Sunday, August 31, 2014

HSU's Jackson lashes out at Bill Shorten and Stephen Conroy as 'vultures'

Health Services Union whistleblower Kathy Jackson has accused Labor Party leader Bill Shorten and his allies of being in a "corrupt little gang" and of circling unions like vultures to further their own political power.

She has also called on Prime Minister Tony Abbott to put the HSU into administration and accused the union of putting her through "judicial gang rape".

Speaking outside the royal commission into trade union corruption on Friday, Ms Jackson, who is on sick leave as national HSU secretary, accused Mr Shorten of being part of a "corrupt little gang" that put the troubled HSU into administration in 2012 for "their own political ends".  "It was about protecting their power base," she said.

"This is a minister of the Crown abusing federal crown resources about putting this union into administration to advance his own political needs. "

Ms Jackson, who has been questioned in the commission about alleged misuse of a union slush fund, said the fund had been necessary to protect members from being taken over by the Labor Party's right-wing faction. She denied allegations she used the fund to pay for a divorce settlement with her former husband Jeff Jackson, or used it inappropriately for travel to Hong Kong and the US.

Ms Jackson said Mr Shorten and his ally from the ALP right, Senator Stephen Conroy, were circling unions like sharks to get more votes at ALP state conference.

"Slush funds, I agree, are abhorrent. But to play the game and to be an effective union leader, to be left alone by those vultures, namely Shorten and Conroy from the right, you need to be able to fight back and protect your patch from these people," she said. "They are cashed up, so you need to have these funds to make sure that these vultures that are circling these unions to take them over aren't able to do that."

Ms Jackson said she has written to Mr Abbott, who has previously described her as a "hero", asking him to put the HSU back into administration.

Ms Jackson side-tracked the commission for more than an hour on Thursday after she asked for barrister Mark Irving to be stopped from cross-examining her because she had had sex with him 21 years ago.

On Friday she said: "Forget the former lover stuff. Everybody makes mistakes and has a charity shag along the way. I just could not believe he had the audacity to sit there and want to cross-examine me."

Ms Jackson said Mr Irving was not "your normal ... barrister" and was part of a vendetta to bring her down.  "Mr Irving is a combatant in this. Mr Irving has skin in the game," she said.

Mr Shorten declined to respond to Ms Jackson's claims, saying he will not provide a running commentary, but said the royal commission was being used to settle scores.  "It will be up to the royal commission to sort out, amongst the evidence, what is right and what's wrong," he said.

Ms Jackson said the HSU had subjected her to "judicial gang rape".

"They've got lawyers, guns and money. You should ask them how many hundreds of thousands of dollars have they spent on getting Kathy Jackson," she said.

Asked whether, if she had her time again, she would have blown the whistle on former HSU boss Michael Williamson's corruption, she said: "I don't think so. Why would you go through this?"

Acting Health Services Union secretary Chris Brown said Ms Jackson should be credited for reporting Mr Williamson's corruption to police. "But that doesn't excuse her having done the same sorts of things as what Michael Williamson has. That is: misused members money for her own personal benefit and her own personal gain," he said.


Choice ridicules government's piracy crackdown

Consumer advocacy group Choice has stepped up its campaign against the Abbott government's proposed anti-piracy measures with a crowdfunded advertising campaign aimed at politicians.

The 30-second satirical TV advertisement depicts a fake "Minister for the Internet" who unveils a decidedly useless-looking "internet filter" as the government's "foolproof" solution to online copyright infringement.

"The increased price we'll all pay for the internet will be worth it for this 100-per-cent effective solution," the fake minister says.

The government last month released its Online Copyright Infringement discussion paper outlining three proposals that would see internet providers such as Telstra and Optus take a leading role in policing copyright infringement.

While not describing a government-run internet filter, the proposals would require providers to take "reasonable steps" to monitor and prevent copyright infringement by users. This could include blocking access to websites that contain infringing content.

The proposals also include extending authorisation liability, a policy that would effectively reverse the High Court's 2012 ruling that service provider iiNet was not liable for copyright infringement on behalf of its users.

The government is also considering allowing copyright owners such as movie and recording studios to take legal action against providers to force them to terminate offending individuals' internet connections.

Choice campaign manager Erin Turner said the government's course of action against online copyright infringement was "ineffective" and "high cost for low result".

"Anyone with access to basic technology or the ability to Google how to get around an internet filter is going to be easily able to circumvent these measures," Ms Turner said.

Internet providers - which have also opposed the proposals - were likely to pass the costs of compliance on to consumers, she said.

Rather than targeting consumers with its campaign, however, Choice will air its advertisement on WIN television in Canberra during a parliamentary sitting week in a bid to capture the attention of policymakers.

It will also deliver the $11,000 campaign nationally via YouTube.

Ms Turner said the key message to parliamentarians was that the government must "work smart, not hard, to stop online piracy".

