Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Malcolm Turnbull should go to the polls in December

There’s a wonderful line in Billy Crystal’s 1991 western comic romp "City Slickers" on the ravages of middle age.

On approaching 40, Crystal asks his pal if he has ever had the feeling this is the best he’s ever gonna do, the best he’s ever gonna feel.

In that sense governments are a lot like people. They’re born, they achieve, they fail. And they expire. And because the Turnbull government is not middle aged but still in the first blush of youth, the new Prime Minister should now think carefully about how his Coalition will handle getting old and tired, even before its time.

That’s why more than a few were surprised when Malcolm Turnbull recently ruled out an early election, now or in March. “I would say around September-Octo­ber next year is when you should expect the next election to be,” the Prime Minister said.

Turnbull’s thinking is undoubtedly twofold. First, don’t ­appear greedily opportunistic to voters still adjusting to the new milieu. No one likes a gloating winner.

Second, the conventional wisdom is to use the first year to build a narrative as a sensible, measured leader who can be trusted on the big economic moments, such as a tough budget or raising the GST to 15 per cent. The fact Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey didn’t build that narrative before launching last year’s horror budget partly explains the pair’s demise.

But a year-long narrative can cut both ways. It can build up a leader’s credentials, or it can tear a leader down in the heat of policy debate. There’s nothing like a brawl over tax to grey a government’s hair or put lines on a leader’s face.

That’s why I’d strongly advise Turnbull — in fact, yell in his ear — to visit the Governor-General today and call an election for December 12: the last feasible date for an election this year.

Why? For one reason only: if Turnbull lives to be 100 and his government surpasses Menzies’, he will never look or feel as good, be as popular or so uncritically received as he is right now. Sadly, popularity, like youth, fame and fashion, is cruelly fleeting.

Yet there’s one remaining problem: constitutionally, the earliest possible date for a regular election — House of Reps and half the Senate — is August 6 next year. The only other options are a house-alone election (not held since 1972 and therefore unfavoured) or a full double dissolution — the phrase that usually makes prime ministers blanch.

But these are not usual times. They’re more like the calm before a series of pending policy storms. With the Coalition sitting on 45 per cent primary vote (52 per cent after preferences) to Labor’s 35 per cent, the Coalition would be easily returned.

Add in Turnbull’s preferred PM rating of 63 per cent to Bill Shorten’s 17 per cent, and we could expect a 33-day barnstorming, Turnbull-centric campaign in which the Coalition would blitz Labor in the house and, potentially, the crossbenchers in the Senate.

Expediently, several triggers are already in place. The twice-stalled legislation to reinstate the Australian Building and Construction Commission — a trade union watchdog — would be Turnbull’s favoured to pull as a union-themed campaign would painfully wedge Labor: either get on board with anti-corruption measures or be seen as shielding crooks.

The choice for Turnbull is therefore clear: damn the cries of opportunism and go to the polls before Labor replaces a sinking Shorten with more formidable candidates such as Tanya Plibersek, Tony Burke, Chris Bowen or Anthony Albanese.

His Coalition colleagues should be shouting: “Go to the polls before the inevitable ‘revising down’ of Australia’s GDP growth, or a hike in unemployment, or disappointing Christmas retail figures.”

Get to the GG before interest rates rise or before the banks behave even more abominably. Get your own mandate before having to battle with same-sex marriage plebiscites or carbon prices or GST increases that will bruise the Coalition far more than Labor.

Get re-elected before your new cabinet starts to blunder, as all new cabinets invariably do. And go to the polls before swinging voters, dazzled by the Turnbull charm, start drifting back to Labor out of frustration or mere ennui.

To mangle a couple of other movie quotes: carpe diem, Malcolm. This is as good as it gets.


UN human rights review: Countries line up to criticise Australia for its treatment of asylum seekers

Amusing that Australia should be getting criticized at a time when much of Europe is wishing that it had Australia's border defence policies

Geneva: Australia has copped a barrage of criticism at a United Nations human rights forum over its treatment of asylum seekers on the high seas and in offshore detention centres.

But Australia was defiant as dozens of countries called on it to wind back or end boat turn-backs and mandatory detention, and grant refugees their full rights.

Australia's delegation, which included MP Philip Ruddock, insisted that turning back asylum seeker boats and putting asylum seekers in overseas detention centres was necessary, and had saved lives.

