by Alan Thornhill
Labor has renewed its call for a children’s commissioner to investigate allegations of child abuse on Nauru and in other detention centres.
The shadow minister for immigration and border protection, Shane Neumann, urged greater transparency on the issue, when he appeared in a late night ABC television program last night.
He said: “We need action now.
“An independent children’s advocate would act on each case individual case, dealing with each case as it does in any court we deal with where there’s an independent children’s lawyer engaged.
“ That independent advocate would be able to deal with children, deal with those people engaged in mental health assistance and also advocate and report to Parliament,” Mr Neumann said.
This follows The Guardian’s publication of material from an 8,000 page leaked document, detailing some 2,000 incidents of alleged abuse on the island, including a “disproportionate” number of child abuse cases.
The Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has dismissed calls by the Greens for a Royal Commission into the allegations.
However he has promised an investigation
Human rights advocates are also calling for more transparency into Australia’s offshore detention system.
Hugh de Kretser of the Humn Rights Law Centre said: “ We desperately need to open up this system to scrutinise it.
“That’s a secondary issue to the humanitarian issue which is upon us now which is acting now to bring them here to Australia,” he added.
by Alan Thornhill
Australia’s housing markets – and its economy – presented distinctly mixed pictures today, as member of the Reserve Bank board met to review interest rates.
Some economists expect the board to cut the bank’s marker interest rates by another 25 basis points today, taking it to a new low point of 1.5 per cent.
However, the late advice they received today, shows that their choice will not be easy.
The Housing Industry Association, for example, reported that new home sales had bounced back in June.
It’s Chief Economist, Dr Harley Dale conceded that“The overall trend, reflected in a report his association published today “is still one of modest decline for New Home Sales.
However he added that “…a bounce of 8.2 per cent in June 2016 highlights the resilience of the national new home building sector.”
“The overall profile of HIA New Home Sales is signalling an orderly correction to national new home construction in the short term, as are other leading housing indicators,” Dr Dale said.
Meanwhile Corelogic, which studies property prices and rents, reported that while capital city dwelling values had reached a record high in July, rental yields had slipped to a record low.
The firm’s research head, Tim Lawless, said: “the recent moderation in the rate of capital gains should be viewed as a positive sign that growth in dwelling values may be returning to more sustainable levels.
“However, the growth trend rate is still tracking considerably faster than income growth resulting in a deterioration of housing affordability.” He added.
HIA New Home Sales bounce back in June.
The HIA New Home Sales Report, a survey of Australia’s largest volume builders, shows that total new home sales ended 2015/16 on a higher note, said the Housing Industry Association – the voice of Australia’s residential building industry.
“The overall trend is still one of modest decline for New Home Sales, but a bounce of 8.2 per cent in June 2016 highlights the resilience of the national new home building sector,” commented HIA Chief Economist, Dr Harley Dale.
“The overall profile of HIA New Home Sales is signaling an orderly correction to national new home construction in the short term, as are other leading housing indicators,” he noted Harley Dale.
“Below the national surface, the large geographical divergences between state housing markets have been a prominent feature of the current cycle – that will continue.
The New Home Sales series highlights this fact.
Comparing the June quarter this year to the same period last year, detached house sales are down very sharply in South Australia (-21.4 per cent) and in Western Australia (-27.5 per cent), yet sales are up by 17.0 per cent in Victoria and by 7.1 per cent in Queensland. New South Wales rounds off the detached house coverage provided by the New Home Sales report and sales are down by 7.3 per cent on an annual basis.”
The sale of detached houses bounced back by 7.2 per cent in the month of June 2016. ‘
Multi-unit’ sales continued their recent recovery, growing by 11.5 per cent after a lift of 4.9 per cent in May. In the month of June 2016 detached house sales increased in all five mainland states with the largest increases occurring in Queensland (+14.9 per cent) and WA (+9.1 per cent).
Detached house sales increased by 7.5 per cent in NSW, 3.7 per cent in South Australia, and 2.2 per cent in Victoria.
