Showing posts with label Federal Parliament. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Federal Parliament. Show all posts

Monday, 7 August 2017

So why might the far right of the Liberal and National parties being pushing for a postal plebiscite on same-sex marriage?


The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) states this of national plebiscites:

Plebiscites

An issue put to the vote which does not affect the Constitution is called a plebiscite. A plebiscite is not defined in the Australian Constitution, the Electoral Act or the Referendum Act. A plebiscite can also be referred to as a simple national vote.

Governments can hold plebiscites to test whether people either support or oppose a proposed action on an issue. The government is not bound by the 'result' of a plebiscite as it is by the result of a Constitutional referendum. Federal, state and territory governments have held plebiscites on various issues.

Under s. 7A of the Electoral Act, the AEC can conduct a plebiscite as a fee-for-service election, with the AEC entering into 'an agreement, on behalf of the Commonwealth, for the supply of goods or services to a person or body'. The rules for a plebiscite or fee-for-service election are normally contained in the terms of the agreement between the AEC and the person funding the election.

Military service plebiscites were held in 1916 and 1917 but, as they were not proposals to amend the Constitution, the provisions of section 128 of the Constitution did not apply. Voters in all federal territories were permitted to vote. Both the military service plebiscites sought a mandate for conscription and were defeated.

The first thing to note about a national plebiscite is that its outcome is not binding on the federal parliament or on any MP or senator.

Additionally, voting in a national plebiscite can be voluntary, unless otherwise stated in any legislation authorising a specific plebiscite. As was the case in the National Song Poll in May 1977 at which 7.59 million people or est. 90%+ of registered voters cast a voluntary ballot.

Besides being voluntary a plebiscite can also be a mail-out ballot as was the Election of Delegates to the Constitutional Convention some twenty years later in December 1997, at which 6 million ballot papers were returned, scrutinised and counted – that is to say only 50.04% of all eligible voters actually voluntarily voted and an est. 1.13% of these cast informal ballots.

A parliamentary vote on same-sex marriage was calculated as costing $17 million in 2016. A stand-alone same-sex plebiscite was estimated to cost up to $525 million in that same year.

An important point to note about a national plebiscite on same-sex marriage is that it is unnecessary as s51 of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act gives federal parliament power to make laws regarding marriage and, parliament exercised that right as recently as 2004 when it changed the definition of marriage in order To ensure that same sex marriages are not recognised as marriage in Australia, inclusive of those performed under the laws of another country that permits such unions.

So one can see why far-right federal MPs and senators would be in favour of a voluntary plebiscite, particularly a postal one.

It may cost taxpayers more but the chances of a high voter participation rate is not as certain and, if the government of the day doesn't like the results of the ballot it can decide to not to act on them.

These parliamentarians probably believe those voters who will be less likely to return a postal ballot will not be those strongly opposed to same-sex marriage, but those who are undecided, neutral, or disinterestedly in favour of rewriting the Marriage Act to allow gay couples to wed.

In the minds of zealots like Eric Abetz and Tony Abbott this is probably seen as giving their cause a fighting chance and absolving them of any responsibility for continuing to actively oppose same-sex marriage.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

And Australian federal politicians wonder why they are held in such low esteem


The majority of those Teflon-coated, masters of entitlement sitting in the Senate and House of Representative in Canberra wouldn’t even make the gesture……


Fewer than a quarter of federal politicians have agreed to commit to new ethical standards devised by legendary corruption fighter Tony Fitzgerald - and there is not a single Turnbull government MP among them.

The former judge teamed up with the left-leaning Australia Institute think tank to survey every federal politician on their values as part of a plan to clean up Canberra and build momentum for a federal anti-corruption body.

The Queensland QC – who presided over the Fitzgerald Inquiry that ultimately led to the resignation of former state premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen – developed the questionnaire to test MPs about their attitudes towards accountability, integrity, nepotism, deception and the spending of public money.

But the response from MPs was underwhelming, with just 53 of the 226 signing up to the so-called "Fitzgerald Principles". Thirty-six refused to commit and 137 did not reply to repeated requests to participate.

"The refusal of a majority of politicians to commit publicly to normal standards of behaviour puts the need for an effective anti-corruption commission beyond doubt," Mr Fitzgerald said. 
"The major parties surely realise that the public wants politicians to behave honourably and that the scandals which are causing Australians to lose faith in democracy involve their members."

Thirty-eight members of the ALP agreed to the principles, including Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus. Seven members of the Australian Greens signed up, as did all four members of the Nick Xenophon Team, two independents and One Nation's Pauline Hanson.

No Coalition MPs - who are often instructed not to take part in surveys - signed up.

The Australia Institute, 28 January 2015:

The Fitzgerald Principles are:

1. Govern for the peace, welfare and good government of the State;
2. Make all decisions and take all actions, including public appointments, in the public interest without regard to personal, party political or other immaterial considerations;
3.  Treat all people equally without permitting any person or corporation special access or influence; and
4.  Promptly and accurately inform the public of its reasons for all significant or potentially controversial decisions and actions.

The Australian Government has a Statement Of Ministerial Standards which all federal government ministers are obliged to uphold. However, currently there is no general code of conduct for all members of parliament and, it appears that most of those we elected in 2016 like the freedom to do as they please which this allows and are loathe to alter the status quo.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Should Derryn Hinch really be a senator?


THE PROPHETIC QUESTION IS POSED


Should Derryn Hinch really be a senator?......
One of the outcomes of Saturday's federal election is that Victorians now have as one of their 12 representatives in the Senate a man who has over the past 30 years been to jail twice and fined $100,000 for breaching court orders, and who has been roundly criticised by the High Court for undermining the right of an accused person to a fair trial. We are talking about broadcaster Derryn Hinch.
While Hinch is not disqualified under the constitution from being a candidate for the Senate because he is not serving or waiting to serve a sentence for an offence under Commonwealth or state law punishable by a prison sentence of 12 months or more, the broader question is whether a person with Hinch's record is fit to hold the office of a legislator whose role is to ensure that laws are enforceable and that the rule of law is upheld?