The UN Human Rights Council's official review of Australia's human rights policies took place at the Palais des Nations in Geneva on Monday. The scrutiny comes at a time when Australia is vying for a two-year term on the council.

During the review, representatives from more than 100 countries gave recommendations on how Australia should improve its human rights record.

Countries including Brazil, Turkey, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Bangladesh - even Rwanda, Iran and North Korea - expressed concern over Australia's treatment of refugees. [What a laugh!]

The presence of women and children asylum seekers in detention centres came in for particular criticism.

Many countries called for Australia to ratify 'OPCAT' – an international convention against torture, which would expose offshore asylum seeker detention centres to new international oversight and review.

Countries taking part in the review also noted Australia's inadequate treatment of Indigenous people, the high level of violence against women, and the spread of Islamophobia.

France's spokesman Thomas Wagner called for Australia to "develop alternatives to the mandatory detention of asylum seekers, especially when dealing with children".

Germany's representative said Australia should "critically review" offshore processing on Nauru and Manus Island. He recommended Australia "remove children and their families, and other individuals at risk – in particular survivors of torture and trauma – from immigration detention centres".

Bangladesh's representative said Australia's response to migrant arrivals had "set a poor benchmark", calling for the repeal of mandatory detention for asylum seekers – and she was also concerned by "firsthand reports of discrimination and racism, particularly associated with Islamophobia".

The United States encouraged Australia to "ensure humane treatment and respect for the human rights of asylum seekers, including those processed offshore". The US said the processing of refugees and asylum seekers should be "closely monitored", though it stopped short of calling for the offshore centres to be closed.

Countries not normally celebrated for their human rights records joined the criticism of Australia.

North Korea's representative said his country was "seriously concerned at continued maltreatment of and violence against the refugees and asylum seekers".

Iran expressed its "deep concern about the mandatory immigration detention regime".

And China said Australia should safeguard the human rights of "all refugees and asylum seekers who reach Australian shores".

Most countries acknowledged that Australia had made progress since its first human rights review in 2011.

However Russia pointed out that Australia had fully implemented just 10 per cent of the 145 recommendations it had accepted from that review – a statistic it plucked from this year's report by the Australian Human Rights Commission.

In pre-written responses, Australia's delegation defended government migration policy during the three-hour session.

Steve McGlynn, from the Immigration Department, said Australia was committed to strong border protection measures – and a "critical element is to send a clear message that people smugglers do not offer a path to Australia".

Fewer asylum seeker boats were attempting to reach Australia, so the policy had "saved countless lives at sea", by damaging the people smuggler trade, he said. The drop in boat numbers meant Australia was able to resettle more refugees through other channels.

Mandatory immigration detention was "viewed by Australia as vital to ensuring the integrity of our migration and visa programs", he said.

As of September 30 there were 2044 people in immigration detention, and 113 children in 'alternative detention', down from a peak of almost 2000 in 2013.

Andrew Goledzinowski, ambassador for people smuggling issues, said Australia had "experimented with the free arrival of asylum seekers by boat", which had led to people smuggling networks mobilising a flotilla of more than 800 boats.

"The seas around Australia are wider, deeper and more dangerous than even the Mediterranean," he said. "More than 1200 people of whom we are aware died in the attempt to reach my country.

"Those who criticise (Australia's) policy positions need to appreciate the reasons (for them)." Regional processing "allows us to save lives", he said.

After the session, Mr Ruddock said he thought it was "a very positive performance by Australia and very well-received"....

The HRC's recommendations from the review will be made public on Thursday. They are not binding under international law.


Greenies do something useful

The navy should be looking after this

Conservation activist group Sea Shepherd will head to Antarctic waters to target illegal fishing of Patagonian toothfish for a second season after a "successful" 2014-15 operation.

The campaign will be similar to the previous voyage, even baring the same name, Operation Icefish.

The operation's first incarnation lasted five months and culminated in the scuttling of the ship Thunder, an alleged poaching vessel, after a 110-day pursuit by Sea Shepherd's ship Bob Barker.

Sea Shepherd Australia chairman Peter Hammarsteadt said last year's operation was regarded as very successful.

He said the operation's primary objective was to stop the "Bandit Six poaching vessels" that he said had operated in the Southern Ocean for more than a decade.

"Out of the original Bandit Six one is at the bottom of the ocean, another three are detained ... but two remain at large."

