Showing posts with label government policy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label government policy. Show all posts

Monday, 19 March 2018

A year ago the Turnbull Cabinet decided to elevate "a fascist like Peter Dutton"

This is Peter Craig Dutton, Australian Minister for Home Affairs, Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, millionaire property speculator, alleged closet racist and former Queensland police officer.

Twelve months ago government and national intelligence circles were unhappy about his elevation to powerful Tsar

Dutton's portfolios are now under audit and review as they merge and grow.

BuzzFeed, 12 March 2018:

The new super agency created by home affairs minister Peter Dutton is facing unprecedented government scrutiny, amid a series of audits and reviews into visa arrangements and anti-corruption measures.

The federal government merged a large number of Australian government agencies into one super agency headed by Dutton earlier this year.

In an unprecedented government initiative, Dutton is overseeing more than 13,000 staff across the immigration department, Australian Border Force (ABF), Australian Federal Police, Australian Crime and Intelligence Commission, Austrac and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation.

The agency is absorbing a range of functions from the attorney-general's department, the department of infrastructure and the prime minister's department, and will have a total budget of more than $2 billion.

The arrangement was particularly controversial because there was no recommendation to actually create the agency; its establishment rests on the contested assumption that centralising these government agencies will ensure greater efficiency across immigration, law enforcement and other government areas.

But the new agency is now facing unprecedented scrutiny as home affairs secretary Michael Pezzullo grapples with how to bring disparate government entities under the umbrella of a single agency.

The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) is currently undertaking three separate audits into the integration of the immigration department and customs, the efficiency of visa processing and personnel security risks.

It is currently considering an additional six audits into staff integrity measures, payment standards, cape class patron vessel support, intelligence operations, collection of visa revenue and the tourist refund scheme.

Previous ANAO reports have scrutinised the immigration department's detention contracting arrangements and found them to have serious flaws. One review into contracting on Nauru and Manus found it spent more than $1 billion without proper approvals, and another found it failed to oversee healthcare arrangements in onshore detention centres.

Watch this space.

* Photograph found at The Guardian.

Friday, 9 March 2018

Two perspectives on global economic and social inequality

So you thought trade agreements were really about win-win free trade?

John F. Kennedy School of Government Harvard University, Dani Rodrik, excerpts from What Do Trade Agreements Really Do?, February 2018:

As trade agreements have evolved and gone beyond import tariffs and quotas into regulatory rules and harmonization, they have become more difficult to fit into received economic theory. Nevertheless, most economists continue to regard trade agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) favorably. The default view seems to be that these arrangements get us closer to free trade by reducing transaction costs associated with regulatory differences or explicit protectionism. An alternative perspective is that trade agreements are the result of rent-seeking, self-interested behavior on the part of politically well-connected firms – international banks, pharmaceutical companies, multinational firms. They may result in freer, mutually beneficial trade, through exchange of market access. But they are as likely to produce purely redistributive outcomes under the guise of “freer trade…..

The consensus in favor of the general statement supporting free trade is not a surprise. Economists disagree about a lot of things, but the superiority of free trade over protection is not controversial. The principle of comparative advantage and the case for the gains from trade are crown jewels of the economics profession. So the nearly unanimous support for free trade in principle is understandable. But the almost identical level of enthusiasm expressed for the North American Free trade Agreement—that is, for a text that runs into nearly 2,000 pages, negotiated by three governments under pressures from lobbies and special interests, and shaped by a mix of political, economic, and foreign policy objectives—is more curious. The economists must have been aware that trade agreements, like free trade itself, create winners and losers. But how did they weight the gains and losses to reach a judgement that US citizens would be better off “on average”? Did it not matter who gained and lost, whether they were rich or poor to begin with, or whether the gains and losses would be diffuse or concentrated? What if the likely redistribution was large compared to the efficiency gains? What did they assume about the likely compensation for the losers, or did it not matter at all? And would their evaluation be any different if they knew that recent research suggests NAFTA produced minute net efficiency gains for the US economy while severely depressing wages of those groups and communities most directly affected by Mexican competition?

Perhaps the experts viewed distributional questions as secondary in view of the overall gains from trade. After all, opening up to trade is analogous to technological progress. In both cases, the economic pie expands while some groups are left behind. We did not ban automobiles or light bulbs because coachmen and candle makers would lose their jobs. So why restrict trade? As the experts in this survey contemplated whether US citizens would be better off “on average” as a result of NAFTA, it seems plausible that they viewed questions about the practical details or the distributional questions of NAFTA as secondary in view of the overall gains from trade.

