Question time on steroids
It’s that time of year again which political junkies love and state politicians in power hate: the annual NSW budget estimates.
Before the eyes glaze over, it’s worth pointing out that it’s a rare opportunity to witness our elected ministers and unelected senior public servants squirm under questioning from their political opponents, away from the noise of parliament.
The setting is intimate – they sit opposite each other over tables in a small room – and it’s all streamed live, online.
Expenditure, performance and departmental effectiveness are all on the table. Awkward? You bet. And yes, incredibly boring at times due to incredibly boring MPs and bureaucrats.
It requires great stamina to persevere, as those with a dull tone may in fact be attempting to deflect all manner of inadequacies and questionable conduct.
Take Treasury’s inquiry on Friday, starring 40-year old newbie Andrew Constance (Liberal) and his bureaucratic sidekick.
Treasurer Constance sat mostly with chin in in hand, staring with pure contempt and disdain at Labor and Greens MPs as they asked him questions. Didn’t everyone know who he thought he was?
And in the background, Liberal MP and Lennox Head local, Catherine Cusack, continually interjected with shrill indignation at the questions. She was told to ‘shut up’ on more than one occasion.
Besides mindless politicking – did we learn anything?
Shadow minister for the environment Luke Foley seized on comments by NSW environment minister Rob Stokes, who apparently flubbed his government’s policy on meeting a declared target of 20 per cent renewable energy by 2020.
‘The minister was confused as to whether the state even has a 20 per cent renewable energy target or whether only the Commonwealth’s target applies,’ Foley said. ‘The NSW Liberals & Nationals Plans to Boost Renewable Energy policy, released before the 2011 NSW election, clearly states their intention to ‘provide a blueprint to increase the proportion of energy from seven per cent to meet the target of 20 per cent renewable energy consumption by 2020.’
Meanwhile there were no surprises that health minister Jillian Skinner (Liberal) supports the federal government’s $7 GP co-payment policy, which has been roundly criticised by doctors, nurses and the Australian Medical Association. Shadow health minister Dr Andrew McDonald claims Ms Skinner has not commissioned economic modelling on its impact.
And proposed large-scale Crown lands legislation which would give state bureaucrats almost total control of public lands seems to be on indefinite hold, after minister for lands, Kevin Humphries, told the committee that there was ‘a lot of interest in it.’
‘There will need to be a focused response from certain sectors of the community that have a significant stakeholding in Crown land. We have received 650 submissions… we might have to go back to some of those sectors for more consultation.’
And lastly – not included in budget estimates – was the bizarre revelation that minister for primary Industries, Katrina Hodgkinson (Nationals), read a joint AGL/Dairy Connect press release to answer a question about the ability of coal seam gas to coexist with the dairy industry. Greens Jeremy Buckingham, who asked the question, called her an industry mouthpiece. In typical tit-for- tat schoolyard fashion, Buckingham was then labelled by the minister as ‘anti-mining, anti-agriculture and anti-development.’
Yes, the political tide is at an incredibly low ebb – thankfully there’s a public rally to encourage debate at a higher frequency.
People In The Park, Missingham Park in Ballina. 2pm, Sunday.
Hans Lovejoy, editor
We’ve been Borsaked
Congratulations, Robert Borsak of the Shooters and Fishers party, for trying to give big business ‘a voice’ in Sydney.
Because if there’s one thing missing from Australia’s social landscape, it’s the voice of extremely rich middle-aged wealthy white people.
The idea of forcing tens of thousands of businesses to vote in Sydney City Council elections came without warning and is ‘outrageous’, says Local Government NSW (LGNSW).
But with help from extremely rich wealthy white people Alan Jones and Rupert Murdoch, this debacle has been given a special oxygenated bubble in which to exist.
Indeed no-one except govcorp – ie this government, the corporations and local Nationals MP Don Page – thinks this is a good idea. So much for supporting small businesses, which is the backbone of our economy.
The core argument appears to be comparing Sydney to Melbourne’s existing model, but as shareholder activist and Melbourne councillor Stephen Mayne told The Newcastle Herald, the Melbourne model was ‘exclusive’ to Melbourne and was intended as a counterbalance to the city’s largely left-wing residential population. ‘The result [in Sydney] will be a pro-business, pro-growth council,’ he said.
