Showing posts with label rorts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label rorts. Show all posts

Saturday, 23 May 2020

Friday, 31 January 2020

Clarence Valley, Lismore & Richmond Valley get $1 million each from Drought Communities Programme after discovery of yet another alleged Morrison Government 2019 election campaign funding rort caused grant criteria to be revised & broadened

The Daily Examiner, 29 January 2020:

Yes, the Clarence Valley has been 100% drought affected with most of the land officially in either the Drought or Severe Drought categories.

This along with the bushfires has makes 2019-20 a horror year for farmers and graziers.

So this federal government grant is most welcome.

However, Clarence Valley local government area - like Lismore and Richmond Valley - only became eligible when criteria for assistance was changed after it was discovered that, just an in the 'sports rorts affair', there had been an apparent manipulation of a grant programme's funding allocations just prior to the May 2019 federal election - when of the 14 councils announced eligible as a Coalition election commitment 13 were in Coalition-held electorates and just one was not as it was held by an Independent.

The plus for Nationals MP for Page, Kevin Hogan, is that now instead of one council in his electorate being given a Drought Communities Programme grant, there are now three four.

Richmond Valley, another Northern Rivers local government area, also receives a grant of $1 million. However it is in a federal electorate which has been held by the Australian Labor Party since 2004. 

Somewhat ironic that a move by Morrison & Co to assist Coalition electorates has ended up giving this particular Labor electorate a windfall.

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

The Trouble With Water: 'ghost' water begins to haunt the Liberal-Nationals election campaign

It is well understood and agreed that water in the Murray-Darling Basin has been overallocated and extracted at rates that are unsustainable.” [The Australia Institute, February 2018]

"Kia Ora" reportedly totals 18,841 hectares and has water entitlements of 36,705 megalitres, while "Clyde" is said to total 18,743 hectares with water entitlements of 30,289 megalitres.

EAA also appears to hold Queensland water licences which allows it to harvest overland flows/flood waters from both properties.

Questions have arisen with regard to the sale of some of this water.......

At various times prior to entering federal parliament in September 2013 Liberal MP for Hume and Australian Minister for Energy Angus Taylor was reportedly a co-founder and director of Eastern Australia Irrigation, a director of and company secretary for Eastern Australia Agriculture and was also a paid consultant for EAA.

The Minister for Energy Angus Taylor, former deputy-prime minister and federal agriculture and water resources minister, the current National Party MP for New England Barnaby Joyce, and the federal Dept. of Agriculture and Water Resources have all issued statements taking issue with concerns being expressed over this particular water sale and denying any wrong doing. Both ministers have threatened legal action for defamation.

The Queensland Government denies being party to this water sale.

The Morrison Government is now facing calls for an inquiry into the Murray-Darling plan water contracts signed off by former minister Joyce.


Ghost Water – licences for unreliable/unverifiable amounts of temporary water sold to government for use as environmental flow water.

Overland flow is “water that runs across the land after rainfall, either before it enters a watercourse, after it leaves a watercourse as floodwater, or after it rises to the surface naturally from underground…..You can take overland flow for any purpose unless there is a moratorium notice or a water plan that limits what can be taken.”  [Qld Government, Business Queensland. January 2019]

Applications can be made for a water licence for the capture of overland flow water.

A water licence is an entitlement to take water which is attached to land therefore, unlike a water allocation, it is not an asset in its own right. Water licences cannot normally be sold independent of land unless there are management rules in place which allow permanent transfers (relocations) to occur…..The relocation of a water licence enables a licensee to transfer ownership of the entitlement, permanently moving the licence from the land to which it is attached, to another parcel of land within the confines of the rules. This process differs from permanent water allocation trading whereby water allocations are traded independently of land titles and have their own registrable title (i.e. water can be held by someone who does not own land). [Qld Government, Business Queensland. February 2019]

At the time of the water sales EAA has 7 harvesting licences, of which 4 were for water extraction from the Balonne and Narran rivers, 2 were for collection of overland flow waters and 1 was for irrigation water draw on the Beardmore Dam.

Unsolicited offer by EAA to sell overflow water at;query=Id%3A%22publications%2Ftabledpapers%2F59682649-2fa2-43b1-955f-ae16caecef45%22.