Business confidence seems set to improve,
The latest Dun and Bradstreet business expectations survey, which was also published today, showed that Business expectations for sales, profits and employment have all bounced back for the three-month period to 31 December 2016.
The firm said this is surprising, in view of the British vote to leave the European Union.
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by Alan Thornhill
Australia’s political leaders will be hitting their phones this week, trying to scrape together enough support to give the country stable government for the next three years.
The main rivals, Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, who heads a conservative coalition and Bill Shorten, who leads the Labor party both found themselves short of the 76 seats they would need, in the House of Representatives, to govern in their own right, at the end of the initial, but still incomplete, count.
Late yesterday, Labor had 67 seats, the Coalition 65, others 5 and 13 were still in doubt.
The Australian Electoral Commission had counted 78.2 per cent of the votes cast, at that point.
It will not resume the count until Tuesday, and the final result, for the House, will probably not be known until some time next week.
Mr Turnbull had made much of the need he saw for stability, during the late stages of the eight week election campaign, particularly after Britain’s vote to leave the EU.
However the swing to Labor, evident in Saturday’s election, showed that voters were more impressed with Mr Shorten’s warning that only Labor could be trusted to protect Australia’s health insurance system, Medicare.
Mr Turnbull had sought support for a plan centred on tax cuts for big companies and high income earners.
He had warned that a big spending Labor government could not be trusted to manage Australia’s economy responsibly.
And, at a news conference today, he welcomed a question from a reporter who asked him if the election result could threaten Australia’s TripleA credit rating.
He thanked the reporter and said: “This is why it is very important … for me to explain what is happening at the moment.”
“We are simply going through a process of completing a count,” Mr Turnbull said.
The Prime Minister also said that he could still form a new government, for the next three years.
However Bill Shorten greeted the initial count with a triumphal declaration.
He conceded that the public might not know the outcome of Saturday’s election : “…for some days to come.”
“But there is one thing for sure – the Labor Party is back.” he said.
But which of these two men is likely to be Australia’s Prime Minister over the next three years?
The answer to that question will depend, very much, on their relative telephone skills.
by Alan Thornhill
He’s not stupid.
So why has Tony Abbott been getting into so much – unnecessary – trouble lately?
Bronwyn and Choppergate, for example.
Then – sometime this week – Dyson Heydon will decide whether he can continue to preside over the Royal Commission into alleged corruption in Australian unions.
But aren’t we talking about Tony?
Not those others.
But remember that old saying.
“By their fruits ye shall know them.”
Bronwyn Bishop and Dyson Heydon have much in common.
Tony Abbott chose each of them to do a particular job for him.
He wanted the former Speaker, Bronwyn Bishop, to run Federal parliament, his way.
And, by June this year, shortly before her time as Speaker came to an end, Ms Bishop had expelled Labor MPs from Parliament for misbehaviour no less than 393 times.
Just seven government members had been thrown out.
If anything begs for a sniff test, that’s it.
It all came to an end, as you will recall, when Ms Bishop thought it would be acceptable for her to charter a helicopter, to take her from Melbourne to a Liberal party fund raiser in Geelong.
The public disagreed.
And that was that.
Dyson Haydon had a spot of bother with a Liberal party fund-raiser, too.
He – clearly – thought it would be acceptable to accept an invitation to speak at one – while he was presiding over that Royal Commission into alleged union corruption.
That, also, may have been a mistake.
Both appointments have been described, quite accurately, as “captain’s picks.”
And both the now retired Mr Justice Heydon and Ms Bishop have, like Mr Abbott, himself, well earned reputations as arch-conservatives.
Both appointments, ultimately, damaged the Abbott government in the polls, when things went bad.
These weren’t the only cases, either, in which the Prime Minister’s judgement has been called into question, directly, over recent weeks and months.
His usually loyal lieutenant, Christopher Pyne, for example, accused the Prime Minister of “branch stacking.”
He did that after Mr Abbott invited National Party MPs into a Liberal party meeting, called to discuss the delicate issue of same sex marriage.
