Malcolm Turnbull would say: “It was a West Australian state election; it was fought on state issues. It was decided on state issues and the result was pretty much as had been expected for quite some time.”
However, the Prime Minister’s unhelpful intervention last year didn’t help. He travelled to Western Australia promising that he would fix the GST distribution issue. He left telling disgruntled Sandgropers that more time was needed before their state could receive any more revenue.
That sort of mealy-mouthed non-response was reinforced by Finance Minister Mathias Cormann telling us on the day after the election: “We have to be realistic on what a national government can do in relation to these sorts of issues. (Can he be serious?)
“The timetable is determined by what happens with the GST sharing arrangements moving forward. There is a flow-through effect, principally from the prices for iron ore and the royalty revenue that is generated on the back of iron ore exports.
“That will play out over the next few years and there is an expectation, in the not too distant future, WA’s share of the GST will start increasing again and, if and when that happens, there are certain options available where the floor can be established without actually taking money away from any other state.”
That pitiful explanation surely would have been one reason many West Australians reached for their baseball bats. But Cormann then added: “That is the way it should happen.”
It’s not just his political tin ear that should worry everyone. It is his complete lack of understanding of the damaging economic consequences of the way GST revenue is distributed.
Just to remind you, Western Australia receives only 30c of every dollar of GST revenue raised in the state. Every West Australian hands over $1736 to the other states and territories. By contrast, every South Australian receives a net $1052 and every Tasmanian receives $1953. Every Northern Territorian receives $10,734 while, wait for it, every ACT resident receives $400. That’s right — the place in the country with the highest incomes and the lowest unemployment receives more money than it hands over.
There is no doubt our system of horizontal fiscal equalisation is broken and has been for some time. It is the most extreme version of the principle implemented in any federation in the world. But all that the risible Finance Minister can say is: “That is the way that it should happen.”
Let’s just run through some of the problems with the system whereby the GST revenue is distributed as run by the arcane Commonwealth Grants Commission, a body that deserves abolition.
• The CGC consistently overstates the real tax bases of the donor states by failing to recognise that their high wages are offset by high living costs.
• Instead of thinking about an overall tax base (and capacity to pay) that the states and territories can tap into, the CGC considers each tax separately. There is no consideration of the impact that levying high taxes on one activity has on the scope to levy taxes on other activities.
• The CGC treats mining royalty income as the equivalent of other state recurrent tax income when clearly royalty income is highly dependent on variable, uncontrollable commodity prices.
• The CGC fails to take into account gambling taxes, so states that chose to limit gambling, such as Western Australia, are disadvantaged. This is just wrong.
At its heart, the system disadvantages states such as Western Australia that go to all the trouble of facilitating a mining boom, for example, but see 70 per cent of the proceeds handed to other states that didn’t lift a finger. So states such as South Australia and Tasmania, which deliberately run anti-business strategies — such as ridiculous renewable energy targets — benefit financially notwithstanding.
The idea this system can continue until Western Australia’ s GST share begins to rise — with the recent resurgence in commodity prices, this will not occur before 2020-21 at the earliest — is political nonsense. No doubt, premier-elect Mark McGowan will have a thing or two to say on the matter.
Even if West Australians were to have the patience of Job, the solution offered by Cormann — just wait — is unworkable. What he thinks can happen is that some sort of collar-and-cap can be imposed on GST relativities — say 0.75 to 1.25 — when the West Australian relativity falls within this range. The trouble with this “solution” is what happens to the Northern Territory because its relativity is above 5 and has been for years. Such a collar-and-cap would involve enormous redistribution away from the Territory.
Here’s a hint, Mathias: the system of GST distribution is broken, beyond repair. Busted. The idea that some states can be compensated to deliver the same standard of services to their citizens but are not required to do so must surely make him realise some political courage is required to fix the system now.
He should not think that West Australians have put away their baseball bats. In all likelihood, those bats will be within easy reach at the next federal election.
Social Services Minister Christian Porter said the new data showed that taxpayer-funded benefits could be providing a disincentive to work.
By Sarah Martin The Australian 28 October 2016
Thousands of parents claiming government benefits are financially better off not getting a job, with new figures showing they receive at least $45,000 a year tax-free, more than the take-home pay of most Australian workers.
As the Coalition embarks on an overhaul of the welfare sector, new government data obtained by The Australian reveals that the top 10 per cent of those on parenting benefits, about 43,200 people, received at least $45,032 in 2014-15.
The amount is boosted when families have multiple children and claim a range of government benefits, such as family tax payments and childcare rebates.
Social Services Minister Christian Porter said the new data showed that taxpayer-funded benefits could be providing a disincentive to work — a systemic flaw that required government attention. “Among the many areas that require attention to system design is the fact that the broad generosity of the Australian welfare system manifests more often than people might expect in circumstances where the money people receive in welfare payments is comparable to being employed,” Mr Porter said.
“What is not in any recipients’ best interest is to be deprived of the incentives to reduce income from welfare with income from work.”
The minister, who recently announced that the Coalition will reshape the welfare sector to encourage people into work, said the government had a “moral” responsibility to address welfare dependency.
Under the current system, a single parent with four children who did not work and was not receiving child support income could receive more than $50,000 a year from the government, the equivalent of someone earning $65,000 a year before tax, such as a full-time teacher, nurse or entry-level public servant.
A single parent with four children aged 13, 10, seven and four years, who paid $400 a week in rent without any employment income or child support, would receive a basic parenting payment of $738.50 a fortnight, along with an energy supplement of $12 a fortnight and a pharmaceutical allowance of $6.20 fortnight.
This provides a base payment of $19,728 a year, which would then be augmented by family tax benefits A and B, further supplements for each child and rent assistance, which would pay an extra $32,331 a year.
Finally, energy supplements for each child receiving family tax benefits would total an additional $463 a year, bringing the total take-home pay to $52,523.
According to figures from the Australian National University, the median full-time wage for 2014-15 was $61,300 a year. After tax, this leaves the median wage at $49,831. However, the median overall wage — including part-time workers — was $46,500, which equates to $39,841 as take-home pay after tax.
One of the government’s first steps as it seeks to overhaul the welfare system has been to announce the $96 million “Try, Test, Learn” fund for trials of intervention programs for welfare-dependent young parents, the young unemployed and young carers.
Parents younger than 18 are deemed to be particularly vulnerable to the risk of long-term welfare dependency, with 70 per cent of the 4370 young parents receiving the Parenting Payment in 2014-15 expected still to be on income support in 10 years.
Taxpayers will spend an estimated $191 billion on future welfare payments for all people currently receiving the Parenting Payment, with current recipients having the highest average future lifetime cost of all payment groups, at $441,000 per person.
Young parents are expected to have a higher average future lifetime cost at $547,000 per person.
Mr Porter said the data being collected by the government showed that there must be “better ways” to encourage parents back into the workforce and off government payments.
“It is morally incumbent upon us in that in developing policy … and in making the welfare system fairer we look at mutual obligation and the requirement to prepare for, search for and accept work,” Mr Porter told The Australian.
“We need to find better ways to ensure parents retain current, work-ready skills or develop them even when receiving welfare so they are prepared for and able to accept work when it becomes appropriate for them to do so.”