But there are smelly fumes belching from this secret deal with the coalition: Fairfax reports that the ICAC had been asked to look into links between former Liberal state energy minister Chris Hartcher and his former adviser, ‘who had worked on a “local government strategy” for the City of Sydney.’
US dollar challenged
US dollar challenged
News on wars and the MH17 crash overshadowed an important development on the global financial chessboard late last month. Five leaders from emerging superpowers recently agreed on the formation of a bank to rival the US-run World Bank and IMF.
It’s called BRICS, and it stands for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, and it will be lending its cash for infrastructure and development projects in emerging economies.
Additionally, a $100 billion fund has been established to protect the nations involved from any future US-led financial crisis.
If properly governed, it will give these countries an enormous advantage over US-dependent countries such as Australia should/when such a thing happen again.
So will this cartel take any cues from the Rothschilds? Mayer Amschel Rothschild reputedly said in 1790: ‘Let me issue and control a nation’s money and I care not who writes the laws.’
NSW Libs also a disgrace
‘I’ll tell you what’, property developer Hilton Grugeon ‘might’ have said. ‘I like this painting that hangs on your wall so much, that I’ll buy it from you for $10,000. No, really.’
And there begins the public career collapse of NSW Liberal MP Andrew Cornwell, former chief whip to the NSW Baird government, after Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) hearings last week.
More than the bottle of plonk that robbed O’Farrell of the top job in April, this goose took wads of cash in an envelope from a developer as well as from the current lord mayor of Newcastle.
Idiot alert: accepting money from developers was banned in NSW in 2009. It’s also put lord mayor of Newcastle and ex-property developer Jeff McCloy under pressure to resign.
So where is this stupid greed-based saga headed?
Apart from paying off his tax bill, Cornwell gave the money to his beloved party for its 2011 election war chest.
Funny that, as it’s the subject of ICAC enquiries.
There are now nine MPs who have stood down from the current coalition crop since they took office in 2011, including the premier, police minister Mike Gallacher and energy and resources minister Chris Hartcher.
Will the people of NSW take notice of this endemic corrupt behaviour before the upcoming 2015 election?
Hans Lovejoy, editor
Immoral govts plan Ag-gag laws
While a murder of lawyers – under the direction of federal attorney-general-bigot Brandis – combs over legislation in an effort to limit personal freedoms and extend corporate ones, our own coalition state government is joining in the fun.
According to Fairfax, NSW primary industries minister Katrina Hodgkinson (Nationals), has instigated a joint federal/state crack- down on ‘agri-terrorists’, or those who trespass onto intensive animal farm industries and film the activity.
As such, the NSW Primary Industries Legislation Amendment (Biosecurity) Bill 2012 is up for amendment.
Barnaby Joyce (federal Nationals) is also keen to help keep people ill-informed and dumbed down about what they eat and is joining the fray at the national level.
Clearly the effort by activists is to stop or reduce the appalling way in which some animals are farmed. If better legislation were enacted to improve the conditions of animals subjected to inten- sive farming, would there be a need for these laws?
It’s like introducing a bad law to prop up bad behaviour.
Regardless, the 2008 US doco Food, Inc. is a good place to start if you want to be informed about intensive large-scale ani- mal farming. It posits that corporate agribusiness produces food that is unhealthy, environmentally harmful and abusive of both animals and employees.
While free speech works in mysterious ways, it gener- ally only favours those who write the legislation. Thankfully there’s still public submissions. The state legislation is open for public comment until June 27 and is available at www. dpi.nsw.gov.au/biosecurity/legislative-review.
Two party pigs
Who is worse – a new NSW premier who refuses to explain un- declared donations and subsequent plum appointments, or an opposition leader who ignored the code of conduct regarding bribes and took six months to tell someone he had an offer?
Sounds complicated and boring, but all that can be said about modern NSW politics is that govcorp morons are shouting at each other from across the room over who is worse. And somehow they think the public will find that acceptable.
Can these idiots be any more insulting?
Yes – both parties also voted last week against an amendment to the Mining and Petroleum Acts to establish an Independent Expert Mine Licensing Committee, as recommended by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) following the inquiries into corruptly granted coal mining licences.
Jeremy Buckingham (Greens) says they also combined to replace a broad ‘public interest power’ to cancel mining licences and replace it with a narrower ‘fit and proper person’ test.
Unlike the classic ‘corporations are people too’ line, it appears to ensure corporations are better people.
