morrison speaking.

PHOTO: Scott Morrison will now have to carry the can for the NBN. (AAP: Joel Carrett)

It also should sound a warning to those increasingly urgent calls for government to quickly ramp up infrastructure projects; to soak up workers as the residential construction boom rapidly comes to an end.

Without independent oversight and bipartisan political support, even the best-intentioned projects can end up a compromised, overpriced mess.

Is there a fix for the NBN?

*There is. But it involves a write-down of the project of up to $20 billion. Politically, that’s an unpalatable solution and one that would blow a massive hole in the Morrison Government’s surplus ambitions.

It would add to national debt and be counted in the budget’s headline position.

While it wouldn’t affect the underlying cash balance — the commonly reported budget measure — a loss of that magnitude couldn’t be ignored. Hence the Government’s determination to resist any such move.

Telstra’s role in the mess

Telstra boss Andy Penn has stepped up the pressure on the NBN in the past fortnight, accusing the carrier of offering one of the most expensive fixed-line broadband services in the world, a claim rejected by his NBN counterpart Stephen Rue.

You don’t need an accounting degree to figure who’s correct. Anyone who has signed up to the NBN — even those with fibre-to-the-kerb (or curb as the NBN ironically calls it) — can quickly identify its two distinctive features.

It’s more expensive than the old ADSL service it replaced, and, at least in the experience of your columnist, it’s often no faster.

But it’s disingenuous for Mr Penn to sheet the blame home to the NBN, especially given Telstra’s role in this sad and sorry tale.

Why 5G won’t kill the NBN
Telstra and other telcos are planning a massive rollout of their latest 5G mobile networks, but analysts say they won’t make broadband obsolete.

Under American expat Sol Trujillo, Telstra spent years actively undermining both the Howard and Rudd governments’ plans for a fibre optic cable rollout.

*Perhaps the first mistake was the Howard government’s decision to privatise Telstra but leave it in control of the fixed line telephone network, which competitors had to rent at wholesale prices.

That wasn’t an issue until Mr Trujillo’s arrival. Telstra seized upon its monopoly position, to the point where more than half of all Federal Court cases were disputes between Telstra, its commercial rivals and the competition regulator.

The company even launched legal action against former communications minister Helen Coonan and thwarted every effort from the Howard and then Rudd government — which went to the 2007 election with a national broadband policy — to build a new network.

*In frustration, Mr Rudd and his then-communications minister Stephen Conroy delivered an ultimatum; co-operate or have the fixed line network confiscated.

From that moment on, the NBN became a political football as the Opposition trained its sights on the project.

Telstra chief executive Andy Penn wears a black suit and speaks at a lectern.

PHOTO: Andy Penn has stepped up the pressure on the NBN in the past two weeks. (AAP: Bianca de Marchi)

Telstra backed down and a humiliated Mr Trujillo headed home. Ultimately, however, the government still had to deal with Telstra given it owned the ducts, pipes and connections essential for the new cable.

*In 2011, Mr Trujillo’s replacement, David Thodey, struck an incredible deal; $9 billion that would be paid in instalments as Telstra’s fixed line customers migrated across to the NBN.

*Three years later, under the Abbott government, it was renegotiated to $11 billion to include older technologies such as hybrid fibre coaxial cable.

VIDEO: Can the NBN handle our ever-increasing digital appetite? (7.30)

*That massive transfer from taxpayers to Telstra shareholders — agreed to by management and voted upon by shareholders — for a century-old network in terminal decline has turbocharged the company’s earnings and lucrative dividend stream ever since. It’s also a factor behind the exorbitant price tag for the rollout and why NBN Co’s business model is broken.

Now, as customers are being switched across to the NBN, the cash deluge is drying up. That hasn’t stopped Telstra management complaining. And little wonder. At the half year result, it slashed the interim dividend as earnings plunged 27 per cent.

*According to Mr Penn, because the NBN is committed to delivering a commercial return to the Federal Government on the massive outlay, it is charging way too much to retailers who then are passing on the costs to consumers.

In that regard, he’s absolutely right.

Who pays for the mistakes?

To get the deal across the line without blowing the budget, the Rudd government came up with a novel idea. It decided to treat the project as a commercial investment rather than a budgetary outlay.

In accountant speak, the NBN is “off balance sheet”. To do this, the Government has tipped in $29.5 billion in equity and handed out a further $19.5 billion as a loan. The incredible shrinking Telstra
Telstra will have shed about half its workforce in just over a decade, but can it shrink its way to greatness?

*The idea was that the money would all be repaid with interest, and perhaps even a profit, as once the thing was up and running, it would be sold to the highest bidder.

*And therein lies the problem. Given it is an investment, the NBN has to earn a commercial return and since the costs have blown out, it has to charge retailers like a wounded bull. They, in turn, pass on those costs to you and me.

*There is almost no debate now about how to fix the problemEveryone from ratings agency S&P to the telcos themselves are demanding the Government write down the value of the NBN by around $20 billion.

*If it did this, the NBN wouldn’t need to charge as much and everyone would be better off.

*There’s just one problem. Given it represents a loss, that $20 billion write-off would be very much on-budget, which essentially means taxpayers rather than NBN users would foot the bill.

*It also would hit the budget bottom line, which explains why the Morrison Government, already facing a slowing economy, will be reluctant to do anything that endangers its promised surplus.

That’s not all

*Mr Rudd estimated the NBN would cost $41 billion. Mr Turnbull, having convinced Mr Abbott it could be built cheaper and quicker, then estimated the Rudd plan would come in at $72 billion.

**The solution? Cut the spend and use a mixture of technologies, some of which had been in place for years.

It’s now projected the total cost will be $51 billion.

*The comparisons, however, are useless because they are for different products. The original plan was to roll out fibre to almost every premises in the country. What’s been built is a slower, far more complex network.

VIDEO: NBN wiring rigged through trees in Sydney (ABC News)

As a result, it is more expensive to run and requires more maintenance, which delivers a lower return. Some premises have fibre running down the street. Some have the new cable ending at the node, the little units on some street corners. Still others use the ageing hybrid coaxial cable.

So, at some stage, it will need to be upgraded, to be built to a finished standard at a substantially higher cost.

In the meantime, it remains a high-cost monument to the pitfalls of government-run infrastructure projects.

NBN Connection Box




Coalition bets anti-union bill on Setka rebuke

Who is John Setka?

NEWSWhile the government argues it needs tough new powers to break up thuggish, militant unions, experts say the average union member is a 50-something woman working in aged care. By Mike Seccombe.

Coalition bets anti-union bill on Setka rebuke

The Morrison government must be thanking its lucky stars for John Setka.

Who would it point to in order to stir support for the latest tranche of proposed anti-union legislation, were it not for Setka?

Perhaps underpaid teachers. Or workers in understaffed aged care facilities. Nurses? The teenagers who serve at McDonald’s?

In his speech introducing the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2019 into parliament, Christian Porter – who is both attorney-general and minister for industrial relations – referred expansively to “organisations” that “have nothing but contempt for the law”, but mentioned only one by name. That was Setka’s – the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMMEU).

And Porter spoke about its “repeated law-breaking” at some length.

“As recently as last month,” he said, “the CFMMEU and its officers faced another fine of over $100,000 for unlawful entries and threats on construction sites. That decision saw them top $4 million worth of court-ordered penalties for the 2018-19 financial year alone.

“In fact, the CFMMEU’s behaviour has been so poor for so long that in 2017, one Federal Court judge described that union as ‘the most recidivist corporate offender in Australian history’. It seems, sadly, little has changed.

“That is why the government is committed to passing this vital legislation, which will take a significant step towards curbing the behaviour we have seen threaten the rule of the law in Australian workplaces,” said Porter.

That was on July 4, and in the weeks since, Porter and others in the government have taken every opportunity to refer to the record of the union, and of Setka in particular. A number of Coalition members have used identical words. On Monday, Nicolle Flint, the Liberal member for Boothby, said:

“John Setka has, to this point, amassed around 59 court convictions for a multitude of offences, including assault police, five times; assault by kicking, five times; wilful trespass, seven times; resisting arrest, five times; theft, attempted theft by deception and intent to coerce, nine times; and coercion, 10 times.”

Setka and the union are no doubt tough nuts, and the government insists it needs tough new measures to crack them.