Austender records of three EAA water sales to the Dept. of Agriculture and Water Resources - the first by transparent open tender and the remaining to by non-transparent limited tender:

At the time of the first water sale (1,980ML at est. $2,175 per megalitre) Barnaby Joyce was an elected senator on the Opposition benchs and Labor's Tony Burke was federal water minister, at the time of the second and third sales (totalling 27,960ML at $2,745 per megalitre) Joyce was the Australian Deputy Prime Minister as well as Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources. 

The first sale under the Labour Government was a result of an open competitive tender, the second and third sales were by unadvertised limited tender which excluded a competitive tender process.

NOTE: In 2008 it appears that EAA sold 10,433ML from its water storage to the Murray-Darling Basin Commission for an unknown amount.

The Australia Institute, March 2018, "That's not how you haggle....Commonwealth water purchasing in the Condamine Balonne", excerpt:

EAAs original asking price was $2,200 per megalitre. DAWR displayed Pythonesque haggling skills and paid a final price of $2,745 per megalitre. DAWR paid 25% more per megalitre than originally requested by EAA, 139% higher than the Commonwealth had previously paid for the same type of licence and 85% higher than the average price for a more reliable type of water licence. The megalitre price was inflated because it included the cost of a storage that the vendor originally offered to transfer to the Commonwealth, but that offer was later withdrawn, without adjusting the price. The storage was used as a justification of the sale, but not as a condition of the sale.

The water purchased was for Over Land Flow (OLF) licences, which cannot be traded between irrigators, because they are attached to land. They have no legal status or any recognition at a location other than where they were originally purchased. That is, there appears to be no legal basis for the Commonwealth to ensure it gets to the places it is intended to be used.

 Austaxpolicy, 28 September 2018, excerpt:

First, tax havens siphon taxable profits away from jurisdictions like Australia. This means either increasing the tax burden on individuals and businesses, taking on more debt, or cutting social services.

These shenanigans are not always illegal. But what is legal is not always moral or economically sound. Australia’s fiscal foundations are threatened by the erosion of the tax base by tricky tax tactics.

Aggressive tax planning can erode public confidence in the tax system itself. After all, one reason most of us pay the taxes we owe is that we believe we live in a society where our fellow citizens do the same.

A fascinating new dataset released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics helps shed light on this problem. Across multinational firms operating in Australia, the bureau reports their operating profit and their taxable profit. What is unique about these data is that they are reported for firms with majority owners in different countries. So it is possible to compare across countries, and ask the question: which nation’s firms have the biggest gap between operating profits and taxable profits?

For the typical Australian firm, the gap between operating profits and taxable profits is 30 percent. The figure is pretty similar for multinationals whose owners reside in the United States (28.4 percent), United Kingdom (26.6 percent) and Japan (28.5 percent).

But for some nations, it’s a different story. If you’re a Bermuda-owned multinational operating in Australia, then on average the gap between operating profit and taxable profit is 88 percent. If you’re a British Virgin Islands owned multinational, the reduction is 92 percent.[3]

So if you start with ten dollars of operating profit, then Australian firms report about seven dollars of taxable profits. The same is true for American, British and Japanese-based multinationals – ten dollars of operating profit produces seven dollars of taxable profit.

But for firms based in Bermuda or the Virgin Islands, and operating in Australia, ten dollars of operating profit produces just one dollar of taxable profit. That’s a startling difference……..

Second, tax havens are the hiding ground..... 

Gabriel Zucman, an economist at University of California, Berkley, estimates that around four-fifths of money in offshore bank accounts is there in breach of other countries’ tax laws.[4] .......

A recent study in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution found there are even egregious environmental vandals there too. Following the Panama Papers, the study found seventy percent of fishing vessels implicated in illegal, unreported and unregulated catches had been registered in Belize, Panama, or other tax havens at some point. [5]

Third, tax havens increase inequality. Offshore wealth held by Australians in tax havens was approximately 6 per cent of GDP, according to Zucman’s work in 2013. In today’s prices, that would mean over $100 billion in assets held offshore by wealthy Australians. [6]..........

Cayman Islands corporate tax rates appears to be zero., 21 April 2019:

During December 2016, the Tax Office required Eastern Australia Agriculture to enter into a Settlement Deed to reduce the interest charged by EAI on convertible notes issued by EAA.

