Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Catholic sector seals 'Better Schools' deal

This is a cave-in by the Leftist federal government.  They wanted to buy control by tying it to more money.  Rudd is giving the money but not getting control

CATHOLIC educators have agreed to sign the "Better Schools" agreement after Kevin Rudd offered an extra $600 million and undertook to rewrite a key section of the Gonski education changes Julia Gillard rushed through parliament in June.

As the August deadline approached for schools to finalise funding for next year the national Catholic education system, which teaches almost 750,00 school students or 20 per cent of Australia's school population, entered an “ongoing” agreement with Labor for the Gonski school funding reforms.

While accepting the agreement and welcoming the negotiations from the Prime Minister and new Education Minister, Bill Shorten, Catholic systems will continue to negotiate in some states because of different state funding arrangements.

The deal is a boost for the Rudd government's negotiations, which have now led to deals with NSW, Tasmania, South Australia, the ACT and with the independent schools.

It is expected the Liberal government of Victoria may also agree to the federal government's terms, especially after Catholics' concerns about ministerial intervention have been addressed. Negotiations are also continuing with Queensland and the Northern Territory, while Western Australia has yet to sign up.

The Catholic school administrators were highly critical of Ms Gillard's approach and the negotiations of former education minister, Peter Garrett, and the lack of parliamentary debate on the “historic” reforms which Ms Gillard described as a “crusade”.

The opposition has threatened not to honour the Gonski legislation and education deals if a majority of states do not agree.

The key concession to the Catholic education system is that the Catholic administrators will retain autonomy on funding decisions.

It's understood the government has agreed to change the legislation which Ms Gillard insisted be included as law and not just as regulations - either when parliament resumes or after the election.

Mr Rudd this afternoon formally announced the agreement in Melbourne under which Catholic schools would receive an additional $1.6 billion over six years - an increase of $600 million.

“That is a large additional shot in the arm,” he told reporters at Aquinas College in Melbourne.

“Today, because of the work that's been done, we now have almost two-thirds of the kids in Australia benefiting under the Better Schools plan, which will deliver extra funding and extra resources ... in most of the states of Australia,” Mr Rudd said.

“We've still some (states) who we've got to get across the line.”

Mr Rudd said he would meet Victorian Premier Denis Napthine later today.

“Our call is pretty basic: come on board, premier, this is a great plan for Australia,” Mr Rudd said.

Mr Shorten said today's announcement was “unreservedly good news” for students in Catholic schools and their parents.

The new funding model will now cover about 2.5 million of Australia's 3.5 million school students, he said.

Sydney Catholic Schools welcomed the agreement as a “positive outcome”.

“I am pleased that the uncertainty of the past 19 months is now behind us, and that the government has given our Catholic school system assurances of flexibility and autonomy to be able to continue to allocate precious resources where they are most needed and where they will have the greatest impact,” said Dan White, executive director of Sydney Catholic Schools.


Polls have changed, but Labor hasn't

Economist Ross Gittins sinks the boot in below.  He is usually pro-Left

Am I the only person to be amazed by the way - if the polls are to be believed - the swapping of a leader has transformed the Labor government's election prospects from dead in the water to level-pegging?

Is that all it takes? Can the mere replacement of an unpopular woman with a popular man make a world of difference? Does it transform Labor's six-year record in government from disastrous to fair enough?

(Admittedly, Kevin Rudd's reinstatement has been accompanied by a change of faces among senior ministers, but I doubt Labor's miraculous recovery in the polls owes much to that nice Mr Bowen replacing that terrible Mr Swan.)

It's possible Rudd's improvement in the polls won't last but, regardless, we're witnessing a fascinating case study in the power of personality and perception versus policy reality and objectively measured economic performance.

Talk about the triumph of presidential politics. Could the superior TV persona of Rudd count for so much? Does the resurrection of Rudd mean Labor's no longer perceived to have stuffed up the economy? Does the removal of That Woman suddenly throw the spotlight on Tony Abbott's less-than-sparkling TV persona?

(The punters' perceptions of the relative attractiveness of Rudd and Julia Gillard are opposite to those of most of the people who've had personal dealings with the two. And Abbott in the flesh can be charming.)

Until evidence emerges to the contrary, I'm prepared to accept the possibility Rudd is a reformed character. After all, for him to have failed to realise the need for changed behaviour during his years in the political wilderness he would need to be pretty dumb.

