Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Stupid Federal cops cost the taxpayer big

MOHAMED Haneef has reportedly been awarded about $1 million in compensation after he was wrongly detained on terrorism related charges in 2007. Charges against the Indian born doctor were later dropped as prosecutors admitted bungling the case, and an independent inquiry cleared Dr Haneef of any wrongdoing.

Yesterday, Dr Haneef was awarded a substantial but confidential amount of compensation following negotiations with the Federal Government. Now it has been reported by the Times of India that amount could be as much as $1 million.

Kevin Andrews was the immigration minister at the time and last night said he had been advised defamation action against him had been dropped. He added that he'd made no apology, nor had any compensation been paid in relation to the action.

Today, Dr Haneef's lawyer, Rod Hodgson, declined to comment on Indian media reports that the settlement was about $1 million, the ABC reported. Mr Hodgson would only say the settlement was "substantial" and Dr Haneef was "delighted" with the deal.


Another reason to avoid Melbourne trains

Ticket inspectors caught on CCTV assaulting passengers on Melbourne's trains. And the Greenies want subject us all to the risk of this!

ROGUE ticket inspectors have been caught bashing passengers and being given a free rein to use excessive force on Melbourne's trains. CCTV footage shows passengers being thrown to the ground, grabbed by the throat and tackled by gangs of aggressive ticket inspectors who are alleged to have filed false reports claiming they were the victims.

A scathing report by Victorian Ombudsman George Brouwer tabled in Parliament yesterday found that even when the incidents were referred to the Department of Transport no action was taken against the inspectors. "In my view this demonstrates that authorised officers and their managers are clearly not aware of the limitations on their appropriate use of their powers, or are ignoring them," he said.

Among the most serious incidents uncovered in the investigation were:

A PLAIN clothed inspector with a previous criminal history pushed two youths from a moving train on to a platform at Ringwood station in March.

AN INSPECTOR laid a running tackle, forced a commuter on to a seat and possibly grabbed him by the throat after claiming he was spat on at Lilydale station, which was found later to be a lie.

AN OFFICER assaulted a commuter and four other inspectors tried to cover it up, despite CCTV footage showing the passenger being pushed backwards on to a chair and being grabbed by the throat.

As well as a string of aggressive incidents, the ombudsman found ticket inspectors were authorised and re-authorised to issue fines despite having poor records.

One inspector had incurred more than $8000 in traffic fines, while another had an intervention order imposed for violence and two others had been charged with drug possession.

The ombudsman began the investigation after 189 complaints were made by passengers fined over such things as travelling without a ticket. Overall, the Department of Transport issued 171,835 infringements in the 2009-10 financial year, generating $15.6 million in fines.

But the ombudsman found those handing out the fines weren't trained well enough to use discretion when dealing with passengers.

Mr Brouwer also found the Department of Transport was not rigorous or transparent enough when dealing with ticket inspectors' reports, while commuters who complained about their treatment did not even get a response.

Until March this year a single administration officer had to process up to 200,000 infringements a year - meaning they had just 10-15 seconds to decide who received a fine and who did not.

However, there was some good news for fined passengers with half of the almost 30,000 disputed infringements being torn up.


Another stupid "Green" scheme bites the dust

In the latest environmental bungle to plague the Gillard Government, a $130 million program to help households go green was yesterday scrapped before it even started.

The cancellation of the Green Loans program and now its replacement, Green Start, leaves the Federal Government without a major scheme to help Australians tackle rising power costs and climate change in their own homes.

The mishandled policy has also left the Government with a $30 million bill to help the estimated 10,000 green loans assessors who will be left without work from February next year when the existing scheme ends.

But those who never got a job will have to wait up to 12 months to get a refund on their $3000 training costs while contracted assessors will get $2500 to upgrade their skills.

Climate Change Minister Greg Combet yesterday insisted a number of positives had come from the program. "Hundreds of thousands of home sustainability assessments have been conducted and I think have been conducted professionally," he said. "I think that's been of significant benefit to many households and the Government will continue to look for effective value-for-money programs that can assist households achieving improvements."

Mr Combet said any new household abatement assistance would not be considered until the Government decided how to put a price on carbon, a process which will ramp up next year.

He said there were too many risks to go ahead with the Green Start program amid concerns about poor quality data from home assessments already conducted under the Green Loans program.

The loans component of the $175 million scheme was cancelled in July after a damning audit found widespread problems with the scheme including mismanagement and breaches of Government guidelines.