And why has this happened? Just follow the money.
According to Buckingham, ‘Since 1999, the mining sector has donated $5,753,721 to the Liberal, National and Labor par- ties and they are still not prohibited political donors.’
If any public faith is to be restored, the mining licences that were handed out by disgraced Labor MPs Eddie Obeid and Ian MacDonald need to be cancelled and re-examined by someone with integrity. Integrity? Ha!
Gateway without a gate
The NSW coalition (Liberal/Nationals) suffered further embarrass- ment this week after its ‘Gateway Process,’ which assesses mining proposals on strategic agricultural land, saw two of the six panel members resign.
According to The Australian (Newscorp), the NSW Farmers Association questioned the independence of the government- appointed panel’s chairman Terry Short, a soil expert, who had to declare an interest in two of the three applications being assessed by the panel.
In addition, Greens NSW MP Jeremy Buckingham put the boot in on fossil fuel lobbyists; he said Mr Short and his panel were forced to grant a ‘Conditional Gateway Certificate’ for a mine in the Bylong Valley west of Newcastle, despite assessing the mine as failing 12 out of 13 criteria. ‘It’s ludicrous that the Bylong mine failed 12 out of 13 criteria, and the Spur Hill mine that failed nine out of 11 criteria, are still granted a certificate and progress to the next stage of planning assessment.’
This again casts doubt over this government’s credibility and its continuous bleating of having the ‘toughest CSG regulations in the country.’ Mr Stoner’s office again offered up that rhetoric in reply to The Echo when asked what he will bring to the north coast as its minister.
In return, The Echo suggested to Mr Stoner’s office perhaps the present safeguards weren’t working given the overwhelming protests by farmers at Bentley, Leard, The Pilliga and other min- ing sites. The Echo then asked if the minister would intervene and stop Metgasco’s plans at Bentley given the public outcry.
Unsurprisingly there has been no reply – The Echo understands the Bentley land earmarked for fracking is owned by a high-profile Nationals Party member, as was the case in Glenugie.
Dear Mr Henderson,
As CEO of Metgasco, you have once again proclaimed a ‘fuck you’ attitude towards northern rivers residents.
Thank you for the clarity. A least we know your intention is to push ahead with mining this area despite deep and wide- spread public resistance, as demonstrated at the Bentley site outside Lismore.
Unfortunately, it’s a clarity that the NSW minister for the north coast, Don Page, has been unable to share. He still won’t say if he supports your activities or the farmers that will be affected.
Regardless, I do take umbrage to the false and misleading claim on Metgasco’s website that NSW is ‘running out of gas’.
Australian Energy Regulator’s (AER) State of the energy market 2012 says domestic demand for the state is not increasing.
It’s tiresome to address these lies over again – if we protect the domestic supply there will be no problems other than the smoking ruin that you leave in your wake. It just goes to show how powerful the mining lobby is, huh?
I do however support one lofty ideal on your website: ‘to supply the gas to local industry in the north east corner of NSW before sup- plying gas to the broader eastern coast energy market.’
Such benevolence could extend to actually doing your toxic business elsewhere. After all, Australia is a big place and it’s quite easy to get lost in. Or better still, perhaps you could repurpose your corporation for the inevitable renewables take-over?
Anyway, the intention to mine a region that boasts world-class farm produce and tourism is simply an act of war, regardless of what- ever weak legislation and politicians are in place.
In conclusion, I will not give credibility to the insane premise that the expansion of your industry is acceptable in light of clear evidence that suggests it’s stupid.
It seems incomprehensible that a political party – one that claims grassroots origins – should say in its ‘About Us’ webpage that it believes in ‘decentralisation of power to our local communities’ when its practice is quite the opposite.
Parties often profess ideals at odds with their actual policies, but let’s take a step back first. It’s a party with Western Australian rural conservative roots that expanded after a few name changes to include all states in the 1920s. Its constituents were graziers and farmers who wanted – for obvious reasons – to limit union and workers’ rights while also pushing for protectionism (that’s government intervention to protect industry from overseas competition).
And sometime after inception, they aligned themselves with the Liberals at both a state and federal level and generally the pair have been known as ‘the coalition’ ever since.
Like a sucker fish to a shark, they are associated with hard-right policies (that’s free trade, not protectionism).