THE ANSWER IS IN THE SENATOR'S FAILURE TO SUPPORT THE RULE OF LAW


it was Senator Hinch - twice jailed for contempt - who declared "the system is rotten".
"The three ministers were well within their rights to do what they did," he told Fairfax Media. "If I was the minister I would have told them to go jump. Courts are not inviolate."…
"I watched the performance yesterday and those guys up there in their black robes, it was like something out of Kafka," he said. "If that's contempt of court, I couldn't give a shit."

What was started by three Turnbull Government ministers allegedly working in unison to attack the judiciary now threatens to widen into something that may not be able to be easily contained.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Ninety-six per cent of Australian federal parliamentarians own a property


ABC News, 20 April 2017:

There's no housing affordability crisis in the ranks of Federal Parliament's members and senators.

The politicians charged with tackling the thorny issue of spiralling house prices are among the nation's most aggressive property investors, an analysis by the ABC has revealed.

The 226 individuals own 524 properties between them and about half of them own investment properties.

That means many of our politicians have a very personal interest in any changes to negative gearing and the capital gains tax discount……

Ninety-six per cent of parliamentarians own a property. Only 10 out of our 224 elected officials aren't in the game.

Compare that to the rest of Australia, where home ownership is expected to dip below 50 per cent sometime this year.

Register of Members’ Interests for 45th Australian Parliament.

Although a number of investment properties are listed in the members’ register this does not necessarily mean that additional property is not owned as part of superannuation schemes (other than that operated by the Commonwealth of Australia) or included in the assets of a private corporation in which a member has a significant shareholding.

Friday, 16 December 2016

The last Question Time of 2016 and the last hurrah for Malcolm Bligh Turnbull?


The Guardian, 4 December 2016:

Parliament ended the year with a mixture of bang and whimper.

The whimper was the legislative “fight”. It says a fair bit about the way the government is travelling that the big political issue was the backpacker tax (important as it is for farmers, it is not one that should have caused such grief) and the passing of the Building and Construction Commission legislation. This has been so laughably altered from its original intent that the main issue for unions is ensuring the ABCC does adhere to the legislation – such as the requirement that the commissioner performs his or her functions “in an apolitical manner”.

The bang was a protest that disrupted question time.

There was, of course, a lot of hand-wringing over the protest – there always is when the left protests in Australia. After all, we had much the same response about disruption of democracy from the powers that be a couple years ago when students protested against Christopher Pyne during an episode of Q&A.

The protesters certainly did disrupt the proceedings of parliament, but they did no one any harm and were no danger to anyone. Their putting a stop to the proceedings of question time actually produced a net benefit to the nation’s IQ, even if only for three-quarters of an hour.

That’s not to say question time is unimportant or always brain dulling in its idiocy. There are times, mostly by accident, when something worthwhile does occur, but for the most part it is just a poorly scripted play performed by mediocre actors……

It should be noted that on Wednesday it took Malcolm Turnbull two sentences to deliver his answer about attacking the ALP, while on Thursday it took him three.

Notionally his answer was about the passing of the legislation to reinstate the ABCC, but perhaps because the legislation was so neutered he felt on surer ground to talk about the ALP’s faults rather than his government’s achievements.
The ABCC legislation, however, nicely encapsulated the government’s policy process – rushed, sloppy and actually failing to deliver what was intended.

The government was so desperate to get the legislation passed that it agreed to all manner of amendments – including those that were highly protectionist, made the commissioner’s position virtually untenable, and those that didn’t make a lot of sense……

How I’ll remember Prime Minister Malcolm Bligh Turnbull during Question Time in 2016:

Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

SBS News, 6 December 2016:

Voter support for Malcolm Turnbull has fallen to its lowest level since he seized power, the latest Newspoll shows.

The Coalition heads into Christmas with its two-party preferred vote up from 47 to 48 per cent but still trailing Labor, which has notched up its sixth successive lead, on 52 per cent, the poll taken for The Australian newspaper shows.

Mr Turnbull's standing has again fallen, with his rating as better prime minister dropping two points to 41 per cent, the lowest level since he toppled Tony Abbott as leader 15 months ago.

The prime minister's standing has tumbled 18 points over the course of this year.
His margin over Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, who is favoured by 32 per cent as the preferred prime minister, has dropped from a 39-point lead in January to just nine points.

The Newspoll of 1629 voters, taken from Thursday to Sunday, shows the government's primary vote has gained one point to 39 per cent and Labor's primary vote fell two points to a two-month low of 36 per cent.

The Greens remain unchanged on 10 per cent while support for independents and other parties edged up from 14 to 15 per cent.


Thursday, 15 December 2016

In 2011 Australia had a Labor government and in 2016 it has a Liberal-Nationals Coalition government - see the difference


What a difference the philosophy a political party espouses makes to the physical and social environment in which they govern.

THEN……

The Australian Federal Parliament was interrupted by a group of protesters shouting 'no carbon tax' during Question Time on 11 October 2011.



This is what the Parliament House looked like after that incident – barricade free.

Photograph by Tracy Best, Saturday 24 October 2011

NOW…..

The Australian Federal Parliament was interrupted by a group of protesters shouting 
'close the camps ' during Question Time on 30 November 2016.


This is what Parliament House looked like after that incident.

