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Sunday 22nd June 2014 - 7:15 pm
Comments Off on The truth, or just Tony talking?

The truth, or just Tony talking?

by Alan Thornhill

analysis

Tony Abbott’s assertive personality served him well in opposition.

Above all, it helped him convince voters that the Rudd-Gillard years were a time of “bad government.”

That was no small achievement, as the Australian economy was in much better shape than most other advanced western economies, at the time.

It was even boasting a Triple A credit rating.

There was, of course, “Labor’s legacy” of deficit and debt.,

That has been very useful, politically, to both the Prime Minister and his Treasurer, Joe Hockey.

Especially as comparisons between private and government debt can be very powerful, even though there are important differences between them, which are all too easily overlooked.

But in the wake of a very tough budget, which many believe broke a whole raft of pre-election promises, Mr Abbott’s credibility is being re-assessed, as never before.

So let’s have another look at what he is saying.

As we have seen, his presentation in the debt and deficit debate, has certainly been one sided, to the point of distortion.

So far, though, they have been quite successful, politically.

But what of other issues, like pensions?

The Prime Minister has – repeatedly – said that age, disability and service pensions will not be cut, but, in fact, increased twice a year, in the years ahead.

What he does not say is that from 2017 those increase will be based on inflation, alone, without the average weekly earnings component they have now.

That inclusion has given pensioners a share in Australia’s national prosperity.

Mr Abbott makes his points, very forcefully.

As he did in Parliament last week, when he denied that his government is planning cuts to health or education spending.

“……when it comes to public hospitals, funding goes up nine per cent this year, nine per cent next year, nine per cent the year after that and six per cent in the fourth year,” he said.

“In respect to public schools, funding goes up eight per cent this year, eight per cent next year, eight per cent the year after that and six per cent in the fourth year.”

Once again, though, a pattern persists.

He is not telling the whole story.

An amount of $80 billion, that Labor had pencilled in to projected health and education spending beyond this period, has simply disappeared from this year’s budget papers.

That will have a profound impact in those out years.

There is much more.

Changes the government is proposing to university funding, for example, will make it much harder for young Australians, from poor to middle income families, to get a university education.

In an increasingly competitive world, that must have an impact on national productivity.

Sophisticated voters understand that governments find it difficult, at times, to match their achievements to their promises.

However Mr Abbott did promise a “no surprises” government before the September elections.

And political credibility still matters, particularly at the Prime Ministerial level.

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Thursday 29th May 2014 - 11:41 am
Comments Off on Joe Hockey accuses the ABC of a “try-on”

Joe Hockey accuses the ABC of a “try-on”

by Alan Thornhill

Joe Hockey has accused the ABC of mounting “a try-on” by putting the future of Peppa Pig on line.

The ABC Chairman, Mark Scott, put the cartoon character’s future in doubt, at a Senate Estimates Committee hearing earlier this week.

He linked her chances of Peppa’s survival to cuts the Federal government has ordered in the national broadcasters’ funding.

But in a commercial radio interview today, the Treasurer strongly defended the proposed cut in the ABC’s budget.

A talk show host noted that another senior Liberal, Malcolm Turnbull, had entered the Peppa debate today, with a tweet declaring “Peppa’s is one snout we are happy to have in the ABC trough.”

Mr Hockey was asked if Mr Turnbull would have sought Tony Abbott’s approval before making that remark.

The Treasurer replied: “No, what on Peppa Pig?

“I think it’s a bit of a try-on from the ABC.

“They’ve been asked to take a 1 per cent cut, and they haven’t, you know, the ABC hasn’t had that sort of cut for years.

“Other organisations right across the government have had them.

“ I think they can find a 1 per cent saving to save Peppa Pig.

“I think that’s a bit of a try-on,” Mr Hockey said.

His interview was one of several which both the Treasurer and the Prime Minister gave today, trying to sell the budget, which is proving to be unpopular.

However Mr Abbott insisted, in another radio interview, that it is still “the right thing” for Australia.

Wednesday 14th May 2014 - 7:55 am
Comments Off on Tony Abbott lied over ABC cuts:Labor

Tony Abbott lied over ABC cuts:Labor

by Alan Thornhill

Jason Clare says Tony Abbott broke election promises, when he cut ABC funding by $232 million in last night’s budget and abolished the Australia Network.

The Shadow Minister for Communications recalled that the Prime Minister told SBS, before the elections that there would be: “No cuts to education, no cuts to health, no change to pensions, no change to the GST and no cuts to the ABC or SBS.”

“Now we know that was a lie,” Mr Clare said.

“He has abolished the Australia Network despie the fact that the network reaches up to 167 million households, giving our vital Asian neighbours and the world an insight into Australian life and values,” he added.

Monday 24th March 2014 - 5:11 pm
Comments Off on A global rule book needed to protect investors:ASIC chief

A global rule book needed to protect investors:ASIC chief

by Alan Thornhill

International support for a global rule-book to protect investors against rising cyber crime is growing.

The Chairman of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, Greg Medcraft, spoke of this development, as he opened the commission’s Annual Forum in Sydney today.

“Advances in technology have led to the rise of cyber crime throughout the world,” Mr Medcraft said.

“Cyber crime is a systemic risk.

“And I think it is the next black swan event,” Mr Medcraft warned.

“It is an issue that’s captured the interest of global policy makers, including the G20.”

Mr Medcraft said regulators throughout the world “need to be able to rely on one another.

“To do that we need trust and confidence,” he said.

He said there would be several requirements to achieve this.

These would include “as global rule book, with measures to promote consistent regulation between jurisdictions in financial services markets.”

Co-operative supervision, between regulators would also be necessary, Mr Medcraft said.

Cross border enforcement, too, would be essential.

Tuesday 18th March 2014 - 11:12 am
Comments Off on That super advice wasn’t really free

That super advice wasn’t really free

by Alan Thornhill

Thinking of setting up a self managed superannuation fund?

And need a little help?

Good luck.

But make sure you read all the documents and ask the right questions before you proceed.

One widely advertised service, offering help in this area, has just been penalised over “potentially misleading” statements that it made.

You probably won’t be too surprised that the service provider, SuperHelp Australia Pty Ltd, offered “free help” that wasn’t.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission, which imposed a $10,200 penalty on the company, over its behaviour, has just issued a statement explaining the case.

The corporate watchdog said its concerns arose from an advertisment SuperHelp published in the October 2013 edition of the Australian Financial Review’s Smart Investor magazine.

“The representations were that fund set up was free and that pension fund set up was free, subject to ‘conditions’.

“No conditions were disclosed in the advertisement,” ASIC said.

But clients were required to pay $475 upfront.

That was – half the annual administration fee – to be eligible for ‘free’ fund setup.

“There were also restrictions on the number of members a fund could have and how many investments could be made,” the Commission added.

ASIC said it was also concerned that pension fund setup was not free under any circumstance for investors under 60 years of age.

The Commission’s Deputy Chairman, Peter Kell said, ‘It is crucial that investors are not misled when it comes to the cost of establishing an SMSF.

‘Setting up an SMSF is an extremely important financial decision and consumers have a right to expect that representations made about setup costs reflect the actual costs they will incur’, Mr Kell said.

‘ASIC has a particular focus on misleading claims that a financial product or service is “free”, as this may lead consumers to make inappropriate financial decisions’, Mr Kell said.

However the Commission noted that SuperHelp took steps to correct its advertising in the March edition of the Smart Investor magazine and that it is developing improved processes for the sign-off of advertisements.

Mr Kell said the payment of an infringement notice is not an admission of a contravention of the consumer protection provisions of the Australian Securities and Investment Investment Commission Act 2001

But he said the Commission can issue an infringement notice where it has reasonable grounds to believe a person has contravened certain consumer protection laws.

Tuesday 11th March 2014 - 3:29 pm
Comments Off on PM campaigns on taxes and free TV

PM campaigns on taxes and free TV

by Alan Thornhill

Tony Abbott described the carbon and mining taxes as “anti-West Australian” when he opened the Liberal party’s Senate election campaign in Perth today.

The Prime Minister said he understood the frustration of people in that State at having to vote again, because the Electoral Office found that it has lost 1,370 votes cast in the original election last September, when a recount was called.

“Now, it’s very important – very, very important – that we get rid of anti-Western Australian taxes and the mining tax and the carbon tax are anti-Western Australian taxes,” Mr Abbott said.

“They’re anti-Western Australian taxes.

“And they are only there still because the Labor Party and the Greens, voting together as they always do, have voted to keep them,” the Prime Minister added.

Mr Abbott also told a radio interviewer in Perth that he did not want to see people charged to watch sport on television, which they can now see for free.

The government is considering possible changes to the present restrictions on media ownership laws, under the so-called anti-siphoning provisions.

Mr Abbott said: “The media world has changed a lot over the last couple of decades.

“These days you have broadcasters that effectively provide newspapers online.

“You have newspapers that effectively are broadcasters online.

“So, it is a very, very different world and I can understand why people want to change the regulation.

“We are open to that in a deregulatory direction but anti-siphoning rules are important and the last thing I want to do is see people having to pay for things they have always got for free,” the Prime Minister said.

Thursday 9th January 2014 - 3:34 pm
Comments Off on Shorten tackles PM over “operational silence”

Shorten tackles PM over “operational silence”

by Alan Thornhill

Australians shouldn’t have to read the Jakarta Post to find out what their government is doing to deter asylum seekers, Bill Shorten said today.

The Opposition Leader was speaking to reporters in Melbourne, after the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, declared in a Sydney radio interview that his government would: “ do whatever is necessary, consistent with our international obligations and ordinary decency, to stop the boats.”

“And that’s exactly what we are doing,” Mr Abbott added.

The Prime Minister also defended his government’s silence on operational aspects of this issue, saying: “…the less that we talk about operational details on the water the better when it comes to stopping the boats. ”

There have been complaints from asylum seekers about how they were treated by Australian military personnel.

One said the Navy used force on the asylum seekers.

Reports also suggested that asylum seekers were denied food and falsely told they were being taken to Christmas Island.

They were also said to have been abandoned at sea after a five-day tow back.

The Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, has defended the Australians involved, saying they “acted
professionally.”

However the government has been reluctant to say anything more.

Mr Shorten said that is not good enough.

“The Australian people just need to know when will the Government start telling the truth and stop breaking promises,” he said.

“When will they start telling us about the boats rather than hiding the boats? “Mr Shorten added.

Mr Abbott said Australia’s relationship with Indonesia is strong, and he declared that his government would never do anything which affected Indonesia’s sovereignty.

But he added: “These boats will stop.

“These boats must stop and we will do whatever is necessary, consistent with our international obligations and ordinary decency, to stop the boats

“And that’s exactly what we are doing,” Mr Abbott declared.

Thursday 2nd January 2014 - 11:25 am
Comments Off on Jobs – not Newtart – are “the key to disability pension reform”

Jobs – not Newtart – are “the key to disability pension reform”

by Alan Thornhill

Jobs not Newstart the key to disability pension reform, according to experts in this field.

The following article, prepared by three of them, for the National Times, is reproduced below.

It was written by Dr Cassandra Goldie, CEO Australian Council of Social Service, Ms Maree O’Halloran, Director National Welfare Rights Network and Mr Craig Wallace, President People With Disability Australia.

The Abbott Government’s proposed overhaul of the Disability Support Pension has caused significant anxiety for many who live with a disability and at the worst time of the year.

Once again, media reporting suggests that we have a crisis, with too many people on the payment who should not be there, likely because they are malingerers or worse, fraudsters.

The facts tell a very different truth. There are a number of drivers of the total number of people on the DSP numbers but none have anything to do with people being either bludgers or cheats.

As Government reports confirm, the rise in those accessing the DSP over the last decade is due to a combination of our ageing and increasing population, the rise in the age pension eligibility age for women, improved survival rates following traumatic health conditions, better disclosure of people who have a mental illness, the closing off of other payments such as the widows allowance, and crucially, sadly, a significant reduction in the employment rates of people with disability partly due to structural changes in the labour market.

In the last two years however, we have in fact seen a reduction in the rate of successful new grants of DSP cases due to further tightening of the eligibility criteria. Only those who have had medical confirmation that they are unable to perform a minimum of 15 hours of work per week for at least two years can now be considered. Due in part to these measures there has been a 1.2 percent decline in the number of people accessing the DSP.

As Paralympics gold medallist, Kurt Fearnley laid out in his Australia Day speech earlier this year, unemployed people with a disability live in or near poverty; this is more than double the OECD average of 22 per cent. Australia ranks 21st out of 29 OECD countries in employment participation rates for those with a disability. Worse, we rank 27th out of 27 in terms of the correlation between disability and poverty.

Yet, in flagging this review, Minister for Social Services, Kevin Andrews has failed to rule out moving disability pension recipients across to the inadequate Newstart unemployment allowance. The net result of such a change would see a reduction in income of $155 per week, placing even greater pressure on people who are already facing multiple barriers to getting a job.

The focus of reform should not be on how to move people off the disability pension. Instead, it should be on how to get people into ongoing employment while ensuring those unable to get paid work can lead a decent dignified life with adequate income support. This is our social contract.

Both Government and private enterprise can and should do more to increase employment opportunities for Australians with a disability. In the Australian Public Service for example, employment of people with disabilities has more than halved from 6 percentage points in the early nineties to just 2.9 percent. The latest State of the Service report showed that the public service is losing three times as many people with disabilities as it is hiring, as numbers in the service hit a 20-year low.

The Abbott Government cannot afford to repeat the mistakes made by former Governments of both political persuasions, where welfare reform involved little more than shifting vulnerable people onto lower payments, including people with disability and single parents, while failing to tackle the barriers to improving employment outcomes. This is one of the major reasons why poverty is on the rise.

The Abbott Government should put politics aside and look at expanding the former Government’s disability employment reforms. This includes the adoption of a policy approach that prioritises the long-term economic benefits associated with increasing workforce participation among people with a disability who are able to work over any potential short-term desire to reduce expenditure by shifting vulnerable people on to significantly lower welfare payments.

Rarely in public policy do occasions exist where both the economic and moral imperatives neatly align. This is such an occasion.

People with disabilities desperately want to be independent and to benefit from the dignity of paid work. The country needs more people in the workforce. The big reform we need in disability support is to provide these job opportunities.

The last thing we need is to plunge people further into poverty by cutting their payments.

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Alan Thornhill

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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