So fast track to now. Last week the federal Nats were reported by Fairfax as having their political donations rise ‘tenfold in four years’ from coal seam gas companies.
It reflects nicely in their future energy blueprint, which proudly boasts: ‘The coalition will introduce an Exploration Development Incentive that will allow investors to deduct the expense of mining exploration against their taxable income.’
At the state level, last week the NSW National Party faced internal squabbles with the dear Libs after a redistribution of NSW electoral boundaries. Turf wars aside, a freedom of information inquiry last week into communications between Metgasco and NSW Nationals Tweed MP Geoff Provest now no longer exist for public scrutiny. And having local Nationals MP Don Page in power should be beneficial to this community. But those 10,000 people seeking his support to make the region CSG free, or those wanting the return of the Bruns parks to Council could fairly claim he is the minister for Sydney, not his actual portfolio of the north coast.
Dear Mr Mike Gallacher
As NSW police minister I thought it important to let you know that a court case instigated by your legal team was thrown out of court and found to have wasted time and your department’s resources.
I know it may sound like a trivial matter, but it was actually a significant test case in civil liberties.
Residents who were peacefully protesting against an unwanted Metgasco CSG test site at Glenugie near Grafton on January 7 this year were arrested on questionable grounds.
It appeared like a fairly sloppy piece of legal work; charges were also changed at the last moment.
But most concerning was that magistrate David Heilpern last week suggested there may have been political interference.
He said, ‘In this case I find myself asking what could possibly be the reason for continuing on with such an innocuous charge in these circumstances?’
I think it’s in the public interest to know who was behind this.
Who pressured a police prosecutor to proceed with ‘vexatious’ charges? It’s possible you know already… but if not, maybe you can find out who it is so they can be made accountable? As you would know, such behaviour undermines the public’s confidence and the capacity of the police to keep law and order.
I believe the police force for the most part carry out their duties professionally; however, directives and the tone of any organisation come from the top. I sincerely hope that you agree that police should not act as private security guards for corporate interests and that this matter should be explained publicly.
The carbon tax myth examined
One bright note of this election, perhaps the only, was the development of fact checking organisations, one of which is run by theconversation.com.
The site examines the interesting question: ‘will scrapping the carbon price lower electricity prices?’ According to author Dylan McConnell from Melbourne University’s Energy Institute, removing the carbon tax would result in a reduction in electric- ity prices of ‘around five per cent, with an upper boundary of about 10 per cent.’ But he points to an example from Victoria
in recent years, where transmission costs went up 27 per cent, distribution by 11 per cent and retail costs by 17 per cent.
‘These components are independent of the carbon price, and account for the majority of hikes in retail electricity prices.
‘It’s worth remembering too that even without the carbon price, electricity prices are predicted to rise. Climate Change Authority research suggests that without the carbon price, the rise would with be slightly smaller, with retail electricity prices just six per cent lower.’
Additionally, ABC TV’s Australian Story recently ran a great yarn entitled ‘Corridors Of Power’ which exposed ‘gold plating’ by the NSW government owned electricity transmission company, TransGrid. Gold plating is building unnecessary projects and in this case, 330,000 volt electric power lines were earmarked for the Manning Valley in NSW as part of a large-scale state expansion.
In response to the plans, Manning Valley farmer Bruce Rob- ertson helped create the Manning Alliance and sparked a senate inquiry which backed his claims of gold plating. People power overcame corporate interests and the project was abandoned.
‘[Gold plating] was the single largest cause of the electricity price rises that consumers had experienced in Australia,’ says Robertson.
What other half truths are being presented as fact?
Hopefully in coming years, fact checking organisations will develop further and investigative journalism will continue to prevent truth being the first casualty of politics.
Below is a reply from TransGrid PR regarding the editorial on September 3, 2013.
You claim it's 'investment' whereas Mr Robertson says it's 'gold plating'. The implication that all investment should be welcomed without scrutiny is of course your right to promote as a corporation.
And while the rest of this letter goes to say what good things TransGrid is doing, my understanding is that most of those things have only come about from the senate inquiry the residents of Manning Valley pushed for. Unless I missed something, you have not refuted the claims from Mr Robertson.
Perhaps instead the letter should say, 'With thanks to the Manning Valley Alliance and the senate inquiry, TransGrid reviewed its TOR, stakeholder and consumer engagement and has sought to become more transparent in the future.'