A security guard patrols the lawns at Parliament House.
Photo: Andrew Meares, The Sydney Morning Herald 1 December 2016

Security ‘pen’ for journalists. Photo tweeted by James Massola, 2 December 2016

Sunday, 30 October 2016

The Desperation Of Barnaby Joyce: letter publicly released at a cost to Australian taxpayers of an est. $293 per word plus legal fees



The Sydney Morning Herald, 24 October 2016:

Opposition agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon has fought for the release of the letter, which was emailed directly to Mr Joyce and Tony Abbott's former head of department Michael Thawley, since the independent Information Commissioner ruled it should be made available.
Mr Joyce's department fought that ruling, spent $80,000 on engaging Ernst & Young to review its public information processes, and then fought the matter through the Administrative Appeals Tribunal before giving up the fight just after Parliament rose for two weeks on Friday.
"This letter shows Paul Grimes was deeply concerned about Barnaby Joyce's behaviour. He was challenging Joyce's integrity," Mr Fitzgibbon said on Monday.
"He clearly thought what Joyce did was not appropriate. This letter indicates he was being bullied.
"What Barnaby Joyce did was to sack Paul Grimes to save himself."
The Deputy Prime Minister's office stressed that Mr Joyce did not sack Mr Grimes, rather Mr Abbott asked him to stand aside on advice of Mr Thawley.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Oh, it's hard to be a pollie now that tax time is near


Herald Sun on the subject of Australian federal politicians and the tax they don't pay, 29 May 2016:

THE NUMBERS

■ Average tax deduction for MPs: $49,058*
■ Average salary: $264,305
■ Number of MPs: 845
Source: Australian Taxation Office 2013-14

Last year, the average taxable income was $180,507 for 722 MPs who had lodged claims to date.
By reducing the taxable income to $180,000 they are not paying the deficit levy, the top tax rate of 45 cents in the dollar or the higher Medicare Levy which would apply to their actual salary of $221,828.
By bringing their taxable income under $180,000 they are reducing their tax by around $20,000-a-year when the deficit levy, Medicare levy and the top tax rate is taken into account.
Source: Australian Taxation Office 2014-15

WHAT MPS CAN CLAIM

■ Federal and state MPs can claim all the normal deductions available to workers including negative gearing of investment properties, car leases and work related deductions.
There are also some added extras only politicians can claim including election expenses, electorate allowances and buying a second property to live in when in Canberra.
■ Election expenses
You can claim a deduction for election expenses but if you claim a deduction for any election expense you must include the reimbursement as income on your tax return.
Deductions include:
— advertising and promotional expenses incurred during the election period;
costs of election-related opinion polls or other research undertaken during the election period;
— travel and accommodation costs associated with the campaign;
— wages paid to persons employed for campaign purposes; costs of campaign novelty items — car stickers, T-shirts, lapel buttons or badges, pens, pencils or balloons;

■ Electorate Allowance

Federal MPs get an “Electorate allowance” of $32,000 as part of their salary. MPs need receipts and any cash is treated as taxable income. Allowable include the cost of presentations at school speech days, buying raffle tickets, gifts to sporting clubs and community groups and senior citizens awards and other donations. For example, an MP who spent $20,000 would secure an effective tax deduction of $20,000.

■ Second property not used as a Member’s residence

MPs can choose to rent or buy a property rather than stay in a hotel or other commercial establishment when travelling. A deduction is allowable for expenses including lease payments; rent; interest on borrowings used for the acquisition of the property; rates; taxes; insurance; general maintenance of the building, plant and grounds. The ATO argues the same rules apply to other taxpayers but not many other workers would fly to Canberra for 20 weeks a year and get a $271 allowance to sleep in their own investment property. MPs can choose to take the allowance tax-free and not claim a tax deduction. MPs who believe the costs of the investment property are more than the travel allowance of around $1,000 a week when Parliament is sitting can claim a deduction but must declare the allowance as income. MPs only do that if they know their costs would reduce their taxable income by the same amount or more.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Australian Federal Election 2016: bolting to the ballot box before arrests are made?


It is looking more and more as if Malcolm Turnbull’s decision to go to the polls early has less to do with so-called Senate obstruction and a lot more to do with a number of allegedly criminal skeletons in Liberal and National Party closets……..

ABC News 29 April 2016:

Australian Federal Police (AFP) have ramped up their investigation into the copying of former speaker Peter Slipper's diary.

The ABC has been told the AFP has made an application to the Federal Court, which, if granted, would allow police to use evidence from an earlier civil case in a criminal prosecution.

That evidence includes text and picture messages exchanged between Mr Slipper's former staffer, James Ashby, and Liberal National Party MP Mal Brough.


Now the AFP has asked the Federal Court to grant it permission to use the material harvested from Mr Ashby's phone, including excerpts from Mr Slipper's diary sent by Mr Ashby to Mr Brough.

In its application, the AFP has said the messages will be used in the current investigation, and any subsequent prosecution.

Permission is necessary because the exhibits were originally only to be used in the civil case.

Mr Ashby's sexual harassment suit was rejected by a Federal Court judge, who said Mr Ashby had been part of a "combination" including Mr Brough, which had used the legal action as a political weapon against Mr Slipper.

Mr Ashby then appealed and the original judgement was set aside, but Mr Ashby later dropped the case.

However, it subsequently emerged the AFP is investigating whether Mr Brough committed a crime by encouraging Mr Ashby to copy pages of Mr Slipper's diary.

Mr Brough stood down from his role of Special Minister of State in December, saying he would not contest the upcoming federal election.




Monday, 2 May 2016

Australian Federal Election 2016: is there an ounce of humanity left in Liberal, Nationals and Labor politicians? *WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGE*


Enough is enough. It’s time cease off-shore detention on Nauru as well as close the centre on Manus Island and face up to our collective responsibilities under international law.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 27 April 2016:

Pregnant asylum seekers detained on Nauru could be exposed to the Zika virus, with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection confirming there had been cases of the mosquito-borne disease on the island nation.

