Showing posts with label human rights. Show all posts
Showing posts with label human rights. Show all posts

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Australia’s Border Farce lives down to its nickname


Minister for Home Affairs and Liberal MP for Dickson Peter Dutton’s poor oversight and lack of managerial skills is on display for all to see…….


The benefits of the merger of the Immigration and Customs departments and creation of Australian Border Force  haven't been proven and promised increased revenue hasn't materialised, a damning audit report has found.

While the Department of Immigration and Border Protection did achieve the merger effectively, it "is not in a position to provide the government with assurance that the claimed benefits of integration have been achieved," the report said.

The merger of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection with the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service took place in 2015, with its functions now covered under the Department of Home Affairs. Controversial at the time, it heralded a move to focus more on guarding the country's borders over resettlement and migration.

In the business case for the merger, the department committed to a "Benefits Realisation Plan," but because the plan was not implemented, the claimed benefits have not been measured and can't be demonstrated, the report said.

While the business case for the integration of the departments promised an increase in revenue from customs duty, less than half of the promised revenue increase has materialised. At the end of 2017, just 42.2 per cent of the extra revenue committed to had been achieved, and the report predicted that at the current rate just 31.6 per cent of the additional revenue promised would be delivered.

When the merger was announced, then immigration minister Scott Morrison promised "hundreds of millions in savings" would be reinvested back into the agency.
Auditor-general Grant Herir slammed the department's record keeping, which the department admitted was in a "critically poor state," and said there was no evidence that the Minister Peter Dutton was given written briefings on the progress of the integration of the departments.

In its response, the Department of Home Affairs acknowledged it had issues with record keeping and committed to making improvements a priority. The report didn't look on this commitment favourably though, pointing to more than 10 years of audits and reviews that have made similar findings.

The problems and their solutions are known to the department, and it has an action plan to address them, although numerous previous attempts to do so have not been successful," it said.

The report also found that the department experienced a loss of corporate memory through the merger.

"Almost half of SES officers present in July 2015 [were] no longer in the department at July 2017," it said.

The report also found that out of 33 consultancy contracts with values of more than $1 million, just 2 were evaluated for value for money, meaning that it was unclear if the other 31 contracts had been value for money.

Spending on consultancy in the department more than doubled in the years after the merger, topping more than $50 million in each of the 2014-15 and 2015-16 financial years…..

The Age, 19 June 2018:

The multimillion-dollar college that trains Australia’s border security personnel has “overpromised and underdelivered” and immigration and customs officials have repeatedly abused their powers, a scathing report has found.

The government-commissioned findings also said many department staff lack the training needed to perform their jobs and “jaws of death” have gripped officials struggling to complete more work with fewer resources.

In May 2014 the Coalition Abbott government controversially announced the creation of the Australian Border Force (ABF), as part of a merger of customs and immigration border operations. Crucial to the new super-charged agency was the establishment of the ABF College, with multiple campuses, to ensure recruits and existing staff “have the right skills to do their jobs”.

Under the former department of immigration and border protection, consultants RAND Australia were asked to evaluate the progress of the merger, ahead of the creation of the Home Affairs portfolio in December last year which combined immigration, border protection, law enforcement and intelligence.

The findings concluded that “clear and unequivocal” progress has been made towards building a “modern border management capability”.

However, success had been “uneven” and in particular, the ABF College “largely remains a disappointment to senior leaders across the department”.

The report involved interviews with senior department officials, who cited concern that the college’s curriculum was “not adequate for actual training needs”.

The college’s use of technology was poor and, in many cases, was used to “automate bad learning environments” rather than improve training.

The college was supposed to train staff across the department, however many officials were not given time to attend courses.

Overall, the college and other training opportunities in the department “overpromised and underdelivered to the detriment of the workforce and the morale”.

One senior official was so frustrated at the problems that he suspended a board examining the issues “until new terms of reference and fresh ideas were developed”.
The report is dated 2018 but it is not clear exactly when it was finalised. The Department of Home Affairs did not answer questions from Fairfax Media on how much had been spent on the college and where its campuses were located. Officials have previously said the 2014-15 budget included $54 million to establish the college and other training measures, and that several campuses would be established including in Sydney and Canberra.

Across the department’s broader workforce, senior officials said staff in many cases lacked “the capability to do the work required of their assigned positions”.

This included customs and immigration investigators “not understanding the law, use of force protocols, and rules of engagement” which in some cases led to “abuse of power,” the report said.

