Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews backs family impact statements

Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews has backed a British government move to ensure all its policies support stable family life, even joking that its Work and Pensions Secretary got the idea from him.

David Cameron's conservative government has recently introduced a "families test" to make sure all new laws and policies support "strong and stable" families.

This involves five questions that must be addressed before ministers can agree on a new policy. It includes the impact on family formation, families going through "transitions" such as having a baby, getting married and bereavement as well as before, during and after a divorce.

Mr Andrews told Fairfax Media the British families test was a "useful tool" to focus attention on issues, adding he had been thinking about something similar for "some time".

In his 2012 book Maybe 'I do', Mr Andrews described a family impact statement for all legislative proposals as "desirable" but said it needed to be assessed by a body independent from the policymaker to be effective. In the book, Mr Andrews also suggested the test ask questions around the enhancement of stable marriage, the ability of parents to have children, good parenting skills and parental involvement with children after a separation.

"I'm not going to claim that [UK Work and Pensions Secretary] Iain Duncan Smith pinched my idea ... but there are some similarities," he said.

The Social Services Minister has been pushing for a greater emphasis on early intervention and prevention measures to address social problems, which would include looking at ways to make sure Australians adapt smoothly to significant "life points".

He is a long-time advocate of marriage and keeping families "intact".

Mr Andrews said he had not yet spoken to his Abbott government colleagues about a families test for Australia and said that if he were to go ahead with the idea, he would begin with his own Department of Social Services.

"If we used it in my portfolio area and it proved to be useful and resilient, then obviously we could look at how we could apply it more broadly," he said. 

Mr Andrews said it was a "bit cheeky" to suggest that Mr Duncan Smith had borrowed his idea about the families test, but noted that the Work and Pensions Secretary – who is thanked in the introduction of Maybe 'I do' – had read his book.

The Social Services Minister said he hoped to travel to Britain next year to see how the families test was working as well as the country's bid to streamline the number of welfare payments.

During the Rudd government, a family impact statement was made mandatory for all cabinet submissions, but its focus was on financial impact and access to government services.


Abbott adviser Mark Textor warns on tax

One of Tony Abbott's most trusted advisers, Mark Textor, has slammed technology giants such as Apple and Google for dodging tax on online content, while local television stations pay hefty fees.

"Why are people taxing Channel Nine but not Google?" he said in an exclusive interview with Fairfax Media ahead of the G20 summit in Brisbane this week.

"The TV industry is being asked to pay licence fees and taxes while there's a seismic shift to online content. The poor old TV stations that employ local people, and have to produce local content, are paying taxes, while Google, Apple and others provide content that doesn't necessarily line up to moral obligations or tax obligations."

Mr Textor is managing director of consulting firm Crosby Textor, which does lobbying work on behalf of peak body Free TV Australia.

He has built his career on political campaigns and analysing polling trends, said governments needed to work harder to find a solution to tax dodging.

"We are entering the period of tax wars instead of trade wars," he said. "People vote in governments to solve the problem, and giant multinationals not paying tax is a problem."

On the wider issue of GST reform, Mr Textor criticised business for failing to help the government sell the case for change. He said voters would never agree to a rise in the goods and services tax without a corresponding cut in personal tax rates and greater spending on health and education.

"One of the problems that business coalition groups have is they talk about rewards for themselves without talking about the benefit for consumers; ordinary voters," he said. "Voters are like investors, they will only take political risk if there's appropriate reciprocal rewards."

The Abbott government has been criticised for failing to sell changes contained in the federal budget, including extending the pension age.

Mr Textor, who was behind Mr Abbott's 2010 campaign slogan: "We will stop the boats, stop the big new taxes, end the waste, and pay back the debt", said the lesson from the budget was: "your message must be very clear and not compromised."

"When Abbott talked about stopping the boats, it was a very clear objective; unambiguous. And so it worked."

On local tax reform there was "absolutely no public or political pressure for reform".

"Business groups are in a far far worse position than they were in the '80s and '90s. They are fragmented and have become like bureaucrats. There's no pressure for anyone to change."

