The bigger they are . . .

Photo – Courier Mail

The Queensland Nickel Refinery went into receivership this week as it’s beneficial owner Clive Palmer (Federal Member for Fairfax) attempted to justify the $20Million in donations the refinery had made to Palmer United Party over the past two years including $290,000 declared on 31 December (and donated in the previous  six months).  Queensland Nickel’s Chief Finance Officer claimed Mr Palmer paid $2.5 million out of his own pocket so workers could be paid over Christmas.

The ABC’s Antony Green gives an account of the rise and potential fall of the Palmer United Party on his blog and while every article former Nationals Senator Bill O’Chee writes for Fairfax seems to demonstrate his inbuilt conservative bias, he correctly points out  

PUP will almost certainly have to pay back the $288,000 donation it received at the end of December.

That could just be the start though. If the $21.1 million paid to the PUP in the previous two years is found to be "uncommercial" or an "unreasonable director-related" payment, and the company was insolvent at the time, then that money will also have to be paid back.


Palmer has a number of ‘business interests’ and has also been a political ‘player’ for decades.  Given that Palmer’s companies are generally privately owned, no one can be certain of his financial position but this biography on Wikipedia gives some insight into his wealth, business and political interests.

It would be unfair to suggest that Palmer only failed because he went into politics.  Nathan Tinkler at one stage had interests in mining, construction, sports management and horse racing.  He started out as an electrician in a BHP mine in the Hunter Valley.  Again Wikipedia has a potted biography of Tinkler which goes into his current financial issues.

Christopher Skase was a prominent Australian in the 1980s – when apparently ‘greed was good’.  He was a journalist who turned a small Tasmanian company Quintex into a large multi-national conglomerate.  Skase fell afoul of financial laws, exiled himself to Spain and died there in 2001, despite efforts by the Australian Government and the administrator of the Quintex group to force him back to Australia to answer the claims against him.

Alan Bond started as a signwriter in Perth.  He came to prominence through property development and has gone from the highs of winning the Americas Cup in 1983 to the lows of having his Order of Australia revoked and serving a six  year jail sentence in the late 1990’s.  Bond died in 2015.

It seems that Australia has a history of people that ‘make good’ then perform a spectacular ‘flame out’.  Bond served jail time, Skase probably would have if he returned to Australia and, as they say, the investigations continue in regards to Tinkler and Palmer. 

Larger than life personalities are not the only ones with the ‘get rich quick with scant regard for the ethics’ attitude also extended to ‘Funds Management’ companies that seem to purchase assets with financial problems, fiddle with the balance sheet then on-sell the company with little regard for the damage that invariably will be done to the ultimate owners – as Dick Smith (the person) alluded to in this report on the current financial woes of the chain of shops that still bear his name — although he has no financial interest in them..

Clearly there is a need for regulation.  Unfortunately, regulation will not keep up with those who are paid to invent new ways to profit which while (barely) legal are certainly not moral or ethical.  Perhaps the best solution is to question those that have apparently turned nothing into something quickly a lot earlier and with more diligence.  Some better investigation of the worth of ‘personality business people’ by the media and various government bodies may protect those who do not have the wherewithal to do the work themselves is probably also overdue.

In closing, the recent request by Palmer for a bailout to keep Queensland Nickel operating is not the first.  The previous request was made by Alan Bond as his business empire was crashing down in the 1980’s.   "Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose" – the more it changes – the more it’s the same thing.

There seems to be a pattern where the latest ‘wiz kid’ operates a business successfully then diversifies into businesses they probably don’t know much about.  The current ‘dramas’ with Dick Smith Electronics and Masters Hardware demonstrate that the corporate world is no better at times.  Unfortunately, there seems to be little to stop the next ‘wiz kid’ making the same errors.

What do you think? 

How about a drink after the game?

Samantha Maiden is a journalist with News Corp. She was recently harassed in a text message Peter Dutton (Immigration Minister) meant to send to demoted colleague Jamie Briggs. The message called Maiden a ‘******** witch’ — and we all know the first letter in the last word quoted was a typo. The message was sent directly to Maiden.

Maiden claims she wasn’t offended and Dutton shouldn’t lose his Ministry after he apologised. Let’s look at the logic here.