The proposed laws would not only make it easier for the courts to remove union officials who, as Porter puts it, “flout the law”. They would also make it easier to deregister entire unions or parts of unions that act unlawfully, and for courts to appoint administrators, in cases where “the organisation or part of the organisation has ceased to function effectively”. And they would give the Fair Work Commission the power to veto union amalgamations if they were deemed not to be in the public interest – if, for example, the amalgamating entities had bad records of compliance with the law.

And if you were only considering these proposed changes by reference to Setka and his crew, you might think “fair enough”.

Certainly, Jacqui Lambie, Tasmanian independent and a crucial senate vote, is tempted to think that way. Last week, she told Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) president Michele O’Neil: “you got a problem with the IR bill and it’s called John Setka”. She subsequently told The Sydney Morning Herald that “every day” that Setka continues to hold his job does more harm to the union movement and makes it more likely she will vote with the government.

Setka shows no signs of going – from either the Labor Party, which wants to expel him, or the union. He is fighting the party through the courts, and has won the backing of his members, despite the urging of the ACTU that he should go for the good of the movement.

And that suits the government, which clearly would rather Lambie and other members of the senate crossbench focus on the hard case of Setka, rather than the broader reality, which is that most unions are not like the CFMMEU.UNIONS HAVE BEEN SIGNIFICANTLY WEAKENED, WITH MEMBERSHIP NOW DOWN TO ABOUT 14.7 PER CENT OF THE WORKFORCE AND ONLY 10 PER CENT IN THE PRIVATE SECTOR, SAYS ANTHONY FORSYTH, ALTHOUGH THEY MAINTAIN SIGNIFICANT INFLUENCE IN SOME SECTORS.

As Labor’s industrial relations spokesman Tony Burke put it in his speech on the bill this week, much as the government might seek to characterise the average union member as “a bloke … involved in a blue-collar industry, who gets into lots of fights … the typical union member these days is a woman in aged care.”

Nor, says Dr Jim Stanford, director of the Centre for Future Work at The Australia Institute, are they at all militant. The number of days lost to industrial action has been in steady decline for the past several decades, and now is down more than 95 per cent compared with levels of the 1970s and ’80s. The number of workers involved in disputes is down, and so is the number of working days lost.

“Interestingly, major and long-lasting lockouts (like the 742-day lockout at Esso Longford) make up a growing share of total days lost in work stoppages,” says Stanford. He also notes a “clear correlation” between the historically low levels of employee-initiated industrial action over the past six years with historically low wage growth.

Stanford points to the government’s latest “Trends in Federal Enterprise Bargaining” report, released this week by the Attorney-General’s Department, as confirmation of the weakened position of unions.

The report shows that average annualised wage increases (AAWI) in newly approved agreements continued to fall in the March quarter, across the board – in private-sector deals and even more so in the public sector. Overall, the AAWI fell by 0.1 per cent to 2.7 per cent.

“In all current agreements – rather than just the newly approved ones – the AAWI held steady in the private sector, and slipped slightly in the public sector,” says Stanford.

“Another interesting point is that close to half of all workers covered by newly approved [enterprise agreements] in the March quarter – 45.5 per cent, to be precise – had ‘non-quantifiable’ wage increases. What that means is their wage gains are not specified in the deal, but rather are tied to things like future increases in the minimum wage, or changes in award wages.

“This report clearly confirms that the wage slowdown in Australia is getting worse, not better … [and] that the power of unions to win higher wage increases continues to erode, in the face of employer and government opposition to unions and collective bargaining, and a very hostile legal and regulatory environment.”

Given that Australia now is experiencing the lowest wage growth since World War II, says Stanford, the Morrison government should be endeavouring to raise wages, rather than pushing measures to further curtail union activity.

Burke made the same point in his second-reading speech on the legislation.

At a time when the great economic challenge is to get wages up, when wage theft by employers is a growing problem and real wages are a growing problem, said Burke, the government’s response is “to attack the organisations” that argue for wage increases and defend against wage theft.

Of course, as advocates of the labour movement, Labor would say that. But so do important unaligned voices. It now has been more than two years since the Reserve Bank governor first publicly referred to a “crisis of low pay” and called on workers to push for rises.