The revelation was made in the department's submission to the Senate inquiry into the treatment of asylum seekers at Australia's regional processing centres on Nauru and Manus Island.

Detainees have been issued with heavy-duty insect repellent in order to fend off the virus, which has been linked to a serious birth defect of the brain called microcephaly.

The Australian government's smartraveller website currently recommends women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant should consider postponing travel to any area where Zika virus is active.

"If you do decide to travel, talk to your doctor first and strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites during your trip," it says.

On Wednesday evening, Australian Medical Association (AMA) vice-president Stephen Parnis said pregnant asylum seekers on Nauru needed to be protected, assessed and "not exposed to any risk". He stopped short of saying whether the woman should be removed from the island.

The admission that Zika is present on Nauru comes in the same week senior doctors, including the AMA, raised grave concerns about the standard of medical care available to asylum seekers held in offshore detention, which they said would not be accepted in Australia.

In its submission, the department said "every precaution" was being taken to stop transferees contracting the Zika virus. 

The Sydney Morning Herald, 27 April 2016:


The source said the man spoke to UNHCR representatives of "the intolerable mental and physical pressure on refugees and particularly on himself, who [is] imprisoned at Nauru."

UNHCR regional representative Thomas Albrecht said his organisation was concerned about the "grave mental state of asylum seekers and refugees" and urgent action was needed to prevent further suffering and address worsening mental health.

The UNHCR had been in Nauru since Sunday conducting a monitoring mission of arrangements for asylum seekers and refugees transferred from Australia.

A refugee advocate who is in close contact with those at Nauru said tensions were high after the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled the Manus Island detention centre was illegal, opening up the prospect that detainees there could be released.

"People are thinking 'what about us'. They are feeling desperate," the advocate said, adding she believed the man had burns to 80 per cent of his body.

The incident follows a Nauruan court decision in February to convict and fine a refugee for attempted suicide in a move authorities said was designed to "stamp out the practice".

Dept. Immigration and Border Protection, media release, 29 April 2016:

A 23-year-old Iranian man who set himself on fire in Nauru has tragically died today from his injuries.

Appropriate support is being provided to his wife and friends.

The man was taken to Republic of Nauru Hospital for medical treatment by the Nauruan authorities. He was then transferred to Australia by air ambulance for medical treatment. The man passed away this afternoon in a Brisbane Hospital.

The Department expresses its sympathies to his wife, family and friends.

The death will be reported to the Queensland Coroner. No further comment will be made at this time.

Facebook:  Doctors4refugees, 29 April 2016

The death of Omid once again exposes the lie that people offshore have the same medical care as those in the Australian community.
We know that the Nauru hospital staff struggled with maintaining an adequate airway and had difficulties accessing an intravenous line. These are quite difficult to do in a severe burns victim and needs a specialised team immediately. Some parts of remote Australia may also not have this expertise but he would have been airlifted out to a tertiary hospital in a matter of hours.
When he got to Brisbane we 
[sic] was grossly oedematous (swollen) from the loss of vital proteins and had fluid leaking into his lungs, further impairing his breathing. Much of this was clearly compounded by the early lack of adequate oxygenation.
It is not an unusual complication; it’s entirely predictable in a person with this level of burns
This tragic outcome once again demonstrates the complete impracticality of accommodating these highly vulnerable people so far from Australia.

"Omid" set himself alight on 27 April, was airlifted to a Brisbane hospital sometime on 28 April – approximately 22 hours after self-harming. He died on 29 April 2016.

He appears to be the third asylum seeker who has died after setting themselves alight since June 2014 and the eighth offshore detainee who has died since August 2002.

UPDATE

ABC AM, 2 May 2016:

Shocking video and new details have emerged that raise questions about the standard of medical care given to the asylum seeker who set himself on fire on Nauru last week. Omid Masoumali died on Friday in a Brisbane hospital, two days after his injuries. His grieving wife Nana has told doctors on the mainland that while on Nauru, Omid was without a doctor's care for two hours at the medical facility and lay in agony a further eight hours before morphine was administered….
Omid Masoumali's body will be flown back to Iran.
His family have been asked to pay the $17,000 cost.

The Guardian, 3 May 2013

The young Somali woman who set herself alight on Nauru – the second refugee in a week to do so – has been taken to Australia by air ambulance, but her situation remains critical.
Hodan, 21, doused herself and set herself alight inside the OPC1 section of the detention centre on Nauru.
According to reports, she suffered severe burns to most of her body. One person reported “all of her clothes were burned off”.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Australian Federal Election 2016: the FFS! file grows


Barnaby Joyce will personally lobby Simon Birmingham to rein in the contentious Safe Schools Coalition anti-bullying program amid backbench outrage over the Education Minister’s “whitewash” review of the scheme and claims one of its key proponents is a “pedophile advocate”.

Coalition MPs learned at a private briefing on Tuesday that the government’s review of the scheme — which educates secondary school children about ­sexual orientation and transgender issues — had largely ­endorsed the scheme’s content, but recom­mended clearer advice for parents.

Several MPs stormed out of the meeting, blaming the terms of reference that did not require reviewer Bill Louden to consult with parents or visit more than a handful of schools.

Disgruntled backbenchers were last night devising a partyroom powerplay by circulating a petition to suspend the program’s $2 million annual subsidy pending a “full-blown” parliamentary inquiry. It has been signed by at least 30 MPs, which is half the backbench. [The Australian, 17 March 2016]

Warren Entsch wasn’t having a lend. Christensen’s Safe Schools petition really has vanished. It was last seen in question time yesterday. Accident or misadventure. I know I shouldn’t laugh, but I am laughing. Politics really is absurd, isn’t it? [The Guardian, 17 March 2016]

The internal debate within the Government over the Safe Schools gender diversity program is escalating, with Tony Abbott signing a petition against it despite introducing the program as prime minister. [ABC News, 17 March 2016]

Malcolm Turnbull personally urged Annastacia Palaszczuk to delay appointing Ian Macfarlane to a plum role under a plan to save his government from a damaging by-election. The prime minister rang the premier last week asking her to keep open the newly created position of a Resources Investment Commissioner for another three months, which has further fuelled speculation he plans to call a double dissolution election.