"There's no independent evidence that the government's proposal will work," she said.

Instead, she said online piracy should be treated as a competition issue. She added the root causes of piracy in Australia - high prices and poor availability of overseas content - must be addressed.

"What we are looking for is affordable content, opening up access to international content markets," she said.

"We don't expect this will stamp out piracy 100 per cent - there will still be people who will illegally download no matter what - but if you want to fix the bulk of the problem in Australia then the best starting point is looking at this as a market and trying to find a market-based solution."

A parliamentary inquiry last year found Australians pay up to twice as much as overseas buyers for IT goods and services.

Digital rights advocacy group Electronic Frontiers Australia is urging the public to make submissions before the consultation period closes on Monday.

EFA executive director Jon Lawrence said the plan to extend authorisation liability was a "blunt instrument" that could also implicate providers of public Wi-Fi such as libraries, universities and cafes.

The provision for copyright owners to make court injunctions to block offshore websites was "entirely futile", he said.

"The Pirate Bay is the most blocked website in the world and they have no trouble doubling their traffic year-on-year."

Mr Lawrence said internet access was a basic right and the EFA opposed a policy of disconnecting repeat offenders for what is essentially a civil issue.

Both Ms Turner and Mr Lawrence said copyright holders had a legitimate right to protect their content, but that consumers had shown they were willing to pay for content at a fair price.

This was evident in the growing instance of consumers using virtual private networks to circumvent geoblocking and access US movie streaming service Netflix, which is not yet available in Australia, Mr Lawrence said.

The rate of piracy in the United States was shrinking alongside the rise of Netflix, he said. A Netflix subscription costs $US8.99 ($9.60) a month.

Choice has made six recommendations to the government in its submission, including monitoring the pricing of electronic products, removing import restrictions, and reforming legislation around geoblocking.

It also flagged "serious concerns" that internet providers would be encouraged to terminate customer accounts "on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations made by content owners", with "little to no safeguards in place to protect" customers.

It also raised concerns around a proposal that would give the government "carte blanche" to prescribe a scheme of its choosing if no effective agreement was reached by industry. The group called for further independent research to properly quantify the costs and benefits of any policy proposals on the matter.

A parliamentary inquiry last year found Australians pay up to twice as much as overseas buyers for IT goods and services.


Federal cops discredited

The Australian Federal Police should not be let "anywhere near" an investigation of fresh evidence casting renewed suspicion on the Calabrian Mafia for the assassination of Colin Winchester, according to a retired judge with extensive knowledge of the case.

The AFP was last week subjected to a blistering criticism for its failure to seriously and impartially investigate secret new information potentially linking the 'Ndrangheta to the 1989 killing of the assistant federal police commissioner outside his Deakin home.

John Dee, QC, retired Victorian judge and counsel assisting to the original inquest into Mr Winchester's death, believes an independent taskforce needs to be set up to properly look at the fresh evidence, utilising Victoria Police, a force with past intelligence involvement in the case.

A senior Victoria Police source  said the creation of such a joint organised crime taskforce was feasible, albeit under an AFP lead, and said his state's detectives were skilled and well placed for such a job. "It can be done," he said.

Mr Winchester was said to have double-crossed members of the organised crime group, who believed the assistant commissioner had been paid off to guarantee protection over drug crops near Bungendore.

But 11 Mafia members, known as the "Bungendore 11", were later charged over the crops following a mission codenamed Operation Seville, which Mr Winchester had worked on in the early 1980s.

Links between the group and Mr Winchester's murder were only ever speculative, and extensive investigations failed to identify any individual suspect.

But the inquiry into David Eastman's conviction for Mr Winchester's murder this year unearthed new, untested claims that appear to have taken the Mafia theory further.

The evidence is highly sensitive and was heard in secretive and restricted hearings before inquiry head Acting Justice Brian Martin earlier this year.

Yet internal AFP documents showed the agency was reluctant to investigate the new claims.

They reveal the AFP had a policy of not looking at areas already investigated by Operation Peat, the original team on the Winchester murder.

They also reveal the AFP believed such an investigation would be an "unnecessary diversion" from the factual issues surrounding Eastman's conviction, and that public disclosure of the new evidence could result in public criticism of the agency.

Mr Dee said he believes the AFP are not the right agency to be investigating the 'Ndrangheta theory.

"I wouldn't allow anybody from the AFP to get anywhere near it, except on a peripheral basis," he said.

"I would think it'd be good to have a separate taskforce from [Victoria Police] to have a look at it, because they're well in touch with what's going on up there, and they're very experienced at what they do."

Eastman's long-term campaigner and former lawyer Terry O'Donnell also said the new claims need to be properly investigated, and supported a call for Victoria Police to look at the matter, given their background with the case.

Mr Dee, years before Eastman's trial, warned the AFP about their use of Victorian forensic expert Robert Collins Barnes.