This tendency to view trade agreements as an example of efficiency-enhancing policies that may nevertheless leave some people behind would be more justifiable if recent trade agreements were simply about eliminating restrictions on trade such as import tariffs and quotas. In fact, the label “free trade agreements” does not do a very good job of describing what recent proposed agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and numerous other regional and bilateral trade agreements actually do. Contemporary trade agreements go much beyond traditional trade restrictions at the border. They cover regulatory standards, health and safety rules, investment, banking and finance, intellectual property, labor, the environment, and many other subjects besides. They reach well beyond national borders and seek deep integration among nations rather than shallow integration, to use Robert Lawrence’s (1996) helpful distinction. 

According to one tabulation, 76 percent of existing preferential trade agreements covered at least some aspect of investment (such as free capital mobility) by 2011; 61 percent covered intellectual property rights protection; and 46 percent covered environmental regulations (Limão 2016)…..

Consider first patents and copyrights (so-called “trade-related intellectual property rights” or TRIPs). TRIPs entered the lexicon of trade during the Uruguay Round of multilateral trade negotiations, which were completed in 1994. The US has pushed for progressively tighter rules (called TRIPs-plus) in subsequent regional and bilateral trade agreements. Typically TRIPs pit advanced countries against developing countries, with the former demanding stronger and lengthier monopoly restrictions for their firms in the latter’s markets. Freer trade is supposed to be win-win, with both parties benefiting. But in TRIPs, the advanced countries’ gains are largely the developing countries’ losses. Consumers in the developing nations pay higher prices for pharmaceuticals and other research-intensive products and the advanced countries’ firms reap higher monopoly rents. One needs to assume an implausibly high elasticity of global innovation to developing countries’ patents to compensate for what is in effect a pure transfer of rents from poor to rich countries. That is why many ardent proponents of free trade were opposed to the incorporation of TRIPs in the Uruguay Round (e.g., Bhagwati et al. 2014). Nonetheless, TRIPs rules have not been dropped, and in fact expand with each new FTA. Thanks to subsequent trade agreements, intellectual property protection has become broader and stronger, and much of the flexibility afforded to individual countries under the original WTO agreement has been eliminated (Sell 2011).

Second, consider restrictions on nations’ ability to manage cross-border capital flows. Starting with its bilateral trade agreements with Singapore and Chile in 2003, the US government has sought and obtained agreements that enforce open capital accounts as a rule. These agreements make it difficult for signatories to manage cross-border capital flows, including in short-term financial instruments. In many recent US trade agreements such restrictions apply even in times of macroeconomic and financial crisis. This has raised eyebrows even at the International Monetary Fund (IMF, Siegel 2013). Paradoxically, capital account liberalization has become a norm in trade agreements just as professional opinion among economists was becoming more skeptical about the wisdom of free capital flows. The frequency and severity of financial crises associated with financial globalization have led many experts to believe that direct restrictions on the capital account have a second-best role to complement prudential regulation and, possibly, provide temporary breathing space during moments of extreme financial stress. The IMF itself, once at the vanguard of the push for capital-account liberalization, has officially revised its stance on capital controls. It now acknowledges a useful role for them where more direct remedies for underlying macroeconomic and financial imbalances are not available. Yet investment and financial services provisions in many FTAs run blithely against this new consensus among economists. A third area where trade agreements include provisions of questionable merit is socalled “investor-state dispute settlement procedures” (ISDS). These provisions have been imported into trade agreements from bilateral investment treaties (BIT). They are an anomaly in that they enable foreign investors, and they alone, to sue host governments in special arbitration tribunals and to seek monetary damages for regulatory, tax, and other policy changes that reduce their profits. Foreign investors (and their governments) see ISDS as protection against expropriation, but in practice arbitration tribunals interpret the protections provided more broadly than under, say, domestic US law (Johnson et al., 2015). Developing countries traditionally have signed on to ISDS in the expectation that it would compensate for their weak legal regimes and help attract direct foreign investment. But ISDS also suffers from its own problems: it operates outside accepted legal regimes, gives arbitrators too much power, does not follow or set precedents, and allows no appeal. Whatever the merits of ISDS for developing nations, it is more difficult to justify its inclusion in trade agreements among advanced countries with well-functioning legal systems (e.g. the prospective Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the U.S. and European countries).

Read the full paper here.

So you thought globalisation was a good idea?

