Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Aboriginal irresponsibility again

Par for the course when they are given money

Directors of a defunct Western Australian indigenous corporation have not been charged with any offences despite an investigation uncovering 40 suspect transactions involving hundreds of thousands of dollars and 64 missing cars.

A Fairfax Media investigation has found the Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations amassed evidence suggesting criminal and civil offences during a two-year probe into former directors and executives of the organisation.

But it chose not to refer material to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions for review after it deemed the evidence might not be sufficient to secure convictions.

Several of those directors who were under investigation now lead the board of the Western Australia's Western Desert Lands Aboriginal Corporation and control the proceeds of its multimillion-dollar mining deals, which include a contentious agreement brokered by a company part-owned by Prime Minister Tony Abbott's top indigenous adviser, Warren Mundine.

Fairfax Media revealed on Saturday how a company part-owned by Mr Mundine was used by listed miner Reward Minerals to change the Western Desert corporation's stance on not allowing mining on a Pilbara sacred site called Lake Disappointment.

A senior Western Desert corporation executive held a secret stake in the negotiating company part-owned by Mr Mundine and lawyers for the corporation described the Reward deal as having "no validy" and mired by potential conflicts of interest.

Federal opposition indigenous affairs spokesman Shane Neumann said Mr Mundine had questions to answer about his business relationships and corporate activities. "There are issues of good governance here to be explored. Mr Mundine is a very public figure and has enormous access to government," Mr Neumann said.

Greens indigenous affairs spokeswoman Rachel Siewert said the revelations were "extremely concerning". "If this is as bad as it looks, it's an example of how Aboriginal organisations are being manipulated and profits ripped off when it's fundamental for their economic development."

Fairfax Media as obtained an email written in 2011 by a senior ORIC investigator showing 40 suspect transactions involving hundreds of thousands of dollars withdrawn by former directors and executives of the defunct Western Desert Puntukurnuparna Aboriginal Corporation had been identified.

The investigator wrote that the transactions would "likely be included in a brief of evidence … so that criminal/civil prosecutions can be considered and commenced accordingly". A separate investigation could only find five of the 69 cars registered to the organisation.

But ORIC eventually decided not to press for charges and instead the organisation was liquidated last year by the tax office. The decision staggered the organisation's former chief executive, Bruce Hill, who asked ORIC to investigate in 2010.

"Bottom line is innocent members have been asset stripped and the guilty not held to account," Mr Hill said.

Those probed by ORIC include the chairman of the Western Desert land corporation’s board, Brian Samson, deputy chair Teddy Biljabu and director Bruce Booth.

Evidence obtained by ORIC during its probe included cheque butts and bank statements showing directors and executives at the defunct body withdrew huge sums without approval and purchased cars without approval.

In his February report, Pitcher Partners liquidator Bryan Hughes stated that the defunct organisation's records were either missing or incomplete. Its former directors have refused to send Mr Hughes their records.

"I consider that poor financial control and poor strategic management were also likely factors, which contributed to the corporation's failure," he wrote.

Mr Hughes also identified a $409,640 transaction "which I consider may constitute a transaction voidable by a liquidator". It is possible the transaction involved "unreasonable director related transactions".

Directors of the defunct organisation used their influence at the Western Desert corporation to convince the Martu people to transfer $730,000 to help fund a bail out.

In a statement, ORIC said its investigation into the defunct organisation was the most extensive it had conducted. But a review of the evidence deemed it insufficient to refer to Commonwealth prosecutors.

"The decision was not a judgment that certain events had not occurred," ORIC's statement said.

Mr Mundine, who has declined to answer questions from Fairfax Media, recently criticised ORIC for its "kid glove" approach to regulating indigenous corporations, saying people had gotten away with "blue murder".


RAAF leads way as first breastfeeding-friendly military workplace

A growing number of employers are becoming breastfeeding-friendly workplaces with the Royal Australian Air Force becoming the latest organisation to become accredited.

The Australian Breastfeeding Association accreditation makes the RAAF the first military organisation in the world to become a breastfeeding-friendly workplace.

Wing Commander Kelley Stewart, who worked with the association to design and implement the breastfeeding policy, said she was immensely proud to get the final stamp of approval after a three-year process.

She said there was widespread support for the policy in the RAAF, which has about 4000 female staff, comprising almost one-fifth of the workforce.

“People have been very supportive because beforehand there was a policy vacuum,’’ she said. “It was left to supervisors to make a judgment call.”

A mother of three children aged between nine and 13, Wing Commander Stewart started looking at breastfeeding rates in the military as part of a research project in 2008.

She was shocked to hear that some military women had been told they weren’t entitled to breastfeed and had to wean before they returned to work.

Her own experience with the RAAF was positive and she continued to breastfeed when back at work, nursing her then baby daughter the morning she was deployed to the Middle East.