The interest charges were required to be reduced from June 2011 when Taylor was still a director of EAI. The total amount of excessive interest charges was $14 million.

This from EAA’s 2016 annual report:

“Forgiveness of interest expense – parent entity

“Following a review by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), the company entered into a Settlement Deed with the ATO on 9 December 2016 and the parent entity agreed to reduce the interest rate on the convertible note from 12 per cent to an average interest rate of 7.97 per cent effective from 29 June 2011, resulting in a forgiveness of interest expense accrued in 2016 and prior years."

The higher the interest rate charged by the parent, the more money flows from Australia to the Caribbean. In the parlance of the tax fraternity, this practice of charging excessive interest rates, in order to maximise the interest payments out of Australia to a tax haven, is called “debt-loading”.

By 2016, Angus Taylor was no longer a director of EAI. He had stepped down from the board of the Cayman Islands company in 2013, the year he entered Parliament. He was a director however when the financing arrangement was established.

London Stock Exchange, EF Realisation Company Limited (EFR) Annual Financial Report, released 22 January 2018, excerpt:

Compulsory Redemption Mechanism

EF Realisation monetised various portfolio assets between February and August 2017 which, in aggregate,  comprised approximately 24% of the NAV as at 30 September 2017. The total net proceeds raised were approximately £4.36 million, made up of £4.26 million in realised proceeds (including £0.1 million from a corporate action involving the Company's holding in Energy Future Holdings) and £0.1 million of investment income (net of expenses). The Company realised its investment in Menhaden Capital plc in February 2017 which raised £1.2 million, equal to 2.3p per Ordinary Share. EF Realisation sold a bond holding in Integradoro de Servicios Petroleros Oro Negro SAPI de CV ("Oro Negro") which raised approximately £0.5m, and it received approximately £2.5 million from Eastern Australia Irrigation Limited which had sold certain of its water entitlements to the Australian Government and distributed a majority of the proceeds to its shareholders, including EF Realisation. On 4 September 2017, the Company announced its intention to implement the Company's first capital distribution, returning £3.0 million to Shareholders of the approximately £4.36 million in total net proceeds; the balance of the net proceeds from asset realisations was retained for working capital purposes…..
All the other investments in EF Realisation are unlisted and valued by the Directors at their estimated realisation values and, with one exception, changes in these valuations have been small. The exception is an upgrade to the valuation of the Company's minority shareholding in Eastern Australia Irrigation Limited following that company's sale of water rights to the Australian Government authorities in August 2017 and the expectations for the amount of proceeds that can now be realised from the sale of its farms…..

Eastern Australia Irrigation Limited ("EAI") is an Australian based company which owns and operates two farms in Queensland, whose main crop is cotton, along with various water extraction rights from the Murray Darling River Basin. During the summer of 2017, Australian Government authorities approached EAI with an offer to acquire some of its water entitlements. EAI was able to negotiate the price for the water entitlements to the highest level ever paid, and in August 2017 it completed the largest ever sale of water entitlements in the Murray Darling River Basin. EF Realisation owns 9.6% of EAI's shares and, along with other holders, supported the sale of the water rights. EAI used the majority of the sale proceeds to return capital to its shareholders, and passed £2.5 million to EF Realisation. This represented a gain on that part of the EAI holding of £0.34 million or 16.0%. We comment below on the plans to dispose of EAI's farms……

EAI was in the process of selling its farms prior to the sale of water rights. Proceeds received for the sale of water rights were attractive compared to the offers received in the farm sale process so the farm sale process was suspended in order to complete negotiations with the Australian Government authorities over the sale of water rights.  EAI has now resumed the farm sale process with the intention of using sale proceeds to repay debt and redeem its shares. Having sold some of the water rights, the effective size of the irrigable land that can be used for cotton farming has been reduced by approximately one-third and it is expected that this, and the decision to sell the farms separately rather than as a package as last summer, will make the farms attractive to a broader range of potential buyers. Cotton prices are supported by low crop harvests in cotton growing regions outside Australia and, at the time of writing, local rainfall on EAI's farms has prevented a return of drought conditions. However, until binding bids are received for the farms, the timing for EF Realisation to redeem or sell its shareholding in EAI and the proceeds from such a redemption or sale are uncertain.