Harvard Business Review, Lucas Chancel, 40 Years of Data Suggests 3 Myths About Globalization, 2 March 2018:

Globalization has led to a rise in global income inequality, not a reduction
Inequality between individuals across the world is the result of two competing forces: inequality between countries and inequality within countries. For example, strong growth in China and India contributed to significant global income growth, and therefore, decreased inequality between countries. However, inequality within these countries rose sharply. The top 1% income share rose from 7% to 22% in India, and 6% to 14% in China between 1980 and 2016.

Until recently, it has been impossible to know which of these two forces dominates globally, because of lack of data on inequality trends within countries, which many governments do not release publicly or uniformly. The World Inequality Report 2018 addresses this issue, relying on systematic, comparable, and transparent inequality statistics from high-income and emerging countries.

The conclusion is striking. Between 1980 and 2016, inequality between the world’s citizens increased, despite strong growth in emerging markets. Indeed, the share of global income accrued by the richest 1%, grew from 16% in 1980 to 20% by 2016. Meanwhile the income share of the poorest 50% hovered around 9%. The top 1% — individuals earning more than $13,500 per month — globally captured twice as much income growth as the bottom 50% of the world population over this period.

Income doesn’t trickle down

The second belief contests that high growth at the top is necessary to achieve some growth at the bottom of the distribution, in other words that rising inequality is necessary to elevate standards of living among the poorest. However, this idea is at odds with the data. When we compare Europe with the U.S., or China with India, it is clear that countries that experienced a higher rise in inequality were not better at lifting the incomes of their poorest citizens. Indeed, the U.S. is the extreme counterargument to the myth of trickle down: while incomes grew by more than 600% for the top 0.001% of Americans since 1980, the bottom half of the population was actually shut off from economic growth, with a close to zero rise in their yearly income. In Europe, growth among the top 0.001% was five times lower than in the U.S., but the poorest half of the population fared much better, experiencing a 26% growth in their average incomes. Despite having a consistently higher growth rate since 1980, the rise of inequality in China was much more moderate than in India. As a result, China was able to lift the incomes of the poorest half of the population at a rate that was four times faster than in India, enabling greater poverty reduction.

The trickle-down myth may have been debunked, but its ideas are still rooted in a number of current policies. For example, the idea that high income growth for rich individuals is a precondition to create jobs and growth at the bottom continues to be used to justify tax reductions for the richest, as seen in recent tax reform in the U.S. and France. A closer look at the data demands we rethink the rationale and legitimacy of such policies. 

Policy – not trade or technology – is most responsible for inequality

It is often said that rising inequality is inevitable — that it is a natural consequence of trade openness and digitalization that governments are powerless to counter. But the numbers presented above clearly demonstrate the diversity of inequality trajectories experienced by broadly comparable regions over the past decades. The U.S. and Europe, for instance, had similar population size and average income in 1980 — as well as analogous inequality levels. Both regions have also faced similar exposure to international markets and new technologies since, but their inequality trajectories have radically diverged. In the U.S., the bottom 50% income share decreased from 20% to 10% today, whereas in Europe it decreased from 24% to 22%.

Rather than openness to trade or digitalization, it is policy choices and institutional changes that explain divergences in inequality. After the neoliberal policy shift of the early 1980s, Europe resisted the impulse to turn its market economy into a market society more than the US — evidenced by differences on key policy areas concerning inequality. The progressivity of the tax code — how much more the rich pay as a percentage — was seriously undermined in the U.S., but much less so in continental Europe. The U.S. had the highest minimum wage of the world in the 1960s, but it has since decreased by 30%, whereas in France, the minimum wage has risen 300%. 

Access to higher education is costly and highly unequal in the U.S., whereas it is free in several European countries. Indeed, when Bavarian policymakers tried to introduce small university fees in the late 2000s, a referendum invalidated the decision. Health systems also provide universal access to good-quality healthcare in most European countries, while millions of Americans do not have access to healthcare plans.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Is Australian welfare reform in 2018 a step back into a dark past?

Last year saw the completion of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse which revealed generational abuse within the Australian education and child welfare systems. 

That year also revealed the ongoing failure of the Dept. of Human Services and Centrelink to fix its faulty national debt collection scheme, which possibly led to the deaths of up to eleven welfare recipients after they were issued debt advice letters.

The first quarter of 2018 brought a scathing United Nations report on Australia's contemporary human rights record titled Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders on his mission to Australia.

Along with a report into elder abuse in Oakden Older Persons Mental Health Service in South Australia and the release of a detailed Human Rights Watch investigation of 14 prisons in Western Australia and Queensland which revealed the neglect and physical/sexual abuse of prisoners with disabilities, particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme represents yet another crisis. The Productivity Commission has warned there is now no carer of last resort for patients in an emergency, care provider agencies are reportedly owed up to $300 million and disabled people are often receiving inadequate care via untrained staff or sometimes no care at all, as government disability care services are being closed in favour of the new privatised service delivery scheme.

None of these instances stand in isolation and apart from either Australian society generally or government policies more specifically.

They all represent the frequently meagre nature of community compassion and the real level of care governments have been willing to organise and fund for vulnerable citizens. In reality the ideal level of support and care for the vulnerable - that politicians spout assurances about from campaign hustings every three years - is just so much political hot air unless ordinary voters insist that it be otherwise. 

As the Turnbull Coalition Government clearly intends to push forward with the full gamut of its punitive welfare reforms perhaps now it the time to consider if we have made any great strides towards a genuinely fair and egalitarian society in the last two hundred years or if we are only dressing up old cruelties in new clothes and calling this "looking after our fellow Australians”, "an exercise in practical love"an exercise in compassion and in love".

Over the last two decades, commissions and reports on institutional care across the western world have highlighted widespread physical, sexual, emotional and economic violence within caring systems, often targeted at society’s most vulnerable people, not least children, the disabled and the elderly. These have often come at significant cost not just to the individual, but the nation. As Maxwell has shown, national apologies, that require the nation to render itself shamed by such practices, and financial redress to victims, have impacted on political reputation, trust in state organisations, and finances. As each report is released and stories of suffering fill newspapers and are quantified for official redress, both scholars and the public have asked ‘how was this allowed to happen?’ At the same time, and particularly in the last few years as many countries have turned towards conservative fiscal policies, newspapers also highlight the wrongs of current systems.

In the UK, numerous reports have uncovered abuses within welfare systems, as people are sanctioned to meet targets, as welfare staff are encouraged to withhold information about services or grants to reduce demand, and through systematic rejection of first-try benefit applications to discourage service use. Often excused as ‘isolated incidents’ on investigation, such accounts are nonetheless increasingly widespread. They are accompanied by a measurable reduction in investment in welfare and health systems, that have required a significant withdrawal in services, and have been accompanied with policies of ‘making work pay’ that have required that benefits be brought in line, not with need, but with low working incomes. The impact of these policies and associated staff behaviour have been connected to increasing child and adult povertydeclining life expectancygrowing homelessness, and the rise in foodbank use.

Importantly, public commentators on this situation have described this situation as ‘cruel’. One headline saw a benefits advisor commenting ‘I get brownie points for cruelty’; another noted ‘Welfare reform is not only cruel but chaotic’. The system depicted in Ken Loach’s I Daniel Blake (2016), described by reviewers as a Kafka-esque nightmare, a ‘humiliating and spirit-sapping holding pattern of enforced uselessness’, and a  ‘comprehensive [system of] neglect and indifference’, was confirmed by many as an accurate depiction. Whether or not this representation of the current welfare system is held to be true, such reporting raises significant questions about when and how systems designed to provide help and support move from care to abuse. A focus on ‘isolated incidents’ today can be compared to the blaming of ‘isolated perpetrators’ in historic cases of abuse, an account that is now held by scholars to ignore the important role of systems of welfare in enabling certain types of cruelty to happen…..

The capacity of welfare systems to support individuals is shaped by cultural beliefs and political ideologies around the relationship between work, human nature, and welfare. Here late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century Ireland provides a productive example. Ireland in this period was marked by significant levels of poverty amongst its lower orders, particularly those that worked in agriculture. The capacity to manage that poverty on an individual level was hindered by several economic downturns and harvest failure, that pushed people to starvation. As a nation without a poor law (welfare) system until 1838, the poor relied on charity, whether from individuals or institutions for relief. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, the ‘state’ (usually local corporations) introduced more direct welfare, sometimes in the form of relief payments but more usually access to workhouses. 
After 1838 and until the crisis of the 1847 famine, relief payments were removed and all welfare recipients had to enter the workhouse. Accompanied by a growth in institutional charitable services, the success and ‘care’ of the system could vary enormously between areas and organisations. What it did not do is significantly reduce poverty levels in the population.

Indeed, it was important that the poverty levels of welfare recipients were not reduced by the workhouse system. Like current ‘make work pay’ policies, poverty relief measures were designed so that those in the workhouse or receiving charity elsewhere did not have a significantly higher standard of living than those who provided for themselves. This principle was determined based on the wage of an independent labourer, one of the poorest but also largest categories of worker. The problem for the system was that independent labourers earned so poorly that they barely managed a subsistence diet. Their living conditions were extremely poor; many slept on hay in darkened huts with little furnishings or personal property.

Those who managed the system believed that a generous welfare system would encourage people to claim benefits and so could potentially bankrupt those paying into the system. This encouraged an active policy of ‘cruelty’. Not only were benefit recipients given meagre food and poor living conditions, but families were routinely broken up, the sexes housed in different wings and prohibited from seeing each other. Welfare recipients were often ‘badged’ or given uniforms to mark their ‘shame’, and workhouse labour was designed to be particularly physically challenging.  

It was a system underpinned by several interlocking beliefs about the Irish, the value of work and the economy. Hard work was viewed as a moral characteristic, something to be encouraged from childhood and promoted as ethical behaviour. Certain groups, notably the Irish poor but also the British lower orders and non-Europeans more generally, were viewed as lacking this moral characteristic and required it to be instilled by their social betters. Welfare systems that were not carefully designed to be ‘less eligible’ (i.e. a harsher experience than ‘normal; life for the working poor), were understood to indulge an innate laziness…..

Throughout history, welfare services have required considerable economic investment. Unsurprisingly, this has required those who run institutions of care for people also to keep a careful eye on their financial bottom line. More broadly, it has also required a monitoring of services to ensure value for money for the state and its taxpayers and to protect the interests of the service users. As has been seen recently in discussions of targets placed on staff providing welfare provision in the UK, such measuring systems can come to shape the nature and ethos of the service in damaging ways.

A relevant historical example of this is from the Australian laundry system in the late nineteenth and twentieth century. Young women were placed in youth homes and registered as delinquent for a wide range of reasons from petty criminal behaviour to perceived immorality (ranging from flirting with the opposite sex to premarital pregnancy), to having been neglected by parents. These homes, often run by religious organisations, were designed to ‘reform’ young (and occasionally older) women, preventing them from entering prostitution or other criminal pursuits. The main mechanism for ‘reform’ was through a moral discipline of work, which in many of these organisations revolved around a professional laundry service. Work was often unpaid or paid at very nominal sums, given to women on their release. The service, which catered to the general public, kept institutions financially afloat, and many became significant-sized businesses. They required women to work very long hours, in challenging conditions. Accidents, particularly burns, were not unusual. As businesses grew, other ‘reform’ efforts that ran alongside, such as education, became rarer.

The laundry became the driving focus of the institution. The women were cheap labour, and managing that machine became not just a means to an end, but shaped the logic and functioning of the care service. It is an example of how an economic imperative can come to adversely impact on care, by disrupting the purposes and functions of the service. It was also a process that significantly reduced the level of ‘care’ that such institutions provided, not only through a physical job that wore on the body but one reinforced with physical punishment, which came to include emotional and sexual abuse, and poor food and living conditions……

There are significant variations between the institutional care described here for the nineteenth century and a contemporary welfare state that encourages users, as much as possible, to remain outside ‘the system’. The capacity for ‘the state’ to control every dimension of a person’s life today is significantly reduced; conversely, the ability of those in need to fall into service ‘gaps’ as they cannot access services or negotiate bureaucratic systems, is in some ways increased. Nonetheless, there are parallels in the operation of both systems that should give contemporary policymakers pause. Abusive care does not just emerge from individual perpetrators, from the institutional model, or even a lack of policies on staff-client relationships, but also from the wider values and beliefs that shape the production of welfare systems; from the financial and emotional investments that we place in institutions; and from the corruption or occlusion of institutional targets and goals.

Ensuring that the ‘cruel’ practices reported of current systems do not become systematic issues on the scale of previous institutional abuses therefore requires not just monitoring a few rogue individuals, but a clear goal about what our welfare systems should achieve. The needs and interests of service users should be placed at their heart, coupled with a significant social, cultural and political investment in ensuring that goal is achieved. All other goals and targets for welfare service providers, especially their frontline staff, should be secondary to that and carefully designed so as not to interfere with that end. With rising rates of poverty, homelessness and illness, welfare systems look to continue to hold a central role in society for the foreseeable future. It is imperative that the abusive practices of previous ‘caring’ regimes are left firmly in the past.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

So Prime Minister Turnbull has been bitiching again about the ABC's reporting

On 14 February 2018 ABC News’ economic journalist Emma Alberici wrote:

It's also disingenuous to talk about a 30 per cent rate when so few companies pay anything like that thanks to tax legislation that allows them to avoid paying corporate tax. Exclusive analysis released by ABC today reveals one in five of Australia's top companies has paid zero tax for the past three years.