And there's precedent for party leaders changing their spots: Bob Menzies (weak in his first stint, masterful in his second) and John Howard (ditto).

What I can't accept is that the restoration of Rudd constitutes any significant change in substance as opposed to packaging; in Labor's policies or its long-established operational strengths and weaknesses.

Has it suddenly acquired the courage of its convictions? Have its ministers gone from being career political apparatchiks to true believers? Has it switched from relying on its spin doctors' chicanery to relying on diligent salesmanship, from its obsession with criticising its opponents to untiring explanation of its policies' merits?

The most obvious demonstration of Rudd's lack of significant policy change is his decision to "abolish" the carbon tax, but replace it with an emissions trading scheme. Really? Abbott is right: whatever you call it, it amounts to a tax (just as his planned "levy" to finance his nanny-subsidising paid parental leave scheme is nothing other than a tax).

Bringing forward the move from a fixed to a floating carbon price by just a year hardly constitutes a radical policy reversal. And even the supposed fall from $24.50 to $6 a tonne in the carbon price may prove smaller than expected if the Europeans act to get their price back to where it's high enough to change behaviour, or even if our dollar falls against the euro.

Rudd's regional resettlement arrangement is unlikely to calm the frenzy over boat people. And it would be surprising if his imminent announcement of a tripartite agreement to put flesh on his seven-point plan to raise productivity proves path-breaking.

Actually, the haste with which he's wheeling out his policy adjustments is reminiscent of Gillard's behaviour after she toppled him: do some quick patch-ups (on carbon, boat people and the mining tax) before rushing to the polls to take advantage of her (as it proved, non-existent) honeymoon with the voters.

And there's another, more worrying parallel with Gillard. She was foolhardy enough to take a Treasury projection of budget surplus many years into the future and elevate it to the status of a solemn promise. When the projection proved astray (as they usually do) she endured several years of searching for real or cosmetic budget savings before being forced to an ignominious admission of failure.

The new Treasurer could have seized the opportunity to step back from the debt-and-deficit trap his predecessor had fallen into, but what did he do? Seized Treasury's latest projection of a return to surplus in more than three years' time (!) and made it a promise. This when the economy has already slowed to less than this year's growth forecast.

If the policy patch-ups keep coming with such haste this week and next, know the announcement of an election date isn't far off. And when you hear the Treasurer is producing an "updated economic and fiscal outlook", know the election announcement is imminent.

The pre-election fiscal and economic outlook documents produced by the econocrats a week or so into the campaign are always immediately preceded by the government's own statement, just so any revisions to the outlook are announced by the pollies, not their bureaucratic servants.


PNG deal may be expanded to other countries

Immigration Minister Tony Burke has revealed the PNG asylum seeker deal could be replicated for other South Pacific countries heavily reliant on Australian aid money.

With the ink hardly dry on the new "Regional Resettlement Agreement" under which PNG will take all sea-borne arrivals and resettle those found to be refugees, Mr Burke said Canberra would expand the arrangement if requested.

"We're not out there actively, you know, selling it to other countries or anything like that," he said.
Manus Island sexual abuse alleged

A former security manager at Manus Island detention centre says Department of Immigration staff turned a blind eye to rapes and assaults, and warns "people will be killed" because detainees are stockpiling weapons.

"From time to time the countries come to us wanting us to assist with different things, particularly countries where we've had a significant foreign-aid history.

"Our starting point is that any nations that would want to be involved in an arrangement like this would have to be signatories to the Refugee Convention."

Among the relatively few options of countries that are both signatories to the Refugee Convention and receive Australian aid are the Philippines and Vanuatu.

The revelation came as the opposition accused Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of deliberate "slipperiness and sneakiness", claiming he had secretly relinquished control of Australia's half-billion-dollar annual aid budget to PNG in exchange for it taking Australia's asylum seekers.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and his foreign affairs spokeswoman, Julie Bishop, claimed the deal had been presented by Mr Rudd as the definitive answer to Australia's asylum-seeker problem but, in reality, was vague and was sealed only at the cost of surrendering value-for-money protections for Australian taxpayers.

The opposition, which separately met PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill last week after the deal was revealed, said it guaranteed none of the things Mr Rudd had claimed, while ceding to PNG discretion on how Australian tax dollars were spent.

"Prime Minister O'Neill has claimed, and certainly believes, that Kevin Rudd has agreed to hand over total control of the entire PNG aid budget from Australia to PNG - absolute and total control to Papua New Guinea," Ms Bishop said in Canberra.  PNG gets $507 million in Australian aid.