The bizarre phone call was met with surprise by Ms Palaszczuk, who dismissed the plea, and wants to announce a candidate and turbocharge jobs in the struggling resources sector.

The Courier-Mail can reveal Macfarlane, who has already announced he would not recontest his seat of Groom, was planning to quit parliament as early as last Friday. It is believed he is the preferred candidate for the job and a contract is ready for him to sign. It has been speculated Turnbull thought he was also trying to help his mate, who under law cannot accept a job while he is a member of parliament. [The Guardian, 17 March 2016]

There's been much debate about why the Senate wants to keep photographers at bay.
Under current rules photographers (and their media organisations) can be banned from the building for taking pictures of Senators in the chamber when they are not standing and speaking.
[ABC News, 17 March 2016]

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Federal Election 2016: Malcolm Bligh Turnbull's faux outrage


This was Coalition Prime Minister Malcolm Bligh Turnbull frothing at the mouth in March 2016:


Now at the time writs were issued for the 2013 federal election there were 34 Liberal/Nationals senators, 31 Labor senators, 9 Greens senators and 1 independent.

After that election there were 33 Liberal/Nationals senators, 25 Labor senators, 10 Greens senators, 1 independent senators and 7 minor party senators.

With some senators resigning from minor parties in the first two years the mix is now 33 Liberal/Nationals senators, 25 Labor senators, 10 Greens senators, 4 independent senators and 4 minor party senators.

The Senate still functions - sitting days are per usual, estimate hearings go ahead as normal and committees function as well as they ever did.

So why all this faux outrage on the part of the Turnbull Government, which resulted in it introducing the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016 in the Lower House on 22 February and attempting to ram it through the Senate as I write?

Well it wasn’t because that very large Senate ballot paper led to a high informal vote – in fact 2013 saw the third lowest informal vote since 1977 when it came to casting votes for senators – and it wasn’t because the ballot result meant the Coalition had drastically fewer senators as they went from 37 senators in the 43rd Parliament to 34 in the 44th “hung” Parliament.

The real reason that Turnbull & Co are up in arms is because the Senate rejected the most punitive of its 2014-15 budget measures. You know, the ones that were blatant ideological attempts to begin the dismantling of universal healthcare, affordable university education and the welfare safety net.

The fact that the Senate was merely reflecting the outrage of much of the national electorate continues to be ignored, as Malcolm and his cronies blame those pesky minor parties and plot to comprehensively ‘own’ the Senate next time round.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Australian Federal Election 2016: another opinion poll puts Labor & Coalition neck-and-neck on two party preferred vote distribution


As national polling of voter intentions begins to tighten, the Turnbull Government options are also narrowing.

The term of this House of Representatives expires on 11 November 2016 and, writs for a normal half-Senate election cannot be issued before 1 July 2016. 

Thus the first available date for a general election would be on or about 6 August 2016 - which would see Parliament dissolved and the Abbott-Turnbull Government in caretaker mode from as early as 21 June, approximately five weeks after delivering its third set of budget papers. 

Leaving Prime Minister Turnbull and Treasurer Morrison very little time to tweak any unpopular measures or errors found in their 2016-17 budget before Coalition MPs went on the campaign trail in their respective electorates.

As for a double dissolution. According to Antony Green's Election Blog:

A double dissolution of the House and the Senate under Section 57 of the Constitution cannot take place within 6 months of the end of the House's term. That means a double dissolution must be granted by 11 May 2016. Allowing for the maximum campaign shown above, the last possible date for a double dissolution election is 16 July 2016.

This timetable leaves Turnbull less than seventy days to create a situation which the Governor-General could view as urgently supporting the dissolution of both the House of Representatives and the full Senate.

Such an election would also see the Abbott-Turnbull Government in caretaker mode within days of tabling this year's budget papers.

Latest Essential Report, 1 March 2016:

Friday, 19 February 2016

A hint of what the Australian Federal Police know concerning the Ashby-Brough affair


What Senate Estimates tells us this month: 

* Liberal MP for Fisher Mal Brough has been formally interviewed by federal police at least once; 
* hundreds of thousands of emails, documents and images have been seized from the homes of Mal BroughJames Ashby, Karen Doane and elsewhere; 
* the official charge being considered is unauthorised disclosure1; 
* federal police have read “Ashbygate” by Ross Jones; 
* the Kingston Hotel in Canberra is well-known in Senate circles; and
* LNP Senator Ian Macdonald has no understanding of the Commonwealth Criminal Code.

SENATE LEGAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL AFFAIRS LEGISLATION COMMITTEE Estimates (Public) Tuesday, 9 February 2016:

[Labor, Victoria] Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I would like to ask some questions about the status of the AFP investigation into the theft of the official diary of the former Speaker of the House of Representatives. I appreciate the sensitivity of the matter, as the investigation obviously remains on foot, so I will be attempting to ask some fairly factual questions, but please let me know if you think it is inappropriate, given that the investigation is on foot. It has been reported publicly that the AFP raided the homes of Mr Brough, Mr Ashby and Karen Doane, looking for evidence in relation to the theft of the former Speaker's diary. Are those reports accurate?
[Australian Federal Police Commissioner] Mr Colvin: The way that you have characterised them, Senator, I guess is relevant to the investigation. We are making an investigation into the unauthorised disclosure of and access to the diary. I would draw a distinction between that and theft. I just want to be very careful about what we say.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Sure. So you do not think it is appropriate to discuss at this stage whether you have raided the homes of those people?
[Federal Attorney-General] Senator Brandis: Senator Collins, I think the point Mr Colvin was making to you is that there is no investigation into theft.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Okay. What language would you like to use, Mr Colvin?
Mr Colvin: We refer to it as unauthorised disclosure.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS: All right, we will use that language and I will ask the same question.
Mr Colvin: Yes. I am not trying to be picky on that.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS: That is fine.
Mr Colvin: In relation to matters that we have or have not done, some aspects of this investigation are already in the public arena, and I am happy to confirm matters that are in the public arena. But, to the extent that matters are not, it is not our normal course, as you would appreciate, to talk about what we may be doing. Deputy Commissioner Close has the details.
[Deputy Commissioner, Operations] Ms L Close: Senator, I can confirm that the search warrants were executed on premises for the three people that you have just mentioned.
Senator COLLINS: Are there any other search warrants that are fitting in with Mr Colvin's point and that are a matter of the public record?
Ms L Close: No, there are none on the public record.
Senator COLLINS: Am I correct in concluding that you do not want to discuss any that may have occurred but are not on the public record?
Ms L Close: That is correct.
Senator COLLINS: Okay. What is the current status of the investigation into Mr Brough's conduct?
Ms L Close: The investigation continues. As you can understand, we are relying heavily on electronic records, which we have obtained from various entities. Because of the complex nature of this matter we have also had to obtain legal opinion in respect of search warrants and other avenues of inquiry. Just to demonstrate, some of the investigation time frames are quite lengthy, because we have recovered, to date, in excess of 7,600 emails, 141,000 documents, 116,000-plus images and thousands of email attachments. That just highlights for you the extent of the investigation we are undertaking. 
Senator COLLINS: Are you able to tell me when you expect to be able to finalise the investigation?
Ms L Close: No.
Senator COLLINS: Does all that material you just referred to cover the book Ashbygate?
Ms L Close: No.
Mr Colvin: No.
Senator COLLINS: What are the possible outcomes of the investigation? What will happen when you conclude all of that work?
Ms L Close: We then make an assessment as to whether we believe there is sufficient evidence beyond reasonable doubt to have a prima facie case to put to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions. The Commonwealth DPP will then make a determination of whether there are any charges to be laid in respect of any people.
Senator COLLINS: And at this point in time you are not able to advise me of the time frame on which you think you will conclude your review of the material?
Ms L Close: Not at this point, no. 
Mr Colvin: Further to that, there are aspects of all investigations, and this one is no different, that are out of the control of the organisation. We are in the hands of processes, and sometimes individuals, that mean that we cannot give you a time frame with any degree of certainty.
Senator COLLINS: Mr Brough has remarked that he is willing to be interviewed by the AFP in relation to the criminal accusations that have been made against him. Has that interview occurred?
Ms L Close: We have spoken to Mr Brough, and that is on public record.
Senator COLLINS: When was that, and where did the interview occur?
Mr Colvin: I think in fairness to Mr Brough, if he wishes to make some of that material public then he may do that. We have not said that publicly and I do not think it is appropriate. We would not normally make that public. That is a matter for Mr Brough, if he wishes to.
Senator COLLINS: When you say, though, that you have spoken to Mr Brough, is that what would be regarded as an interview? Or have you a need for further interview?
Ms L Close: It really will depend on the analysis of all the material that I outlined to you earlier as to whether we need another interview or not.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Okay, but in terms of you looking at all the material before you, it was not just simply a preliminary discussion.
Ms L Close: We have had preliminary discussions—
[Nationals, Queensland] Senator O'SULLIVAN: Chair, could I just raise a point of order? I am struggling to see the relevance of this in the context of estimates. I would understand if the senator were pursuing details about the cost of these investigations, the volume of resources and the like. But we have quite literally hundreds of investigations underway at the moment that would have a political interest, and the trade movement and the like. We could spend the next week here examining the AFP's involvement. I just do not understand the relevance, and I would like you just to consider it and perhaps rule on it.
[LNP Queensland, Senator Ian Macdonald] CHAIR: It is relevant to the expenditure on wages and equipment.
Senator O'SULLIVAN: Well, if the questions were that, I would understand that, but that is not—
CHAIR: Well, that is not how they are being used, I guess, but I would allow it at this time.
Senator Brandis: I think the point is that Mr Colvin and Deputy Commissioner Close have made it clear that they cannot go beyond that which is on the public record, and that which is on the public record is already on the public record. So, I just wonder what it profits us to ask questions to which we already know the answer, since only matters to which we do already know the answers are appropriate objects of inquiry.
CHAIR: It is really up to the senator to use her time in whatever way she seems fit. As you say, even if the information is already there, if the senator wants to keep asking the same questions and gets the same answer, that is really up to her.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Thank you.
Mr Colvin: In answer to your question: I do not wish to discuss investigational strategies. Whether we decide to re-speak to Mr Brough in a formal or informal capacity, they are all matters that my investigators will make a judgement on depending on where the investigation takes them, and it is not something I wish to discuss openly.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS: No, and that was not really the point of my question. I was simply seeking to establish whether we were both talking about an interview, which is what Mr Brough had referred to, as opposed to some preliminary conversation to establishment.
Mr Colvin: I will leave that for Mr Brough to talk about, not us.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS: It has been reported that Mr Ashby has offered to provide the AFP with a copy of the document which he says proves that Wyatt Roy instructed him to steal the former Speaker's official diary. For example on 1 December—
Senator O'SULLIVAN: That is an emotively embedded question when the commissioner has made it very clear to you that there is no investigation on foot regarding theft. At least keep your language in accordance with the fact that have been presented to you in the evidence.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I suggest you go back to the buffet.
CHAIR: You have made your point of order on that one.
Senator Brandis: Mr Chairman, on the same point, if I may—and I know Senator Collins is a serial offender here—but if words are to be attributed to someone then the precise words they use, not a paraphrase of them, has to be put to the witness. On numerous occasions, in this forum and in the chamber, it has been discovered after Senator Collins has put a paraphrase of words to a senator or a witness that what she has put to the senator or the witness was not an accurate rendering of what they said.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS: That is simply untrue.
Senator Brandis: On numerous occasions I have caught you out doing this.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS: No, that is untrue. On numerous occasions you have practised malapropism, because you do not know how to apply words that you think are big and attractive. Senator Brandis: If you are going to attribute words which bear a very, very important insinuation against somebody's reputation then in fairness both to the witness and to the person whom you are trying to smear—
Senator JACINTA COLLINS: 'Smear' now? Stop imputing improper motives.
Senator Brandis: please put the direct speech to the witness or not at all.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Your behaviour is outrageous. I really do not know how Mr Turnbull puts up with you.
CHAIR: A point of order was raised and I am ruling on it. There is no point of order—
Senator JACINTA COLLINS: No, there is not. That is right.
CHAIR: but I am sure Commissioner Colvin will take the warning and will, himself, be cautious in how he answers the questions, as he always is, of course.
[Labor, Tasmania] Senator BILYK: It is all very draining now.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I mentioned that it had been reported and I was about, if I had been given one extra moment of oxygen, to quote that report. If Senator Brandis wants to take issue with the quotation he is encouraged to take issue with the ABC.
Senator Brandis: Then you will be kind enough to provide us with the source from which you are quoting.
CHAIR: The ABC.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Certainly, which I just did.
CHAIR: That is a reliable source. We can all rest assured now that this will be accurate.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS: On 1 December last year the ABC reported that: Mr Ashby has also claimed today that Assistant Minister for Innovation Wyatt Roy advised him to copy Mr Slipper's diary. CHAIR: And the question is?
Senator JACINTA COLLINS: No, I am going to go through the full quote, because I do not want to— Senator Brandis: Are you reading from the report or are you reading from words attributed in direct speech to Mr Ashby?
Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I am about to go to words directly attributed to Mr Ashby now, in The Australian newspaper.
Senator Brandis: In direct speech?
Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Yes.
Senator O'SULLIVAN: Chair, can we have a copy of this while this is happening so we can keep it in context and so we can follow the senator's efforts here?
Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Sure. In quotation of Mr Ashby: "Wyatt said he didn't really know how to advise me and said he wanted to speak with Christopher Pyne," Mr Ashby told The Australian newspaper. Again in quotation of Mr Ashby: "He then called me back and I went and saw him in his office and he presented me a sheet of paper with instructions of what I should do, and one of the first steps was to get a copy of the office diary." Still in quotation: 'That is how I came to be printing off a copy of the digital diary. It was evidence in my case.' That is the end of the quote. This is still from the ABC, though: Mr Ashby confirmed the quotes on Macquarie Radio this morning and said the sheet of paper would have Mr Roy's fingerprints on it. Finally, referring to Mr Ashby: 'And Wyatt's never denied giving me any assistance in the beginning,' he said. Following that public reporting, has Mr Ashby provided a copy of this set of written instructions to the AFP?
Mr Colvin: I am not aware of that particular report. I know it is not necessarily relevant to your question, I just think it would be very unwise for me to give an indication to the committee while this matter is still ongoing. That is directly relevant to the ongoing nature of the investigation, and it is just not something I am prepared to talk about publicly.
Senator O'SULLIVAN: Hear, hear.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I appreciate that. Senator O'Sullivan, maybe you were still down at the King O when I started these questions—
Senator O'SULLIVAN: You do not know where I was, and your comments are offensive and you should keep them to yourself.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS: We do know where you were.
CHAIR: Senator Collins, that is an offensive comment on a Senate colleague. I will not ask you to withdraw—
Senator O'SULLIVAN: For the record, I was not at the Kingston Hotel.
CHAIR: You do not have to say where you were.
Senator O'SULLIVAN: No, but I am just sick of this.
CHAIR: You should desist from that, though, because otherwise people will say you are always permanently drunk, Senator Collins, and that does not get us anywhere.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS: They are welcome to say that. It would not have much credibility.
CHAIR: Well what you are saying about Senate colleagues does not have much credibility either.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS: The issue is that I said at the outset of this discussion, and Mr Colvin remembers that because of the response he just made—
CHAIR: You made a snide comment to another senator, which should not happen. Go on with your question.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS: If you defended me as adequately as you are now him, obviously people would not feel encouraged to respond to poor behaviour. I understand that Mr Colvin does not want to respond to that question, and I accept his explanation of that. My next question—
Senator Brandis: I think Mr Colvin said it would not be appropriate to respond.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Yes, and I said that I accept that.
Senator Brandis: You said that he said he did not want to respond.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Will you stop being such a pedant? Seriously.
Senator Brandis: I think there is a difference.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS: It is very late at night, and your behaviour is very draining.
Senator Brandis: There is no reluctance on the part of these witnesses to respond to questions to which they feel they can respond appropriately. When the commissioner of the Australian Federal Police says that it is not a question to which he can appropriately respond, then that is the ground on which the question has not been answered—not because he does not want to provide the committee with all the information he appropriately can.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Senator Brandis, no one implying any differently. You are just making this tedious.
CHAIR: Let us move on. Your time has finished, but we can come back to you, Senator Collins. I will go to Senator O'Sullivan, but, before I do, as part of Senator O'Sullivan's time, could I just ask if the offence being considered or investigated is unauthorised disclosure? Is that right?
Mr Colvin: The circumstances that we are investigating is the unauthorised disclosure of the former speaker's diary. The offence that we may end up considering as the most appropriate—if we even get to that point—is still to be determined.
CHAIR: It is what?
Mr Colvin: It is still to be determined. We have a range of—
CHAIR: There is no technical offence of unauthorised disclosure, is there? That is not a criminal offence.
Mr Colvin: There are offences of unauthorised disclosure.
CHAIR: Where do they rate in the scale of offences? Are they like murder? Terrorism? Rape? Robbery?
Mr Colvin: Chair, that is very difficult for me to answer, because it depends upon the circumstances—for example, are there aggravated circumstances. All offences have penalties that the court can impose, and, clearly, unauthorised disclosure has a very different penalty to what a terrorism offence would.
CHAIR: There was a lot of discussion earlier about the cost and your resources and all this, and I was absolutely gobsmacked to hear Ms Close say that you have investigated thousands and thousands of emails and documents. I can well appreciate the questions on the use of your resources, when you are clearly involved in a huge amount of effort. Is someone, or are several people, going through every one of those emails, every one of those documents, with a magnifying glass, considering each aspect?
Ms L Close: Yes, we have investigators looking at every document that we have seized in relation to this matter.
CHAIR: That would be a very time-consuming exercise, I take it.
Ms L Close: Yes.
CHAIR: For something that I would have thought—and you can tell me I am wrong—in the course of criminal activities that the AFP look at would rank pretty low: unauthorised disclosure.
Mr Colvin: There are a few things there to consider. One is: the court will make determinations in terms of penalty of what gravity of offence the court may consider if somebody is convicted. But there are broader considerations for the AFP than just the penalty of the offence. It is the circumstances and the public interest in the matter. I am probably better off just leaving it at that.
Senator Brandis: I think, if I do not misunderstand what is being said, that it is actually not the offence of unauthorised disclosure; it is the offence of procuring another person to have unauthorised access. I do not think it is being suggested that Mr Brough himself had unauthorised access. I think it is being suggested by some that Mr Brough encouraged somebody else to have unauthorised access.
CHAIR: That would take it to being an even lesser matter, but I take Commissioner Colvin's point and will not pursue that. I hesitate to ask for this on notice, but can someone tell me the penalties that have been imposed on the last successful convictions for procuring someone to have unauthorised disclosure?
[Australian Greens, Tasmania] Senator McKim interjecting—
CHAIR: It is wasting resources, is my point, when we are dealing with criminals, thugs, rapists, murderers, and we have the AFP looking through hundreds of thousands of documents and emails for an offence which, even on conviction, I guess would get a good behaviour bond or something. That would be my experience of how lenient the courts are these days. How difficult would it be to get me some examples of the last time someone was convicted for procuring someone else to make an unauthorised disclosure? Would that be difficult to find?
Ms L Close: I am not aware of the last matter where a person was convicted, so we will have to take that on notice and do some research.
CHAIR: I do not want you to do too much research, because I for one appreciate that you have far more important things to do. But if it is easy to get the last couple of times there were convictions—if there have ever been any in the history of the Criminal Code of the Commonwealth—I would be interested to see when they were, what the penalty was and how many there were. With that, I will pass to Senator O'Sullivan.