Government attempts to scale back family tax benefit payments have been largely resisted by Labor and the Senate.
A compromise in the government’s omnibus savings bill this year preserved the energy supplement for current recipients, but reached agreement on a new schedule that limited access to the FTB Part A supplement to those earning less than $80,000 a year.
A Priority Investment report released last month showed that in 2014-15 there were 432,000 people receiving the Parenting Payment, of whom it is estimated that about half will remain on income support after 10 years, and only 22 per cent will have left the welfare system.
The average Parenting Payment in Australia is $29,100, and people can qualify if they have a child younger than six when partnered, or a child younger than eight if single. It is only paid to one member of a couple.
In a speech at the National Press Club last month, Mr Porter warned that without further action Australia’s annual $160 billion welfare bill would top $4.8 trillion for those presently on welfare.
Warning that the system faced having more households drawing income from the national purse, than contributing to it, Mr Porter said it was “like a snake eating its own tail”. “That is to say that it does not work so well after about halfway,” he said.
Economists call it the impact of high effective marginal tax rates. It’s a fancy way of saying that, for some welfare recipients, work doesn’t pay.
The combination of relatively generous welfare payments (particularly if there are several dependent children), the withdrawal of payments if work is undertaken and the payment of tax means that adults in some families, particularly single parent ones, are better off staying on welfare than getting a job.
Ten per cent of people on parenting benefits, more than 400,000 people, each received more than $45,000 in benefits in 2014-15. This is well above the fulltime minimum wage, which is $35,000. Throw in receipt of the childcare subsidy for which no activity test applies and these parents don’t even have to spend much of their time looking after the children.
Many of those on single parenting benefits, particularly if they are accessed from a young age, will be in receipt of welfare payments even after their children have grown up.
The truth is that being out of the workforce does them no favours, nor their children. There is clear evidence of intergenerational transmission of disadvantage. The government is right to try to break this cycle, including assisting welfare recipients to become job-ready.
There are lessons the government could learn from Britain and New Zealand. In Britain, one principle is that no one can be better off on welfare compared with having a fulltime low wage job. There are limits on the number of children for whom benefits are paid.
New Zealand policy has a mixture of carrots and sticks. Early intervention in cases known to be associated with long-term welfare dependence is a hallmark of the policy.
For Australia, this is not just an economic imperative, it is also a moral one. Redesigning welfare payments is complex but the key is to ensure that work, not welfare, pays.
Real environmental problems are being neglected: picking through the detritus left behind by Cyclone Haima at Manila Bay on Thursday.
Matt Ridley 22 Oct 2016 The Australian
After covering global warming debates as a journalist on and off for almost 30 years, with initial credulity, then growing scepticism, I have come to the conclusion that the risk of dangerous global warming, now and in the future, has been greatly exaggerated while the policies enacted to mitigate the risk have done more harm than good, both economically and environmentally, and will continue to do so. And I am treated as some kind of pariah for coming to this conclusion. Increasingly, many people would like to outlaw, suppress, prosecute and censor all discussion of what they call “the science” rather than engage in debate. We’re told that it’s impertinent to question “the science” and that we must think as we are told. But arguments from authority are the refuge of priests.
These days there is a legion of climate spin doctors. Their job is to keep the debate binary: either you believe climate change is real and dangerous or you’re a denier who thinks it’s a hoax. But there’s a third possibility they refuse to acknowledge: that it’s real but not dangerous. That’s what I mean by lukewarming, and I think it is by far the most likely prognosis.
I am not claiming that carbon dioxide is not a greenhouse gas; it is. I am not saying that its concentration in the atmosphere is not increasing; it is. I am not saying the main cause of that increase is not the burning of fossil fuels; it is. I am not saying the climate does not change; it does. I am not saying that the atmosphere is not warmer today than it was 50 or 100 years ago; it is. And I am not saying that carbon dioxide emissions are not likely to have caused some (probably more than half) of the warming since 1950. I agree with the consensus on all these points.
Some of my scientific friends accuse me of inconsistently agreeing with the scientific consensus that genetic modification of crops is safe and beneficial, but refusing to agree with the scientific consensus that climate change is dangerous. I agree with the scientific consensus on GM crops not because it is a consensus but because I’ve looked at sufficient evidence. There is no consensus that climate change is going to be dangerous. Even the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says there is a range of possible outcomes, from harmless to catastrophic. I’m in that range: I think the top of that range is very unlikely. But the IPCC also thinks the top of its range is very unlikely.
Besides, consensus is a reasonable guide to data about the past but is no guide to the future and never has been. In non-linear systems with feedbacks, like economies or atmospheres, experts are notoriously bad at forecasting events. There is no such thing as an expert on the future.
It is undeniable that the climate models have failed to get global warming right. As the IPCC has confirmed, for the period since 1998, “111 of the 114 available climate-model simulations show a surface warming trend larger than the observations”. That is to say there is a consensus that the models are exaggerating the rate of global warming.
The warming has so far resulted in no significant or consistent change in the frequency or intensity of storms, tornadoes, floods, droughts or winter snow cover. The death toll from droughts, floods and storms has been going down dramatically. Not because weather has got safer, but because of technology and prosperity.
As two climate scientists, Richard McNider and John Christy, have put it, “We might forgive these modellers if their forecasts had not been so consistently and spectacularly wrong. From the beginning of climate modelling in the 1980s, these forecasts have, on average, always overstated the degree to which the Earth is warming compared with what we see in the real climate.”
In 1990, the first IPCC assessment predicted a temperature increase of 0.3C per decade (with an uncertainty range of 0.2C to 0.5C). In fact in the 2½ decades since, even though emissions have risen faster than in the business-as-usual scenario, the temperature has risen at an average rate of about 0.15C per decade based on surface measurements, or 0.12C per decade based on satellite data; that is, less than half as fast as expected and below the bottom of the uncertainty range!
What about 2015 and 2016 both being record hot years? Well, because of the massive El Nino, the HADCRUT4 surface temperature line just about inched up briefly in early 2016 into respectable territory in among the lower half of the model runs for a few months before dropping back out again. That’s all.
So why is the atmosphere not doing what it is told? Actually it is. These results are precisely in line with the physics of the greenhouse effect. A doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere cannot on its own produce dangerous warming. The sensitivity of the atmosphere to CO2 is about 1.2C per doubling. That is the consensus, spelled out clearly (if obscurely) by the IPCC several times over the years. And that’s what we are on course for at the moment.
So what is the problem? Well, the theory of dangerous climate change depends on a whole extra step in the argument — the supposed threefold amplification of carbon dioxide’s warming potential, principally by extra water vapour released into the atmosphere by a warming ocean, and accumulating at high altitudes. And the evidence for that is much more shaky.
Recent attempts to measure the sensitivity of the climate system to carbon dioxide using real data nearly all find that it is much lower than the models assume. So, if it’s consensus that floats your boat, there is an emerging consensus from observational estimates that climate sensitivity is low.
What’s more, all the high estimates of warming are based on an economic and demographic scenario called RCP 8.5, which is a very unrealistic one. It assumes that population growth stops decelerating and speeds up again.