On that same day the House of Representatives Hansard recorded these mentions:

Mr THISTLETHWAITE (Kingsford Smith) (10:12): ………All of these hardworking Australians would be thrilled to know—very pleased to know—that the ABC has uncovered that about one in five Australian companies pay no company tax whatsoever in this country. Yes, that's right: 380 of Australia's largest companies pay absolutely no income tax at all—a big doughnut; a big fat zero. They include airlines, banks, financial service companies, mining, energy, clothing, steel, and telecommunications companies. There's even a condom manufacturer. That's rather appropriate, given what they've just done to the Australian taxpayer in paying no tax at all during the course of the last couple of years…..

Mr THISTLETHWAITE (Kingsford Smith) (13:49): As mums and dads pack up the kids, send them off to school and head off to work; as pensioners struggle to put the air-conditioner on because of rising electricity costs; and as students face increases in their fees because of cuts to TAFE and cuts to funding for education—these hard-working Australians, as they head off to jobs and study today, would be pleased to know that the ABC has uncovered that one in five Australian companies pay absolutely no company tax in this country. That's right, 380 of Australia's largest companies paid absolutely zero company tax over the course of the last three years. They include airlines, energy companies, mining companies, clothing companies, banks, insurance companies and a manufacturer of condoms—which is highly appropriate, given the rogering that they've just given Australian hardworking taxpayers by paying no tax. Now, given that these companies pay no corporate tax, what is the response of the Turnbull government? The response of the Turnbull government is to give them a tax cut. These companies are struggling so much that we're going to give them a tax cut! Yes, that's right: 380 of the largest companies that pay no tax will get a tax cut, despite the fact that they're increasing taxes for Australian workers by putting up the Medicare levy. We won't cop it. Labor will oppose these tax cuts and we'll stand up for average, hard-working, battling Australians……

Mr TURNBULL (Wentworth—Prime Minister) (14:03): I thank the honourable member for her question. The government is supporting and delivering lower business taxes because we know they will result in more investment and more jobs. Company tax is ultimately a tax on workers. When nearly nine in 10 Australians work for private business, surely it is obvious that it's in the national interest to support the companies that employ the overwhelming majority of Australians. But, instead of supporting policies that will create jobs and grow wages, the opposition is busy peddling the myth that business does not care about the level of tax and doesn't in fact pay tax. I'm not sure where the $68 billion of company tax receipts came from, but, according to the Labor Party, companies don't pay tax. The Labor Party wants to increase taxes; the government wants to reduce them. But we do not believe that paying tax is optional. Every Australian and every business that makes a profit in Australia must pay their fair share of tax. You'd think that was common sense, but not for the opposition. Like everything the opposition leader does, he calls for action one minute and then opposes it the next. He called for action against multinational tax avoidance and then he voted against some of the toughest anti-avoidance laws in the world. If this isn't clear enough for the members opposite, we'd be happy to arrange a briefing with officials from the Australian Taxation Office. We have introduced and, no thanks to the Labor Party, passed through the parliament some of the toughest multinational tax avoidance laws in the world. At that briefing from the ATO, I am sure that those distinguished officials will be able to provide a tutorial on the difference between revenue and profit because members opposite either don't understand the difference or they're now calling for businesses to be taxed on revenue—not profit— even if the business makes a loss. We saw that they were busily retweeting the article—one of the most confused and poorly researched articles I've seen on this topic on the ABC's website. Of course, the ABC is an enterprise that understands profit and loss.

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr TURNBULL: It does! It understands taxes; they're recipients of them. They receive them—taxpayers' funds. They understand the difference: the hard work of investing and struggling and losing money one year and then being able to offset it against profit the next—or not. No, the ABC has the same understanding of the commercial world as does the opposition. (Time expired)

The Australian Financial Review scenting blood after the prime minister’s criticism went to print with this disingenuous take on 15 February 2018:

Both premises fatally expose their author's innumeracy. The first is demonstrably false. Freely available data produced by the Australian Taxation Office show that 32 of Australia's 50 largest companies paid $19.33 billion in company tax in FY16 (FY17 figures are not yet available). The other 18 paid nothing. Why? They lost money, or were carrying over previous losses.

I’m sure North Coast Voices readers will quickly notice that Alberici was citing statistics for a baseline of around 1,900 companies and the ‘Fin Review’ columnist was citing a baseline of 50 companies - so of course the number of companies paying no tax to the number of companies paying tax is going to differ between the two baselines.

Reading the full text there does not appear to be any factuall inaccuracies in the Alberici article being complained about.

Meanwhile ABC News withdrew the online version of the economic analysis

 and updated Alberici’s companion article in order to provide further information and context.

The companion article still contains those same statistics:

Analysis by the ABC reveals Qantas is not alone — about 380, or one in five, of Australia's largest companies have paid no tax for at least the past three years.

However, these opening lines written by Alberici in the article “There's no case for a corporate tax cut when one in five of Australia's top companies don't pay it” on 14 February are now missing in action as this analysis gently sinks to the bottom of the Internet:

There is no compelling evidence that giving the country's biggest companies a tax cut sees that money passed on to workers in the form of higher wages.
Treasury modelling relies on theories that belie the reality that's playing out around the world.

Since the peak of the commodities boom in 2011-12, profit margins have risen to levels not seen since the early 2000s but wages growth has been slower than at any time since the 1960s.

The Guardian reported on 16 February that:

Guardian Australia understands ABC News management has been in crisis meetings for two days after the prime minister attacked the articles in question time and then wrote formal letters of complaint to management.

I suspect that what Turnbull took umbrage to in the first place was the fact that one article took a stronger position on why corporate tax cuts were not good for the economy or wages growth and, therefore were unlikely to benefit workers and their families and, the other article which is still online did not address this aspect of government taxation policy.

So he set out to shoot the message down and be damned to the fate of the messenger.

Of course in attempting this Turnbull created a Steisand Effect With A Twist - ensuring that the full text of There's no case for a corporate tax cut when one in five of Australia's top companies don't pay it” has been copied onto websites he can't bully and the article's analysis is still being discussed by voters.

Jan 26, 2018 - COMMUNICATIONS Minister Malcolm Turnbull says ABC board members who do not want to get involved in ensuring news content on the public broadcaster is accurate and impartial should get off the board. Revealing he receives hundreds of complaints about the ABC each week, MrTurnbull said “the ..

Dec 2, 2013 - THE minister in charge of the ABC, Malcolm Turnbull, rang the broadcasters boss Mark Scott last week to tell him he had made an “error of judgment” in teaming with the Guardian to run revelations that the Indonesian presidents phone was bugged.
Feb 4, 2016 - Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull appears to have implied that he made the samecomplaint to ABC management that he has previously made in public before the 2013 Federal Election, stating that the broadcaster had "failed" to provide balanced coverage of the competing National Broadband Network ...

This report contains the total income, taxable income and tax payable of over 2000 corporate tax entities for the 2015-16 year. This report also includes separate lists of entities whose information was not available by the cut-off date to produce the Report of Entity Tax Information for 2013-14 and 2014-15.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

As a new member of the UN Human Rights Council is Australia continuing to act the hypocrite?

For the second time in three months the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights has written to the Turnbull Coalition Government concerning its welfare policies.

Australian-born Professor Alston has been Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights since June 2014.

The Commonwealth of Australia was elected on 16 October 2017 as a member of the UN Human Rights Council 2018-2020.

So the following news item is more than a little embarrassing with what it reveals about government policies.

ABC Radio RN Breakfast, 1 February 2018:

A top UN official has delivered a scathing assessment of Australia's welfare policies describing them as 'punitive' and harmful to women.

Australian Philip Alston is the UN's Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty. He accuses the government of pursuing policies that 'stigmatise' and 'marginalise' poorer sections of society.

In a letter sent to the government this week, Philip raised concerns about the planned expansion of cashless welfare cards, and their impact on indigenous communities.

The first letter dated 17 October 2017 addressed the Social Services Legislation Amendment Act 2017 (Cth) (No. 33 of 2017) and concerns that it may have a negative impact on the human rights of persons living in poverty, particularly single parents and their children, as well as expressing concerns about proposed drug testing of young people on unemployment benefits.

It would appear that the Turnbull Government’s welfare reforms make nonsense of Australia’s voluntary undertakings lodged with the United Nations on 14 July 2014 as part of its candidature for a vacancy on the UN Human Rights Council.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Is the Turnbull Government spending veterans mental health funding wisely?