One official said field compliance officers “were doing dangerous jobs without proper training” and another described a junior officer who was “unable to manage shipboard operations due to a lack of proper training and experience”.

Department staff described being held in the “jaws of death” as they juggled an increased workload and declining resources. Senior officials repeatedly raised concern that the ABF received more resources than other divisions but “has not been subjected to the same level of scrutiny”….

As a local member it appears that Dutton is also having ‘workforce’ issues ahead of the forthcoming federal election…..

www.peterdutton.com.au as of 20 June 2018:

Peter is working hard but could use your help.
If you can spare an hour or two to help Peter in Dickson, please join the team.

The most shameful evidence of Peter Dutton's management style is found when one condiders that as Minister for Immigration and Border Protection since 23 December 2014, he currently has ultimate responsibility for the welfare of asylum seekers held in custody. 

Bringing the total number of deaths in onshore or offshore detention and in the community to est. 64 people since January 2000. 

That is the equivilant of almost four deaths each year on Peter Dutton's watch and around three deaths per year overall.

According to MSN on 21 June 2018; There are nearly 700 men currently in detention on Papua New Guinea, and more than 900 men, women and children on Nauru.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners: "We're on the frontline defending our lands against Adani" and we ask your help


From: Adrian Burragubba - via CommunityRun <info@getup.org.au>
Date: Thu, May 24, 2018 at 5:46 PM
Subject: We're on the frontline defending our lands against Adani
To: [redacted]


This is a message from the leaders of the Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners. They are the Traditional Owners of the land where mining giant Adani want to build the Carmichael coal mine. Your details haven't been shared with anyone.

Dear [redacted],

We are leaders of the Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners. We're the people on the frontline defending our ancestral lands in the fight against Adani's destructive coal mine.

Our people have said no four times to a miserly land deal offered by Adani in exchange for the destruction of our homelands. We have been opposing Adani and holding them off since 2012.

Our resistance has nothing to do with dollars. No amount of money or promises from a deceitful corporation can stop us standing strong in defence of Wangan and Jagalingou lands and waters and sacred sites.

But Adani are ruthless. They have used the dirtiest tactics to undermine our right to say no, and manufacture a phony "Indigenous Land Use Agreement".

Right now we're fighting against Adani's shoddy tactics and their sham "agreement" in court. The judge could hand down a decision any day now. But it won't end there.

Can you sign our petition to stand with us against Adani?

We are willing to fight Adani all the way to the High Court to protect our environment and sacred sites. We are working for a positive future for our people on our country. We won't stand by and watch its destruction for coal.

Adani are relentlessly pressuring the Queensland government to clear our Native Title rights out of the way — and as the clock ticks and Adani gets more desperate, it will only intensify.

So we need to show Adani and our Governments that they can't fake or force our consent.

We have never given our consent to Adani to destroy our country, and we never will. Our land is our living law; we are connected to it through our ancestors and our culture. Without it we will cease to exist as a people.

Our people have been leading a courageous fight against a cashed-up mining giant with politicians in its pockets, and top end of town lawyers to argue away its collusion, bad faith and dishonesty.

We're calling time on this. It's time for Adani to walk away.

Sign our petition to tell Adani No means No.

Adani can't keep bullying us, or pretending they have our consent. Consent is written in our hearts and minds, and the truth is we have said no. Time and again.

And we shouldn't have to keep saying it. Adani haven't been able to put money on the table for this project or even say when they'll start digging. They've given nothing to our people, or to the people of Queensland and Australia, except a bunch of false promises. The smart money and honest commentators know Adani's Carmichael mine is going nowhere.

But still our rights are at extreme risk. The Queensland Government could yield to this corrupt polluting corporation and "legally" rip up our Native Title, just so they can say they have their final "approval".

We continue to hold the line and have many tens of thousands of supporters in Australia and around the world, but we need more. We need to build a more powerful movement, standing in solidarity with us, to take on Adani's wealth, political influence and dirty tricks.

Sign our petition to support our fight against Adani.

We are in the fight of our lives. Adani have shown a relentless determination to use unjust legal maneouvres to trample our rights. But this fight is bigger than Adani. It's about the rights that all Aboriginal people have to say no to dirty extractive industries that profit from our traditional homelands. It's about our right under international law to be free from discrimination, and to choose our own economic future.

We have a vision for our people that's sustainable. We want economic independence, and to make a future on our country that is respectful of the land and uplifting for our people. We want to invest in solar energy and other new clean enterprises. We don't want scraps from a corrupt corporation looking to profit from the permanent destruction of our culture, or meagre handouts and low paid dirty jobs that require us to give up our human rights.