It assumes that trade and innovation largely cease. It assumes that the ability of the oceans to absorb CO2 fails. It assumes that despite all this the income of the average person trebles. And most absurd of all, it assumes that we go back to using coal for almost everything, including to make motor fuel, so that by 2100 we are using 10 times as much coal as we are today. In short, it is a barking mad scenario.
It is beyond question that global warming has generated enormous research funds, measured in many billions, that this has stimulated all sorts of scientists, from botany to psychiatry, to link their work to climate change, and that almost none of this money flows to those with sceptical views.
As the distinguished NASA climate scientist Roy Spencer has written, “If you fund scientists to find evidence of something, they will be happy to find it for you. For over 20 years we have been funding them to find evidence of the human influence on climate. And they dutifully found it everywhere, hiding under every rock, glacier, ocean, and in every cloud, hurricane, tornado, raindrop, and snowflake. So, just tell scientists 20 per cent of their funds will be targeted for studying natural sources of climate change. They will find those, too.”
Suppose I am right and our grandchildren find that we were greatly exaggerating the risks, and underestimating the benefits of CO2. Suppose they do indeed experience carbon dioxide levels of 600 parts per million or more, but do not experience dangerous global warming, or more extreme weather, just a mild and decelerating increase in global average temperatures, especially at high latitudes, at night and in winter, accompanied by spectacular global greening and less water stress for both people and crops.
Does it matter that our politicians panicked in the early 2000s? Surely better safe than sorry? Here’s why it matters. Our current policy carries not just huge economic costs, which hit the poorest people hardest, but huge environmental costs too. We are encouraging forest destruction by burning wood, ethanol and biodiesel. We are denying poor people the cheapest forms of electricity, which forces them to continue relying on wood for fuel, at great cost to their health.
We are using the landscape, the rivers, the estuaries, the hills, the fields for making energy, when we could be handing land back to nature, and relying on forms of energy that nature does not compete for — fossil and nuclear.
But there is a further reason why it matters. Real environmental problems are being neglected. The emphasis on climate change as the pre-eminent environmental threat means that we pay too little attention to the genuine environmental problems in the world, things like overfishing and invasive species.
And here is the maddest thing of all. Current policy is not even achieving decarbonisation. In 2012 Bjorn Lomborg calculated that 20 years of climate policy had reduced global emissions by less than 1 per cent. During that time the world had spent more than a trillion dollars to subsidise wind and solar power, yet between them they had still not achieved 1 per cent of world energy provision, and had cut emissions by even less.
65 per cent of Americans say their economic system “unfairly favours powerful interests”
Maurice Newman 14 Oct 2016 The Australian
In the late 19th century, Russia’s aristocrats adopted French as their preferred language. While the starving were forced to eat rats, the ruling class merrily decorated palaces in gilt and amber. Unsurprisingly, this splendid isolation resulted in revolutionary change.
In the US, Washington’s understanding of the plight of the average family suggests a similar sense of detachment.
While not eating rats, according to a February survey conducted by the Pew Research Centre 65 per cent of Americans say their economic system “unfairly favours powerful interests”. It is a view that crosses party lines.
Yet, listening to Barack Obama campaigning on behalf of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, those Americans are just whingers. The President boasts of falling poverty rates and rising wages. He claims credit for economic growth. “Thanks, Obama,” he yelled, should anybody miss his genius. But a stump speech is one thing. In reality, racial division and the gap between rich and poor in the US has widened more under Obama than under any other president.
What he didn’t say is that real median household income is lower today than in 2007 and remains lower than the peak reached in the 1990s.
Actual unemployment is nearer 10 per cent than the advertised 5 per cent, and home ownership is the lowest since 1951.
This attrition of the middle class continues to leave behind increasing numbers of average Americans.
If the people on the street are hostile, Obama’s preferred successor, “business as usual” political insider Clinton, is the ruling class’s favourite.
Many senior Republicans prefer her and are united in their disdain for the blunt, vulgar, anti-establishment and erratic political outsider Donald Trump, who disrespects women and whose policies they fear will upset their supporters’ taxpayer-subsidised apple carts.
After the weakest expansion in history, the US economy is again slipping into recession.
Manufacturing capacity utilisation remains below 75 per cent. Profits have been in retreat for six straight quarters and show no sign of improving. Wage growth is slowing, productivity is down and gross domestic product growth for the past three quarters is the lowest outside of recession. Forecasts continue to be downgraded.
According to the Heritage Foundation, “over the last 10 years, federal government spending has been at the highest level it has ever been in American history”. Eleven states have more people on welfare than are employed. With monetary policy producing no noticeable dividends, Treasury officials will be tempted to run bigger deficits and rack up even more debt.
As Albert Einstein observed, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Not only will the next US president have to deal with social tensions and a weakening domestic and global economy, but a Federal Reserve chairwoman who believes social objectives are part of her role. Having fuelled the dotcom bubble and the subprime crisis, Janet Yellen’s Fed continues on its reckless ways, rewarding speculators and widening inequality as it goes.
The Fed is so in Wall Street’s thrall that keeping the market up has become an unquestioned mandate. No wonder average Americans think the system is rigged against them.
Yet the election campaign, the debates and media coverage scarcely deal with this. They concentrate on sizzle, such as Clinton’s scandalous neglect of national security, the Clinton Foundation pay-to-play allegations and her alleged forked tongue.
But it is Trump’s juvenile objectification of women, his alleged misogyny, racism and bigotry, and refusal to release his tax returns that dominate mainstream media headlines and send the Twittersphere into a twitter. The media and the debate moderators shamelessly favour Clinton.
Whatever the intention, the various claims and counterclaims simply emphasise the unsuitability of both candidates for the role of commander-in-chief. But, short of an unforeseen event, one of them will be president.
There is no doubt the international community would rather deal with a president Clinton than a president Trump.
Trump is seen as unpredictable and the US’s enemies would prefer Clinton who, as former secretary of state, knows how the game is played and will be easier to deal with. The Iranians will certainly prefer her.
A president Trump would renegotiate trade deals and require US allies to contribute more to defence arrangements. A Trump presidency would be more inward looking and less reverential to international bodies such as the UN. At home, he is the only candidate seriously talking cuts to federal spending, reining in the Federal Reserve, eliminating burdensome business regulations, reducing corporate tax rates and enforcing border security.
But the reality is, his economic plan falls short on spending cuts. To quote former director of the Office of Management and Budget, David Stockman, it is a “dog’s breakfast of some plausible ideas (and) really bad fiscal math”.
That said, it promises more hope than Clinton’s proposal, which is right out of an Obama-Bernie Sanders playbook: a mix of status quo and rank populism, including tax cuts for middle-income earners, means-tested “free” tertiary education, increases in the minimum wage and tax hikes for the rich.
Stockman’s overall assessment of the scene is dismal. He says: “After two decades of massive monetary stimulus and monumental expansion of global debt … we are now in the payback cycle.”
He believes “beltway magic has pushed the nation to the fiscal brink” and that “the nation’s sputtering remnant of a capitalist economy will be crushed by the welfare and warfare states on which the imperial city feeds”.
