by Alan Thornhill
Tony Abbott is not denying reports that his government is paying people smugglers to turn back boats with asylum seekers on board.
Instead, the Prime Minister told Maquarie radio today, that his government will stop the boats “by hook or by crook.”
Fairfax newspapers reported last month that Australian officials paid the captain and crew of one boat, with 65 asylum seekers on board, to turn back.
The newspapers said the boat had then returned to Indonesia.
Mr Abbott was questioned about these reports, in an interview on Sydney radio today.
He refused to deny that such payments had been made, even though his Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, has already done so.
The Fairfax papers quoted an Indonesian police chief on the remote island of Rote saying the six crew members said they had each been given $US5,000 by Australian officials.
Asked about this today, Mr Abbott admitted that “creative strategies” have been developed to stop the boats.
“What we do is stop the boats by hook or by crook, because that’s what we’ve got to do and that’s what we’ve successfully done,” he said.
“By hook or by crook we are going to stop the trade.
“I am proud of the work our border protection agencies have done,” he added.
“… they’ve been incredibly creative in coming up with a whole range of strategies to break this evil trade.
“We will do whatever is reasonably necessary to protect our country from people smuggling and from the effect of this evil and damaging trade.”
Mr Abbott would not go into further details about the allegation, saying the Government does not comment on operational matters, and the work of security agencies should not be discussed publicly.
He also sidestepped questions about whether it is acceptable to pay people smugglers, and whether there should be an investigation.
by Alan Thornhill
Joe Hockey told a questioner tonight that he had not been “double dipping.”
Speaking on the ABC television program Q&A, the Treasurer said he had been following common procedures, for people whose employment requires them to live away from home.
The questioner, in the audience, noted reports that Mr Hockey had been claiming a living away from home allowance of $270 a night, while staying in Canberra in a home owned by his wife.
He was asked if this amounted to double dipping.
“Well, no,” Mr Hockey replied.
“Because ultimately you have to pay the rent, or the hotel bill.”
He said this is a common arrangement.
“It applies for all politicians.
“It applies to public servants.
“It has been a common practice for all sides of politics,” Mr Hockey said.
by Alan Thornhill
The financial watchdog, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, is to
investigate a spike in the $A early this afternoon.
It appeared shortly before the Reserve Bank announced – at 2.30pm – that it would keep rates on hold.
ASIC said: “The investigation will look at trading in the dollar prior to the RBA’s interest rate decision statement at 2.30pm.”
It added: “ASIC is also investigating foreign exchange movements shortly before the RBA’s announcements in February and March 2015.”
ASIC said it would make no further comment at this time.
by Alan Thornhill
A third straight loss – in State elections – probably would have been fatal for Tony Abbott, as Prime Minister.
The NSW Labor leader, Luke Foley, may well have been right about that.
This time, though, Mr Abbott stayed silent in the background, as Mike Baird campaigned to continue as Premier of Australia’s most heavily populated State.
And, despite Liberal losses in Victoria and Queensland, it worked.
Predictably senior Liberal ministers, like Julie Bishop and Scott Morrison are delighted.
The Foreign Minister said the Baird government should be congratulated, because it had been willing to embrace reform.
“That’s what our Intergenerational report is all about, showing how Australia was on the wrong path under Labor,” she said.
“But we can get it on the right path with some reforms,” Ms Bishop declared.
The Social Services Minister, Scott Morrison, said:” we’re thrilled for Mike Baird, because our budget task does get easier, I think, because Mike Baird has been re-elected.
“… he has an infrastructure program which will help continue to drive the national not just the NSW economy,” he said.
But there were less welcome lessons, for the Liberals, in the NSW result, too.
Mr Baird won the election, despite an estimated 9 per cent swing against his government.
He was, undoubtedly, assisted by both his personal popularity and apparent moderation.
These are advantages our pugnacious Prime Minister does not have.
A close look at the seats the Baird government lost in the NSW election is also instructive.
Some suburban Sydney Liberals, who lost their seats, had been caught up in last year’s corruption hearings.
And the Greens won two – apparently safe National party seats – on the State’s North coast after fierce protests over fracking for coal seam gas.
They will have four seats, in the new State parliament, three more than they had previously.
The Federal Coalition has another big challenge ahead of it, too.
It has promised that its upcoming May budget will be fair, responsible – and good for both families and small business – as well as “dull.”