He said by raising the GST but instead funding tax cuts and better services the budget would remain neutral.

His comments came as ANZ chief Mike Smith told a B20 meeting that the issue of tax paid by multinationals needed to be addressed, but would always cause governments some degree of difficulty.

"You have got to pay tax somewhere, and as long as it is fair and equitable to those countries in which you operate, everybody is generally happy. But there is always going to be some contention," he said.

He said ensuring tax was paid where income was earned was a central issue for G20 governments to nail down. "Do [international tax laws] need adjustment to more accurately conform to the 21st century business model? You would probably say yes to that," he said.

Aside from making multinationals pay more tax, other issues to be tackled at the G20 Brisbane summit will be strategies to boost global growth and crack down on corruption.

As the chairman of the group representing the community's interest at the G20 summit, the C20, Reverend Tim Costello called on leaders to tackle global inequality and poverty by ensuring companies paid a fair share of tax.
He said the OECD move to establish a system of country-by-country reporting, whereby business reports to tax authorities detailed information about how much tax they pay and where, needed to be made public. Business has resisted moves to make the information public, saying their commercial confidence would be breached.

Even the head of tax for the OECD, Pascal Saint-Amans, has warned against it, saying it was  too complex and could create distortions.

But Mr Costello said: "There's no alternative but transparency.Yes there will be messiness and maybe arbitrary pain, but it's the only route we've got because it's a digitised economy."

He said companies would also have their reputation ruined if they did not come clean about the taxes paid. At the same time pressure on governments such as the US and Ireland was increasing to fix the problem.

"The US can't hold out forever against reform," he said. "The global movement on this isn't going to stop. Inequality facilitated by tax dodging is one of the No.1 issues the world is facing; in short it's theft."

Mr Costello has also been pushing for G20 leaders to ensure this weekend's summit communique contains the words "inclusive growth".

"The Australian government has tried to crawl away from the word inclusive," he said. "You must not have growth which flows to the top 5 per cent and ignores the bottom 20 per cent."


More "proof" that cooling proves warming

A fantasy by some Australian authors

GLOBAL warming could be making parts of the world colder. Yes, you read that right. Here’s why this is not a crazy thing to say.

There’s a strong outbreak of cold weather across parts of the United States this week. It’s similar in some ways to last year’s so-called polar vortex — that conveyor belt of frigid Arctic air which parked itself on top of large parts of the United States, bringing bitter cold for days.

This week’s cold outbreak is much weaker, but it’s again making people question the widely accepted narrative of global warming.

The sceptic’s logic train is understandable: if it’s so damn cold, how can the world be warming?

Time magazine did a fair job of explaining all that earlier this year. We paraphrase a little here, but here’s how their theory works in regards to the polar vortex:

1. Sea ice is vanishing from the Arctic, which leaves behind dark open ocean water.

2. That water absorbs more of the heat from the sun than reflective ice.

3. Relatively warmer water is the main reason the Arctic is warming much faster than the rest of the planet.

4. As the temperature difference between the polar north and more temperate latitudes diminishes, a band of high-level strong winds called the “jet stream” weakens.

5. For want of a more technical description, the jet stream kind of holds all the weather systems in place. Most of the time it keeps the cold stuff north and the warm stuff south.

6. But a weakened jet stream can develop what Time calls “kinks”. Time reported that an unusually large kink in the jet stream was what allowed all that Arctic air to flow much further south than normal during the polar vortex.

Statistics show that most people tune out about halfway through most stories, so we thoug

Statistics show that most people tune out about halfway through most stories, so we thought this penguin might encourage you to struggle all the way through. Source: Supplied

So there’s your theory. It’s extremely cold a little more often as an indirect result of the world getting warmer. Or as Dan Pydynowski, senior meteorologist for AccuWeather told USA Today. “It’s a similar pattern. The jet stream buckles and releases Arctic air from its circulation over the North Pole. Here comes that cold air.”