How is that to be achieved though, given the already tight constraints on employees’ capacity to bargain?

“People tend to think of Australia as a worker-friendly society,” says Stanford, “perhaps because of cultural markers like the Eureka rebellion, the Harvester decision [which in 1907 established the basis for the minimum wage], or the old Conciliation and Arbitration Commission.

“But it absolutely is not, anymore.

“I can think of no other country in the industrialised world where a union has to jump through so many hoops in order to take industrial action of any kind. No other country where the government tells a union and an employer what’s legitimate to talk about in collective bargaining – this whole ‘legitimate matters’ regime in Australia. No other advanced country where the government has to give permission for a union to reorganise itself.”

He points to a surprising source of support for his argument – the World Economic Forum, an organisation funded by 1000 global private companies, best known for its annual high-level meetings in the Swiss resort town of Davos.

“They are not exactly a group of raving Bolsheviks,” says Stanford. “They have assembled an index of respect for fundamental labour rights, a comparison across countries. They ranked 26 OECD countries. Australia ranked 22nd, just a nose ahead of the United States.”

Anthony Forsyth, professor of workplace law at RMIT University, says a quarter-century of hostility towards unions reached its peak under the Howard government’s Work Choices scheme.

“The Howard government wound back traditional legal supports for unions – rights of entry to workplaces, rights to take industrial action – and took on strong unions like the [Maritime Union of Australia]. It also had the CFMEU in its sights, through the Cole royal commission, resulting in special legislation to impose the rule of law in that industry [and] succeeded in breaking union power through individualised/non-union bargaining in industries like mining.”

And unions have been significantly weakened, with membership now down to about 14.7 per cent of the workforce and only 10 per cent in the private sector, he says, although they maintain significant influence in some sectors, “like construction, education, nursing” and in the Labor Party.

What the Morrison government now proposes, Forsyth says, “will provide new weapons in the armoury of government and employers”.

He cites the example of nurses, concerned about staff–patient ratios.

“The [current] system allows protected industrial action when you’re negotiating a new agreement, so nurses could, for example, have bans on performing particular kinds of work as part of that negotiation,” he says.

If such action is taken outside the protected negotiating period, their employer can apply for orders or injunctions to stop it.

“But if this bill’s passed then there is a new avenue open to that employer: to try and get union officials disqualified from office or, in an extreme case, get the union deregistered.

“Or the government, if it decides it doesn’t want this stuff going on in the public hospital system, could apply as an interested party. Not just to stop the unlawful industrial action, but to have a crack at the right of the union official, the union, to exist at all.”

Forsyth notes the risk to conservative parties of overreach in their eternal battle with organised labour. Work Choices, after all, cost Howard the 2007 election. And he thinks the current government appears to have learnt from that.

“The Howard government, through Work Choices, attacked not just unions, but the rights of individual workers – through individual agreements, through removing unfair-dismissal protections. And that’s why they lost, I think.

“In Australia, for over 100 years, we’ve had a social compact about fairness in the workplace. People might not like unions so much, but they are attached to [the] concept of individual worker rights, and to the notion of an independent umpire.

“The Coalition, still scarred by the [consequences of] that overreach, has not, until now, gone really hard on removing individual workers’ rights. They’ve attacked unions and tried to restrain union power,” he says.

And luckily, they have Setka and the CFMMEU to point to as abusers of that power.

“That’s what they want people to focus on,” says Forsyth.

He says the propensity for construction unions to act in defiance of the law “goes back a long way”. The response of previous governments – starting with the Howard government and continuing in “somewhat diluted form” under Labor – was to set up a specialist regime, under separate legislation with a separate regulator and higher penalties, to deal with it.

“But you have a union that just continues not to care about that and continues to act in defiance of whatever legal restrictions are imposed; well, I honestly don’t know how you deal with that, short of deregistering the union,” he says.

Interestingly, Forsyth believes the CFMMEU could potentially be deregistered under current law “because there are provisions for that where there has been a history of non-compliance.”

That would suggest John Setka is not the reason for the proposed legislation, but the excuse. 

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 3, 2019 as “Coalition bets anti-union bill on Setka rebuke”. Subscribe here.

Mike Seccombe 
is The Saturday Paper’s national correspondent.SHARE