Mr Hammarsteadt said the fishing vessel Kunlun, which was boarded by Australian Customs officials in February, escaped detention in Thailand one month ago with a cargo of about 128 tonnes of toothfish aboard.

He said this year's operation would target the two ships that got away.  "[We will] once again intercept them in the southern ocean, shut down their illegal activities and to drag them back into the halls of justice," he said.

Mr Hammarsteadt skippered the Bob Barker in 2014-15 and watched the ship Thunder sink.

"On December 17 2014 my vessel the Bob Barker encountered the most notorious of the Bandit Six, the fishing vessel Thunder, a vessel wanted by Interpol, a vessel Interpol believed had made a profit of over $60 million in the 12 years that it was operating in the Southern Ocean," he said. "That action sparked the largest longest pursuit of a poaching vessel in history.

"For over 110 days the Sea Shepherd vessels Bob Barker and Sam Simon pursued the fishing vessel Thunder across three oceans and over 11,000 [nautical] miles until the poaching vessel finally sank off the coast of Sao Tom‚ and Pr¡ncipe.

"The captain of the vessel tried to sink his vessel in order to try to destroy evidence and just one month ago the captain and two of his officers were convicted in a court of law in Sao Tom‚ and Pr¡ncipe on evidence provided by Sea Shepherd.

"They were sentenced to terms of imprisonment of up to three years as well as a fine of 15 million Euros [$23 million]."

Sea Shepherd Australia managing director Steve Hanson said Hobart would again be an important port for Sea Shepherd with "Steve Irwin" likely to dock in the Tasmanian capital next month.

"Hobart really is the gateway to Antarctica and Sea Shepherd has launched many campaigns from here from saving whales to saving Patagonian toothfish."


Malcolm Turnbull targets super for ‘fair’ tax reform

A radical approach to super­annuation has been moved to the top of Malcolm Turnbull’s tax agenda in a bid to create a fairer way to encourage retirement ­savings while generating $6 billion in new revenue to support wider reform.

The federal government is stepping up work on new rules that offer the same super tax break to all Australians, ­re­gard­less of their income, while giving those on low incomes a greater ­incentive to build their nest eggs.

The Prime Minister has discussed the proposal in recent days to make it a favoured option within the government, as he fights ­attacks on a potential GST ­increase by declaring it “inconceivable” that his reforms would hurt the vulnerable.

The Australian can reveal that the government is turning its focus towards super taxes amid the growing dispute over the GST and as Liberals warn against a “lazy” hike in the consumption tax when other reforms should be considered.

In another sign the government is cooling on a GST increase, MPs told The Australian that ­Industry Minister Christopher Pyne told a private meeting of ­Coalition MPs yesterday that they would not be taking the ­reform to the next election. “It stopped the crowd,” one MP said of Mr Pyne’s remarks. “He said what a lot of us have concluded. I think it reflects an emerging view.”

Mr Pyne’s remarks were a ­reassurance to backbenchers that no decision had been made on the reform and there was a long way to go before it was finalised. The minister’s office denied last night that he had said the government would not seek a change to GST at the election.

While an increase in the GST from 10 per cent to 15 per cent would raise about $27bn a year, about a third would have to be spent on compensation for those on low incomes and there would be a fight with the states and ­territories over how to share the rest. The super tax proposal could raise $6bn a year with the possibility of increasing over time and could help fund income tax cuts without the need for a deal with premiers.

Bill Shorten has unveiled a ­policy to increase the tax on super earnings from bigger funds, but the government prefers an ­approach that applies a single tax rate to all future super contri­butions instead.

In contrast with Labor, the government’s option would avoid any “retrospective” change to the taxes on about $2 trillion now saved in retirement accounts, ­easing fears of older Australians who object to a tax slug on money they have already put aside.

Current laws apply a 15 per cent tax on all super contributions regardless of a worker’s income, which means the advantages are greater for a person who pays the top marginal income tax rate of 47 per cent while there is no ­incentive to save for those paying less than 15 per cent income tax.

Deloitte Access Economics ­director Chris Richardson called two weeks ago for a different ­approach that would reduce the contributions tax by 15 percentage points from a worker’s income tax rate.

Under that plan, a worker on the top marginal tax rate would pay 30 per cent tax on contributions while a worker on a middle income would pay 17.5 per cent — a 15 percentage point reduction on the 32.5 per cent tax rate on ­incomes between $37,000 and $80,000.