But it has big responsibilities, in that area, too.
Austerity won’t do the job.
At least, not alone.
So we can expect a lot more talk about tax, in the weeks ahead.
The reports of a bank account tax, that we have already seen, are just the start of it.
by Alan Thornhill
Mark Dreyfus says George Bandis – “disgracefully” – tried to – “induce” – Gillian Triggs to resign – so he asked Federal Police to investigate whether he broke the law.
Speaking on ABC television, the Shadow Attorney General, was explaining why he had written to the Federal police, seeking an investigation of the Attorney General’s conduct.
“It raises real questions about whether or not there’s been a breach of the law, breach of the criminal law, ” he said.
“Because we’ve got criminal laws that prevent and guard against inducing, trying to affect Commonwealth public officers in the performance of their duties.”
Senator Brandis said Professor Triggs, the President of the Human Rights Commission, had “lost the confidence” of the government, over a report she prepared on the plight of children in detention.
The Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, has described the report, which criticises both Coalition and Labor governments, as “blatantly political” and “a stitch up.”
Senator Brandis, conceded that he had asked a public servant to check whether Professor Triggs would be willing to serve the government in another position “particularly as an international lawyer.”
Professor Triggs rejected the offer – and refused to resign.
Pressing his case, Mr Dreyfus said: “Of course, it’s the Attorney-General who gave the instruction to the Secretary of his Department to go on this shameful mission to Sydney and seek the resignation of the President of the Human Rights Commission.
“It’s the Attorney-General who is responsible and behind him the Prime Minister who together, with the Attorney-General, have orchestrated an attack on an independent statutory Commission.
“The whole of it is disgraceful conduct by the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General and as well.
“What we now learned yesterday is that there’s something that the Australian Federal Police need to investigate, which is just what was said, what was the inducement that was offered?
“There’s a process… in the human rights legislation for the removal of the President of the Human Rights Commission.
“And that process is the only process that can be followed here,” Mr Dreyfus said.
“There’s a reason why the President of the Human Rights Commission has got a five year statutory term. It’s so that she is protected, so that she can carry out her duties independently without fear of political interference.
“She is not subject to the whim of the Government of the day.
“She is an independent statutory officer and she ought to be allowed going on doing her job in the proper way…” Mr Dreyfus added.
by Alan Thornhill
The Australian Federal Police are considering whether the Federal government “acted corruptly” by offering the Human Rights Commissioner, Gillian Triggs, an “inducement” to resign.
They are doing so, on the application of the Shadow Attorney General, Mark Dreyfus, who wrote to them yesterday, raising this allegation.
But the government has dismissed the allegation.
The Attorney General, George Brandis, said he had asked a public servant to check whether Professor Triggs would be willing to serve the government in another position “particularly as an international lawyer.”
Professor Triggs rejected the offer, which followed the government’s loss of confidence in her, after she wrote a report on children in detention.
That report, called The Lost Children,” was critical of both Labor and Coalition governments.
The Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, has described it as both “blatantly political” and “a stitch up.”
Labor’s Senate Leader, Penny Wong, told the ABC today that this left the public “in no doubt about the capacity of the government to attack anyone who criticises them.”
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
Australia’s corporate watchdog says it took stiff action against 345 business people who broke the rules, in the second half of last year.
In its six monthly enforcement report, released today, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, also vowed that it would persist in its tough stand.
It said the actions it had taken included criminal prosecutions as well as civil and administrative measures, such as banning or disqualifying wrongdoers.
There had also been negotiated outcomes,including some with enforceable results.
“These outcomes were achieved across the financial services, market integrity, corporate governance and small business areas,” ASIC Commissioner Greg Tanzer said.
He said the report highlights ASIC’s ongoing focus on tackling serious corporate fraud and loan fraud and ASIC’s use of civil penalty proceedings to enforce the law.
“ASIC investigates serious white collar crime,” Mr Tanzer said.
“We have recently completed several significant enforcement actions after detecting serious fraud by company directors and officers.”
These were committed both against the companies they serve and the investing public.
“These results demonstrate that for those who steal and deceive the consequences are great,” he added.
Mr Tanzer said, too, that: “Current and future areas of focus for ASIC include loan fraud, financial market benchmark rates, illegal phoenix activity and retail margin foreign exchange trading.
“We expect to achieve noteworthy outcomes as a result of this work,” he added.
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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