When we say No to Adani, we mean No. We hope you'll stand with us.

Support our fight: http://wanganjagalingou.com.au/our-fight/

Adrian Burragubba, cultural leader and senior spokesperson
with Murrawah Johnson, Youth spokesperson
and Linda Bobongie, W&J Council Chairperson

for the Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners Council


Adrian Burragubba

CommunityRun is a new online organisation that lets anyone start, run and win their own campaigns. It receives no political party or government funding and is not affiliated with any political party. To unsubscribe from CommunityRun updates, please visit here or visit http://www.getup.org.au/unsubscribe?cr=true. To unsubscribe from individual CommunityRun campaigns, please visit www.communityrun.org.
Our team acknowledges that we meet and work on the land of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. We wish to pay respect to their Elders - past, present and future - and acknowledge the important role all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continue to play within Australia and the GetUp community.
Authorised by Paul Oosting, Level 14, 338 Pitt Street, Sydney NSW 2000.

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Another asylum seeker death on Manus Island


There have been three deaths of asylum seekers held in Australian off shore detention in the last nine months - one on Nauru and two on Manus Island - according to Border Crossing Observatory.

This recent death brings the count to four.

UNHCR: The United Nations Refugee Agency, media release, 22 May 2018:

UNHCR Statement
By UNHCR Regional Representation in Canberra  22 May 2018

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is profoundly saddened by the death of a Rohingya refugee on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, today. The tragic loss of yet another vulnerable person under Australian ‘offshore processing’ again underscores the need for proper care and immediate solutions.

“With the passage of too many years and the withdrawal or reduction of essential services, the already critical situation for refugees most in need continues to deteriorate,” said Nai Jit Lam, UNHCR’s Deputy Regional Representative in Canberra. “Australia’s responsibility for those who have sought its protection remains unchanged. Our thoughts and condolences are with the man’s family today.”

UNHCR renews its call for the Government of Australia to take immediate action to provide assistance and solutions, and to avert further harm and tragedy. Comprehensive, intensive support for refugees and asylum-seekers remains desperately needed in both Papua New Guinea and Nauru. The national authorities of both countries lack the means and infrastructure to address growing needs.

UNHCR is continuing to seek further information from the Governments of Australia and Papua New Guinea respectively.

UNHCR Regional Representation in Canberra
UNHCR’s Regional Representation is based in Canberra, and is responsible for the promotion and protection of refugee rights in Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.


The Guardian, 22 May 2018:

A Rohingya refugee has died in a violent motor vehicle incident on Manus Island.

The man was witnessed “coming out of a moving vehicle”, according to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, and suffered “very serious head injuries”.

He died at the scene, the organisation said. “It is not know who else was in the vehicle.”

The man, whose identity is not being released until his family is notified, had a long history of physical and mental illness and had been on Manus for more than five years.

A few years ago he was sent to Australia for medical treatment but was returned, according to the journalist and refugee Behrouz Boochani.

Boochani said the other refugees had been aware of his illness. They were “deeply saddened and horrified at the news of another friend’s death”.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

AUSTRALIA 2018: Turnbull Government continues to hammer the vulnerable


Remember when reading this that the Turnbull Government is still intending to proceed with its planned further corporate tax cuts reportedly worth an est. $65 billion. Compare this policy with the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) funding in Budget 2018-19 which is $43 billion over four years and no dedicated NDIS funding stream established as had been previously promised.

Australian Federation of Disability Organisations & Summer Foundation, media release, 14 May 2018:

JOINT STATEMENT ON THE NDIA’S SPECIALIST DISABILITY ACCOMMODATION PROVIDER AND INVESTOR BRIEF

The National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) presented its latest policy position for Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA) in a statement to the provider and investor market on 24 April.

People with disabilities and developers of innovative housing for people with disabilities are pleased the NDIA has reiterated the government’s commitment to SDA in its SDA Provider and Investor Brief. The NDIA has confirmed that the SDA funding model is here to stay.

However, the NDIA’s SDA Brief expresses a vision for SDA housing with a clear bias toward shared models of housing for people with disability, presumably to reduce support costs. This is unacceptable. You can read our joint statement here (A Rich text format is available here).

You can read the Summer Foundation’s summary of the SDA Brief here.