Clinton is a creature of the beltway and offers even more unaffordable magic. Trump is the heretic and only candidate who, given the opportunity, could rein in the corrosive, powerful interests that drive Washington and divide the US.
Voter turnout will be crucial but, despite the deplorable nominees, Trump may still be the US’s better bet.
Pauline Hanson: “Non-custodial parents find it hard to restart their lives, with excessive child support payments that see their former partners live a very comfortable life.”
Fleur Anderson 25 September 2016 Australian Financial Review
The federal government’s independent auditor has flagged an investigation of the $3.5 billion child support system, a move that could provide further ammunition for Pauline Hanson’s claim that the system is unfair to non-custodial parents.
It’s the latest in a push to test the integrity of the child welfare system, which some claim is plagued by rorting by some parents trying to dodge child support payments and some childcare service providers who are blamed for almost $600 million in incorrect government payment claims.
The Australian National Audit Office has listed the child support system as a priority issue for audits for 2016-17 and plans to focus on the arrangements between the Australian Taxation Office and the Department of Human Services.
In the weeks following the federal election, Nationals MPs reported to their partyroom that anger over the child support system was a sleeper issue that risked losing voters to One Nation unless major parties started taking notice.
The accuracy and effectiveness of the child support system is based on parents lodging accurate tax returns to give their assessable taxable income.
In 2014-15, about $3.5 billion was transferred between separated parents to support about 1.2 million children.
In the same year, the ATO and Department of Human Services were behind 65,678 enforcement actions on parents’ tax returns to collect an extra $27.4 million in child support payments.
Another 105,202 tax refunds were intercepted to garnishee $121.5 million in child support.
But fathers’ rights groups and One Nation say the child support system must be overhauled and the formula that dictates the amount of child support payments should be reviewed.
The audit will focus on the effectiveness of the agencies’ enforcement activities, including intercepting tax refunds and reviewing the accuracy of parents’ tax returns.
One Nation leader Senator Pauline Hanson said in her maiden speech this month that some parents were left caring and providing for children without any financial help from the other parent, while others refuse to work altogether to avoid the payments.
“Non-custodial parents find it hard to restart their lives, with excessive child support payments that see their former partners live a very comfortable life.”
An interim audit by the Auditor-General of 21 government departments and agencies – including Education, Communication, Defence, Employment and Defence – for the year to June 30 this year found childcare compliance was the significant adverse problem facing government bookkeepers.
Thanks to a 2013 change to the monitoring of childcare operators, compliance moved from inspections of childcare centres and family daycare operators to asking parents to confirm their child’s attendance in child care.
As a result the potential incorrect payments blew out to an estimated $693 million by June 2015, before being reined in to $587 million this year.
Education minister Simon Birmingham, who now has responsibility for the problem which has switched between the Education department and Social Services since 2014, said recent measures to close loopholes allowing “child swapping” by carers claiming payments has helped stop more than $400 million in suspect claims from being paid.
A $27 million crackdown introduced to Parliament last week explicitly ruled out people claiming childcare subsidies where the care was provided by the child’s own parents in their own homes “or even in the back of the car”.
“These new measures will ensure there are much tighter controls on who cares for our children – it is not good enough that existing rules have been able to be ‘worked around’ and these measures will put a stop to it in the interests of child safety and the protection of taxpayers,” Mr Birmingham said.
Gradually, the masses are realising something is wrong
Maurice Newman 27 September 2016 The Australian
When your news and views come from a tightly controlled, left-wing media echo chamber, it may come as a bit of a shock to learn that in the July election almost 600,000 voters gave their first preference to Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party.
You may also be surprised to know that still deluded conservatives remain disenchanted with the media’s favourite Liberal, Malcolm Turnbull, for his epic fail as Prime Minister, especially when compared with the increasingly respected leader he deposed.
Perhaps when media outlets saturate us with “appropriate” thoughts and “acceptable” speech, and nonconformists are banished from television, radio and print, it’s easy to miss what is happening on the uneducated side of the tracks.
After all, members of the better educated and morally superior political class use a compliant media to shelter us from the dangerous, racist, homophobic, Islamophobic, sexist, welfare-reforming, climate-change denying bigots who inhabit the outer suburbs and countryside — the people whom Hillary Clinton calls “the deplorables”.
They must be vilified without debate, lest too many of us waver on the virtues of bigger governments, central planning, more bloated bureaucracies, higher taxes, unaffordable welfare, a “carbon-free” economy, more regulations, open borders, gender-free and values-free schools and same-sex marriage; the sort of agenda that finds favour at the UN.
Yet history is solid with evidence that this agenda will never deliver the promised human dignity, prosperity and liberty. Only free and open societies with small governments can do that.
Gradually, the masses are realising something is wrong. Their wealth and income growth is stagnating and their living standards are threatened. They see their taxes wasted on expensive, ill-conceived social programs. They live with migrants who refuse to integrate. They resent having government in their lives on everything from home renovations to recreational fishing, from penalty rates to free speech.
Thomas Jefferson’s warning that “the natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground” is now a stark reality.
The terms “people’s representative” and “public servant” have become a parody. In today’s world we are the servants and, if it suits, we are brushed aside with callous indifference.
Like the Labor government’s disregard for the enormous emotional and financial hurt suffered when, overnight, it shut down live cattle exports on the strength of a television show.
Or like the NSW parliament passing laws banning greyhound racing in the state. There was no remorse for the ruined lives of thousands of innocent people, many of whom won’t recover. Talk of compensation is a travesty.
Or like the victims neighbouring Williamtown and Oakey air force bases, made ill from toxic contamination of groundwater. Around the world it’s known chemical agents used in airport fire drills cause cancer, neurological disease and reproductive disorders, yet the Australian Department of Defence simply denies responsibility. The powerless are hopelessly trapped between health risks and valueless properties.
Similar disdain is shown for those living near coal-seam gas fields and wind turbines. The authorities know of the health and financial impacts but defend operators by bending rules and ignoring guidelines.
If governments believe the ends justify the means, people don’t matter.
When Ernst & Young research finds one in eight Australians can’t meet their electricity bills, rather than show compassion for the poor and the elderly, governments push ruthlessly ahead with inefficient and expensive renewable energy projects.
This newspaper’s former editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell reveals in his book, Making Headlines, how Kevin Rudd, when prime minister, brazenly attempted to use state power to investigate “the relationship between my paper and him”. Rudd’s successor, Julia Gillard, wanted to establish a media watchdog to effectively gag journalists.
None of this is fantasy and it explains why people are losing confidence in the democratic system. Australians feel increasingly marginalised and unrepresented. They are tired of spin and being lied to. They know that data is often withheld or manipulated.
As they struggle to make ends meet, they watch helplessly as the established political class shamelessly abuses its many privileges.
It appears its sole purpose in life is to rule, not to govern. This adds weight to the insightful contention by the Business Council of Australia’s Jennifer Westacott that Australia is in desperate need of a national purpose.
It’s no wonder, to paraphrase American author Don Fredrick, that a growing number of Australians no longer want a tune-up at the same old garage. They want a new engine installed by experts — and they are increasingly of the view that the current crop of state and federal mechanics lacks the skills and experience to do the job.