EF Realisation carries its remaining investment in EAI at a conservative estimate of the proceeds that would be received assuming EAI's farms are sold and its shares are redeemed. In particular, the implied valuation of the farms is less than the value of the farms used to secure EAI's loan from the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, a valuation point that has been a floor for proceeds in farm sales. [my yellow highlighting]

In the 2012-13 financial year Eastern Australia Agriculture Pty Limited made a political donation of $20,000 to the Liberal Party of Australia (NSW) and on 29 August 2013 the company made a second political donation of $35,000.

After the September 2013 federal election Barnaby Joyce became the Minister for Agriculture and in September 2015 Water Resources was added to his ministerial portfolio.

Friday, 12 April 2019

Morrison’s plan to use whatever is left in Coalition MPs and Senators electoral communications parliamentary allowance to fund his national election campaign has been scuttled

Australian Senate Hansard, 3 April 2019, excerpt:

REGULATIONS AND DETERMINATIONS Parliamentary Business Resources Amendment (2019 Measures No. 1) Regulations 2019 Disallowance Senator FARRELL (South Australia—Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (21:29): I move: That item 4 of the Parliamentary Business Resources Amendment (2019 Measures No. 1) Regulations 2019, made under the Parliamentary Business Resources Act 2017, be disallowed [F2019L00177]. The PRESIDENT: The question is that business of the Senate notice of motion No. 2, standing in the name of Senator Farrell, relating to the disallowance of item 4 of the Parliamentary Business Resources Amendment (2019 Measures No. 1) Regulations 2019, be agreed to. The Senate divided. [21:34] (The President—Senator Ryan)
Ayes ......................34 Noes ......................26 Majority.................8

The New Daily, 4 April 2019:

The Morrison government has lost a bid to allow MPs to use taxpayer-funded electoral allowances to pay for TV and radio advertisements during the looming federal election campaign.

Late on Wednesday night – in one of this parliament’s last votes before the election is called – the Senate dumped a government regulation allowing $22 million of public money to be used for political ads in the lead up to May’s federal poll.

MPs have a budget of about $137,000 for electorate communications, while senators have up to $109,000.

Under existing rules, they cannot use office expenses money to pay for content on television or radio. The government’s changes would have allowed them to use printing entitlements to buy TV and radio ads for the first time.

The Coalition had argued lifting the ban on TV and radio promotions would have put Australian media on a level playing field by ensuring all communities had the same access to information from their federal MP.

But Labor frontbencher Don Farrell, who moved the disallowance motion in the Senate, accused Prime Minister Scott Morrison of wasting taxpayers’ money in a bid to save his job.

“Publicly funded office budgets are for members and senators to communicate with their constituents – not for spamming voters with hollow election slogans from the ad man, Scott Morrison,” he said.

With the support of the Greens and a handful of crossbench senators, Labor won the disallowance vote.... 

The heroes of the hour who saved us all from what was clearly an attempt to create a lasting rort at taxpayer’s expense were:

Bilyk, CL. Carr, KJ. Chisholm, A. Ciccone, R. Di Natale, R. Dodson, P. Farrell, D. Faruqi, M. Gallacher, AM. Griff, S. Hanson-Young, SC. Hinch, D. Ketter, CR.  (teller) Kitching, K. Lines, S. Marshall, GM. McAllister, J. McCarthy, M. McKim, NJ. O'Neill, DM. Patrick, RL. Polley, H. Pratt, LC. Rice, J. Siewert, R. Smith, DPB. Steele-John, J. Sterle, G. Storer, TR. Urquhart, AE. Waters, LJ. Watt, M. Whish-Wilson, PS. Wong, P.

Well done one and all!

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Australian Tax Office Excess Franking Credits: “When people next receive their dividend refund cheque from the government, remember the government has had to borrow that money”

The Australian Government's public debt stood at an estimated $541.73 billion and growing on 8 February 2019.

On 8 February 2019 in Sydney economist Stephen Koukoulas made a short three minute statement before the House of Representatives Economics Committee ‘inquiry’ into the Labor Federal Opposition’s policy to eliminate excess franking credits.

Excess franking credits are refundable to a shareholder who receives a dividend but has no tax liability to use those franking credits against. 

It is free money - money for jam - granted to shareholders for the last eighteen years under a Liberal-Nationals federal government tax policy.

By 30 June 2015 these excess franking credit refunds were costing the federal government an est. $2.54 billion annually and, are currently estimated to be costing the Australian Government well in excess of $5.9 billion each year.

Below are the notes Koukoulas used for that oral Statement which boiled down to two issues, the cost to the budget and how the policy is distorting investment decisions from investors and lazy financial planners.


Tax policy is always riddled with trade offs.

No government wants to tax anyone more than it needs to, nor should it impose a tax regime that is unfair if it means cuts to services, a heavy tax impost on others in the community or adds unnecessarily to the budget deficit and government debt.

Labor’s policy on refundable franking credits will impact the budget bottom line by more than $5 billion a year.

Without the change, this $5 billion, or $100 million a week, means less money is available for the government to provide health care, roads, education, disability assistance and defence.

It is disconcerting that every dollar of refundable franking credits is currently borrowed by the government.

When people next receive their dividend refund cheque from the government, remember the government has had to borrow that money:

… every cent of it.

… this adds to government debt that will have to be repaid one day in the future by our children and our grandchildren.

I think this is unfair.

The policy also distorts the way we Australians invest our savings.

Many investors put money into companies that pay high, fully franked dividends regardless of the underlying strength or potential of that business.

Look at Telstra. The banks.

It is blind, uneducated and lazy investing recommended by lazy financial planners.

It is only the dividend, not the underlying strength of the business, that guides the investment decision.

This is one reason why the Australian stock market is still 15 per cent below the 2007 peak, while the US, German and Canadian stock markets are substantially higher.

None of these countries have refundable franking credits.

Investors in those countries provide finance to dynamic growth companies and strong businesses.

In Australia, such companies are often shunned by investors because they pay no or low dividends.

Investors instead place their money with what are average firms that structure their businesses according to tax policy distortions.

Imagine if the ASX was at 10,000 points, not the 6,000 point level prevailing today?

I suspect the concerns about dividend refunds would be trivial.

The Australian tax distortions mean that local entrepreneurial firms have less access to local capital.

The money is instead tied up in dinosaur companies paying high dividends.

It is one reason why so many of the 21st century technology and start up firms in Australia head overseas to pursue their business models.
This costs the Australian economy growth and jobs.

With the policy change on refundable franking credits, there will be a greater incentive to invest in companies and other assets for reasons of growth and entrepreneurial flair…

… which will be a positive for the economy and jobs …

… and it will be good for the long term future of Australia.

Thank you

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Murray-Darling Basin Plan: a $13 billion fraud on the environment

Some home truth about the current Murray-Darling Basin Plan to remember as we enter into the morass of competeing claims in NSW State and Australian Federal election campaigns in the first half of this year....


MR R. BEASLEY SC, Senior Counsel Assisting:

….Commissioner, the Water Act and the Basin Plan have been hailed as ground-breaking reform. They are. What this Commission has learnt, however, from the evidence it has gathered, and from the witnesses that have informed us, is that it’s one thing to enact transformative legislation like the Water Act and the Basin Plan, it’s quite another thing to faithfully implement it. Sadly, the implementation of the Basin Plan at crucial times has been characterised by a lack of attention to the requirements of the Water Act and a near total lack of transparency in an important sense.

Those matters have had, and continue to have, a negative impact on the environment and probably the economies of all the Basin Plan states but the state that will suffer the most is the state at the end of the system, South Australia. The Water Act was a giant national compromise. At its heart was a recognition that all of the Basin states – Queensland, NSW, Victoria and South Australia – were taking too much water from the system and had been for a long time. That, as a matter of statutory fact in the Water Act, and as a matter of reality, has led to serious degradation of the environment of the Basin. The Millennium Drought of 2000s underscored the fact that, if nothing was done, over-allocation of the water entitlements in the Basin would inevitably and quickly lead to irreversible damage to the Basin environment.

The Water Act was a response to that. It was the statutory means by which the process of restoration and protection of environmental assets would begin. I say the Water Act was a compromise because the Act contemplates that water will be taken from our rivers and used consumptively for irrigation, the growing of crops and permanent plants. Of course, also for human water needs. But it sets a limit. That limit is that no more water can be taken beyond the point where key areas of the environment and its ecosystems might be damaged. In an environment that’s already degraded, that means the Water Act requires the environment to have both enough water to restore degraded wetlands and the like and also, of course, to maintain them.