He had worked with Mr Barnes on the trial for the infamous Russell Street bombing of the Victorian police headquarters in 1986, and believed Mr Barnes had not been independent and was trying to be the "star of the show".

It is now known that his warnings were accurate. Mr Barnes was found to be biased and his work deeply flawed in the report of the inquiry into Eastman's conviction.


Tasmanian conservatives' Forestry Bill passes first vote in Legislative Council

THE Liberals are on the verge of achieving their dream of ripping up the Tasmanian Forest Agreement, with the Forestry Bill passing an initial vote in the Legislative Council.

The Bill – passed by 9 votes to 5 – has now reached committee stage, with MLCs currently debating a list of amendments that were introduced last week.

The MLCs who voted against the Bill at its second reading were independents Kerry Finch, Ruth Forrest, Rob Valentine, Mike Gaffney and Labor MLC Craig Farrell.

In favour of the Bill were Liberals Vanessa Goodwin and Leonie Hiscutt and Independents Adriana Taylor, Tania Rattray, Rosemary Armitage, Robert Armstrong, Ivan Dean, Greg Hall and Tony Mulder.

In State Parliament this morning Resources Minister Paul Harriss said the Bill represented a turning point for Tasmania.

“For the first time it seeks to remove reserves from the clutches of the Green locksmiths,” Mr Harriss said.

Central to the Bill is the removal of 400,000ha of native forest from reserves created under the TFA.

Also in State Parliament this morning, Treasurer Peter Gutwein confirmed he had signed a “letter of comfort” assuring the Government could cover Forestry Tasmania’s debts.

The Greens have asked repeated questions in the House of Assembly on whether the Liberals were continuing to prop up the finances of Forestry Tasmania after removing the taxpayer subsidy FT received under the TFA.

Mr Gutwein said a letter of comfort was not unusual and that one had been supplied by the previous government.


Report  shows the NBN is worth doing

The Vertigan report on cost-benefit equations for various broadband rollout options gives Labor's aborted fibre to the home project the dunce's cap. It reaches that conclusion after making assumptions about the future, however, and that's a fraught exercise.

Vertigan says that if government does nothing and the private sector rolls out broadband in high population density areas where it sees the strongest demand and the best revenue and earnings potential, the net benefit will be biggest, at $24 billion.

It says the Coalition's plan to roll out a "multi-technology" hybrid network that matches population densities with fibre to the premises, fibre to the neighbourhood node, wireless connections and satellite coverage produces a benefit of $18 billion. The benefit is lower than the one an unsubsidised rollout generates because the Coalition will still directly connect 1.5 million premises to broadband fibre, and extend to areas outside the cities that cost more to connect and generate less user activity.

The fibre to the premises rollout that Labor began and the Coalition killed off after it took power would also have delivered a benefit, Vertigan concludes, but a much lower one, only $2 billion. The report says this reflects the cost of rolling much more fibre, and a more extended construction phase and revenue ramp-up.

My first conclusion is that Malcolm Turnbull was right to argue patiently inside the Coalition when it was in opposition that while Labor's gold plated network should be scrapped, the concept of a national network should be retained.

Its hybrid rollout will create $6 billion less value between 2015 and 2040 than an unsubsidised, undirected private sector rollout would on Vertigan's calculation, but it will deliver a national network instead of an urban one.

Passing up a gain of $6 billion or $240 million a year between now and 2040 to achieve that outcome is politically acceptable, even if Labor had not signed watertight contracts with Telstra for its fibre to the home rollout. That locked in value for Telstra that will be preserved in the Coalition's modified project, and would spark multi-billion dollar claims for compensation if it were not.

As for whether the report conclusively condemns Labor's fibre to the home project, it is trite to say so, but only time will tell.

The report is lengthy and thorough, but it pivots on estimates of future demand for broadband capacity that are rooted in our understanding of what Broadband is today.

It says for example that video downloading and streaming is going to a key driver of broadband capacity demand in future. That's an obvious trend: the more interesting questions are how obvious it would have been 10 years  ago, or 20 years ago, and what technologies and applications will be new demand in 10 or 20 years.

We can speculate, but we can't know: or as Sydney University associate professor and digital technology commentator Kai Riemer put it yesterday, we can make a reasonable fist of extrapolating the cost of building a new broadband network, but "the benefits it will unlock are fundamentally unknowable and unpredictable."

It cuts both ways, of course. The same unpredictability makes it impossible to assert that a fibre to the home rollout would have made a better fist of "future-proofing" Australia against communications technology developments.

Fibre still offers the best upload speeds, and unlike wireless it doesn't slow down as the number of users rises. For long haul, it appears to be unassailable. Wireless is increasingly competitive over shorter distances, however, and as the Vertigan report also points out, the lower cost, less ambitious hybrid network is less of an all-or nothing technological bet than the network Labor was building.


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