One Nation may not be the answer, but its garage does offer a new engine.
This is Australia’s version of the Trump phenomenon. Like Donald Trump, Hanson is a non-establishment political disrupter. However, unlike Trump, who may soon occupy the White House, Hanson won’t inhabit the Lodge.
This leaves Australia’s establishment and the central planners very much in control. It means we will remain firmly on our current bigger-government path, financed by higher taxes and creative accounting.
Nobel laureate economist FA Hayek observes in his book The Road to Serfdom: “The more planners improvise, the greater the disturbance to normal business. Everyone suffers. People feel rightly that ‘planners’ can’t get things done.”
But he argues that, ironically, in a crisis the risk is that rather than wind back the role of government, people automatically turn to someone strong who demands obedience and uses coercion to achieve objectives.
Australia is now on that road to tyranny and, with another global recession in prospect and nearly 50 per cent of voters already dependent on government, the incentive is to vote for more government, not less.
The left-wing media echo-chamber will be an enthusiastic cheerleader.
It does make you wonder whether some journalists ever talk to ordinary Australians. Five minutes in any pub in the country will render such polling unnecessary.
By Chris Mitchell The Australian 26 September 2016
How to walk a mile in another’s shoes? That is the question great reporters seek to answer when they interview their subjects.
In a time when there has never been more media but it is light years wide and only atoms deep, there is little reward for doing what great newspapers seek to do: provide their readers with genuine understanding of issues and people’s views and motives.
This is a shouty, shallow and callow media age in which young Lefty tyros are rewarded for sharp opinions and violently executed tweets. Their opponents in the right-wing blogosphere too easily drift into hate and conspiracy over genuine inquiry.
So on a range of issues the Left and Right yell at each other in what psychologists refer to as “different emotional languages”, like a husband who really cannot understand what his wife is saying about why their marriage is going awry.
I got that feeling very strongly last Tuesday morning when I heard Andrew Bolt being interviewed by Fran Kelly about Tuesday night’s very interesting program with Linda Burney on Aboriginal recognition. Kelly was perplexed Bolt seemed not to agree with all the received Radio National wisdoms she was trying to get him to concede.
And yet the thinkers behind recognition, people such as Noel Pearson, have always known Andrew — with his ability to articulate the honestly held and genuine concerns of his readers — was the biggest danger to any potential referendum, even if it was first proposed by Andrew’s confidante Tony Abbott.
Just as with same-sex marriage and Muslim immigration the megaphones of the Left show no understanding of, or even empathy for, the great middle ground of Australian public opinion, which is where these issues will be decided.
Those in the maximalist camp on Recognition give every indication of preferring a loss to a win on slightly less ambitious terms. Wiser heads in the movement know proponents who argue for a treaty now would be smarter to take it one step at a time.
Still, I had real admiration for Bolt, who showed tremendous courage to expose himself to a full tilt ABC ideological crusade with newly elected federal Labor MP Burney. The Twittersphere was a feral sewer about him that night and next day.
Having been into the ABC’s Ultimo fortress in inner Sydney several times lately I can say the pursed-lipped tut-tutting is almost overpowering when a critic of the corporation crosses the threshold. Good on Bolt for doing it I reckon.
It was also gutsy of diminutive Burney to front a couple of conservative, and physical, giants in Bolt and Liberal Party federal MP Cory Bernardi in the latter’s Adelaide electoral office.
It is unlikely Bolt or Burney will ever persuade each other but viewers may have sensed an increased recognition on the part of each of the participants of the other’s genuine passion.
An Essential Media Poll published in The Guardian on Wednesday highlighted this sort of hyper partisanship and the inability of many in journalism even to understand how their own country feels about issues.
Given what has happened in Europe since German Chancellor Angela Merkel opened the nation’s borders to Syrian refugees a year ago it should have been no surprise to The Guardian or the ABC that half the nation wanted a ban on Muslim immigration.
The poll showed 49 per cent supporting a ban and only 40 per cent opposing. John Barron, hosting The Drum on ABC TV, seemed shocked that even large numbers of Greens and Labor voters supported such a ban.
It does make you wonder whether some journalists ever talk to ordinary Australians. Five minutes in any pub in the country will render such polling unnecessary.
The ideological and media divide is just as wide for same-sex marriage. The sheer brutality of the Left’s reaction to any Christian spokesperson either opposing change or supporting the plebiscite promised by the Coalition elected less than three months ago is vile.
This is not just a challenge for journalism. It is also a problem for the body politic.
If journalists don’t understand how their audiences feel and the media and politics become ever more sharply partisan, how will reformers ever bring about social, economic and political change?
This Balkanisation of social attitudes and the subsequent prioritising of opinion over reporting that seeks to explore and understand is making Western countries increasingly difficult to govern. Even something seemingly uncontestable such as repair of the federal budget now elicits sharply partisan divides among journalists and politicians.
I support recognition but would never think a referendum should even be held if a proposition was so ambitious it was guaranteed to fail.
A libertarian on same-sex marriage, I would nevertheless defend to the death the freedom of Christians, let alone Muslims and Jews, to stick to their religious convictions.
I think a ban on Muslim immigration would be the most dangerous thing the country could do if it really is interested in preventing young men from self-radicalising online.
After all, teenagers feeling so alienated from mainstream society today that they seek solace in the websites of Islamic State would only feel more like outsiders were all Muslim immigration banned. But it should sure as hell be obvious to any thinking journalist why in the face of so many attacks on Western targets during the past two years many Australians would be attracted to such a proposition.
If we try to walk a mile in another’s shoes, we might begin to see why Aboriginal kids would think it unfair to suggest they should just be happy to forget about their heritage and history and again accept what is being offered them. But we might also understand why Bolt believes people today should not be atoning to people many generations and multiple ethnicities away from the brutalities of white settlement.
We might understand the complexities of race from the position of the other person, as Stan Grant has so eloquently tried to explain.
It was at a retreat in the middle of nowhere in Canada that two young entrepreneurs unveiled the next big thing in tech. They called it “the least advanced NoPhone ever”. The device inside the sleek, slimline packaging had no buttons, no screen and no way to tweet, take a selfie or even make a call.
In fact, the NoPhone Air was nothing but an empty package, the size of a smartphone.
It was a joke. But the dig at the relentless pace of reinvention in the mobile phone industry, at the same time as Apple launched the iPhone 7, tapped into something very real: the growing desire to turn off, tune out, unplug.
The signs suggest smartphone addiction has hit iPeak. Next month, the Light Phone — which is the size of a credit card and can make calls, store ten numbers and do nothing else — will be launched in the US by two friends who met at a Google “incubator” for whizzkids and grew jaded by the constant pressure to come up with increasingly addictive and life-consuming apps.
The Light Phone Video
In London, Liverpool, Berlin and Los Angeles people are participating in “killyourphone” workshops, creating their own signal-blocking pouches with glue and copper-coated cloth, and dipping their devices into cement to take a symbolic time-out from Tinder and Twitter.