Mr Pyne – and other Liberal critics – believe Mr Abbott did this to prevent government – and particularly Liberal – MPs having a free vote on this matter, when it is debated in parliament.
That, in Mr Abbott’s mind at least, would have made his leadership look weak.
But the government has been running behind Labor in the polls for some months now, and that trend seems to be strengthening.
So some serious questions have to be asked.
And that that is now happening.
Predictably, a reporter asked Mr Abbott, while he was out campaigning for his party in the upcoming by-election, in the West Australian seat of Canning, if that poll is really is test of his leadership.
Mr Abbott’s reply was unusually frank.
“Look, there’s a sense in which everything’s a test,” he said.
“Every day the national Government, the Prime Minister, every Minister is being put to the test.”
“We’ve been put to the test every day since we won back in September 2013.
” The test of could we get the carbon tax repealed, we passed.
“The test of could we get the mining tax repealed, we passed.
“The test of could we stop the boats, no one thought it could be done, we did it.
“The test of could we get the Free Trade Agreements passed, we did.
“So, look, we’ve passed all the tests up until now and I’m confident we’ll pass the next one.”
But politicians, including Prime Ministers, have also been known seek comforting, rather than penetrating explanations, in troubled times, like these.
Hasn’t Mr Abbott really been too clever by half, in pushing too hard, appointing arch conservatives like himself, to get the results he wants, even if that means using people who step beyond what the public finds acceptable.
Those poll results might well be telling him something very like that.
by Alan Thornhill
Corporate criminals beware.
You could soon be hit with the – quite substantial – cost of investigating your crimes, as well as any fines or other punishments that might well come your way.
That could add many thousands of dollars to your expenses.
Greg Medcraft, who chairs the the Australian Securities and Investments Commission explained why, this morning.
He did so when he – and his ASIC team – met the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services.
Mr Medcraft noted that the Federal government has been pressing ASIC to recover the cost of its investigations.
And he signaled that it is happy to oblige.
He also said ASIC welcomes the capability review, that the government had announced, since he last met the committee.
“ASIC welcomes this review,” Mr Medcraft said.
“It is a forward-looking review and will assess our ability to meet the Government’s objectives and future challenges.
“Crucially, it is also linked to the Government’s consideration of the Murray Inquiry recommendation that ASIC’s regulatory activities be funded by industry as well as the other recommendations the Inquiry made relating to ASIC.”
He said ASIC welcomes the Murray Inquiry’s recommendation that Australia’s financial regulators be subjected to capability reviews.
Mr Medicraft said ASIC also welcomes the fact that it is “the first regulator chosen to undergo such a review.”
“Looking at our current position, we consider we are effective and efficient within the resources we have,” he added.
“Over the past few years, we have undertaken significant initiatives to enhance our effectiveness and this process will continue, including through the Capability Review process.
“We currently have several transformational, self-improvement programs under way at ASIC.
“We think the Review will further position ASIC to meet the needs of the Australian public in the future.
“Capability Reviews are not unusual.
“Over the past three years, reviews have been undertaken for 19 Federal Government departments and agencies,” Mr Medcraft said.
by Alan Thornhill
Could all that trouble over Bronwyn Bishop’s expenses have been avoided, if the Commonwealth had something like ICAC?
That is the Independent Commission Against Corruption that operates – so effectively – in New South Wales.
Has that thought occurred to you?
If so, you are not alone.
Especially as so many clearly questionable expense claims have – and still are – emerging in the slip-stream of the former speaker’s $5,200 helicopter flight from Melbourne to Geelong.
Just to attend a Liberal party fund raiser.
The Greens have been thinking in much the same way.
And this morning they revived debate in the Senate on a bill, designed to set all that right.
First introduced in 2013, the National Integrity Commission Bill was meant to establish a National Integrity Commission with three separate integrity officers.
These were to have been:-
* a National Integrity Commissioner
* a Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner and
* an Independent Parliamentary Advisor.
But debate languished – and those posts were never established.