Jamie Briggs was a minister in the Australian government who did something inappropriate to a government employee overseas after ‘a few drinks’. Media reporting since has suggested that it isn’t the first time that Jamie Briggs has acted inappropriately ‘after a few drinks’. Briggs was effectively sacked for breaching common moral and ethical standards that apply in any workplace. Soon after the sacking, a photo of the government employee (albeit pixelated) was featured on the front page of The Australian, Briggs has admitted the photo originated from his mobile phone. Most of us don’t know the man and have no basis in fact to determine if he has a problem that he needs to seek some professional assistance to overcome, however there does seem to be a trend here.

Peter Dutton, a ‘high ranking’ minister in the Australian government, attempts to send Briggs a text message around the time Briggs was sacked as a minister which effectively says ‘don’t worry about it mate – you don’t have the problem, the female reporter who wrote one of the stories about it does. As a matter of fact, she’s a ‘******** witch’. Hardly appropriate behaviour is it? Dutton also has previous similar form. Remember a few months ago when Dutton was accidently caught by a boom microphone at an official function slinging off at the concerns of the Tony de Brum, Foreign Minister of the Marshall Islands — a country that may be uninhabitable inside most of our lifetimes due to climate change.  The President of Kiribati who was also at the meeting called the claimed joke ‘vulgar’, and claimed Dutton demonstrated ‘a sense of moral irresponsibility quite unbecoming of leadership in any capacity.’

Mal Brough is the LNP member for the seat of Fisher — based on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. He won the seat from the ex-Speaker of the parliament Peter Slipper. You may remember that Slipper resigned his membership of the LNP when he took on the Speaker position. You might also remember that one of Slipper’s staff took him to court for inappropriate behaviour. Brough was forced to stand aside from his ministerial position after some pressure from the opposition when the ‘penny finally dropped’ within the government that he lied to either Parliament or the 60 Minutes program on Channel 9. Brough, apparently along with fellow conspirators, Government Ministers Pyne and Roy and some former Slipper staff members, are under police investigation for offences in relation to some official documents held in the office of former Speaker Slipper.

Chris Gayle is a West Indian cricketer. He used to be the captain of the West Indian cricket team and for the past couple of summers has been playing cricket in Cricket Australia’s “Big Bash League’. This week he half-heartedly apologised to a Channel 10 journalist for attempting to ask her out on a date while the journalist was attempting to do a live interview. Gayle claimed ‘cultural differences’ as the reason for the actions that are considered to be inappropriate in Australia. While the argument may have some credibility if Gayle had just gotten off the 747 for the first time, the reality is that the claimed defence could be politely described as bollocks. Gayle has represented his country (while technically the West Indies cricket team are the best cricketers in the Caribbean), accordingly he has been responsible to demonstrate ‘correct’ behaviour to those who play with and under him across a range of cultural and social situations across the world. Subsequent to the event, others have claimed that Gayle has acted with the same degree of inappropriateness in the past. Cricket Australia has fined him $10,000, but the same general reporting is a constant theme in relation to elite footballers and other sportsmen across the year.

Part of Dutton’s explanation for the language used in the text was that he and Maiden had had some robust conversations in the past. Again the reality is different — Australia has an Immigration Minister making decisions on who enters the country and he clearly has no empathy for a public servant from his department who was treated inappropriately by a fellow minister; or the Foreign Minister or President of countries that may be erased from the globe in the next 50 years. As well as a lack of empathy, his moral and ethical compass is so skewed that he tries to send a text message to the offender (Briggs) that suggests he is the victim here. Dutton also has previous form in preselection contests in the Queensland LNP.

Brough was stood aside when he tried to ‘clarify’ competing claims and frankly made a bigger mess of it. Clearly his moral and ethical compass is skewed to the extent that he believed that being a part of a plan (that is suspicious enough for a police investigation, if not illegal) to neuter a political rival were warranted. The police investigation has been going on for a while. Brough was on 60 Minutes in mid 2015 discussing the issue and members of the 5th estate (bloggers and alternative media organisations) such as Independent Australia have been writing about the shenanigans in Fisher for years.

Gayle is a professional cricketer. He travels the world doing something he apparently loves and you would have to assume he gets paid handsomely for the work he does — including the many unseen hours of training and practice that goes into the performance we see at our arenas or on our TV screens. He, like other sportspeople, are feted for their brilliance in their chosen endeavours. Their position in society demands that they display the highest levels of morals and ethics — something Gayle clearly didn’t display the other night in that interview.