The Australian, 16 May 2018:

The executives of the flagship ­National Disability Insurance Scheme, which received guaranteed funding worth tens of billions of dollars in last week’s budget, have launched a crackdown on support funding to keep a lid on ballooning costs.

The razor is being taken to hundreds, possibly thousands, of ­annual support plans as they come up for review, demonstrating a new hawkish approach from ­National Disability Insurance Agency bosses but resulting in the loss of funding and support for vulnerable families. In many cases, support packages for families have been cut by half.

The early years of the $22 billion program’s rollout saw wild variability in the value and type of support being granted to participants, forcing executives to come up with a way to claw back funding that has “an impact on sustainability”. In the process, people with disabilities and their families have been shocked by sudden reversals of fortune….

In its quarterly report, the NDIA noted there was a “mismatch” between reference packages — rough cookie-cutter guides for how much packages ought to be in normal circumstances — and the value of annual support packages which affected the financial sustainability of the scheme.

“The management’s response to this is to closely ensure that significant variations away from reference amounts (above and below) are closely monitored and justified,” a spokesman said.

“Reference packages are not used as a tool to reduce package amounts to below what is reasonable and necessary. Individual circumstances are considered in determining budgets, including goals and aspirations.

“A reference package does not restrict the amount or range of support provided to a participant, but acts as a starting point for planners to use for similar cohorts. It provides amounts that are suitable for a given level of support needs that has been adjusted for individual circumstances.”

The agency has claimed the implementation of this process has started to reduce funding blowouts and a hearing into the scheme by federal parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on the NDIS last Friday heard startling evidence about how widespread the new approach is.

Donna Law, whose 21-year-old son has severe disabilities, was told by an NDIS planner: “Donna, watch out because your son’s next plan is going to be cut by about half.”

Clare Steve had funding cut in half by the NDIA and wanted to do another review.
“I spoke to multiple people, because no one would actually give me the paperwork to do the next lot of reviewing,” Ms Steve told the hearing.

“I was told by multiple people that it was a mistake: ‘Do not go for another review.
“If you go for another review, you could get your funding cut again’.”

ABC News, 19 May 2018:

Bureaucrats are reportedly working on a strategy to curb costs by tightening up the eligibility requirements after a blowout in the number families seeking NDIS support packages for people with autism.

ABC News, 19 May 2018:

Last December, Sam's case was one of about 14,000 sitting in the NDIS's review backlog, according to a damning ombudsman's report this week. Then, about 140,000 participants were in the scheme.

The review queue has since shrunk, but the agency in charge of the world-first scheme — a Commonwealth department known as the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) — still receives about 640 review requests each week.

Some of those requests do not reflect badly on the NDIA. People can request an unscheduled review if their circumstances change, for example if their condition improves.

But the agency often is culpable when it comes to another type of review, known as an internal review. People ask for these when they disagree with the plan and funding package they are given.

Some reviews come from people who feel short-changed, given the state government support they previously received, or because of the high expectations associated with the scheme.

But the Government is also to blame. The NDIS's full-scheme launch in mid-2016 was a disaster. The computer system failed. A backlog of NDIS applications quickly emerged.

Plans were then often completed over the phone and rushed. Key staff lacked training and experience. There was little consistency in the decisions being made.

The scheme's IT system remains hopeless, and elements of its bureaucracy are not much better, according to the watchdog's report.

The agency accepted all 20 of the ombudsman's recommendations, and Social Services Minister Dan Tehan said work was underway to bust the backlog "over coming months".


* In February 2018, the NDIA advised around 8,100 reviews remained in the backlog and the national backlog team was clearing around 200 reviews each week. The NDIA also advised it continues to receive around 620 new review requests each week, which are handled by regional review staff.

* We have received complaints about the NDIA’s handling of participant-initiated requests for review. In particular, these complaints concern the NDIA: (1) not acknowledging requests for review; (2) not responding to enquiries about the status of a request; or (3) actioning requests for an internal review as requests for a plan review.

*Participants also complained they had sought updates on the receipt and/or progress of their requests by calling the Contact Centre and by telephoning or emailing local staff. They reported not receiving a response, leaving messages that were not returned and being told someone would contact them—but no one did.

* In our view, the absence of clear guidance to staff about the need to acknowledge receipt of review requests is concerning. Indeed, the large number of complaints to our Office where complainants are unclear about the status of their review indicates the lack of a standardised approach to acknowledgements is driving additional, unnecessary contact with both the NDIA and our Office.

* Our Office monitors and reports on complaint themes each quarter. Review delays was the top complaint issue for all four quarters in 2017.