On the Line Limited state that it is a professional social health business that provides counselling support, anywhere and anytime, primarily via telephone, web chat and online support through the rather bluntly named  MensLine Australia, Suicide Call Back Service, SuicideLine Victoria, a Department of Defence All Hours Support Line After Hours Service and other geographically specific services.

On the Line Limited also provides tailored counselling services for corporate, member and community organisations.

According to its 2016-17 Annual Report On the Line Limited is doing very nicely thank you, with an income of over $11.3 million and $6.2m in new tenders, grants, and business opportunities.

However, it appears that this company may be falling down on the job……

The New Daily, 9 January 2018:

The government is refusing to reveal how often vulnerable veterans are unable to reach its crisis helpline for ex-service members in order to protect the bottom line of a private contractor, The New Daily can exclusively reveal.

The refusal comes as veterans’ advocates warn of a suicide epidemic among ex-service members, with support group Warrior’s Return estimating at least 84 veterans took their own lives in 2017.

The Department of Veterans Affairs claims that disclosing the call abandonment rates and wait times for the Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service would adversely impact the company that manages the service outside of normal business hours.

In response to a freedom of information request by The New Daily, the DVA said the disclosure would give the contractor’s business rivals information that could be used to out-compete the company.

The New Daily has appealed the decision on public interest grounds.

The DVA has awarded Melbourne-based company On the Line contracts worth at least $2 million to operate the after-hours counselling service since 2010, according to government procurement website AusTender.

The department also revealed to The New Daily that it does not collect data on the call abandonment rates and wait times for its regular hours service, which is managed in-house.

Doug Steley, an ex-service member who works with a number of veterans’ advocacy groups, said the department’s attitude was “totally unacceptable” and typical of its lack of transparency.

“Their service should be so excellent that they should be willing to boast about how good it is, and they should have absolutely no fear that a private contractor would be able to match the service to those who served Australia,” he said.

“There is no transparency in this department,” he added. “It operates on secrecy and hiding everything from the public.”

The DVA has faced repeated controversy over its treatment of veterans, with an official inquiry last year ruling it had failed to provide adequate support to 32-year-old Afghan war veteran Jesse Bird before he took his own life last June. In August, more than 100 people protested outside DVA headquarters in Melbourne to call for the establishment of a royal commission into the department’s failure to halt suicides among ex-service members.

Opposition spokeswoman for veterans’ affairs Amanda Rishworth accused the department of putting the welfare of a private firm above that of veterans.

“We expect DVA to act in the best interest of veterans – and not in the best interest of a private contractor,” Ms Rishworth told The New Daily.

“Labor thinks it is unacceptable that DVA is withholding any information that will provide greater transparency on services which directly affect those veterans and family members. It is also deeply concerning that DVA is not even collecting data on how the VVCS is performing during business hours.”

Monday, 22 January 2018

Domestic Violence and the Turnbull Government's Cashless Welfare Card

The Guardian, 11 January 2018:

Domestic violence has increased significantly in the East Kimberley since the introduction of the cashless welfare card, casting doubt on the government’s claims of its success.

Police data obtained under freedom of information law shows domestic-related assaults and police-attended domestic violence reports increased in the Kimberley communities of Wyndham and Kununurra since trials began in April 2016.

Melbourne University researcher Elise Klein, who has studied the card’s impact in the Kimberley, said the data showed there was no clear evidence to support making the card permanent.

Klein lodged the freedom of information request for the police data. She said the information had taken too long to be made public.

She believes there is a link between the card, financial hardship, and family violence…..

The card is designed to prevent the spending of welfare money on alcohol, drugs, and gambling, reducing violence and harmful behaviour as a result.

Nawoola Newry has lived in Kununurra much of her life. She believes the card, which some of her family use, has done nothing to address the community’s problems.

Instead, it’s restricted the rights of community members, without increasing jobs, training, or employment opportunities, she said. 

“I don’t believe that it’s reduced alcoholism, I don’t believe it’s reduced crime, I don’t believe it’s reduced domestic violence,” she told Guardian Australia.

“There’s a lack of services, there was all these wrap-around services that were promised … we don’t see any of them on the ground.”

Late last year, the government seized on an independent evaluation of the cards, which found they were successful in addressing substance abuse, violence, and other harmful behaviour.

Then human services minister, Alan Tudge, used the report to announce new trial sites in the Kalgoorlie-Boulder region of Western Australia and Bundaberg in Queensland.

The cards were also to be made permanent in the Kimberley and the second trial site in Ceduna, South Australia......

Orima Research, which conducted the evaluation, had access to the police data on the Kimberley but did not include it in its report on the cards.