It is obvious that the media is aware of a lot of foibles of noteworthy people and fair enough — people’s private lives are personal.  However, when the media go along with the feeble excuses of Dutton, Brough or Gayle (to name just a few — we could also include Abbott’s bullying here) they are also displaying a lack of empathy, morals, ethics and leadership to their staff, their customers and society generally — as issues such as the ones discussed here shouldn’t be swept under the carpet.  

Those that choose to live in the public eye are role models regardless of their desire to act in that role. Those that fall short of that standard should be held to account. In short, we shouldn’t be reading about Dutton, Briggs and Gayle and just being told in essence ‘it’s not the first time you know’.

What do you think?

# Light the dark

Photograph: Christelise de Graaf/GuardianWitness

Three year old Aylan Kurdi died and was washed up on a Turkish beach last weekend. In death he has since become the human ‘face’ of the current Syrian refugee crisis. It is a sad fact of life in the 21st Century that people still feel the need to escape from their homes and undertake risky and potentially deadly travel to places that seem safer.

The well-publicised death of Kurdi and most of his family in the Mediterranean last weekend may however be one of the most important events in 2015. Prior to last weekend, the tide of humans attempting to reach a place of perceived safety was treated as an economic problem as demonstrated by the British ITV coverage. The UK Government has been quoted as claiming ‘Britain is a country with a moral conscience – we do not walk on by’. At the same time, Sonya Sceats from the British ‘Freedom from Torture’ organisation claims

‘The UK makes a paltry contribution to such [refugee settlement] programmes. In the last year we offered a new start to only 934 refugees identified by the UNHCR as needing sanctuary. A special scheme for Syrians, created in response to enormous public pressure, has only helped 187 people’.
In the comment on the same article, someone claiming to be from the conservative UKIP (UK Independence Party) asks:

‘Refugee resettlement I have no problem with. But, how do you distinguish between genuine seekers of asylum and those who just fancy living in Britain?
Between 1997 and 2010 the government/border agency allowed 7 million migrants to enter the country. Since 2010, a further 2 million have arrived. This influx has swamped our public services and created an acute shortage of adequate housing at an affordable prices.
What are we to do? Genuine asylum seekers are one thing, unlimited numbers of refugees wishing to settle here is something else altogether’.
So we have a distinction between refugees and asylum seekers? Merriam-Webster defines refugees as ‘one that flees; especially a person who flees to a foreign country or power to escape danger or persecution’. The same publisher defines asylum (in the usage of ‘asylum seeker) as ‘protection from arrest and extradition given especially to political refugees by a nation or by an embassy or other agency enjoying diplomatic immunity’. UKIP’s argument sounds familiar doesn’t it? Apparently there is a difference between one who flees to escape danger or persecution and someone who seeks protection from arrest. Isn’t this a classic case of splitting hairs? The same distinction has been made for years domestically with the refugees and asylum seekers being labelled as ‘boat people’ by all sides of politics to further their political ends. 

The Australian Government has joined the chorus of concern and action over the sheer number of people attempting to leave Syria and surrounding countries – and so they should have - considering that at the same time the announcement was made regarding accepting an additional 12,000 displaced humans, the Abbott Government also announced that the 6 Australian warplanes in the area would commence bombing Syria within a week. If we are ‘assisting’ in bombing a country back to the stone age – with little if any legal justification - of course we should be assisting those who want a peaceful life but were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

However it is somewhat two faced to be throwing justified money and support at those who are alleged to be suffering in overcrowded and inhuman internment camps half way around the world while doing nothing to address reported inhumane conditions in the internment camps funded, staffed and operated by the Australian Government ‘off shore’. In a justification of the inhumanity apparently dished out to people on Manus Island and Nauru, Abbott claims

those on PNG's Manus Island and in detention on Nauru had done a deal with people smugglers to go way beyond the country of first asylum"
Under the Refugee Convention of 1951 (Australia is a signatory) refugees or asylum seekers – whichever term you prefer – do not have to apply for refugee status in the first country they come to as demonstrated by the large number of people traversing Hungary to get to Austria and Germany at the moment.