* Some participants have told us they have been waiting for up to eight or nine months for a decision on their review request, without any update on its progress or explanation of the time taken.

In some instances, the participant’s existing plan has expired before the NDIA has made a decision on their request for review. As review decisions can only be made prospectively, it can mean a participant must go through the whole process for the new (routinely reviewed) plan if they remain unhappy.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

An insider has finally admitted what any digital native would be well aware of - your personal health information entered into a national database will be no safer that having it up on Facebook


Remembering that a federal government national screening program, working with with a private entity, has already accessed personal information from Medicare without consent of registered individuals and entered these persons into a research program - again without consent - and these individuals apparently could not easily opt out of being listed as a research subject but were often only verbally offered  the option of declining to take part in testing, which presumably meant that health data from other sources was still capable of being collected about them by the program. One has to wonder what the Turnbull Government and medical establishment actually consider patient rights to be in practice when it comes to "My Health Record".

Healthcare IT News, 4 May 2018:

Weeks before the anticipated announcement of the My Health Record opt out period, an insider’s leak has claimed the Australian Digital Health Agency has decided associated risks for consumers “will not be explicitly discussed on the website”.

As the ADHA heads towards the imminent announcement of the three-month window in which Australians will be able to opt out of My Health Record before being signed up to the online health information repository, the agency was caught by surprise today when details emerged in a blog post by GP and member of the steering group for the national expansion of MHR, Dr Edwin Kruys.

Kruys wrote that MHR offers “clear benefits” to healthcare through providing clinicians with greater access to discharge summaries, pathology and diagnostic reports, prescription records and more, but said “every digital solution has its pros and cons” and behind-the-scenes risk mitigation has been one of the priorities of the ADHA. However, he claimed Australians may not be made aware of the risks involved in allowing their private medical information to be shared via the Federal Government’s system.

“It has been decided that the risks associated with the MyHR will not be explicitly discussed on the website,” Kruys wrote.

“This obviously includes the risk of cyber attacks and public confidence in the security of the data.”

The most contentious contribution in the post related to the secondary use of Australians’ health information, the framework of which has yet to be announced by Health Minister Greg Hunt.

Contacted by HITNA, the agency moved swiftly to have Kruys delete the paragraph relating to secondary use.

In the comment that has since been removed, Kruys wrote, “Many consumers and clinicians regard secondary use of the MyHR data as a risk. The MyHR will contain a ‘toggle’, giving consumers the option to switch secondary use of their own data on or off.”

Under the My Health Records Act 2012, health information in MHR may be collected, used and disclosed “for any purpose” with the consent of the healthcare recipient. One of the functions of the system operator is “to prepare and provide de-identified data for research and public health purposes”. 

Before these provisions of the act will be implemented, a framework for secondary use of MHR systems data must be established. 

HealthConsult was engaged to assist the Federal Government in developing a draft framework and implementation plan for the process and within its public consultation process in 2017 received supportive submissions from the Australasian College of Health Informatics, the Australian Bureau of Statistics and numerous research institutes, universities, and clinicians’ groups.

Computerworld, 14 May 2018:

Use of both de-identified data and, in some circumstances, identifiable data will be permitted under a new government framework for so-called “secondary use” of data derived from the national eHealth record system. Linking data from the My Health Record system to other datasets is also allowed under some circumstances.

The Department of Health last year commissioned the development of the framework for using My Health Record data for purposes other than its primary purpose of providing healthcare to an individual.

Secondary use can include research, policy analysis and work on improving health services.

Under the new framework, individuals who don’t want their data used for secondary purposes will be required to opt-out. The opt-out process is separate from the procedure necessary for individuals who don’t want an eHealth record automatically created for them (the government last year decided to shift to an opt-out approach for My Health Record)……

Access to the data will be overseen by an MHR Secondary Use of Data Governance Board, which will approve applications to access the system.

Any Australian-based entity with the exception of insurance agencies will be permitted to apply for access the MHR data. Overseas-based applicants “must be working in collaboration with an Australian applicant” for a project and will not have direct access to MHR data.

The data drawn from the records may not leave Australia, but under the framework there is scope for data analyses and reports produced using the data to be shared internationally……

The Department of Health came under fire in 2016 after it released for download supposedly anonymised health data. Melbourne University researchers were able to successfully re-identify a range of data.

Last month the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner revealed that health service providers accounted for almost a quarter of the breaches reported in the first six weeks of operation of the Notifiable Data Breach (NDB) scheme.