Even Kanye West has called time on his timeline, declaring: “I got rid of my phone so I can have air to create,” in a tweet that has so far been retweeted 38,000 times by people who have, presumably, yet to embrace his example of digital detox. The singer Katy Perry appeared to agree, replying: “Unplug to connect.” The actor Eddie Redmayne also confessed to having swapped his smartphone for an old-fashioned handset because he was sick of “being glued permanently to my iPhone”.
Given that the average user taps their phone 2,617 times a day, with 89 per cent of us unable to resist checking our device at least once between midnight and 5am, it is perhaps inevitable there has been a reaction that has prompted a surge of interest in “retro tech”.
Your phone away from phone
Dumbphones are now de rigueur, with old, trusty, uncrackable Nokia handsets selling for hundreds of dollars on eBay. About 4,700 Nokia 3310s, a classic, 16-year-old model, have been sold on the online marketplace in the past three months — two every hour. And 23 Nokia N70s have been sold every day over the same period.
It was partly rebellion against the Apple ethos and partly a desire to return to something that had been lost, that encouraged Joe Hollier, a 26-year-old skateboarder and graphic designer from Brooklyn, and his friend, Kaiwei Tang, who spent a decade designing phones for Motorola, to launch their own bare minimum device.
The pair met on a Google program for new talent two years ago.
“Everything was about creating apps to get users hooked, rather than developing something people needed,” said Mr Hollier. “We felt that is not how it’s supposed to be.” Worst of all, he said, “they were trying to frame it as if we were making the world a better place, by getting people addicted and selling them more stuff. I couldn’t help but call B.S on that. We felt they were missing the point.”
They created the Light Phone — a dollars 100 device, available in the UK by the end of the year, which shares the same number as your main number, forwarding on calls and offering little else, for the times when email and gadgetry may not be necessary. They call it “going light”.
“Do I really need a computer in my pocket when I’m skateboarding, or going out for dinner with my girlfriend? No,” said Mr Hollier.
He realised that constantly checking what other people were doing on Instagram and Facebook was chipping away at his own contentment.
“I found I was getting lost in these scroll holes. I would always come out of them feeling not necessarily good about myself. My smartphone was sucking me in. As soon as I stepped away — I call it breaking through the fomo threshold, getting over the fear of missing out.”
“I felt free. I realised I was happier in those disconnected moments, when I can watch a sunset, appreciate my friends. We want to make a product that helps people appreciate their lives, not control their lives.”
He stressed that the Light Phone was not a substitute, but simply a supplement. “It doesn’t have to mean going completely off-grid. It could mean just taking 20 minutes to get a coffee.”
He insisted his product was refining, rather than regressing. “We’re sparking a conversation. What do I want my technology to do for me?”
Aram Bartholl, 42, a conceptual artist in Berlin, started his killyourphone workshops a couple of years ago. “We all have these little computers in our pockets but we don’t really know how they work or who’s recording our data. For me, the pouch is a way to think a little more about what they do, and how we live with them.
“Suddenly, you have a person who’s used to technology sitting down with scissors and glue and a sewing machine — a machine from another revolution — in a completely different social situation. It gives connection a whole different meaning.”
Lucy Bannerman,The Times – The Australian 24 Sept 2016
Labor Senator Sam Dastyari pledged to respect China’s position on the South China Sea at an election campaign press conference he held with a Chinese political donor who had previously paid his legal bills.
He has also urged Australia to drop its opposition to China’s air defence zone in the contested region.
The comments, reported in the Chinese media, conflict with Labor’s official position on the issue which is that Australia should oppose China’s stance and authorise our navy and airforce to conduct freedom of navigation exercises in the South China Sea.
Experts say the ultimate aim of Chinese soft power is to shift Australians toward’s China’s position on the South China Sea. On Wednesday, outgoing US Ambassador to Australia John Berry warned of growing interference by countries such as China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran, and urged Australia to increase transparency around political donations.
Senator Cory Bernardi on Wednesday labelled Senator Dastyari the “Manchurian candidate” after he admitted in the Senate that he was wrong to ask an Australian-Chinese donor, Top Education Institute’s Minshen Zhu, to pay an expenses bill of $1670 for him when he exceeded publicly funded travel entitlements. Senator Dastyari told the Senate he had donated a similar amount to charity.
Labor has taken a much stronger position on the South China Sea than the Coalition. After China rejected The Hague’s ruling against its claims to sovereignty over disputed islands in the South China Sea, Labor’s previous defence spokesman Stephen Conroy accused China of aggressive bullying and urged Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to authorise the Navy to join the US and sail over the areas China claims.
Now it can be revealed that on June 17 in the lead-up to the July election this year Senator Dastyari assured the Chinese community he would respect China’s stance on the South China Sea, according to articles in the Chinese media.
“The South China Sea is China’s own affair. On this issue, Australia should remain neutral and respect China’s decision,” he said.
Mr Huang has previously paid a legal bill for Senator Dastyari.
Senator Dastyari urged Australia to drop its opposition to China’s “Air Defence Identification Zone” (ADIZ) over contested islands in the East China Sea, according to an article from 2014 – a stance which saw Julie Bishop publicly rebuked while on a trip to China by the nation’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
“The Australian government must abandon its hostile stance on the ADIZ,” Senator Dastyari is quoted as saying.
Further, a staffer to Senator Dastyari, Paul Han, who resigned from his office to run for a Senate position in NSW for the Labor Party in the recent election, effectively echoed the Chinese government’s position on the South China Sea in a statement he sent out to the Chinese community in July which was then reported in Chinese media.
“[The dispute] in the South China Sea should be settled between neighbouring countries through friendly consultations. External interventions will not solve the issue and will only complicate the issue.
“The Australia government should keep a neutral stance on this issue and urge neighbouring countries in the South China Sea to solve the differences between these countries by friendly consultation.”
Rory Medcalf, head of the National Security College at the Australian National University, has previously told The Australian Financial Review that the ultimate aim of Chinese soft power and donations was to shift Australia’s government away from the US and make us less likely to oppose China in the South China Sea.
“The long-term goal is to make Australia less likely to oppose China in regional confrontations,” he said.
In a statement to The Financial Review Senator Dastyari said he supported Labor’s position on the South China Sea.
“There is no difference between my position and Bill Shorten’s position on the South China Sea – the best outcome is one where the rule of law is recognised. That was also the position of Senator Conroy when he was previously the shadow defence minister.”
He said he did not agree with Mr Han. “Paul’s comments are in his own capacity as a Senate candidate. They are not my views.”
Ambassador Berry said he was worried countries which did not value a free press were increasingly involved in media in Western countries.
“They do not share a core value of freedom of the press and yet somehow they’re getting involved in the United States in terms of acquiring papers and acquiring television and playing roles that we have to be careful of,” he said at a National Press Club address.
“If that money directly is coming from the Russian government and being funnelled through a Russian-American then we might have some issues … nothing is ever hurt by increased transparency and increased sunlight and disclosure.”
Every one of Australia’s national security agencies advised against allowing NSW power asset Ausgrid to be leased by Chinese state-owned company State Grid Corporation, or Hong Kong-based Cheung Kong Infrastructure, sources have revealed.
It is understood the agencies, ranging from the Department of Defence to ASIO, recommended separately to both Treasurer Scott Morrison and the Foreign Investment Review Board that the bids be blocked on national security grounds.