Tasmanian Liberal Senator Eric Abetz went on the record while the Government was considering its response suggesting that there should be bias against refugees that were not Christians. So did Whitsundays based LNP MP George Christensen. A considerable number of Tasmanians publically and privately have shown they disagree with their elected Senator, which begs the question how ‘in touch’ Abetz is with his electors. Southern Brisbane based ALP MP Graham Perritt produced the ultimate clever response to Christensen.

There have been a number of vigils within Australia which show a large proportion of the population are not only comfortable with an increased number of refugees being resettled in Australia – they are suggesting ‘#there’s room at my house’ . Already political commentators are discussing that the European refugee crisis and how the worldwide coverage of the death of Aylan Kurdi will give both sides of Australian politics the ability to tone down the mutually assured destruction on the treatment of refugee seekers that make it to Australia. The number of refugees currently attempting to enter Europe demonstrate for all that Australia doesn’t and never did have the ‘crisis’ of ‘boat people’ as claimed by various political leaders over the past decade or so. Former Liberal Minister Fred Chaney, writing in The Guardian suggests that there has been a change in direction in the past week.

Just a few months ago, when our region was grappling with refugees from Myanmar stranded on boats, we saw our regional neighbours, countries vital to us, coming together to find solutions. On all reports, we stood back from what became a shared effort at finding a solution, sending yet again a message about our national isolation.
Yet refugee issues, not least in our own region, are beyond any singular national solution. We need the cooperation of other countries if we are to protect our long term national interest, as they need ours. It is not good enough to limit ourselves to putting boots on the ground in Timor or planes in the air. We need to be part of the international networks needed to deal with issues beyond the capacity of any one country. 
Think terrorism, fisheries, drugs, climate change, whatever. Going it alone does not work.

We can only hope that the prime minister, Tony Abbott, can look at these issues beyond a domestic campaign focus and embrace the reality: we must face the horrendous facts and be part of the solution.

Recent polling has suggested that while a small majority of respondents still support ‘off-shore processing’ of refugees attempting to enter Australia, there is a similar level of support for the welcoming of 12,000 additional Syrian refugees to Australia. Interestingly, Abbott’s handling of the crisis is not supported by the majority and a majority of the poll respondents would be less likely to vote for the LNP at the next election over concerns with the current government’s refugee policy.

The pollster’s comment is interesting:

Chris Lonergan, the managing director of Lonergan Research, said: “A clear majority of Australians now support an increased intake of refugees, which suggests that compassion for true refugees now outweighs other concerns such as national security risks, or people taking advantage of the system.
While the death of anyone and the resultant distressing publicity is too high a price to pay – hopefully the ‘green shoots’ of a change in attitude to the ‘bona-fides’ of refugees demonstrated in Australia, as replicated across the world, is a fitting tribute for the life of a small boy – taken way too early. Rest in peace Aylan Kurdi.

What do you think? 

Taxpayer dollars and helicopters

So Bronwyn Bishop believes hiring a helicopter to travel from Melbourne to Geelong (a road trip of around an hour) is a justified use of $5,000 of taxpayer – that’s my and your – money.  The need for the speed to get to Geelong was for a Liberal Party fundraiser.  In reality, the $5,000 is chickenfeed.  You see, Bishop (the elder) has been applying for a new job as President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union based in Geneva and had to spend $88,084 of taxpayer money traveling to ‘submit the job application’ – on top of her $341,000 annual salary.

But wait, there’s more . . .

It seems that Bill Shorten was shaken but not stirred by his appearance at the Royal Commission into Union activities last week.  While Shorten didn’t look all that happy at times, and the Commissioner reminding him to answer the question isn’t a good look, so far the only ‘crime’ that has been identified is that Shorten didn’t completely and correctly fill in a declaration to the Australian Electoral Commission regarding donations to his 2007 election fundraising.

While Andrew Bolt and his loyal commenters claim Shorten is completely ruined as a result, Barrie Cassidy on the ABC’s The Drum website claims that Abbott has a history of non-disclosure himself

The Prime Minister has an impressive list, including failure to disclose a new mortgage on his family home and repaying almost $10,000 that he charged taxpayers for travel to promote his book.

‘He said – she said’ claims don’t really prove anything and ‘everyone’s doing it’ may be accurate.  However those claims don’t gel with the general public’s expectation that politicians actually comply with the regulations that attempt to ensure the political system is fair, transparent and above board.