Under domestic pressure to justify the agreement, Mr O'Neill said it was a good deal because it would see fewer resettlements than many feared and because it gave the PNG government the power to set all priorities under which Australian aid was disbursed.

Mr Abbott, who has previously branded Mr Rudd the people smugglers' "best friend", denied he was now helping them out himself by spreading doubts about the strength of Australia's resolve to permanently deny all boat arrivals resettlement.

"The deal doesn't say what Mr Rudd said it meant. It does not say that everyone who comes to Australia illegally by boat will go to PNG and it does not say that everyone who goes to PNG will never come to Australia," he said.

"The test of whether Mr Rudd is fair dinkum is clear. Will every single illegal arrival by boat from [last] Friday end up in Manus and will they be sent now? Will they be sent within 24 or 48 hours of arriving in this country?"

Mr Burke slammed Mr Abbott's "test", saying that as a former health minister he would know it took weeks to conduct health checks and administer inoculations, especially for Manus Island.

Meanwhile, Mr Abbott was partially contradicted by his senior frontbencher and predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull, who said it was "in Australia's national interest that this [Regional Resettlement Agreement] work".

"Do I hope it works? Yes, I do," Mr Turnbull told Fairfax Media, "but I have very grave doubts that Labor can manage it."


Tax system at risk: Treasury

A tax levied as a low percentage of turnover would probably have to be individually tailored but would work.  And the discretionary element in tax rulings is already large

It was revealed last year that Google's Australian arm paid just $74,000 in tax in 2011 despite estimates of its revenue from Australian ads reaching $2 billion. Photo: Glen Hunt

The Treasury has admitted it is virtually powerless to stop multinational companies such as Apple and Google dodging tax, saying Australia must focus its efforts on an international crackdown led by the G20 and the OECD.

It warned that many of the risks posed by profit shifting by multinationals were underpinned by "deeply entrenched features of Australia's corporate tax system and policy developments" beyond Australia's borders or control.

While Treasury acknowledged that data limitations made it difficult to quantify the erosion of the corporate tax base, it said the failure of international tax rules to keep pace with changes in global business posed "significant risk" to Australia's tax system.

Treasury's admission of its powerlessness comes despite a strong push by tax advocates for local policies that would force companies to disclose how much tax they paid in Australia - and around the world - in an effort to deter cheats.

It was revealed last year that Google's Australian arm paid just $74,000 in tax in 2011 despite estimates of its revenue from Australian ads reaching $2 billion. This meant a tax rate of .000037 per cent.

In a scoping paper, Treasury said Australia should endorse the OECD's plan to curb profit shifting - moving profit to another country to avoid tax - and work with tax authorities overseas to improve the exchange of information.

But while it committed to expanding the public release of tax statistics to include the international dealings of multinational enterprises, Treasury said its ability to prevent companies shifting profits overseas was limited.

"There are some actions Australia can and has taken unilaterally; these are primarily focused on improvements than can be made without significant divergence from international tax settings," it

said. "But the key focus of Australia's efforts should be working multilaterally through international organisations to modernise international tax rules."

Treasury's scoping paper comes amid a push by cash-strapped governments around the world to claw back tax dollars from multinational companies that use complex ownership structures to avoid paying tax.

In May, Fairfax Media revealed that all but one of Australia's top 20 listed companies had subsidiaries in low-tax or tax-free jurisdictions, including Hong Kong and Singapore. They included Australia's biggest company, the Commonwealth Bank.

And a report by the Uniting Church's justice and international mission unit found that two-thirds of the top 100 listed companies held subsidiaries in "secrecy jurisdictions" that have been targeted by tax authorities for their lax standards.

Mark Zirnsak, director of the justice unit and a member of a Treasury taskforce, said the Australian government could do more to improve transparency in the tax system.

"If Google was required by Australian law to disclose, on a country-by-country basis, what it reports, then you would find out where it had shifted profits," he said. "If company is shifting money off to a tax haven somewhere, this doesn't do anything at all. If you know you are doing something that's dodgy, and it's exposed, then it's going to act as a deterrent."

Finance ministers from G20 economies backed an OECD plan in Moscow at the weekend to close loopholes in the international tax system.


1 comment:

Paul said...

The return of Rudd and the rise in Labor's stocks seems to reflect the triumph of the media in promoting the cult of celebrity and personality over the study of substance. I fear the ill-informed populace now rules our former democracy.