When the Australian Electoral Commission drops its political donations data tomorrow, it will almost certainly show that corporate donations are rising at an alarming clip and that Australia is tracking the US. Stephanie Tran and Michael West report on the extraordinary rise of money in politics.Whither Democracy? Political donations triple as AEC prepares 2021 data drop – Michael West
Revelations about a man being tried and imprisoned in secrecy, and the fluke discovery of the case, have revived calls for Australia’s secrecy laws to be reviewed.
Exactly how the case of “Witness J” came about remains a mystery.
Mr Moses also argues there should be no secret trials, and the nature of the offence and the provision under which the defendant was charged should be released.
“At the end of the day, justice is administrated in the name of the people, so basic information should be provided in order to enable the public to know why this has occurred,” he says.
“The quiet person you pass in the street. Tonight, I want to do my best to answer your questions, but as a secret prisoner from a secret trial who worked for a secret organisation, I am limited.”
Excessive government secrecy and repression of whistleblowers and journalists is on the rise. This is a government which persecutes its citizens for doing the right thing. This oped, written befittingly by Name Withheld for Security Reasons, identifies another target whose name is also withheld for security reasons.
Dutton from Australia’s worst Health Minister to Australia’s worst Minister. When does the message sink in? (ODT)
For an agency that was created to better co-ordinate Australia’s national security across agencies within the portfolio, only 35 percent said they routinely engage with other agencies in the portfolio.
This surely is a wake-up call even for the tone deaf Dutton and Pezzullo.
Hardly surprising the two of them refuse to release the details of the $5 million review of Home Affairs.
And what is their solution to all this dysfunction? Privatisation of visa processing, apparently.
It looks like we’re going from the frying pan and into the fire.
Closing down Democracy. I think we are turning Chinese and China is becoming more Western and Morrison doesn’t like it(ODT)
On the basis of the limited information provided to the public to date, the business and risk case for privatising visa processing appears highly questionable.
Is the government prepared to be open with the Australian public and Parliament about this high-risk initiative?
Will the Australian public be comfortable with these extraordinary risks being taken on our behalf with such a core government function?
And how long before taxpayers have to bail out the department because one or more of these risks materialises?
It really is a gamble that’s just not worth taking. (Abul Rizvi left the Australian Public Service in 2015 as a deputy secretary and is currently undertaking a PhD on Australia’s immigration policies. He was a senior official in the Department of Immigration from the early 1990s to 2007. )
The political will was lacking, once again raising the question: What is it the political parties don’t want us to know?
The Grattan Institute has analysed the 2017-18 donations data released on Friday by the Australian Electoral Commission and found $56 million of income to the Liberal and Labor parties that could not traced, because they’re not required to disclose where it comes from.
One lesson we should all take from the Royal Commission into Insititutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse is the horrific ongoing damage caused by the veil of secrecy drawn by the Catholic Church, and others, over the crimes that were being perpetrated on innocent children in their care. That enabled the abusers to continue.
That same veil of secrecy has been drawn by the government over the plight of people who came to us seeking asylum. Instead of offering sanctuary, we incarcerated them indefinitely causing irreparable damage to children and their families once again.
“Over a decade ago the Department of Immigration were criticised for acting like a bunch of cowboys because of their failure to implement due process and to make proper investigations – all because they were under pressure to deport people and please their political masters.”
Need a new liver? Why not head to France. A hip replacement? Japan could be the place for you.
According to a leaked document, the highly secretive Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) negotiations that will resume in Geneva on Monday will include discussion of wide-ranging reforms to national public health systems to promote “offshoring” of health care services.
Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey have been saying that healthcare expenditure is unsustainable, but Andrew Robb is quietly engaged in negotiations that could potentially see scarce healthcare dollars going overseas
But health unions and trade experts say the negotiations, which are being led by Australia, the US and the European Union, could lead to massive growth of “medical tourism” to the detriment of investment in Australian public hospitals and local healthcare.
The leaked discussion paper – published by the non-government organisations Associated Whistle-Blowing Press and Public Services International – has for the first time revealed TiSA countries including Australia are actively discussing measures to boost the “cross-border delivery of health services”.
“Thanks to the secrecy that’s surrounded these talks, we haven’t known what is being negotiated in our name, and the Australian public haven’t been aware of the potentially huge health implications,” said Michael Whaites, NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association organiser and spokesman.
“Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey have been saying that healthcare expenditure is unsustainable, but Trade Minister Andrew Robb is quietly engaged in negotiations that could potentially see scarce healthcare dollars going overseas,” Mr Whaites said.
“You can ask whether the government is working in a co-ordinated manner, and indeed what is their real intention on the future of Medicare?”
The leaked “concept paper on health care services within TISA negotiations,” reportedly tabled by the Turkish government in negotiations in Geneva last September, argues there is “huge untapped potential for the globalisation of healthcare services,” creating massive business opportunities from what is a $US6 trillion ($7.7 trillion) per year industry.
The proposed regime would involve health professionals authorising patients to be treated in other TiSA countries (for reasons including long waiting times in the home country or inadequate expertise for specific medical problems); and the patients’s costs being reimbursed through their home country’s social security system, private insurance coverage or other healthcare arrangements.
According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, a further TiSA negotiation round in December 2014 made “good progress” in dealing with issues that included “facilitation of patient mobility”.
However, Professor Jane Kelsey, an expert on trade in services at the University of Auckland, warned that health-service-exporting countries such as Australia would find that qualified staff are diverted to health export services “that often have better pay and facilities, eroding the personnel base for public facilities and perpetuating inequalities in the health care system”.
Education and training investments may also be diverted “to benefit foreign healthcare users, rather than local citizens and taxpayers”.
Fifty countries including Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the EU (representing its 28 member countries) and the US are engaged in the TiSA negotiations, which began in 2013.
Mr Robb said the TiSA will “strengthen job-creating services” and that the Australian government wants an agreement “that supports each party’s right to protect public health”.
“As is common practice with many negotiations on international treaties, draft negotiating texts of the TiSA are not public documents,” Mr Robb wrote in a letter to the nurses and midwives’ union.
Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP is a massive trade agreement between Australia the United States and a host of Pacific Rim countries Abbott is trying to introduce with limited debate and no opportunity for amendments.
The proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership includes investor-state provisions that are likely to hurt poor communities and undermine environmental protections. Instead of being “fast tracked” as is Abbott’s want, future trade agreements like the TPP—and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership being negotiated between the European Union and the United States—must be subject to a full debate with public input.
Such agreements must not, at any cost, include investor-state mechanisms. Because trading away democracy to transnational corporations is not such a “free trade” after all.
From the outset, the politicians who support the agreement have overplayed its benefits and underplayed its costs. They seldom note, for example, that the pact would allow corporations to sue governments whose regulations threaten their profits in cases brought before secretive and unaccountable foreign tribunals.
Tobacco companies could sue for loss of profit due to our plain packaging laws. Pharmceutical companies could for the introduction of generic medications.
Ten years after the approval of DR-CAFTA, in Central America we are seeing many of the effects they cautioned about. As a consequence Americas immigration problems have expanded.
One of the most pernicious features of the agreement is a provision called the Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanism. This allows private corporations to sue governments over alleged violations of a long list of so-called “investor protections.”
The most controversial cases have involved public interest laws and regulations that corporations claim reduce the value of their investments. That means corporations can sue those countries for profits they say they would have made had those regulations not been put into effect.They can also prevent governments from making democratically accountable decisions in the first place, pushing them to prioritize the interests of transnational corporations over the needs of their citizens just what mining companies would like to access Indiginious land.
In Guatemala TECO wanted to charge higher electricity rates to Guatemalan users than those the state deemed fair. Guatemala had to pay $21.1 million in compensatory damages and $7.5 million in legal fees, above and beyond what it spent on its own defense.
What’s at stake here is not only the cost of lawsuits or the impact of environmental destruction, but also the ability of a country to make sovereign decisions and advance the public good.
More recently in Guatemala, the communities around San Jose del Golfo—about 45,000 people—have engaged in two years of peaceful resistance to prevent the US-based Kappes, Cassiday, and Associates from constructing a new mine. Protesters estimate that 95 percent of families in the region depend on agriculture, an industry that would be virtually destroyed if the water were to be further contaminated. But the company threatened to sue Guatemala if the mine was not opened. “They can’t afford this lawsuit,” a company representative said. “We had a big law group out of [Washington] DC fire off a letter to the mines minister, copied to the president, explaining what we were doing.”
On May 23, the people of San Jose del Golfo were violently evicted from their lands by military force, pitting the government in league with the company against its own people—potentially all to avoid a costly lawsuit.
“Morale is down and 3000 of our most senior ATO staff have recently taken redundancy package,” said one former officer. “There was also an absurd clear out of senior transfer pricing staff about two years ago, so there is very little likelihood of the ATO ‘manning-up’ on multinationals any time soon. Corporate lobbyists smuggly tell us is such a minimal issue amongst the top 200 companies.
“The big firms can afford to attract the best brains while the ATO has to get by on a few well-meaning but outgunned do-gooders,”
The sources grumbles that the focus in the ATO is now to to “facilitate business”.
“The general impression among senior ATO officers is that we are supposed to give the big firms what they want and to usher the revenue out the door. The News decision is symptomatic of that and a lot of staff were pissed we caved on that case.”
The source was referring to the decision by the ATO not to appeal a case against Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. News, an infamous tax minimiser, won an $880 million rebate last year for a transaction which harked back to 1989.
If it had the political will, the government could enact laws right away to remove the secrecy around tax.
“Lack of transparency of settled disputes with multinationals can, in my opinion, promote questionable back-room tax deals, if not corruption … where litigation is discouraged, settlement encouraged, a ‘light touch’ approach promulgated and where the appointment of senior executive staff (SES) to positions in a handful of large, multinational-specialist, tax advisory firms, and vice versa, has increasingly become a revolving door,” the source said.
This secrecy plays directly into the hands of the corporations dodging tax, not to mention their advisers at the big four accounting firms and their tax lawyers.
The government could move to make the tax laws and regulation more transparent tomorrow and the corporate regulator could insist on companies publishing general purpose financial statements. The tools are there to bring in billions in tax, all that is needed is some fair dinkum government.