Fired Principal in line to return to school

A difficult school got a capable principal for once -- so the bureaucrats fired her. They should have stood up for her but were too gutless. Amusing that the bureaucrat who fired here has now himself been fired, though. Background here

FORMER Coober Pedy Area School principal Sue Burtenshaw could return to the school she was ousted from if she wins an appeal. But the school will start 2011 with another principal appointed for Term 1 while the matter is resolved. The Education Department cannot appoint a permanent replacement until the appeal is settled.

Yesterday the Supreme Court ruled Ms Burtenshaw could continue with her appeal through the Teachers Appeal Board, after the department sought clarification on whether her challenge could be heard by the board.

Ms Burtenshaw has appealed against the disciplinary decision of former chief executive Chris Robinson, and also the separate decision to transfer her, which was handed down in July.

She was put on "special leave" in January so the department could investigate concerns raised by parents and the community about the principal's alleged unreasonable disciplinary action and abrasive behaviour.

The Education Department will now face the Teachers Appeal Board. "A principal has been appointed (to the area school) for Term 1, and term-by-term appointments of that principal will be made until the outcome of the appeal is known," a department spokeswoman said.

At the time of Ms Burtenshaw's transfer, Mr Robinson - who has since been sacked by Education Minister Jay Weatherill - said it was not disciplinary action but in the best interest of the school community that the principal did not return.


New mining tax proposals

The problem

RESOURCES Minister Martin Ferguson has savaged both the political judgment and the policy integrity of his own Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan in an extraordinary way. Ferguson has signed off on a document, without qualification, that effectively states Gillard and Swan are either incompetent or deceitful or some combination of both.

This conclusion is not denied by the fig leaf which the report from the so-called Policy Transition Group tries to throw over the controversy about state royalties on mining companies and the Federal Government's proposed resources tax (MRRT).

In order to "solve", actually only postpone, one of the three big disasters plaguing the preceding Rudd government, incoming PM Gillard did a deal with the mining industry.

Again, actually, she didn't do the deal with the industry as such but only with the very big end of town: BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Xstrata. The absolutely critical part of the deal was that all state royalties paid by mining companies would be credited against their MRRT liability. If she and Swan had not made that promise, the big three mining companies would not have called off their advertising campaign against the tax and the Gillard-Swan government.

Then, after the election, the Government said that only royalties in place at the time of the announcement of the amended tax would now be credited, plus any future royalties that had been announced at that time but not yet implemented. Gillard and Swan welshed on a specific promise. Further, they have both emphatically denied it was ever made, against the utterly undeniable written commitment they gave.

The Policy Transition Group which Ferguson co-leads with former BHP chairman Don Argus "recommends there be full crediting of all current and future state and territory royalties under the MRRT". The use of the word "recommends" is a fig leaf, to modify the clear repudiation of Gillard and Swan. It's not something new. A more accurate word would have been "endorses".

Further, the Ferguson-Argus report went on to again "recommend" that the federal, state and territory governments put in place "arrangements to ensure that state and territory governments do not have an incentive to increase royalties on coal and iron ore".

This was both further fig leaf over Gillard and Swan's incompetence/deceit and also a shovel to try to dig them out of the hole they've dug for themselves and the Government. For very simply they could have created a big new tax which could end up generating zero or close to zero revenue for Canberra, which of course explains why they welshed.

If they'd stuck to their initial promise, states could just increase their royalties to soak up whatever the MRRT might have raised. Because they are different taxes it wouldn't be exact but the states could certainly get most of the money.

So although Ferguson (and Argus) have thrown Gillard and Swan a couple of fig leafs, they have left them up the creek without much of a paddle. All they can do is to try to persuade the states to promise not to increase royalties, to leave the money for Canberra. But why should the three that matter, Western Australia, Queensland and NSW, do so?

If Anna Bligh in Queensland did, she would turn what is going to be a nasty defeat into a NSW-level obliteration.

This was supposed to be the "easy" one of the three big promises Gillard made before the election. It's now a complete debacle with a really big new tax that will directly hit every Australian coming up behind.


The dubious "solution"

WAYNE Swan plans to force premiers to cap state mining royalties or face financial penalties. This comes after a government-initiated taskforce into its revised mining tax found Labor should honour its peace deal with the industry.

The backdown by the Gillard government, which accepted yesterday that the agreement with mining companies meant all current and future state royalties be credited against their federal tax exposure, came as the Treasurer faced anger from premiers. They are reserving their right to set royalty rates and vowing to fight the commonwealth through the Council of Australian Governments.

As each level of government positioned to defend its taxation rights, the Minerals Council of Australia backed Mr Swan, subject to further consultation on the fine detail of his plan.