Australians who don't want a personal electronic health record will have from July 16 to October 15 to opt-out of the national scheme the federal government announced on Monday.

Every Australian will have a My Health Record unless they choose to opt-out during the three-month period, according to the Australian Digital Health Agency.

The announcement follows the release of the government’s secondary use of data rules earlier this month that inflamed concerns of patient privacy and data use.


Under the framework, medical information would be made available to third parties from 2020 - including some identifying data for public health and research purposes - unless individuals opted out.

In other news....... 


A cyber attack on Family Planning NSW's website has exposed the personal information of up to 8000 clients, including women who have booked appointments or sought advice about abortion, contraception and other services.

Clients received an email from FPNSW on Monday alerting them that their website had been hacked on Anzac Day.

The compromised data contained information from roughly 8000 clients who had contacted FPNSW via its website in the past 2½ years to make appointments or give feedback.

It included the personal details clients entered via an online form, including names, contact details, dates of birth and the reason for their enquiries….

The website was secured by 10am on April 26, 2018 and all web database information has been secure since that time

SBS News, 14 May 2018:

Clients were told Family Planning NSW was one of several agencies targeted by cybercriminals who requested a bitcoin ransom on April 25…..
The not-for-profit has five clinics in NSW, with more than 28,000 people visiting every year.

The most recent Digital Rights Watch State of Digital Rights (May 2018) report can be found here.

The report’s 8 recommendations include:

Repeal of the mandatory metadata retention scheme

Introduction of a Commonwealth statutory civil cause of action for serious invasions of privacy

A complete cessation of commercial espionage conducted by the Australian Signals Directorate

Changes to copyright laws so they are flexible, transparent and provide due process to users

Support for nation states to uphold the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in the digital age

Expand the definition of sensitive information under the Privacy Act to specifically include behavioural biometrics

Increase measures to educate private businesses and other entities of their responsibilities under the Privacy Act regarding behavioural biometrics, and the right to pseudonymity

Introduce a compulsory register of entities that collect static and behavioural biometric data, to provide the public with information about the entities that are collecting biometric data and for what purpose

The loopholes opened with the 2011 reform of the FOI laws should be closed by returning ASD, ASIO, ASIS and other intelligence agencies to the ambit of the FOI Act, with the interpretation of national security as a ground for refusal of FOI requests being reviewed and narrowed

Telecommunications providers and internet platforms must develop processes to increase transparency in content moderation and, make known what content was removed or triggered an account suspension.

Monday, 7 May 2018

Elder abuse and profit shifting go hand-in-hand in the age care sector?


Any regular reader of online news would have seen mentions of elder abuse, neglect and sub-standard health care over the years.


Elder abuse is a critical issue in aged care homes, with thousands of cases reported to the Health Department every year…. In 2016-2017, there were 2853 reports of “reportable assaults’’ and 2463 allegations of “unreasonable use of force”.

Australian Law Reform Commission, Elder Abuse (DP 83), Abuse and neglect in aged care, 12 December 2016:

1.34   Stakeholders reported many instances of abuse of people receiving aged care. These included reports of abuse by paid care workers[55] and other residents of care homes[56] as well as by family members and/or appointed decision makers of care recipients.[57] For example, Alzheimer’s Australia provided the following examples of physical and emotional abuse:

When working as a PCA [personal care assistant] in 2 high care units, I witnessed multiple, daily examples of residents who were unable to communicate being abused including: PCA telling resident to ‘die you f---ing old bitch!’ because she resisted being bed bathed. Hoist lifting was always done by one PCA on their own not 2 as per guidelines and time pressures meant PCAs often using considerable physical force to get resistive people into hoists; resident not secured in hoist dropped through and broke arm—died soon after; residents being slapped, forcibly restrained and force-fed or not fed at all; resident with no relatives never moved out of bed, frequently left alone for hours without attention; residents belongings being stolen and food brought in by relatives eaten by PCAs.[58]

1.35   The ALRC also received reports of other forms of abuse, including sexual[59] and financial abuse.[60] Restrictions on movement[61] and visitation[62] were also reported. Many submissions also identified neglect of care recipients.[63]

The Sydney Morning Herald, 15 October 2017:

Across NSW, 58 per cent of aged care workers surveyed said they have not been able to provide the level of care residents deserved because of budget cuts. Of those, 80 per cent said staff shortages were the main barrier to providing proper care.