Closer to home, there’s another example of how warming can produce seemingly contradictory effects. Warmer temperatures are not only causing more snowfall in Antarctica, scientists believe, but could also be producing more sea ice.

The basic theory is that melting water from glaciers is slightly colder than the seawater into which it flows. That means the ocean around the continent is more likely to freeze.

The bottom line here is that a few cold outbreaks in the USA, no matter how severe, don’t mean the world isn’t warming.

The world definitely is warming, according to just about every reputable science body, including our own Bureau of Meteorology, which says Australia’s climate has warmed by 0.9°C since 1910, with more extreme heat and fewer cool extremes.


Goss plaudits obnoxious and parochial says Barnaby Joyce

BARNABY Joyce has criticised as “obnoxious” accounts of Wayne Goss’s impact on Queensland, saying Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen should also be “celebrated” as an “exemplary leader”.

Mr Goss, the reforming Queensland premier who died yesterday, aged 63, has been credited as dragging his state “into the sunlight after 32 years in darkness” under corrupt National Party rule.

Mr Goss implemented the recommendations of Tony Fitzgerald’s landmark corruption inquiry, the findings of which resulted in the jailing of four ministers and the state’s police chief.

Mr Joyce, a former Queensland Nationals senator, acknowledged Mr Goss was “a great man” who did “a great job” as premier.

“But this idea that he took the hick out of Queensland and somehow Queenslanders were the diminutive people and then all of a sudden they had an epiphany, I find slightly obnoxious,” the Agriculture Minister told ABC Radio.

“Wayne Goss did an extremely good job as a politician, certainly he brought a change of direction, but the calibre of people was the same before and after he was there — there was no remarkable change, no seismic shift, no the scales falling off people’s eyes.

“I find it a sort of obnoxious, parochial and somewhat maligning statement to say someone took the hick out of Queensland is some kind of moral statement as to what the people were like beforehand.

“Remember, Queensland was a backwater and Bjelke-Petersen turned it into an economic powerhouse. It was the envy of other states, its treasury was overflowing with money, it electrified its central Queensland railways, it built the dams, it built the international airports, it had taken small towns to what would then grow to be major cities.

“Let’s not deride the accomplishments of one because it befits our notion of the politics of the next; let’s celebrate both as both being exemplary leaders and both having done a great job.”

Mr Joyce agreed Mr Goss should be congratulated for implementing the Fitzgerald inquiry recommendations, but added: “Who brought about the Fitzgerald inquiry? Who called for it? Bjelke-Petersen!”

The Fitzgerald inquiry was launched in 1987 in Bjelke-Petersen’s absence by then acting premier, Bill Gunn, who ordered what was expected to be a limited inquiry into a small group of police and their alleged involvement in illegal gambling and prostitution.

The inquiry changed the policing and political landscape in Queensland and across Australia. Significant prosecutions followed the inquiry leading to four ministers being jailed and numerous convictions of other police.

Former Police Commissioner Sir Terence Lewis was convicted of corruption, jailed, and stripped of his knighthood, and former Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen was charged with perjury for evidence given to the inquiry, although the trial was aborted due to a hung jury.

The jury foreman, Luke Shaw, was later exposed as a Young Nations member and the cousin of a secretary employed by Lady Bjelke-Petersen. She said in 1994 “they would have plonked” the former premier in jail had not Mr Shaw been on the jury.

Mr Goss’s former press secretary, Denis Atkins, yesterday said the Labor premier “made Queensland respectable again” and “took the hick out” of the state.

“Queensland had a terrible reputation through the 70s and 80s as the place that didn’t favour or foster intellectualism, it was a place where the public service was more a branch of the political party in power and it was a place where ultimately we saw corruption in the levels and Wayne Goss turned that around,” Atkins, now a News Corp Australia journalist, said.

Premier Campbell Newman, campaigning for office in 2012, said the Bjelke-Petersen government “certainly was a period of Queensland’s history where a lot of terrible things happened and there was clearly corruption and it’s all there in the report of the royal commission.”


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