The developments came after the committee established to examine the implementation of the mineral resources rent tax - to be levied at 30 per cent on the profits of coal and iron ore producers - yesterday presented a report that resolved the long-running standoff between Canberra and the resources sector over the tax.

When Julia Gillard signed a deal in June with the three big miners - BHP Billion, Rio Tinto and Xstrata - to create the MRRT, she agreed that mining companies would be able to credit all royalties paid to states against their MRRT exposure. After the West Australian government indicated it planned to lift its royalty rates, the Prime Minister and Mr Swan said they would not write blank cheques for states and that only increases announced or scheduled by May 2 would be able to be credited. This created fear in the industry that the government would renege on the agreement.

The policy transition committee, led by Resources Minister Martin Ferguson and former BHP Billiton chairman Don Argus, yesterday made it clear the commonwealth should stick to its deal - a position Mr Swan accepted.

The committee, which consulted widely with the mining industry, said the commonwealth should agree to cover all present and future state royalties and recommended Mr Swan negotiate with states and territories about creating a mechanism to remove incentives for future increases in state royalties.

Although Mr Swan would not comment on how he might address the issue, the commonwealth has not ruled out docking GST payments to any state that lifts royalties in the future. "There's always been issues about whether state government will agree to this or that," he said. "At the end of the day, it gets worked out. I don't intend to endorse or reject every recommendation today but I can say this: there is a lot of common sense in this report. We can't give a green light to the states to increase royalties endlessly."

Mr Ferguson said it would be wrong of any state or territory to increase royalties because this could damage its attractiveness to investors. "In my opinion, we all have to live with it (the committee's report) because it provides the best possible outcome," he said.

"It also sends a message to all of us: no more. From a royalty point of view, it's inefficient. They (the mining industry) are in favour of a profits-based taxation system."

States wasted no time in asserting their rights. Queensland Labor Premier Anna Bligh declared: "We are very clear here in Queensland that constitutionally as a sovereign state in our own right, we reserve the right to set appropriate royalties which are returned to Queenslanders for the minerals that are taken out of our state.

"If that has consequences for federal arrangements, then that's something that would need to be negotiated between the mining companies and the federal government."

West Australian Liberal Premier Colin Barnett said the commonwealth could not withhold GST revenue without the agreement of all states. "Western Australia will not agree to handing over GST revenues to the commonwealth." Mr Barnett said. "My advice to Julia Gillard is: have a nice Christmas, a happy new year, sit down quietly and think about it and realise that this tax proposal is a dog. Just get rid of it."

The Victorian Coalition government's Resources Minister, Michael O'Brien, said he would not allow his state's taxpayers to "fill the federal Labor government's budget black hole", insisting royalties had always been a state right.

The Argus committee, as well as recommending future royalty hikes be covered, also recommended that the point at which the tax applied be almost immediately after the ore was taken out of the ground - before any processing - a partial win for magnetite ore miners.

It also said smaller miners should be gradually exposed to the mineral tax when their profits hit $50m and not feel the full force of it until they reached $100m.

The government welcomed a recommendation to establish an implementation group, comprising industry representatives, taxation experts and officers from the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism, Treasury and the Australian Tax Office.

The panel was also "strongly" of the view that the ATO should be properly resourced to ensure effective implementation of the new tax arrangements.

In May, the commonwealth proposed a 40 per cent resource super-profits tax after a review of taxation by Treasury secretary Ken Henry called for a tax on mining industry profits to give Australians a greater share of the proceeds of the mining boom and help deal with the emergence of a two-speed economy. Proceeds were to be used to fund a reduction in company tax, an increase in superannuation savings and extra spending in infrastructure, particularly in Queensland and WA.

After a vicious industry backlash that contributed to Labor's decision to dump Kevin Rudd, Ms Gillard proposed the MRRT as a compromise. Yesterday, the Argus committee's report backed the concept of a profits tax, describing royalties as inflexible and unable to capture "the economic rents" during a boom.

"Through the implementation of the MRRT, Australia has the opportunity to substantially improve the overall outcome for the taxation of coal and iron ore in this country," it said. "It provides a way to meet the needs of the states and territories and capture more of the profits and the peak of the resources cycle in a way royalties alone cannot, for the benefit of all Australians."

Opposition resources spokesman Ian Macfarlane said Labor had mishandled the tax and the report covered much of the "basic design and consultation work that should have been done months ago". "Almost six months after Julia Gillard's pre-election quick fix, the impasse continues and the government's only solution seems be veiled threats of blackmail to prevent states from increasing royalties."


No comments: