by Alan Thornhill
Tony Abbott dismissed reports of divisions within the Liberal party today – and backed his embattled Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin.
Speaking on the Nine Network’s Today show, the Prime Minister said the reported divisions amounted to a ” storm in a tea cup.”
Asked about Peta Credlin, Mr Abbott said:”… I stand by my team.”
“Look, I stand by my team.
” I stand by my Cabinet colleagues, my Parliamentary colleagues.
” I stand by my staff.
“I certainly have full confidence in the Party’s President, the Party’s Federal Director.
“And look I am aware of that particular storm in a tea cup but the Treasurer signed off on the Party accounts so I am not quite sure what the fuss is over.”
One report, in Fairfax newspapers today, said the Liberal party’s Federal Treasurer, Phil Higginson, a close friend of Mr Abbott, had resigned, over perceived conflicts of interest.
In e-mails to party members, described as “extra-ordinary,” Mr Higginson said these were raised by Ms Credlin’s position, while she is married to the Liberal party’s Federal Director, Brian Loughnane.
A separate report, also in Fairfax newspapers, said seven ministers, who had supported Mr Abbott, in a failed spill motion, have now said privately that they are prepared to remove the Prime Minister, if his performance does not improve soon.
Mr Abbott responded saying that, in a sense, Prime Ministers are “always on probation.”
But he also declared that he feels ” young and vigorous” and at “the height of (his) powers.”
“That is exactly how I feel,” Mr Abbott said.
by Alan Thornhill
Australian banks have been hit in an international hacking scandal, according to an ABC report.
The report quotes the international cyber-security company Security company Kaspersky Lab which says the hackers have stolen more than $1.2 billion from about 100 banks and other financial institutions in 30 countries – including Australia – over the past two years.
The ANZ bank said it had not been affected.
The other three big banks refused to comment.
The hackers, based in Russia, China, Ukraine and parts of Europe are using a type of virus known as Carbanak malware to access bank employee computers and ultimately to get inside bank networks.
They then transfer money from a bank into off-shore accounts, or order the bank’s ATMs to dispense cash to a waiting criminal.
The thefts have mostly targeted central accounts rather than customer accounts, the report said.
The hackers usually took up to $10 million in each raid, the ABC added.
Banks and other financial institutions in the USA, Russia, Germany and China were among the others said to be affected.
But the Australian Federal Police say they have not received a referral on this matter from the banking sector.
by Alan Thornhill
A Labor support group says Liberals are seeking a Supreme Court injunction to stop its volunteers handing out how to vote cards for today’s Queensland elections.
The Premier, Campbell Newman, has described the cards as “misleading.”
In a statement issued just after voting opened, the pro-Labor Group, called Get-up, said Mr Newman’s lawyers had applied for the injunction.
“We need your urgent help,” Get-up said in its statement.
“We need to fight it, and we have to do it fast,” it added.
We can only do it if we know we have enough money to fight the injunction in an urgent court action, and fight any appeal that may arise.
We need your urgent help.
It appealed for financial assistance.
The group said, in its statement: ” It’s still morning in Brisbane, and the majority of voters haven’t yet hit the polls.”
And it added: “This is likely to be one of the closest finishes in Queensland history, and having our how-to-vote for the Reef cards could make all the difference.”
by Alan Thornhill
The Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, has promised “more consultation” before knighthoods are announced in future.
He said that was something he had learnt, from the criticism he has received, over his decision to make Prince Philip a knight in the Order of Australia.
That announcement was made this week.
Mr Abbott said his decisions are not “above criticism” – and shouldn’t be in “a robust democracy” – like Australia.
“I take it on the chin,” he said.
But he added: “obviously there are some lessons to be learnt.”
And he said: ” I do not want it to be a distraction.”
Mr Abbott also said that his government would be concentrating on the economy in the coming year.
“My focus is on jobs and families,” he said.
When pressed, though, on how the controversy might affect the imminent Queensland election, Mr Abbott turned his back on reporters and walked out of the press conference.
by Alan Thornhill
Work has started on upgrading a road that will lead to Sydney’s proposed new airport at Badgerys Creek.
The Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, and the State Premier, Mike Baird, issued a joint statement today, to mark the occasion.
They said the $509 million Bringelly Road upgrade, is the first item in a $3.6 billion package.
That had been designed to provide essential road infrastructure which would create jobs, reduce congestion and improve safety for all road users.
They said: “The upgrade will create more than 400 jobs while about 4,000 additional jobs will be generated by the time the airport opens.
“These projects are about ensuring vital road infrastructure is in place ahead of the airport’s opening, expected towards the end of this decade,” the two leaders added.
by Alan Thornhill
The Prime Ministers of Australia and Japan have welcomed the start of the new Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement.
The agreement came into force today.
In a joint statement, Tony Abbott and Shinzo Abe described the agreement as a “historic development in economic relations” between the two countries.
They said it is the most significant bilateral economic agreement since the 1957 Agreement on Commerce.
“JAEPA lays the foundation for the next phase of bilateral economic relations, and will strengthen “the special strategic partnership” between Japan and Australia,” they said.
They said, too, that the agreement would deliver significant economic benefits to both countries.
These benefits would come through increased trade in high-quality goods and services, an easing of bilateral investment restrictions and promoting economic growth.
The two Prime Ministers said they look forward to Australian and Japanese businesses working together to make the most of the opportunities provided by the new agreement.
by Alan Thornhill
The Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, has described a terrorist attack, which killed 12 people in Paris, as an “atrocity.”
He said the thoughts of all Australians are with the families of the victims, who worked at a satirical magazine,Charlie Hebdo, which ran cartoons of the Prophet Mahomet.
One of the gunmen was heard shouting “we have avenged Allah” as he ran from the site.
At the time of writing, the gunmen were still at large.
Mr Abbott said Australia’s security agencies are investigating whether the attack in Paris has any implications for Australia.
But none are apparent at present.
However Mr Abbott reminded Australians to stay alert, as a terrorist attack in this country is still rated as “likely.”
He said: “The Government condemns the atrocity in Paris overnight.
“The thoughts of all Australians are with the families of those who have lost their lives in this barbaric act.
“Freedom of expression is the cornerstone of a free society.
“The Government will continue to do all it can to protect our community from terrorism.
“Our National Terrorism Alert level remains at High, which means a terrorist attack is likely.
“Our security agencies are assessing the situation for security implications to Australia but there is no information to suggest that there is an imminent threat to Australia as a result of the Paris atrocity.
“All Australians should remain vigilant, and again, I urge people who see or hear something that they feel is not right, to contact the National Security Hotline immediately on 1800 123 400.
“Australia stands with the people and the government of France at this difficult time,” Mr Abbott said.
He was supported, shortly afterwards, by the Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten.
Mr Shorten said: “Labor condemns the senseless and horrific act of terrorism in Paris overnight.
“Australians stand in solidarity with the people of France as they come to terms with this brutal attack,” the Opposition Leader added.
by Alan Thornhill
Two very different leaders.
The Australian Prime Minister regards himself, proudly, as a conservative.
Others see the US President as far too liberal.
Yet both are invoking executive action.
That is, at least, unusual in a modern democracy.
The Australian Prime Minister has done it twice.
Firstly to restore indexation of fuel excise, to bolster his government’s revenue base.
Secondly, to impose the price signal he believes is necessary on medical services, by suggesting that Australian doctors charge their patient’s directly, for the last $5 of their fees.
The US President, though, is taking direct action to ensure that the last two years of his presidency are not wasted.
His announcement, last week, that he is planning to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba, is just one example of his determination, on that front.
He made his declaration in the face of fierce opposition from the recently revived Republicans, whose courage rose with their success in the Congressional elections.
One, well placed, Republican has even declared that he will not allow a single dollar to be spent, re-establishing a US embassy in Havana.
His position, on a critical finance committee, lends power to that threat.
What, though, lies behind the fact that both Tony Abbott and Barrack Obama have now made it clear that they are prepared to rule by dictate, rather than democratic consensus, if necessary?
An American academic, Francis Fukuyama, says an extreme concentration of wealth, in the US, has led to what he calls “vetocracy.”
Quoted by Peter Hartcher, in The Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday, Fukuyama, says that rich lobby groups in American can, in fact, over-rule the US government.
He points, in particular, to the refusal of many Republicans to recognise that deregulation of the financial sector, led to the 2008-09 financial crisis.
So the risk of a repetition has risen, Fukuyama says.
A French economist, Thomas Picketty, is also deeply worried.
In his book, Capital in the 21st Century, Picketty argues that the concentration of wealth, in Western countries, is now returning to the extremes last seen in the times of Jane Austen, when the landed gentry dominated all.
Those were, of course, very similar to the extremes which led to violent revolutions in both France and Russia.
Picketty, too, argues that a return to similarly extreme divisions of wealth, is once again, threatening the basic consensus on which democracy rests.
And – yes – he does include Australia in that analysis.
But could that, really, be happening here?
Kevin Rudd might well have an opinion on that.
After all, the miners’ campaign against Labor’s mining tax, contributed to his downfall.
Even though Labor had insisted this was a mild measure, imposed only on super profits.
No-one is denying that rich lobby groups, as much as anyone else, have a clear right to campaign for their causes, in a democracy.
But disproportionate power, in any area, presents risks.
And resort to executive powers is, certainly, among them.
That needs to be recognised.
Australia, certainly, has a budgetary problem.
But that involves revenue collection, weakened by poorly timed tax cuts, as well as government spending.
Tony Abbott, implicitly, acknowledged this, when he called recently, for a reasonable debate on tax reform, including the GST.
But that, according to Richard Denniss, executive director of the Australia Institute, is precisely the wrong way to proceed.
He calls that taxing the poor, to spend on the rich.
Look instead, he advises, at the very generous tax breaks on superannuation, which favour the rich.
But not at charging sick poor people to visit the doctor.
We can all press hard, in a democracy, for what we want.
But do we, really, want a nation that is governed by dictate, rather than even a roughly hewn democratic consensus?
That is, certainly, not an immediate threat in Australia.
But it’s not to be ignored, either.
Weathercoast by Alan Thornhill
A novel on the murder of seven young Anglican Christian Brothers in the Solomon Islands.
Available now on the iTunes store.
Alan Thornhill is a parliamentary press gallery journalist.
Private Briefing is updated daily with Australian personal finance news, analysis, and commentary.
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