3.91       Section 70 of the Crimes Act is the only provision remaining in pt VI of the Crimes Act.[125] A version of s 70 was included in the original Crimes Act in 1914, and was based on a provision of the Criminal Code Act 1899 (Qld).[126] This original version of s 70 was repealed and replaced in 1960 to extend the prohibition on the unauthorised disclosure of information by Commonwealth officers to include former Commonwealth officers.[127] While minor amendments have been made to s 70 on three occasions since 1960,[128] the substance of the provision has not changed since that time.

3.92       The effect of s 70 is to apply criminal sanctions to the breach of secrecy obligations by public officials.[129] Section 70 provides that:

(1)  A person who, being a Commonwealth officer, publishes or communicates, except to some person to whom he or she is authorized to publish or communicate it, any fact or document which comes to his or her knowledge, or into his or her possession, by virtue of being a Commonwealth officer, and which it is his or her duty not to disclose, shall be guilty of an offence.

(2)  A person who, having been a Commonwealth officer, publishes or communicates, without lawful authority or excuse (proof whereof shall lie upon him or her), any fact or document which came to his or her knowledge, or into his or her possession, by virtue of having been a Commonwealth officer, and which, at the time when he or she ceased to be a Commonwealth officer, it was his or her duty not to disclose, shall be guilty of an offence....

What kind of information is protected?

3.100   Section 70 of the Crimes Act makes it an offence for a Commonwealth officer to disclose ‘any fact or document which comes to his or her knowledge, or into his or her possession, by virtue of being a Commonwealth officer’. On its face, s 70 could apply to the disclosure of any information regardless of its nature or sensitivity.

An example of conviction for unauthorised disclosure: R v Scerba (No 2) [2015] ACTSC 359 (5 November 2015)

Decision:
1.                   Michael Scerba be convicted of unauthorised disclosure of information by a Commonwealth officer.
2.                   Michael Scerba be sentenced to twelve months imprisonment to commence today, 5 November 2015.
3.                   On 4 February 2016, after serving three months imprisonment, and upon giving security in the sum of $500, Michael Scerba be released on the condition that he be of good behaviour for a period of two years.
4.                   Pursuant to s 23ZD of the Crimes Act 1914 (Cth) and upon application of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the following items, seized by members of the AFP during the execution of a search warrant at [redacted], Richardson in the ACT on 21 October 2012, be forfeited to the Commonwealth:
a.                   All hard drives contained in the black ‘ANTEC’ computer tower (item no 001 recorded on property seizure record A228052); and
b.                  5 x shards/pieces of compact disc (item no MS/ET/45 recorded on property seizure record A228055)