Wing Commander Stewart, who is now a reservist, having swapped the RAAF for a new career as a midwife, was approached to write the organisation’s breastfeeding policy in 2011.

She said there was mutual benefit in the approach which received formal ABA accreditation in May.

“Breastfeeding is such a short time in the scheme of things and it really does make a big difference in retaining and attracting women we need to meet our future capabilities,’’ she said.

“Women who can breastfeed or express at work take less carer’s leave because their babies are less likely to get sick and they are more likely to stay with their employer.”

Under equal opportunity laws introduced in 2011, it is illegal to discriminate against breastfeeding women.

Vice President of the Australian Breastfeeding Association, Susan Day, agreed there was a good business case for promoting breastfeeding in the workplace.

“It makes business sense at the bottom line,” she said.

“It’s much better for an employer to invest in family friendly practices and retain valuable employees.’’

About 125 organisations have been accredited, including banks, universities and hospitals, and another 40 are currently being processed.

To become accredited, companies need to have a policy in place which includes flexibility for lactation breaks and a dedicated private space to breastfeed or express.


Improving housing affordability begins at home

 Australia's capital house prices rose 10% last financial year, with an even stronger rise of 15% in Sydney. While seemingly a dramatic increase, it is important to look through the short-run variability in house prices to longer-run trends.

On an inflation and quality-adjusted basis, house prices in Australia have increased by around 2-3% per annum since 1970. This is enough to yield a doubling in real house prices every 30 years or so, underpinning a long-term decline in housing affordability and the homeownership rate.

Far from being an asset price 'bubble,' this increase in real house prices is well explained by economic fundamentals. A major influence has been the decline in global real interest rates since the early 1980s. Australia's real mortgage interest rates have also declined, from around 10% in 1990 to around 3% today. This long-term decline has boosted asset values and, together with increased competition in housing finance, the borrowing capacity of households.

Unless global real interest rates rise significantly in the future, the gains in house prices associated with this long-term decline in real interest rates are unlikely to be unwound. Income and population growth are the other main drivers of housing demand. While these growth rates are subject to considerably short-run variability, they represent permanent changes to the overall level of demand.

Demand suppression policies are thus unlikely to improve long-run housing affordability. The central bank has little influence over real interest rates in the long-run. Tightening accessibility to housing finance might be justified on financial stability grounds, but won't change the overall demand and supply balance in housing markets when only 37% of Australian households are owner-occupiers with a mortgage. Suppressing income and population growth or immigration in the name of housing affordability would be a perverse public policy response.

An unfortunate and increasingly common response to rising house prices has been to scapegoat some buyers, such as domestic and foreign investors. But they are no more responsible for rising house prices than the typical first homebuyer.

The problem is not too much demand, but too little supply to prevent upward pressure on house prices.

In most markets, rising prices would induce new supply, containing or even lowering prices in the long-run. Unfortunately, the supply of new land and new homes in Australia is largely determined by regulation, preventing housing supply from responding quickly enough to rising prices.


Youth woes are structural

Alexander Philipatos

Much has been made of lacklustre employment levels for our youth. Last month, for example, then Telstra chairwoman Catherine Livingstone labelled youth unemployment levels (currently 13%) 'a tragedy.'

A particularly alarming graph comparing employment growth among 15 to 24 year-olds to the broader labour force shows that employment growth was similar for both young and old during the mid-2000s, but changed after the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). Since 2008, youth employment has contracted 7% while growing almost 10% over the rest of the labour force.

While these trends are concerning, the graph is misleading.

Employment among youths departed from that of the rest of the labour force as early as the 1980s, and the gap has grown wider over the following decades. The mining boom of the 2000s is the exception, where youth employment grew lock-step with the rest of the labour force.

In a way, the mining boom has helped to mask some of the underlying problems affecting young workers, problems that predate the GFC.

There are cyclical as well as structural problems.

Some cyclical unemployment is expected, particularly among young workers. Employment growth among youths should rise and fall along with the adult workforce, however young workers are often harder hit during recessions and slower to recover when the economy bounces back. Economic growth has been soft since the GFC, and this has not helped our youth.

But there are also structural factors at play, and now that economic growth has slowed, these issues are becoming more pronounced.

Among these structural changes are the effects of mechanisation and information technology. These advances have made substantial improvements to living standards while eliminating many low-skilled, labour intensive jobs on which many young workers relied.

The contraction of the manufacturing sector (relative to other areas of the economy) since the 1980s has also meant that aside from the services sector (in particular retail trade and hospitality), there are simply fewer entry level jobs to go around.

The structural problems affecting our youth have become more important, and will only continue as technological advances make more jobs obsolete. However, as the 2000s demonstrated, young people are best placed to find good jobs when the economy is growing strongly.


1 comment:

Paul said...

Aboriginal irresponsibility again

All I can do is throw my head back and laugh. What did they expect giving first world responsibilities to third world people? I'm sure we all KAGO (Know A Good One) but in the end, just what did they expect.