Friday, 22 September 2017

US President Trump continues to chase 'his' war


It is becoming clear that Donald Trump wants an all-stops-out war with North Korea and damn the global consequences.

The Atlantic, 20 September 2017

President Donald Trump dispensed with diplomacy at the United Nations, vowing in his maiden speech to the General Assembly that the United States “will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea” if it is forced to defend itself or its allies.

The remarks, reminiscent of those of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s vow in 1968 to “bury” the West, is likely to raise tensions with North Korea, whose nuclear-weapons and missile programs have raised the alarm in Asian capitals and Washington. North Korea, with its regular battery of missile tests, as well as a recent nuclear test, is believed to be close to—if it doesn’t already possess—the ability to strike the United States with an intercontinental ballistic missile armed with a nuclear warhead.

“Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime,” Trump said at the UN on Tuesday, a reference to Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader. “The United States is ready, willing and able, but hopefully this will not be necessary.”……

Before Trump’s remarks on Tuesday, his administration, after several false starts, appeared to have coalesced around a common message on North Korea: one that favored diplomacy to defuse the threat posed by Kim Jong Un’s nuclear and missile programs, while keeping all options on the table. After the president’s remarks, it’s once again unclear what the U.S. policy on North Korea is.

BACKGROUND


More wheels are falling off the Turnbull Government train


BuzzFeed News, 14 September 2017:

Australia's immigration detention regime is facing a crisis in healthcare staffing following the resignation of the surgeon-general of the Australian Border Force (ABF), and the departure of three senior medical staff on Nauru.

Rumours have circulated online for several days that the surgeon-general of the ABF, Dr John Brayley, who oversees the healthcare of asylum seekers in immigration detention, had resigned.

BuzzFeed News has now confirmed that the surgeon-general resigned last week. A senior immigration department source confirmed his resignation, although the department has declined to comment.

Brayley's department email now has an indefinite out-of-office message. His phone has been switched off and is no longer receiving voicemail. His Linkedin profile has also recently removed his position as surgeon-general as his current occupation.


Brayley's resignation comes at a difficult time for the department. The ABF is continuing to face allegations of medical treatment failures at detention centres. A whistleblower on Nauru recently warned that pregnant women on Nauru were being denied terminations.

The department is also facing further internal changes in the lead up to the creation of the new Home Affairs department that will see the ABF merge with agencies including the Australian Federal Police and Australian Security Intelligence Organisation.

Brayley's position — and extensive background in medicine — placed him uniquely to manage healthcare matters in the department and recommend appropriate clinical care for asylum seekers. But his position as surgeon-general also made him a focal point for criticism. He routinely received correspondence from advocates about asylum seeker healthcare matters.

Any decent federal government with an ounce of compassion would end this terrible situation on Manus and Nauru islands.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Cashless Welfare Card: a denizen of Mount Olympus pontificates on the ignorant masses below


This was Dr Jeremy Sammut (left) from the Centre for Independent Studies giving his views on the ignorant underclass, Friday, 8 September 2017:

It’s a libertarian fantasy that the problem of welfare dependence can be addressed without using the power of the state to compel responsible personal behaviour.

State compulsion, for example, is essential to enforce mutual obligation requirements and force the unemployed to actively seek a job, instead of continuing to loaf on the dole.

My research on the nation’s child protection crisis has sharply revealed the social damage wreaked by unrestricted welfare and parental bad behaviour among an underclass of dysfunctional families.

I therefore have no problem with the idea that welfare recipients could be compelled to take better care of children by being forced to spend their benefits on food and other essentials, rather than on drink, drugs, and gambling.

This is how we should view the debate about the federal government’s plan to expand the trial of the ‘cashless welfare card’ — as a means of addressing the intergenerational transfer of dysfunction and dependence within families.

In philosophical terms, the cashless welfare card is an example of ‘small government conservatism‘: a socially conservative approach to social policy which — contrary to the conventional political wisdom — utilises state intervention to reduce the size of government.

This position may be difficult to accept for economic liberals who place a premium on individual freedom and freedom from government control.

However, it is impossible to deal with the issue of welfare dependence by simply applying the first principle that government should always do less.

As former Labor Minister and social commentator Gary Johns has argued, it is crucial to continue to make the economic case for freedom from state intervention.

But as he has also rightly argued, this is insufficient to address the social problems that have driven growth in the size of government.

Addressing welfare dependence will require more, not less, state intervention through policies such as mutual obligation and cashless welfare.

Yes, according to Dr Sammut (blessed with an expensive private education and a PhD in  Australian political and social history) it’s all about the children and the chronically welfare dependent underclass.

Except the Turnbull Government intends to roll the cashless debit card out nationally for individuals without children, people with significant disabilities, full-time carers of elderly parents, even those who have been on unemployment benefits for less than less than a month, as well as individuals who have regular employment but receive Family Tax Benefit.

It is likely that sometime in the future the Turnbull Government will announce that this cashless welfare card will also be imposed on age pensioners.


In addition Dr Sammut espouses the theory that:


Yes, you are reading that sentence correctly. According to this man individuals and families have only themselves to blame for their poverty or disadvantage – end of story.

Jeremy Sammut is the type of commentator that the Liberal Party dreams about having on side.

On his Facebook page Sammut lists the following among his favourites:


No prizes for spotting the preponderance of right-wing politicians.

Last year Sammut was telling the world it was an exciting time to be an Australian conservative – a category into which he obviously placed himself.

After reading a bit about the man and his attitude, all I can say is that if this attitude continues to hold sway at federal policy level I don’t think it going to be an exciting time to be an Australian who is receiving welfare benefits of any type, is in a low-skilled, low income job, a single parent raising a child or an indigenous family.

Because to people like Jeremy Sammut literally millions of Australian citizens are part of an undeserving, dysfunctional underclass that is to be barely tolerated.

Singing the heavens, singing the land, singing the lore, singing the people and their history - weaving memory


And those of us whose forebears stumbled off a handful of British boats in 1788 are still trying and often failing to understand this rich, enduring culture.......

The Monthly, September 2017:

Epic of Gilgamesh” is Google’s answer to “what is the oldest known literature”. Unknown scribes in the city of Ur picked the poem out in cuneiform letters some 4500 years ago. These clay tablets preserved an older oral tradition, but that part of the story is usually left out. Instead, the Mesopotamian epic fits easily into that cartoonish diagram of the Ascent of Man, where civilisation means writing, a sequence of metals and a procession of capitals: Memphis, Babylon, Athens, Rome.

Compare this lineage to the ceremonial songs of Aboriginal Australia. Their absolute vintage is unknowable, but the best estimates run to at least 12,000 years old. At this distance in time, the study of literature needs not just linguists but geologists. There are songlines that accurately describe landscape features (like now-disappeared islands) from the end of the Pleistocene epoch. Their provenance may stretch even further back, all the way into the last ice age. They are also alive. The last person to hear Epic of Gilgamesh declaimed in her native culture died millennia ago. Songlines that may have been born 30,000 years ago are being sung right now.

Read the full article here.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

"You're an absolute disgrace" Coalition and One Nation senators


Independent Senator for Tasmania Jacqui Lambie on the floor of the Australian Senate, 14 September 2017.

Senate Hansard,  12 September 2017:
Senator LAMBIE (Tasmania) (13:56): The government wants One Nation support for this package so badly that it has agreed to invite a razor gang into the books of the ABC. And it wants Nick Xenophon's support for the package so badly that it has agreed not to embarrass him into being forced to vote in support of One Nation's proposal. But make no mistake, voting for this bill means voting for One Nation's deal. I know that, One Nation knows that and you can bet your last dollar that Nick Xenophon and his team know that, too. As for what the details are, we still don't know. The government won't tell us and they won't tell us. All we know is that it commits the government to review the ABC and ask if it is reducing the profitability of its commercial rivals. Guess what? The job of the ABC isn't to make money for its commercial rivals. Its job is to guarantee all Australians have access to news, programming and information that affects their lives, no matter where they live or how wealthy they are. The deal the government has made isn't designed to improve the ABC; it is designed to defund it. It's a deal to set up a rigged kangaroo court that is determined to find the ABC guilty and lay the groundwork for slashing the budget of the most trusted news source in the country—or, as I like to refer to it, the eighth great wonder of the world. That is the deal that is before us. That is the vote we are taking—to defend the ABC or to defund it. No amount of tax breaks or inquiries into tech giants can change that. As the old saying goes, if you don't know all the details of the deal, don't vote for it. If you knew all the details of the deal, you probably wouldn't vote for it anyway. A vote in favour of this package is a vote in favour of all the strings that come attached to it. The government could have opted to put the full details of the deal in the legislation, but it decided not to because it is embarrassed by what it has agreed to. And if something is so embarrassing that not even this government would be willing to put its name to it, then it says something about all those who are voting to support it. No matter what else is said, no matter who says it, there's only one thing you need to remember: if you are proud of something, you don't hide it. The deal that has been made between One Nation and the Turnbull government doesn't go ahead unless this vote passes. What we're doing by voting for this media reform package is actually voting for a dirty deal, because the government decided to link the two. We are voting for something on paper and another thing altogether in practice. We're choosing whether to defend the ABC or to defund it. I will not endorse this deal. I am willing to vote to help the commercial players by doing away with outdated media ownership regulations but I refuse to vote for a package that hurts journalism in rural and regional Australia. The bill before us is only half the deal. The other half will not be put to the vote. This is the vote—for the visible half and for the invisible other. It is the only opportunity we will have to oppose the dirty deal the government has made to let loose the razor gangs on the budget of the ABC for the crime of doing exactly what the public needs a public broadcaster to do. I won't be supporting this bill and I am disappointed that I can't. I'm disappointed that I can't support this bill, because I support what it's trying to achieve in principle. The media landscape is changing fast and— The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Lambie. You are in continuation. It being 2pm, we move to question without notice.
Senator LAMBIE (Tasmania) (18:27): The media landscape is changing fast. The industry is changing and the industry's regulation needs changing too. It's ridiculous to say that the only way to defend a struggling industry is to defend the regulation that's preventing it from defending itself against new and enormous threats. But concerns around the potential loss of media diversity as a result of the changes posed are real and valid. It is important that any deal to change regulation also protects media diversity in the process. Nobody wants any one media baron to have excessive power over the political landscape, and the best way to address concerns about private media ownership is to invest in publicly owned media. The government, with courage, would put whatever it's proposing to a vote. That's not what it has agreed to. Instead, reports suggest that the government has made some sneaky handshake deal in a back room somewhere to undermine the operations of the ABC, and it has gone behind the back of the Senate to do it. I won't be supporting this bill, and I'm disappointed that I can't. I'm disappointed that I can't support this bill because I support in principle what it's trying to achieve, but I will not be a part of taking a pitchfork to the ABC.

Australian society in 2017: national gaol population hits record high



Australia’s jail population has hit a record high of more than 41,200 prisoners, as a 20-year surge in incarceration rates shows no sign of waning.

The daily average of full-time prisoners in custody rose 7% to 41,204 over the year to the June quarter, according to figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Monday.

That represented a 133% leap in prisoner numbers since the June quarter of 1997, meaning the national jail population grew at more than four times the rate of the overall population over the last two decades.

The cost of running prisons in Australia is likely to have hit around $3bn a year, based on Productivity Commission figures.

Inmates on remand awaiting court sentences (11%) and women (10%) were the fastest-growing groups of prisoners over the last year.

Indigenous prisoner numbers rose 7% in line with the overall increase but they remain grossly overrepresented in jail, making up 2% of the general population but 28% of the prison population.


Since the beginning of the time series in 2008–09 the number of offenders has increased by 12% (or 46,474 offenders). Over the same period the offender rate increased by less than 1% (from 2,006 to 2,023 offenders per 100,000 persons aged 10 years and over).

The number of female offenders increased by 5% nationally to total 97,304 between 2014–15 and 2015–16.

The number of male offenders remained relatively stable (increasing by 49 offenders to 323,949) between 2014–15 and 2015–16.

In 2015–16, median age was younger for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander offenders, as compared to non-Indigenous offenders, in all of the selected states and territories. 

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Do it for the right reasons - fairness & equality



Independent Investigation into NSW Water Management and Compliance - interim report concerning theft and corruption allegations published 8 September 2017


It took a public airing of the issues by ABC TV “Four Corners” in its Pumped: Who is benefitting from the billions spent on the Murray-Darling? program on 24 July 2017 to force the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, Australian National Audit Office, Commonwealth Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee, NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption and the NSW Berejiklian Coalition Government into investigative action.
The NSW Government has now published its initial 78-page report into allegations of theft and corruption in the management of water resources in the Murray–Darling Basin.


On 11 September 2017, Ken Matthews issued a statement regarding the delivery of his Independent Investigation into NSW Water Management and Compliance. The focus of his interim report was to assess whether the department's policies, procedures and actions were appropriate, to recommend whether further actions should be undertaken, and to identify opportunities to improve the department’s future compliance and enforcement performance.

Download the Independent investigation into NSW water management and compliance – Interim report (2 MB PDF).


ABC News, 12 September 2017:
Yesterday, Mr Hanlon was stood down from the Department of Primary Industries pending a misconduct investigation: Four Corners had also revealed he had offered to share with them — via DropBox — internal departmental documents that had been "debadged".
His removal was announced as the Government released a wide-ranging report by Ken Matthews into the allegations raised in the program.
The Matthews report has turned out to be nothing of the whitewash many expected. What he has delivered instead is a grenade.
Among his recommendations is that the Government enforce a regime of "no metering, no pumping" which is sobering for no other reason than it is so obvious: the vast majority of people who pay water rates in this country will be aghast that this has not always been the case for water users who deal in billions of litres of water.
Most alarming for some government employees and businesspeople is the revelation contained in his report that the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has taken up an interest in the matter: including into whether the department has properly and fully pursued cases of alleged illegal water extraction.
As a result of its involvement, the fine details regarding "gaps in the case management record", and why cases were not pursued in the face of "prima facie evidence of substantive breaches", were not published. Instead, Mr Matthews handed these matters to the anti-graft commission.
From what I saw on the ground when we were filming this program, there will be many people sweating on what happens next. The Matthews investigation was clearly thorough, but it was done in a very short time, and with none of the powers of the ICAC.
A critical further point, that might otherwise be lost amid the hue and cry about illegal water take and meter tampering, is the question of so-called "environmental water".
This was made possible by a bizarre "water sharing plan" enacted in 2012 by which the NSW Government gave major water-users more reliable access to water — including by dumping restrictions on pump sizes and allowing fast, large-scale industrial extraction of water even when the river was running low.
Mr Matthews makes it clear that "this issue applies not only in the Barwon-Darling water system but elsewhere in NSW and the wider Murray-Darling Basin".
"Solving the problem will be critical to the success of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan," Mr Matthews found.
"It is a pre-condition if the anticipated environmental benefits of the plan are to be delivered.
"The issue is not new. Regrettably, it has continued without resolution for years ... there is a strong public expectation that arrangements should be in place already, and to the extent that they are not, a remedy is urgent."
This is a bombshell for the Commonwealth Government and this major economic and agrarian reform.
The South Australian Government has reacted to Mr Matthews' findings already, reiterating calls for a national judicial inquiry.
For Mr Le Lievre, and many others, this is where the significant changes need to be made. Communities like Louth will simply fade away without the water they once had flowing past.
Earlier this year, Mr Le Lievre told me someone in the NSW Government had to be held accountable for what had been done with the water.
The Matthews report goes some way to delivering precisely that, but, as the weathered farmer insisted at the time, "the only way to make them accountable and to stop them from pulling out legs is to do it under oath".
"Simple. They can't get out of it, they've got to tell the truth."
It is a power that was not available to Mr Matthews, or to the various other investigations now underway into the Four Corners revelations. It is, however, readily used in the ICAC's hearing room.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Australian Politics in 2017: Financial Fog Unlimited