“It was not a contested issue,” said a source.
Mr Morrison has taken flak domestically over the decision on Thursday to veto the bids because they were contrary to the national interest.
Mr Morrison said both parties had a week to try again but there is little sign he will change his mind. However, both CKI, which is a private company, and State Grid are understood to be considering linking up with local infrastructure investors to keep their $10 billion-plus acquisition ambitions afloat.
They would, however, walk away if they are required to give up on operating control to get foreign investment approval.
Both CKI and State Grid have been locked in talks with advisors and the NSW government as they struggle to decipher Mr Morrison’s decision.
But the question of operating control has rapidly emerged as a potential deal-breaker, with neither bidder willing to cede on that point. Their respective bid prices – rumoured to be up to $13 billion or more in the case of State Grid – would also no longer be valid without the benefit of being able to control the assets.
The NSW government is understood to be in close communication with the bidders and with the federal government as it tries to push forward with the auction.
Several local pension funds and infrastructure investors are thought to have approached CKI and State Grid to discuss the possibility of partnering up on their offers.
There was blowback from China Friday with state-owned Xinhua News Agency opining that the decision could lead to a “toxic mindset” of “Chinaphobia” in Australia.
“To suggest that China would try to kidnap the countries’ electricity network for ulterior motive is absurd and almost comical, since it is widely recognised in the world that business reputation is critical to any corporate activity,” said opinion writer Luo Jun.
Mr Morrison claimed the decision was not “country specific” but related to “very specific characteristics of this asset and then how that related to the structure of this transaction”.
“Both the structure of the transaction, the fact that control of operations was a factor here, accentuated those risks and then on top of that you have just the broader national security issues that relate to the asset as a whole,” he said.
He and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull both pushed back at allegations that the decision was driven by domestic political pressures, given that Pauline Hanson, Bob Katter and Nick Xenophon opposed any sale to the Chinese of such a critical asset.
“This was not a political decision. This is a decision that was taken with the utmost seriousness by the government,” Mr Turnbull said.
“A decision of considerable gravity, I can assure you, but it was taken based on the unequivocal advice of our national security agencies.”
To underscore his point, Mr Turnbull said the Opposition would be given a classified briefing by the security agencies.
Other security agencies included the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Australian Signals Directorate and the Office of National Assessments.
One of the fiercest critics of the decision came from former Labor foreign minister & China investment Lobbyist Bob Carr, who now heads the pro-Beijing Australia-China Relations Institute.
Mr Carr accused the government of succumbing “to the Witches’ Sabbath of xenophobia and economic nationalism”.
Mr Morrison said Mr Carr was spouting “complete nonsense”.
NSW Premier Mike Baird, who faces a shortfall of up to $4 billion in his infrastructure plans, said he was frustrated he was not told sooner that the two bidders faced major security concerns.
“My main frustration in this process is that I believe the decision should have been made much earlier,” Mr Baird said.
“There were a number of milestones along the way. I think it’s an opportunity to deal with this many months ago. Having said that, it’s complex. It is not easy. There are different structures, different formats and in that context, you know, we need to get to make sure we get it right and I accept that.”
NSW took the highly unusual step of accepting final bids from the two bidders before receiving Foreign Investment Review Board approval, apparently confident that it would not pose a problem.
China’s patriots among us: Beijing pulls new lever of influence in Australia
Chinese spies at Sydney University – China spreads its watching web of surveillance across Australia
As Malcolm Turnbull prepares to embark on his first official visit to China as prime minister, some 60 Chinese community leaders in Australia gathered in Sydney urging him to watch his words when discussing the South China Sea in Beijing.
Unfurling a large red banner declaring the need to “Firmly Safeguard the Sovereign Rights of China in the South China Sea”, the forum was organised by the overseas Chinese patriotic association Australian Action Committee for Peace and Justice.
“Australia’s political elite should have a clear understanding,” the committee’s chair Lin Bin said at the Saturday meeting. “[They] ought to talk and act carefully on the sensitive issue on the South China Sea, and not make ‘irrational’ or incorrect signals to the international community.”
The rhetoric of freedom of navigation, freedom of overflight, international arbitration, changing the status quo and “militarisation” of the South China Sea, it said, were all mere buzzwords utilised by the United States as part of its strategic pivot back to the Asia-Pacific – “naked hegemonic behaviour” aimed at containing China’s rise.
What were previously fringe nationalistic and patriotic Chinese associations in Australia are now emboldened in the search for greater domestic political influence with the implicit backing of a rising China and its increasingly assertive foreign policy.
The action committee has close ties with the local Chinese embassy and consulates, as well as the Australian Council for the Promotion of Peaceful Reunification of China, an organisation under the umbrella of China’s United Front which rails against independence movements in Tibet, Taiwan and Xinjiang. The council is chaired by Huang Xiangmo, a prolific donor to both major Australian political parties, as well as the founding donor of the Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology, Sydney.
“I can see in Australia, in the United States, even Europe, very strong lobby groups who work very closely with the Chinese government,” said Feng Chongyi, an associate professor of Chinese Studies at UTS. Dr Feng is not attached to ACRI.
In Australia, patriotic associations coordinated protests outside Japanese diplomatic missions at the height of the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands dispute.
They rallied crowds to counter pro-Tibet and Falun Gong protesters at the Australian legs of the Beijing Olympics torch relay and most recently, outside Parliament House as Xi Jinping delivered a speech to both houses during his 2014 visit.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at the Chinese New Year Lantern Festival in Sydney. Photo: ACETCA
Dr Feng said some leaders of patriotic associations were businesspeople keen to ingratiate themselves with mainland officials – behaviour that would never hurt someone with business interests straddling Australia and China.
“They would use the term national interest but it’s really their own corporate interests that they can bind together with the [soft power ambitions] of Chinese authorities,” he said.
There are signs the nationalistic rhetoric is targeting a wider mainstream – and younger – audience in the Chinese community. One of the first and most widely spread reports of Saturday’s Action Committee meeting was carried by the Chinese-language WeChat news outlet Australia Today and affiliate Sydney Today.
The news outlets consistently reach a large, young audience via the ubiquitous Chinese social media application with its blend of news and light entertainment tailored for young Chinese students and professionals living in Australia.
All WeChat news outlets, or “official accounts” are registered in China and by extension are subject to monitoring from mainland censors, and while many articles are translated from mainstream Australian media outlets, reports critical of the Chinese government are invariably avoided.
The lengthening arm of Chinese soft power in Australia also extends to cultural events.
Fairfax Media has learned that Sydney-based media group Nanhai Media received tens of million of yuan in direct funding from the State Council’s Overseas Chinese Affairs Office to help put on the colourful Chinese New Year lantern display at Tumbalong Park in Sydney in February.
Bo Zhiyue, director of the New Zealand Contemporary China Research Centre at the Victoria University of Wellington, says the size of the contribution was unheard of. “They probably can go back and say now we have won over the hearts and minds of the Chinese community in Sydney,” he said.
While the Communist Party has long sought to cultivate “loyalty” among overseas Chinese communities, the influx of recent mainland migrants and residents means for the first time it has a potential critical mass to lobby for its strategic interests, including on the South China Sea and greater acceptance of state-owned investment in Australian assets.