That’s not just the right thing to do. It’s what Australia’s international obligations require. That task, setting a limit on the extraction of water, is to be based on the best available science. Not guided by the best science, not informed by the best science but based on the best available science. It also has to be achieved by taking into account the well-known principles of ecologically sustainable development. What the Commission has learnt from the evidence presented to it is that the implementation of the Basin Plan, at crucial stages, has not been based on the best available science. Further, ecologically sustainable development has either been ignored or, in some cases, in relation to supply measures, actually inverted.

 I want to read to you a peer review of the Guide to the Basin Plan from some international scientists in 2010 because it demonstrates that they were well aware, even back then, of what was actually going on in the early stages of drafting the Basin Plan. This is a peer review report by Professor Gene Likens of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Mr Per Bertilsson of the Stockholm International Water Institute, Professor Asit Biswas from the Third World Centre for Water Management and Professor John Briscoe, Gordon McKay Professor from Harvard University. What they said was this, in reviewing the Basin Plan, at page 34 of what became exhibit RCE38:

It is a fundamental tenet of good governance that scientists produce facts and the government decides on values and makes choices. We are concerned that scientists in the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, who are working to develop the facts, may feel they are expected to trim those so that the sustainable diversion limit will be one that is politically acceptable. We strongly believe that this is not only inconsistent with the basic tenets of good governance but that it is not consistent with the letter of the Water Act. We equally strongly believe that government needs to make the necessary trade-offs and value judgments and need to be explicit about these, assume responsibility and make the rationale behind these judgments transparent to the public.

If all the MDBA had been done in the past eight years since that review was written is “trim the facts”, that would be bad enough. But it’s worse than that. The implementation of the Basin Plan has been marred by maladministration. By that I mean mismanagement by those in charge of the task in the Basin Authority, its executives and its board, and the consequent mismanagement of huge amounts of public funds. The responsibility for that maladministration and mismanagement falls on both past and current executives of the MDBA and its board. Again, while the whole of the Basin environment has and will continue to suffer as a result of this, the state whose environment will suffer the most is South Australia.

The principal task of those implementing the Plan is to set the Basin-wide sustainable diversion limit. How much water can be taken from the rivers before the environment suffers? You’ve heard evidence that has been unchallenged that this task was infected by deception, secrecy and is the political fix. The modelling it has been said to have been based on is still not available seven years later. The recent adjustment of the sustainable diversion limit by raising it by 605 gigalitres, on the evidence you’ve heard, is best described as a fraud on the environment. That’s a phrase I used in opening. It was justified then. It’s re-enforced by the evidence you’ve heard subsequently. The so-called 450 gigalitres of upwater, the water that the then South Australian Government fought for, for this State’s environment, is highly unlikely to ever eventuate. The constraints to the system are just one major problem in the delivery of that water.

Like all aspects of the implementation of the Basin Plan, efficiency measures or infrastructure projects that form the basis of how the 450 gigalitres of water is to be attained, and which are funded by public money, lack any reasonable form of transparency and, as the Productivity Commission recently, and witnesses to this Commission, have noted, are hugely more expensive and less reliable than purchasing water entitlements. I will discuss this in detail but I will give you one quote from an expert who can talk with real authority about the extra 450 gigalitres proposed for South Australia under the Basin Plan. That’s the former Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder, David Papps. In his evidence to you said:

 I would bet my house that South Australia is not getting that water.

Mr Papps’ prediction seems safe when one considers the proposed amendments to the Basin Plan by the governments of NSW and Victoria concerning the 450 gigalitres that I will come to shortly. Everything that I have just said to you is based on the views of eminent scientists and other people who have given evidence and lodged submissions. However, neither the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture and Water, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, or any Commonwealth government agency has provided any answer to anything I have just said or to the evidence before the Commission that I will refer to shortly. They have no answer. The submissions provided to you very recently by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, and the DAWR, Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, demonstrate, as did their unwillingness to give evidence, culminating in proceedings to the High Court, that they do not have any answer.