Ex-Prime Minister Julia Gillard has also testified in front of the same Royal Commission and seems to have been cleared.  The mud however does stick.  Spreading doubt by association with activities the general public would consider to be unsavoury or lacking the highest ethics will affect public opinion.  So far, Abbott’s Royal Commission hasn’t proven much if any criminality, but it has made the implication Shorten and Gillard are disreputable despite no crime being uncovered - just because they attended a hearing.  A similar process was undertaken on Ex-Prime minister Rudd with the ‘enquiry’ into home insulation.  By the time of the commencement of that enquiry, those responsible for the actions that killed installers had been found guilty according to state based Occupational Health and Safety legislation, which is where it should have ended.

Those with a long memory have probably worked out by now that an ‘enquiry’ into the unions is not an ‘original idea’.  In a case of not asking the question until you know the answer, Prime Minister Fraser commissioned Frank Costigan to enquire into the ‘Painters and Dockers’ Union some 35 years ago.  Unfortunately for Fraser, Commissioner Costigan discovered a lot more than just some actions in a rogue union.  Mungo MacCallum describes how the plan to ‘tear into a rogue union and by association the Labor Partyfell apart with Costigan uncovered

vast amounts of corporate rorting by some of the Liberals' most prominent supporters. Dozens of dodgy companies were outed as serial tax avoiders, beneficiaries of what became known as bottom of the harbour schemes whereby assets were stripped ruthlessly to provide instant tax-free profits.

You and I as taxpayers pay for Government enquiries.  So how much has the current Royal Commission into Union Activities cost?  The answer is $61million in taxpayer funds.  Yes – that’s right it is costing us as taxpayers $61 million so far for Abbott to besmirch the reputation of Shorten and Gillard – and presumably increase Abbott’s chances of re-election next time around.

So according to Peter Lewis, writing on the ABC’s The Drum website, is this the best use of $61million of your and my money – recalling the ‘debt and deficit’ disaster that was coming to get us all in 2014?

In context, $61 million is significantly more than either major party spent on advertising during the 2013 federal election.

It's the amount the Abbott Government has cut in foreign aid to Pacific nations, notwithstanding the payments to Nauru and PNG to house unwanted asylum seekers.

And $61 million is also the amount the Federal Government tipped in (along with the states) to host the Asian Cup earlier this year.

But what, I hear you ask, has the $61 million committed to the Trade Union Royal Commission delivered the Australian taxpayer?

On one hand, it has shown that in industries like construction where workers still die on the job, the union bargains tough in a tough environment and sometimes crosses the line of polite behaviour. One of the major outrages has involved a union allegedly crossing that line to pursue an employer who had been refusing to pay its members' superannuation.

It has also uncovered the shocking fact that trade unions have lent funds to the political party it established to promote the interests of its members.

And in recent days it has shown that the Opposition Leader comes from the non-militant wing of the Labor movement, where the culture of cooperation and accommodation with employers goes all the way back to the Cold War.

Make no mistake, the isolated examples of alleged corruption of union officials are a betrayal of their movement. They would also be matters that could have just as easily been dealt with by the criminal law.

It is probably also worth noting that $61 million pales into insignificance when compared to the money Australia spends housing asylum seekers and refugees in allegedly sub-human conditions offshore (allowing Abbott to claim another political ‘win’).  Australia spent $1.1billion in the first 10 months of the 2014/5 financial year.  UNHCR (the organisation who is supposed to manage the flow of refugees) will spend an estimated $US157million in South East Asia during 2015.

While Abbott’s government members seem to find no problem in spending money to shore up their position, there seems to be less urgency in spending money to ensure that you and I have a reasonable lifestyle.  So far this year, Abbott has refused to assist the funding of light rail on the Gold Coast, additional rail capacity in Brisbane and the East West Rail link in Melbourne.  While they are all public transport projects, they will move more people at less environmental cost than new roads.  He is also attempting to ban the funding of wind farm and other ‘alternate’ energy projects which are close to equalling or beating traditional coal power stations on any economic or environmental comparison.  Clearly the environment we live in, the world we leave to our descendants or the care of our fellow human beings is less important than the longevity of Abbott’s political career.

What do you think?

P.S. And Ms Bishop - if you ever have to do the same trip again here are some cheaper options!