But the shifting demographics have also created a schism in Australia’s Chinese communities. Many naturalised Chinese-Australians who migrated in the 1980s and 90s did so with the spectre of the Tiananmen Square crackdown of 1989 fresh in their memories, and continue to harbour critical views of China’s Communist leadership. It jars with more recent mainland migrants, many who have been enriched by China’s economic miracle of the past two decades, and university students bankrolled by their parents buying up inner-city apartments.
“If you follow those analyses that some of those overseas Chinese students come from very rich backgrounds – Communist Party officials and businesspeople – they are naturally linked between them and the regime back home,” Dr Feng says. “And of course they feel they are not treated very well overseas by those ‘hostile forces’ or the foreigners; that increases their criticism of the West and also the western media.”
Compradors are sometimes described as those who help a foreign country exploit their own. I was reminded of this when I read that the ALP Caucus had compromised its concerns over jobs for Australians and was prepared to waive the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement through the parliament with only a ‘diluted’ list of demands as the AFR put it.
If this agreement proceeds, Australian workers are likely to be much more vulnerable. Not surprisingly the President of the ACTU, Ged Kearney said that ‘this is about Australian jobs so we will keep fighting for those jobs’. No wonder the unions are unhappy about the attitude of Labor parliamentarians.
There is a problem; a large Labor elite with fellow travellers whose careers outside parliament as consultants and lobbyists depend on Chinese connections and largesse. They are cultivated with money, travel and entertainment. They cling like limpets to the relationship with China. They have a lot to lose if they upset China. And it shows.
As Upton Sinclair put it so succinctly ‘It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it’.
Chinese interests play increasing role in Australian political donations
The many ways political donations buy access
A Chinese government-backed propaganda unit and a swag of companies that stand to gain from the China Australia Free Trade Agreement have made more than half a million dollars of political donations in Victoria, raising concerns about the influence of foreign donors.
Companies linked to Chinese conglomerate Yuhu Group made a donation to then trade minister Andrew Robb’s fundraising entity the day the trade deal was clinched.
Chinese money has become so important to Australian political parties that, at a recent glitzy fundraiser, Victorian Liberal president Michael Kroger made sure there was an interpreter to translate the auction.
Donors with strong links to China contributed $555,000 to the two major parties and fundraising entities in Victoria, a Fairfax Media analysis of Australian Electoral Commission data for 2014-15 reveals.
At least three donors failed to disclose their contributions to the Australian Electoral Commission.
Bayside Forum, which supports the federal Liberal candidate in the seat of Goldstein (where Mr Robb is set to be succeeded by former Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson at the July 2 federal election), accepted $100,000 in donations from executives of Chinese agriculture, property development and infrastructure company Yuhu Group.
At the time, Mr Robb was negotiating both ChAFTA and the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Mr Robb has a long relationship with Yuhu and its chief Xiangmo Huang. He met with Mr Huang and other senior company executives in Hong Kong in March 2014 to discuss trade and economic co-operation, and to hear Mr Huang’s view on the obstacles to Chinese enterprises in Australia, such as working visas and foreign investment restrictions.
Mr Robb also endorsed Yuhu’s $2 billion investment in Australian agriculture in a joint-venture with a Chinese state-owned enterprise at its launch on September 15, 2014.
According to AEC disclosures, Chaoshan No 1 Trust (of which Mr Huang is a director) made a $50,000 donation to Bayside Forum two months later, on the same day ChAFTA was finalised and details announced by Mr Robb and then prime minister Tony Abbott.
Another $50,000 donation to Bayside Forum, this time by Fu Ocean Pty Ltd (whose director Zhaokai Su is reportedly Yuhu’s office manager), was undated. And two months after the Hong Kong meeting, $30,000 was donated to the New South Wales division of the Liberal Party. It is illegal for property developers to donate to the NSW branch, but a loophole permits it if the funds are intended to contribute to a federal campaign.
The free trade agreement, which came into force on December 20, 2015, has been criticised by the opposition and unions for threatening Australian jobs – particularly a provision that allows Australian-registered companies with 50 per cent Chinese ownership to bring in Chinese labour to work on infrastructure projects of $150 million or more.
Mr Huang and his associates have donated millions of dollars to the Labor and Liberal parties over recent years, and in 2015 stepped in to pay a legal bill on behalf of NSW Labor reformist and fixer, Senator Sam Dastyari.
Mr Robb was Mr Huang’s guest at the Melbourne Cup in 2013, when Mr Huang also presented the trophy. Mr Robb reportedly attended Mr Huang’s daughter Carina’s wedding in Sydney in January 2016, as did Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.
As trade minister, Mr Robb also attended the “Yuhu 2015 Giving Day” on February 6, 2015, held in part to celebrate Mr Huang’s election as President of the Australian Council for the Promotion of Peaceful Reunification of China. That organisation’s activities include hosting Chinese government officials in Australia and lobbying against independence movements in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Tibet.
At the time of the donation, Mr Robb was still negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership – a 12-country trade deal which does not include China or Taiwan, but that Taiwan had sought to join.
On February 1, the NSW branch of the ALP revealed its biggest donor, Eng Joo Ang, had given $110,000. The next day Mr Eng told media he couldn’t recall it and later that he had not made the donation. On February 12, a late return was quietly published on the AEC periodic disclosures as an “update”.
Mr Eng is executive vice chairman of the Australian Council for the Promotion of Peaceful Reunification of China.
Mr Robb declined to answer Fairfax Media questions about Bayside Forum’s protocols for handling potential conflicts between fundraising sources and his responsibilities as a minister.
“There were absolutely no conflicts of interest,” he said.
Mr Huang was contacted for comment but did not respond.
Meanwhile, the Victorian Liberals received $15,000 from the China Australia Media Group, believed to be an arm of the Chinese government. The group has twice been outed for hiring Western journalists at news conferences to ask soft questions of government ministers and officials with the aim of spreading Chinese propaganda.
Chinese property developers have also emerged as generous supporters of political parties. In 2013-14, a pair of Brighton property investors with import-export interests Jianping Fu and Min Zhang, donated $200,000 to the Victorian Labor party. Melbourne-based property developer the Ever Bright Group donated $200,000 to the federal Liberal party and Glen Waverley developer Jiandong Huang donated another $100,000.
Richard Gu’s AXF Group, whose development projects include a massive 5500-home project in the city’s west, donated $150,000 to the Victorian Labor party. ZJF Investments, a company owned by property developer Zheng Jiefu (who sought refuge in Melbourne after facing embezzlement charges in China), donated $20,000 to Labor’s state branch.
Both AXF Group and ZJF failed to make their own donations disclosures to the AEC. Fu Ocean disclosed its $30,000 contribution to the NSW Liberals, but failed to disclose the $50,000 Bayside Forum donation.
The AEC said it was following up outstanding returns.
Governance expert Ken Coghill says foreign donations to Australian political parties should be illegal, as they are in many countries including the United States and Britain.
“The Australian political process ought to be something that is not manipulated or distorted by foreign interests,” says the former state Labor MP, now director of the Parliamentary Studies Unit at Monash University.