The MDBA, you will recall, were even too busy to meet you. The States also have no answer, as demonstrated in their somewhat thin submissions to you, with the exception of the South Australian Government. When I say the MDBA has no answer to the expert evidence given in this Commission, I should emphasise also that it clearly has no answer to the maladministration and unlawfulness of its implementation of the Basin Plan. It is nevertheless a great pity that relevant persons from the Basin Authority, and other Commonwealth agencies, were not required to give answers to you under oath concerning the scientific evidence the Commission gathered.

The opportunity may have been there had the High Court decided those proceedings in your favour. I’m not going to speculate on what the High Court would have done but, regrettably, the South Australian Government chose not to extend your Commission in order to provide you with the opportunity that may have been available to you to question those relevant people. You made it clear to the South Australian Government that was your strong preference. You advised them that the Commission had potential witnesses that wanted to give important evidence, evidence relevant to the South Australian environment, but only if they were compelled by summons. In other words, they were too scared to talk about the implementation of the Basin Plan without the force of a summons. Why the Commission was not extended to explore these crucial matters is something upon which you can draw inferences as you see fit. I will only say that it’s a great opportunity lost……

Sunday, 30 September 2018

A tale of NSW Liberal politicians & a printing company with no commercial printer

BuzzFeed, 25 September 2018:

In a perfectly manicured cul-de-sac in Bella Vista, a suburb in the Hills district northwest of Sydney’s CBD, a business called Zion Graphics operates out of a mansion.

Run by Rudy Limantono, the president of the Bella Vista Liberal branch and also a party donor, Zion Graphics is the printer of choice for the local federal member of parliament, Alex Hawke…..

Hawke, 41, was recently promoted to the ministry after the latest Liberal leadership spill that saw Morrison take the top job. Hawke is now the special minister of state, responsible for integrity and parliamentarians’ spending, and is Morrison’s representative on the NSW Liberal state executive.

Hawke uses Zion Graphics to print his newsletters, flyers, community surveys, and more…..

Limantono also would not disclose the amount of business Hawke has sent him, claiming “commercial in confidence”. He said that he has been Hawke’s go-to printer “since his election” but would not specify how many years. Hawke was first elected to federal parliament in 2007.

Zion Graphics has no website or Facebook page. The phone number connected to the business is registered at the Limantonos’ family home.

And BuzzFeed News understands the company doesn’t actually own a commercial printer…..

Hills Banners (which recently merged with Bannerworld in Winston Hills) confirmed to BuzzFeed News that it has been printing material for Zion Graphics for at least the last two years.

Hills Banners said it received electronic files (PDFs) from Zion Graphics and would print tens of thousands of copies. Depending on the size of the order, it would take four to seven working days to complete the job.

NSW Liberal sources say that Zion Graphics charges clients a premium rate, then contracts out the actual printing to Hills Banners, which charges much less for the same service, leaving Zion Graphics with a tidy profit.

Limantono did not deny this, but told BuzzFeed News there was no “impropriety”….

BuzzFeed News asked Zion Graphics how much it would cost to print 30,000 newsletters and received a quote for $7,150 + GST. Hills Banners said it would charge $4,000 + GST for the same job.

BuzzFeed, 26 September 2018:

Hawke isn’t the only Liberal politician that uses Zion Graphics. Limantono refused to reveal who his clients were, claiming "commercial in confidence".

But BuzzFeed News has found at least eight other Liberal politicians who have given hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer funded business to Limantono.

Federal families and social services minister Paul Fletcher; federal backbencher Julian Leeser; NSW treasurer Dominic Perrottet; NSW minister for mental health, women and ageing Tanya Davies; NSW minister for Western Sydney Stuart Ayres; NSW minister for innovation and better regulation Matt Kean; NSW member for Seven Hills Mark Taylor; and NSW member for Baulkham Hills David Elliott use Zion Graphics to print documents including newsletters, flyers and community surveys.

Friday, 25 May 2018

Now customers can't even trust their local bank tellers

It seems schoolchildren are considered fair game by the big banks......

Junkee, 19 May 2018:

Oh boy. This is a tough one. An investigate report by Fairfax Media has found that Commonwealth Bank employees set up thousands of fraudulent children’s savings accounts in order to meet internal targets and earn bonuses.