Oh dear, it’s the Liberal Party of Australia once again in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

This is a return appearance* by multimillionaire, former merchant banker and life-long silvertail Prime Minister Malcolm Bligh Turnbull.

BuzzFeed News, 11 September 2017:


….BuzzFeed News can reveal the prime minister never disclosed to parliament that Lucy purchased the $1.55m USD New York apartment in the Century Condominium building more than four years ago.

All you'll see on Malcolm Turnbull's previous and most recent parliamentary disclosure is a reference to a single "New York city apartment" owned by his wife.

Federal politicians are required to declare the interests they and their spouses hold, and gifts they receive. This is an important transparency measure to avoid any potential conflicts of interests.

But did the prime minister need to declare the apartment? Unfortunately, the parliamentary rules on this are all pretty hazy.

Lucy purchased the first condo in January 2012 for $3,275,000 USD. Turnbull, who was then in opposition, declared this first apartment on his parliamentary interest register a few days later.

But in July 2013 Lucy purchased a second condo adjacent to the first condo for $1,550,000 USD. BuzzFeed News understands the properties are now treated as one dwelling, and have only one entry.

When BuzzFeed News searched the New York land title office database, it discovered there were two apartments that Lucy Turnbull purchased.

It appears the prime minister never disclosed this later property interest on his register at the time or in subsequent disclosures. In Turnbull's later interest returns lodged in 2013 and 2016he lists a single entry for a "New York apartment" in his wife's interests.

Both properties were transferred to the ownership of Century Turnbull LLC in June 2014, a New York based company controlled by Lucy. Turnbull did disclose the registration of this company and in October 2014 wrote that the company “holds apartment in NY beneficially for spouse.”

* Malcolm Turnbull's first appearance - Australian Politics 2017: Greed Unlimited
                                                      

Pictures that tell 1,000 words - Part Five

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Phone scammer stung by ABC radio presenter


ABC News, 12 September 2017:

A man claiming to be from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has given an expletive-ridden spray to ABC presenter Nick Rheinberger after being told their conversation was being recorded.

It was a voicemail likely to make even the most honest taxpayer frightened — a message from someone claiming to be from the tax office accusing you of tax fraud and asking you to call back immediately.

This is what happened to the ABC Illawarra presenter recently, so he called them back from his radio studio.


The phone call (which was not broadcast live) started politely with a man identifying himself as an ATO employee, who then asked for Rheinberger's details.

The conversation quickly turned offensive when the ABC presenter told him he was in a radio studio.

"I need to let you know I'm recording this call as well," Rheinberger said.

"F*** you, and the recording, and put this recording to your ass as well mother f***er," the man said.

"Right, OK, that's what I'd expect from the Australian Taxation Office," Rheinberger said sarcastically.

"OK? So go and get f***ed, go and f*** your mum."

The call was recorded because Rheinberger suspected it was a scam and wanted to highlight the problem, which the ATO warns has already scammed Australians out of $1.5 million this year.

The caller (who sounds as if he is an Australian resident) has been attempting to make contact with a number of people this month. See http://www.reverseaustralia.com/lookup/0253062283/

The name “Michael Anderson” or “Mike Anderson” appears to be associated with a number of scams and more than one scammer – lottery win, advance fee, cash advance debt recovery, scam victims compensation fund, next of kin inheritance fraud, unlawful prescription drug purchase, application fee, romance and more.

One of these “Michael Andersons” was caught, charged and convicted sometime between 2006 and 2008.

A number of the other Mr. Andersons appear to still be busy dialling and emailing – trying to get the unwary to either hand over their cash or volunteer enough personal information to allow the caller to attempt identity theft.

Marriage Equality and levels of community support


The Guardian, 21 August 2017:

A majority of Australians favour changing the law to allow same-sex couples to marry and over 80% of respondents also plan to vote in the looming postal survey, according to the latest Guardian Essential poll.

The latest weekly survey of 1,817 voters found that 57% of the sample favours a change to the law to allow marriage equality, with 32% against and 11% saying they don’t know.

People most supportive of the change are Labor voters (71%), Greens voters (69%), women (65%) and voters aged between 18-34 (65%).

Asked about the likelihood of voting in the non-compulsory postal ballot, 63% said they would definitely vote, 18% said they would probably vote, 4% said they would probably not vote and 6% said they would definitely not vote – with 9% unsure.

Yes voters are more likely to participate than no voters. Seventy-four per cent of those in favour of same-sex marriage will definitely vote compared with 58% of those opposed.

Close to 90% of respondents (88%) said they were enrolled to vote at their current address, while 7% said they weren’t and 5% were unsure. Supporters of same-sex marriage are a bit more likely to be enrolled than those who are opposed (92% compared with 86%).

The ballot itself remains deeply contentious, with 49% of the sample disapproving of it and 39% approving. The postal ballot has become more unpopular since marriage equality advocates confirmed they would challenge it in the high court.

NOTE:

Challenges to the voluntary postal survey were dismissed by the High Court of Australia on 7 September 2017.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Quotes of the Week


“We’re a middle-of-the-road country with ambitions for change caught in a political culture that’s come to see its mission as preventing the future.” [Columnist David Marr writing in The Guardian, 21 August 2017]

“In addition to the obvious social benefits of having a highly skilled population, maximising training and educational attainment should be an uncontroversial policy aim. Yet the government imposes cuts to trades training, is underfunding school education, ramping up university fees and forcing those who get a degree to pay for it more quickly.” [Research Fellow at Per Capita Stephen Koukoulas writing about unemployment in Australia in The Guardian, 11 September 2017]

Just because it is beautiful.........(32)


Gang-gang Cockatoo
Callocephalon fimbriatum
(male)
Found from southern Victoria through south- and central-eastern New South Wales
Vulnerable species in NSW
Image via @theleast

Friday, 15 September 2017

Australian governments continue to trip over their own hypocrisy


Crikey.com.au, 4 September 2017:

The forests of the Amazon basin are often referred to as the lungs of the Earth, nurturing life through rich, tropical biodiversity. Although often overlooked, it’s equally fitting to consider the jungles of the Asia-Pacific as the Earth’s heart. After all, they contain 20% of the world’s plant and animal species, and by some measurements make up six of the world’s 25 biodiversity hotspots. Australia adds to the variety, with its wealth of native vegetation. Each one of these areas is unique and plays an integral part in the world’s interrelated ecological systems.

The positive news is that the international community recognises them as such. Last month marks the one-year anniversary of the Asia-Pacific Rainforest Summit in Brunei-Darussalam, an initiative set up in 2014 to discuss the alarming rate of deforestation in the region.
In the last five years, Indonesia has overtaken Brazil to become the greatest forest-clearing nation in the world. South-east Asia more broadly has lost almost 15% of its forests over the last 15 years. Representing the Turnbull government at the summit, then-newly promoted Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg himself recognised the significance of these figures and declared that Australia was “committed” to rainforest protection throughout the Asia-Pacific.
A year on, Australia has appeared to take steps to support its Asian neighbours, such as contributing funding to assist in ending illegal logging. However, it is interesting to note that while the government seems to portray itself as one of the chief proponents in curbing international deforestation, land clearing remains hugely significant in Australia. In actual fact, the east coast of the continent is considered one of the worst deforestation areas in the world today.
http://www.wwf.org.au/news/news/2017/tree-clearing-causing-queenslands-greatest-animal-welfare-crisis#gs.lfpuVWc

Take a bow, the Turnbull Coalition Government, NSW Berejiklian Coalition Government, Victorian Andrews Coalition Government, Queensland Palaszczuk Labor Government and Tasmanian Hodgman Coalition Government – you are making Australia famous for all the wrong reasons. 

The Guardian, 7 September 2017:

Australia is rapidly losing its world-famous biodiversity. More than 90 species have gone extinct since European colonisation (including three in just the past decade) and more than 1,700 species are now formally recognised as being in danger of extinction.

Despite the pride many Australians feel in our unique natural heritage (and the billions of dollars made from nature-based tourism), the amount of federal funding for biodiversity conservation has dropped by 37% since 2013.

If a local industry or public institution experienced such a drastic funding cut, the people affected would petition their local representatives and the issue would be raised in parliament as a matter of local or national importance.

Threatened species cannot of course lobby government. But all threatened species on the land have at least one elected official who should take responsibility for them.

Threatened species as local constituents

A member of parliament’s primary job, besides being a party member and parliamentarian, is to speak up for local interests. Data from the Species of National Environmental Significance shows that every federal electorate contains at least one threatened species, so every single federally elected politician has a role to play in abating species extinction.

We’ve used that data to create a map that shows the number of threatened species in each federal electorate, along with details of the local MP and their party. It’s obvious from a glance that a handful of electorates contain most of Australia’s threatened species.


If you live in these electorates it's time to shame and name your MP at every opportunity.

Working for a GM-free future

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Are banks and insurance companies misusing personal health information and medical files?


“After an insured has made a claim against their policy, the insurer obtains access to and reviews the insured’s medical records. PIAC has seen instances of insurers obtaining an insured’s complete medical history, including from doctors that treated the insured during childhood, before deciding a claim.

PIAC has found that insurers often rely on matters ‘discovered’ during the review of the insured’s medical records to allege that the insured has breached their duty of disclosure.

Often the conclusions drawn by the insurer from the insured’s medical record about their experiences of mental health are inconsistent with the insured’s medical record and the opinions of their treating medical practitioners.

PIAC has represented individuals who have had a policy avoided because the insurer has relied on medical records to impute a medical condition that either did not exist or that the insured did not know existed at the time of applying for insurance.

In PIAC’s experience, it appears that consumers are being disadvantaged by the reforms to the remedies available to insurers (as set out above), or at the very least, are not seeing any benefits flowing from the increased flexibility.” [Public Interest Advocacy Centre, 18 November 2016]

Parliament of Australia, Inquiry into the life insurance industry:

On 14 September 2016, the Senate referred an inquiry into the life insurance industry to the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Corporations and Financial Services for report by 30 June 2017.
The committee welcomes individual stories that may identify widespread issues and recommendations for reform. The committee is not able to investigate or resolve individual disputes.
If you make adverse comment about people in your submission, the committee may reject such evidence or offer a right of reply.
Submissions close on 18 November 2016.
On 29 March 2017, the Senate extended the reporting date from 30 June 2017 to 31 October 2017.

Submissions received by the Committee can be found here.

ABC News, 8 September 2017:

Doctors are pushing back against insurance companies asking them to send them their patients' entire health records as they make decisions about life insurance.

"I am very alarmed that there might be tens of thousands of people's entire health record across the country now stored with insurance companies," Labor Senator Deborah O'Neil told Parliament's joint committee on corporations and financial services.

Edwin Kruys from the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners told the committee doctors do not believe it is appropriate to send entire files to insurance companies.

"It contains information that is often not relevant to the claim, it is all sorts of information that patients have shared with their doctor over the years and they may not even remember what they have shared," Dr Kruys said.

Anne Trimmer from the Australian Medical Association (AMA) told the committee it is challenging for a doctor to determine which parts of a file are relevant.

"And you overlay that with doctors who are time poor with busy practices, it is really hard to make the determination of what is really relevant," she said.

Helen Troup who is managing director of the Commonwealth Bank's Life Insurance arm, CommInsure, told their insurance customers agreed to let doctors provide the files.

"We do get a full authority," Ms Troup said.

She said the company keeps the files but could not say how many it had.

"Our claims principle is to ask for information that is relevant to the claim assessment," she said.

But she said it sometimes meant the company received the full file.

"We of course take due care with that information," Ms Troup said.

But Dr Kruys said he did not take a tick in a box on a form as true consent from his patients to hand over their records, so he contacted them and checked.

He told the committee that they often then withdrew that consent and he would instead send a much more specific report.

Associate Professor Stephen Bradshaw of the Medical Board of Australia told the committee that the request for medical records could come months or years after the doctor had seen the patient.

Turnbull Government's Australian Building and Construction Commissioner resigns ahead of court sentancing contravening the Fair Work Act


It appears that the Abbott and Turnbull federal governments’ chosen anti-union attack dog has feet of clay…………………….
This is what the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) has to say about its agency head as late as 12 September 2017:
Nigel Hadgkiss, APM, became the Australian Building and Construction Commissioner on 2 December 2016 with the re-establishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).  Nigel has held a number of high-profile roles in both state and federal government agencies with a focus on both law enforcement and construction industry regulation, including:
Director Fair Work Building & Construction (FWBC);
Director, Construction Code Compliance, Victorian Department of Treasury and Finance;
Executive Director, Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions NSW;
Deputy Commissioner, ABCC;
Director, Building Industry Taskforce;
National Director of Intelligence, Australian Crime Commission; and
Assistant Commissioner, Australian Federal Police
In 2007, while Deputy Commissioner of the ABCC, Nigel was credited with bringing a remarkable era of peace and productivity to the nation's building sites.[i]
Nigel commenced his career with the Hong Kong Police Force. During his career he has led many high profile investigations and inquiries, and served on three Australian Royal Commissions. Between 1972 and 1998, he received 15 commendations, including two from District Court Judges, three from Supreme Court Judges, and one from a Chief Justice. Between 1994 and 1996, he was the Director of Operations at the Wood Royal Commission into the New South Wales Police Force.  During that secondment, Nigel was awarded the Australian Police Medal (APM) for distinguished service in the 1995 Queen’s Birthday Honours List. Later that year, the Australian Federal Police promoted him to Assistant Commissioner. In 1997 Nigel was invited to Toronto to appear before a Royal Commission examining the wrongful conviction of a man for first degree murder. He assisted the Commissioner in formulating recommendations to improve the administration of criminal justice in Ontario.
Nigel holds Bachelor of Laws and Masters of Commerce degrees from the University of New South Wales.  As a Winston Churchill Fellow, in 1989 he spent five months in Northern Ireland, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, England, the USA and Canada studying Comparative Methods for Combating Organised Crime.  In 1998 Nigel was invited to York University, Toronto, as a Visiting Fellow to Canada’s largest law school, Osgoode Hall, for their 1999 winter semester. Later that year he presented seminars at All Souls College, Oxford University, and at the Inner Temple Hall of the Inner Temple Inn of Court, London.
Since 1996 Nigel has been: a member of the RMIT University’s Business Management Course Advisory Committee; a Board Member of the Australian Institute of Criminology; Chair of the Commonwealth’s Executive Leadership Group Victoria; a Board Member of the Industry Advisory Board for the Centre of Business Forensics at the University of Queensland; an Adjunct Professor with the University of Queensland’s Business School; and Chair of the Audit Committee of the Australian Institute of Criminology.

[i] The Australian Financial Review Magazine, October 2007 p.121.

On 12 September 2017 The Australian revealed another side to this gentleman:
Nigel Hadgkiss appearing at a hearing into the Fair Work Building and Construction at Parliament House in Canberra
Australian Building and Construction Commissioner Nigel Hadgkiss has admitted to contravening the Fair Work Act, sparking fresh calls by the construction union for him to resign.
In an embarrassment to the Coalition, Mr Hadgkiss will face a civil penalty hearing in the Federal Court on Friday.
In an agreed statement of facts tendered in court today, Mr Hadgkiss admitted that in December 2013 he directed that looming changes to right of entry laws — that were beneficial to unions and workers — not be published by the agency.
The Coalition won the federal election in September 2013 but the previous Labor government had passed changes to the right of entry laws that came into operation on January 1, 2014.
Before the amendments, a union official had to follow a reasonable request by an employer about where they could hold site discussions with workers.
Under the ALP changes, the employer was no longer authorised to give such a request. If no agreement could be reached, the union official could meet workers in their regular meal room for discussion.
According to the statement of agreed facts, Mr Hadgkiss met two senior agency staff on December 19, 2013 and directed that no changes be made to agency educational material to reflect the new law.
A senior agency staffer said he told another senior employee that there was a political and legal risk associated with withholding the information. The employee agreed, saying he raised his concerns with Mr Hadgkiss but he was adamant “he didn’t want us to change anything”.
Mr Hadgkiss argued the then Employment Minister Eric Abetz has promised to repeal the amendments when federal parliament resumed in 2014. He believed the amendments would be repealed and changes to the educational material would have to be reversed.
But the amendments have not been repealed and remain the law.
Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union national construction secretary, Dave Noonan said Mr Hadgkiss should resign or be sacked by Employment Minister Michaelia Cash.
“It’s a very serious matter when the regulator breaks the same laws they are supposed to be enforcing,’’ he said. “Can you imagine if the head of the ACCC admitted to breaching the Corporations Act?
According to the Remuneration Tribunal, Mr Hadgkiss receives a taxpayer-funded salary of $426,160 a year.
Asked if Senator Cash still had confidence in Mr Hadgkiss, her spokesman said “the matter is still being determined by the court and it would therefore be inappropriate to comment at this stage”.
Opposition workplace relations spokesman Brendan O’Connor said Senator Cash had “allowed her regulator to intentionally operate in breach of the very legislation which he is authorised to enforce”.
“Unless and until the Minister publicly denounces Commissioner Hadgkiss and takes appropriate action, any comments she makes about upholding the rule of law are hollow and insincere,’’ he said.
ACTU secretary Sally McManus said Senator Cash must sack Mr Hadgkiss.
“Surely the person who has the highest responsibility, a greater responsibility, to abide by industrial laws is the person in charge of upholding them,’’ she said.
“If a police chief recklessly broke the law, which Nigel Hadgkiss has admitted to, their position would in untenable and there would be consequences. If a worker fails to follow workplace laws they can be sacked.
“Michaelia Cash is calling for the sacking of union leaders — what standard will she apply to her own employee who is in charge of upholding her laws?”
Mr Hadgkiss admitted to contravening section 503 (1) of the Fair Work Act which says a person must not take action with the intention of giving the impression, “or reckless as to whether the impression is given that the doing of a thing is authorised when it is not.
Mr Noonan said Mr Hadgkiss admitted “his conduct was reckless”.
“We believe the result of that recklessness is that the industry was misled on a key issue affecting workers’ rights,” he said.
“He has taken great care to bring multiple prosecutions against unions and workers over right of entry breaches, but has failed to conduct himself with reasonable care in relation to these same laws, and in particular those parts of the laws which extend some benefit or protection to workers.
“Mr Hadgkiss’s position as a regulator is compromised and untenable, and he should resign immediately,’
The consequence of the direction by Mr Hadgkiss was that a fact sheet, poster and pocket guide available for download on the agency website was not changed until July last year.
An article detailing the right of entry changes was published on the agency intranet for staff on January 9 2014.
It said given the changes will be “rolled back in the future”, staff should only provide advice about them if specifically asked, and presentation should not include slides about the new provisions.
On January 9 2014, Jeff Radisich, executive director of northwest operations, asked Adam Copp, the agency director of stakeholder engagement, whether the roll back would occur.
“I thought we would be stuck with these provisions until the Senate change over in July,’’ he wrote. “If that’s the case we are running something of a political and industrial risk by withholding info on the law as it currently stands.”
Mr Copp replied “to be honest, I do share your concerns and talked to Nigel about it last year”.
“However, he was absolutely adamant that he didn’t want us to change anything as the government intention is to change the legislation. He said he was extremely comfortable handling it in (Senate) estimates or the media or wherever. He felt pretty strongly about it.”
Mr Hadgkiss eventually directed the fact sheet, poster and pocket guide be withdrawn last year after Mr Noonan wrote to him in July last year, saying they misrepresented the requirements of the Fair Work Act.
A spokesman for Mr Hadgkiss said he would not comment as the matter was before the courts.
In the statement of agreed facts, Mr Hadgkiss admitted he had not read the fact sheet, poster or pocket guide prior to reviewing for the purpose of the current court case. Nor was he aware of their specific content.
He admitted he had not studied the right of entry amendments or the amending act but relied on media reports and commentary at the time to get an understanding of the broad nature of the amendments.
He said he “did not intend, believe or advert to the possibility” that an impression would be given that something was authorised by the Fair Work Act when it was not authorised.
However he accepted that he could reasonably have been expected to have foreseen the continued availability of the fact sheet, poster and pocket guide could give the impression the pre-2014 legal position remained.
Mr Noonan said the CFMEU has raised objections about the ABCC materials since 2014.
“For over two years, from 2014 until the CFMEU complained to the ABCC in 2016, multiple ABCC publications on right of entry laws did not accurately describe this provision, and incorrectly asserted that union officials had to comply with the employer’s wishes on the location of meetings,’’ he said.
“While the ABCC had ensured the correct legal position was known internally to its own staff, it disseminated incorrect information to the public and across the industry.”
The maximum fine faced by Mr Hadgkiss for the breach is $12,600.

Mr Hadgkiss will face a civil penalty hearing in the Federal Court tomorrow, Friday 15 September 2017.
Readers may remember that this is not the first time Mr. Hadgkiss has exceeded his brief.
The Sydney Morning Herald, 4 October 2014:
ABCC deputy commissioner at the time, Hadgkiss summoned Tribe to a compulsory interrogation, which Tribe refused to attend. He risked six months in prison but a magistrate ruled that only the ABCC commissioner had the power to issue the summons and he had not lawfully delegated that power to Hadgkiss. The ruling effectively ended the ABCC's widespread use of coercive powers.

Then there is Hadgkiss’ penchant for selectively relying on the Murdoch media for his erroneous information.


https://youtu.be/VCTU066MXvc


By 13 September 2017 it became obvious that the Minister for Employment and Liberal Senator for Western Australia Michaelia Cash had decided to put a lid on the situation - possibly in the hope that nothing more concerning the ABCC entered the public domain - applied something like the 'three strikes' rule and announced that Nigel Hadgkiss was no longer employed:

Mr Nigel Hadgkiss APM has today tendered his resignation as Commissioner of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, which has been accepted by the Government..............Mr Hagdkiss will serve a two week transition period to facilitate a handover of his responsibilities to an acting Commissioner.

Closing the stable door after the horse hand bolted did not save the minister from her own folly however.

It seems Senator Cash had been aware of Hadgkiss' breach of industrial relations law since October 2016 ans sat on this information.
Apparently the national electorate is to believe that she was so disinterested in her portfolio that she missed this media report published almost two month earlier.

The Australian, 22 August 2016:

The construction union claims taxpayer-funded information being handed out by the building industry watchdog is reckless and illegal.

The CFMEU on Monday began action seeking penalties in the Federal Court in Sydney against Nigel Hadgkiss, the director of the Fair Work Building Industry Inspectorate.

The union says pocket guides and posters misrepresent the right to entry provisions of the Fair Work Act, which stipulate union officials are permitted to meet with employees in lunch sheds where other arrangements are not mutually agreed to.

Mr Hadgkiss told AAP in a statement: “It is inappropriate to comment on an action of this nature whilst the matter is before the court.”

CFMEU national construction division secretary Dave Noonan said Mr Hadgkiss should know better.

“It’s galling to think that Mr Hadgkiss, whose organisation have charged themselves with solely and doggedly policing right of entry disputes between the union and employers, would have promoted and distributed such critically false information,” Mr Noonan said in a statement.

UPDATE

The Guardian, 13 September 2017:

The government confirmed on Wednesday night that legal assistance would be provided to Nigel Hadgkiss in accordance with normal practice.
While the legal costs will be covered, a spokesman for the employment minister Michaelia Cash said Hadgkiss had “neither sought nor received any indemnification against any penalty that may be ordered by the court”.
It is possible he could apply for indemnification once the court proceedings move forward.