The Courier-Mail, 19 April 2018: 

PROFIT-HUNGRY aged care companies are charging fat “administration fees” to skim up to 40 per cent of government payments for in-home nursing care.

More than 100,000 elderly Australians are on a waiting list to receive as much as $50,000 a year in a “homecare package” to pay for nursing, housekeeping or companionship at home. But an investigation by The Courier-Mail has revealed that some home-care companies are pocketing as much as $19,000 of the taxpayer cash through hefty “administration” or “case management” fees.

The fees are billed on top of hourly charges for home help – leaving clients with less cash to spend on in-home care such as nursing. And if clients want to switch to a cheaper provider, they are being slugged up to $1000 in “exit fees”.

The Age, 3 May 2018:

Scandals, including a recent national audit showing 600 aged-care homes failed in the past five years to provide minimum standards, prompted a government review. The Coalition, accepting a key recommendation, has ended the ridiculous practice of alerting operators to spot checks. The review also urged the streamlining and strengthening of the regulator.

If one does a simple online search many of the big ‘for profit’ aged care providers are named in relation to such abuse, neglect and sub-standard health care allegations.

Now in May 2018 the Tax Justice Network[1]  is looking at aged care provision from another angle. One which shows that the budgetary meanness which sees these big companies expect elderly residents to remain in sodden incontinence pads or live-off meagre meal rations occurs in spite of the millions in profit made on the back of billions in taxpayer funding of the age care sector.

It has released A Tax Justice Network – Australia Report, TAX AVOIDANCE BY FOR-PROFIT AGED CARE COMPANIES: PROFIT SHIFTING ON PUBLIC FUNDS.

Sadly, this report only confirms the fact that corporate greed runs rampant through all major aspects of Australian life, including aged care.

Executive Summary, Background, p.5:

Older people are a growing proportion of Australia’s population; in 2016, 15% (one in seven) Australians were aged 65 years or older. By 2056 this percentage is expected to grow to 22% (8.7 million).1 The need for aged care services is increasing. Between 2015– 2016 almost 214,000 people entered aged care in Australia. On average, older people in Australia spend three years in permanent residential care, just over two years in home care, and one and a half months in respite care.2 The Australian tax payer, via the Commonwealth Government contributes around 75% of the expenditure in aged care in Australia, which is around 96% of the total funding on aged care from Commonwealth and State Governments. Government recurrent spending on aged care services in Australia was $17.4 billion Australian dollars (AUD) in 2016- 2017, with residential aged care services accounting for 69.3% ($12.1 billion AUD).3 Some of this funding is provided as subsidies to aged care provider companies including those that operate for profit. In 2018 the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF), Australia’s largest national professional and industrial nursing and midwifery organisation with over 268,500 members, commissioned the Tax Justice Network - Australia to analyse possible tax avoidance by for-profit aged care companies and to provide recommendations for improving transparency on Government spending on for-profit aged care.

Key points from the report

* By number of beds, not-for-profit providers are the largest aged care provider group in Australia (52% in 2013-2014), however there has been a rapid growth in the size and spread of for-profit companies; Bupa, Opal, Regis and Estia are the largest aged care providers nationally. If Japara and Allity are included, these 6 for-profit companies operate over 20% of residential aged care beds in Australia.

* In the most recent year (mostly the 2017 financial year) the six largest for-profit companies were given over $2.17 billion AUD via government subsidies. This was 72% of their total revenue of over $3 billion. These companies also reported profits of $210 million AUD (2016-2018).

* Companies can use various accounting methods to avoid paying tax. One method is when a company links (staples) two or more businesses (securities) they own together, each security is treated separately for tax purposes to reduce the amount of tax the company has to pay. Aged care companies are known to use this method as well as other tax avoiding practices. Another practice is by “renting” their aged care homes from themselves (one security rents to another) or by providing loans between securities and shareholders.

* The six largest for-profit aged care providers have enormous incomes and profits:

* The largest company, BUPA, had almost $7.5 billion in total income in Australia (2015-16) but paid only $105 million in tax on a taxable income of only $352 million.
* BUPA’s Australian aged care business made over $663 million in 2017 and over 70% ($468 million) of this was from government funding.
* Funding from government and resident fees increased in 2017, but BUPA paid almost $3 million less to their employees and suppliers.
* The second largest, Opal, had total income of $527.2 million in 2015-16 but paid only $2.4 million in tax on a taxable income of only $7.9 million.
* 76% ($441 million) was from government funding in 2016.