In a statement today the Greens said “the Libs, Nats and Labor had all failed to declare their position on the Bill when we brought it forward last year.”
Instead they had joined forces to prevent a vote taking place.
But the debate was brought on, once again, in the Senate early today.
by Alan Thornhill
Fraud has cost the Commonwealth $530 million in recent times, according to a new report
The report by the Australian Institute of Criminology exposes 265,866 cases of suspected internal and external fraud between 2010-11 and 2012-13
In one, the Director of a family day care business is alleged to have claimed Child Care Benefit subsidies totaling $3.6 million to which she was not entitled.
The accused woman is alleged to have created and lodged false documents with the Department of Human Services to support her claims.
The Federal Justice Minister, Michael Keenan, revealed this in a statement today.
He said the report shows why the multi-agency Fraud and Anti-Corruption Centre (FAC Centre) is vital in the fight against serious fraud and corruption.
The Centre was established within the Australian Federal Police (AFP) a year ago and combines the resources and expertise of nine agencies.
Mr Keenan said the centre had been designed to tackle serious, complex fraud and corruption.
It ensures that suspected crimes are quickly directed to the right law enforcement agencies for action.
The agencies within the FAC Centre have access to intelligence resources, like the Australian Crime Commission’s National Criminal Intelligence Fusion Capability.
So they can draw on specialists, data and analytics to develop their own fraud-related intelligence.
Mr Keenan cited the case of Operation Agron, in which the Australian Federal Police led joint agency investigation, in which the Department of Human Services and the Department of Social Services also participated.
That led to the execution of multiple search warrants in the Albury-Wodonga area and the arrest of a 27 year old woman.
“The alleged offender is currently before Court, facing charges of: obtaining financial advantage by deception, using forged documents, falsification of documents and dealing in proceeds of crime worth $1million or more,” Mr Keenan said.
Property and cash worth more than $2.4 million had also been restrained by the AFP as part of an associated proceeds of crime action, he added.
Mr Keenan’s message to those who are tempted is blunt.
“Perpetrators of fraud are on notice.
“You will be caught.
“The Commonwealth will utilise every resource at its disposal to tackle fraud head on,” he said.
And just what are those resources?
In a word, formidable.
Mr Keenan said the FAC Centre brings together the Australian Taxation Office, Australian Securities and Investments Commission, Australian Crime Commission, Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre, Department of Human Services, Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Department of Defence, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Attorney-General’s Department (Advisory Participant) and Commonwealth Director of Prosecutions (Advisory Participant) in order to assess, prioritise and respond to serious fraud and corruption matters.
Like to know more?
The Fraud against the Commonwealth: Report to Government 2010-11 to 2012-13 is available at http://www.aic.gov.auwww.aic.gov.au
by Alan Thornhill
Tony Abbott says the China-Australia free trade agreement will be as vital to national prosperity as earlier decisions to float the $A and deregulate banking.
Addressing the Boao Financial Services Forum in Sydney today, the Prime Minister also paid tribute to two of his predecessors, Bob Hawke and John Howard, for their roles in promoting Australia’s trade with China.
Mr Abbott said prosperity and jobs are generated by trade.
“Australians today are wealthier and our country is more prosperous and more influential because we have grasped the opportunities of trade,” Mr Abbott said.
“As you all know, Bob Hawke was one of the founders of the Boao Forum.
“Better than many others and sooner than many others, he understood that Australia’s future prosperity rested on our trade with China.
“Australia is now poised to realise the Hawke vision and to complete the work begun by Prime Minister John Howard over a decade ago, when the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement passes through our Parliament in the next few months and enters into force.
“This is a decisive moment for the economic future of Australia.
“It is as vital to our long-term prosperity as floating the dollar and deregulating banking was in the 1980s.
“The FTA with China will change Australia for the better, it will change China for the better and it will change our region and our world for the better.
“It will secure the employment of generations of Australians to come.
“It will provide massive new markets for our entrepreneurs.
“It will provide investment opportunities that will enrich the Australian people and the Chinese people alike,” Mr Abbott said.
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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