Under changes introduced in 2012, those earning more than $300,000 including super already pay a 30 per cent tax rate on their contributions.

The Deloitte proposal is similar to a policy from the Greens, ­indicating the potential for the ­Coalition to gain Senate approval even if Labor tried to block the changes.

Mr Turnbull singled out Mr Richardson at last week’s Rebuilding Foundations for Reform ­Conference sponsored by The Australian and the Melbourne ­Institute, calling on the Deloitte director for tax reform ideas.

The Australian has learned that the Prime Minister spoke at length with Mr Richardson on the phone last Friday to canvass the super tax breaks. Mr Richardson would not comment on the conversation.

Others said the super reform was now under consideration within the government. Mr Turnbull has made fairness a central theme in his argument for tax reform amid warnings from the Australian Council of Social ­Service and others that an increase in the GST is inherently unfair ­because it costs low-income households a bigger share of their incomes.

As Labor used question time yesterday to intensify attacks on a GST increase, the Prime Minister chided Mr Shorten for being too quick to shut down ideas.  “The honourable member should not be afraid of open discussion,” the Prime Minister said of Mr Shorten. “He should get out from under the doona.”

Mr Turnbull dismissed Labor’s tactics as a “not especially scary scare campaign” and cited support for a higher GST from Labor ­figures such as former Victorian premier John Brumby.

However, Mr Turnbull did not advocate a rise in the GST and ­instead suggested it was only an option in a debate on reform that should be about economic growth and job creation.

Mr Turnbull pledged that any reform would include compensation to ensure it was fair. “If you were to increase the GST without any compensation and without any other arrangements, households on lower incomes would be disadvantaged, and that is why it would never be done,” the Prime Minister said. “That is why it was not done in the past and that is why it is inconceivable.

“The fact of the matter is that any changes to the tax system will be fair. They will be fair — that is a fundamental design requirement.”

Treasurer Scott Morrison today welcomed proposals for a single tax rate on superannuation as “a very interesting idea” that is worthy of consideration, writes Jared Owens

“What we are seeking to do with superannuation is ensure that people are independent in their retirement and that the tax incentives that are applied to superannuation are the ones that best put Australians who are at risk of not being independent in retirement in a strong position,” the Treasurer said in Canberra.

“I’ve talked about the need for greater flex over people’s working lives, I’ve talked about the need to make sure those tax incentives are targeted. I’ve also talked about the need for stability and certainty in the superannuation system and those who’ve already been saving have some certainty about what the treatment will be when they’re in the retirement phase, so I think we’ve laid out some very clear principles when it comes to superannuation.”


Americans are introduced to sausage rolls -- to great confusion

I seek out good sausage rolls and I must admit that the best ones I ever found were made by an Englishman

The sausage roll is a part of many Australian childhoods and remains a snack of choice for thousands across the country.

The delicious meaty dish, often accompanied by mini meat pies, is a common sight at parties, child birthdays and catered events - and almost always served with a side of tomato sauce.

But when American's recently found themselves introduced to the pastry wrapped treat, they were somewhat confused by the concept.

The New York Times recently ran a recipe for sausage rolls, claiming the dish was a traditional British Boxing Day meal.

'Though the concept of sausage wrapped in pastry exists in every cuisine in one way or another, the British have claimed sausage rolls as their own,' the writer said.

'They are always welcome, especially at holiday time...A pleasantly spiced homemade sausage mixture is easy to make up with a pound or two of ground pork shoulder, not too lean.'

Once shared, the five star recipe caused some confusion on social media - both from bewildered Americans, shocked Brits and amused Australians.

'Like pigs in a blanket, but so much better,' The New York Times wrote on Twitter.

The baffled comments soon followed.

'Don't know what these are exactly, but I would like that plate, please...,' one Twitter user wrote.

'Whats a sausage roll. is it a rolled sausage [sic],' another queried.

'I would eat sausage rolls every day': Some shared their true love of the dish, which are a favourite at picnics, large events and childrens' birthday parties

Australian and British sausage roll fans soon joined the conversation - most outraged that Americans were so in the dark.

'Just like with the flat white you Americans are late to the party...,' one wrote.

'I feel sorry for Americans: living this whole time not knowing the deliciousness of a sausage roll!' One woman wrote.

Others came up with new names for the treat altogether.  'A sausage in a sleeping bag,' one man suggested. 'Chorizo in a doona.'


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