* Allity had total income of $315.6 million in 2015-16 and paid no tax.
* 67% ($224 million) of Allity’s revenue was from government funding in 2016-17.

* Regis, Estia, and Japara are listed on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) but appear to be using methods to reduce the amount of tax they pay while earning large profits from over $1 billion of government subsidies.

* Family owned aged care companies (Arcare, TriCare, and Signature) receive between $42-$160 million each in annual government subsidies but provide very little public information on their operations and financial performance and may use accounting methods to avoid paying tax.

 * (All figures quoted above are in AUD)

* The Australian Government and the Federal Opposition (the Australian Labor Party) have proposed several ways to fix the problems with companies avoiding tax by using trust structures and other methods but there are still loopholes.

* It is difficult to get a detailed and complete picture of the full extent to which these heavily subsidised aged care companies are avoiding paying as much tax as they should, because Australian law is not currently strong enough to ensure that their financial records and accounting practices are publicly available and fully transparent.

Conclusion

The six largest for-profit aged care providers in Australia received over $2.17 billion AUD in annual tax payer funded subsidies which provided after tax profits of $210 million AUD. The actual operating profits were much larger. These providers only paid around $154 million AUD in tax in 2015-16. Companies that receive millions of tax payer dollars via Australian government subsidies must be required by law to meet higher standards of transparency in financial reports and be publicly accountable. The report calls upon the Government, Opposition, and cross-bench Senators to work together to make laws to stop aged care providers from avoiding the taxes they should pay and provide clear records of their business dealings.

The Tax Justice Network – Australia strongly supports recent government legislation that has been introduced to close loopholes in the Multinational Anti-Avoidance Law and government reforms to stapled structures. However, there is still a need for additional transparency measures. The Tax Justice Network – Australia also strongly supports a policy proposed by the Australian Labor Party to introduce minimum taxation of discretionary trusts. These reform measures are examined in more detail by this report in the section: Current Reform Measures.

This analysis of tax payments and corporate structures of the largest for-profit aged care companies provides clear evidence that simple common-sense reforms are needed immediately to restore integrity to the tax system and to ensure public accountability on billions of dollars in government spending.

RECOMMENDATIONS FROM THE REPORT

Any company that receives Commonwealth funds over $10 million in any year must file complete audited annual financial statements with Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) in full compliance with all Australian Accounting Standards and not be eligible for Reduced Disclosure Requirements. Public and private companies must fully disclose all transactions between trusts or similar parties that are part of stapled structures or similar corporate structures where most or all income is earned from a related party and where operating income is substantially reduced by lease and/or finance payments to related parties with beneficial tax treatment.

Australia’s Largest For-Profit Aged Care Companies

In Australia, non-profit providers collectively operate a majority of residential aged care beds. However, the market share of large for-profit providers continues to grow rapidly. Likewise, the influence of for profit providers on shaping government policy and influencing broader trends in the aged care sector has never been greater. Ranked by the number of government allocated residential aged care places (beds) in 2017, the six largest for-profit aged care companies in Australia are; Bupa, Opal, Regis, Estia, Japara, and Allity. Combined, they operate over 20% of all residential aged care beds in the country. These companies continue to expand market share through new developments and acquisitions. These companies are also expanding to provide more retirement living and home care services, which allow access to additional government funding. In the most recent financial year (2016-2017), these six for-profit aged care companies combined received over $2.17 billion in government subsidies.4 This made up 72% of their combined total revenue of over $3 billion.5……

COMPANY SNAPSHOT

Bupa: A United Kingdom-based mutual insurance company with global operations including aged care services. Australia is Bupa’s largest and most profitable market.

Regis, Estia, and Japara: Public aged care companies listed on the ASX.
Opal: A private aged care company owned by subsidiaries of two listed companies, AMP Capital and Singapore-based G.K. Goh.

Allity: controlled by Archer Capital, an Australian private equity firm with large foreign pension fund investors.

Arcare, TriCare and Signature (formerly Innovative Care): three family-owned, for-profit aged care companies.

NOTE:
1. The Tax Justice Network - Australia is the Australian branch of the Tax Justice Network (TJN) and the Global Alliance for Tax Justice. TJN is an independent organisation launched in the British Houses of Parliament in March 2003. It is dedicated to high-level research, analysis and advocacy in the field of tax and regulation. TJN works to map, analyse and explain the role of taxation and the harmful impacts of tax evasion, tax avoidance, tax competition and tax havens. TJN’s objective is to encourage reform at the global and national levels.
Membership of the Network can be found here.