That’s right folks. Your mates the Dollarmites? They were in it up to their neck.
According to the report by Fairfax reporter Adele Ferguson, the scam involved employees illegitimately activating Youthsaver accounts that had been set up by parents via the Commonwealth Bank’s school banking program (better known at Dollarmites) but did not contain any actual money. Since the sign-up would not count towards internal sales targets unless a deposit was made in the first 30 days, employees would deposit a small amount of money into the account themselves to ensure that it was counted.

The matter first came to the attention of senior management at the bank in 2013. An internal investigation found that at 150 branches, as many as 5347 Youthsaver accounts contained less than $1 in deposits. According to the Fairfax report, “managers were asked to look into them to see if they had been fraudulently set up using illegitimate sources of funds”, but the bank chose not to broaden the investigation to include the almost 900 other branches that were in operation at the time.

Ultimately, no disciplinary action was taken against employees. In an email obtained by Fairfax, one senior manager said “the issue is widespread, it would seem unfair to name a handful when more are involved”.

The bank did not inform any of the customers or schools involved.

The school banking and customer referral scandals came to light inside the bank shortly after CBA's now chief executive, Matt Comyn, was appointed to run the retail operation in 2012….

“While this practice did not financially harm any of our customers, it was a breach of their trust. For that I’m deeply sorry. As CBA’s new chief executive, my number one priority is to expedite changes that will prevent any behaviour that undermines our customers' trust in us – and to remove any CBA employee who knowingly acts against our customers’ interests.”

The country’s largest consumer group, CHOICE, seized on the scandal to renew its calls to ban school banking schemes.

“It's a pretty basic expectation that bank staff will handle money honestly. Whether it involves five cents or $5 million, any mishandling of funds goes to the heart of trust in the institution,” CHOICE chief executive Alan Kirkland said.

He said if senior staff knew it was happening on a mass scale and did nothing about it, they were complicit in that fraud.

 “This raises serious questions about the culture of the entire bank,” he said

While over at the Banking and Finance Royal Commission………

ABC News, 21 May 2018:

The banking royal commission has heard an elderly, seriously ill woman faced homelessness after her daughter's business failed.

Carolyn Flanagan cannot read or write due to blindness caused by glaucoma, she has trouble speaking due to the effects of cancer surgery, suffers memory loss and has osteoporosis, among other medical problems.

The pensioner sought help from Legal Aid NSW when Westpac tried to take her home, which was used to guarantee her daughter's loan. A complaint was taken to the Financial Ombudsman Service, which found in Westpac's favour.

It was only a last-ditch effort by Ms Flanagan's Legal Aid lawyers that managed to keep her in her home.

Solicitor Dana Beiglari told the hearing her manager at the time "contacted another consumer advocate to see if he had a senior contact at Westpac who we could escalate this matter to, given our client was facing homelessness in her old age".

Ms Beiglari sent a letter to Westpac outlining Ms Flanagan's medical circumstances and managed to secure a "life interest" in the property for her, which means she can remain in the home until she dies or decides to sell.

Counsel assisting the inquiry Michael Hodge QC asked Ms Beiglari about the Westpac employee's response to the case.

"What that employee of Westpac expressed to you was surprise with the thought that Westpac would be evicting and it wasn't in line with what Westpac would normally do?" he asked.

"Yes, that's correct," Ms Beiglari answered.

Ms Flanagan maintained a sense of humour under questioning. After Mr Hodge listed off her litany of health issues, including depression, she quipped "that'd depress anybody".

She gave her evidence through a video link as she was too unwell to travel. 

Westpac's lawyers questioned her recollection of events and the amount of the loan.
Westpac executive Alastair Welsh followed Ms Flanagan and Ms Beiglari in giving evidence. He said there was nothing "technically" wrong with Ms Flanagan being allowed to act as a guarantor.

"My review of the file shows we followed the process I would want the bank to follow," Mr Welsh said.

However, he admitted there were some problems with the bank's handling of the case once the loan failed.

The inquiry heard it was Westpac policy to "exercise extreme caution" with parental guarantees.

Mr Welsh admitted there were warning signs in Ms Flanagan's case that should have been observed by the banker.

"She suffers from quite debilitating health conditions. Would that be a relevant factor?" Mr Hodge asked.

Mr Welsh agreed and said there were no comments on Ms Flanagan's file noting her condition.

The bank manager involved is no longer employed by Westpac.