Tuesday, April 12, 2016
Pressure on Turnbull over banks as three more Nats MPs speak out on royal commission
In a remarkable example of ingratitude and passing the buck, many farmers who borrow speculatively and then go broke, blame the banks for lending them money. National Party politicians tend to support such anti-bank attitudes
Three more Nationals MPs, including a dumped former minister, have left the door open to supporting a royal commission into the banking and finance sector, ramping up pressure on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to hold the inquiry and highlighting divisions in the Coalition over the issue.
And Australian Council of Trade Union chief Dave Oliver has also thrown his weight behind the move, writing to Mr Turnbull on Sunday to urge the inquiry – and to create a federal independent commission against corruption – because of the "many scandals and allegations of corrupt behaviour in recent times".
The Coalition and Labor are on a collision course for an election year fight over wrong-doing in unions and the finance sector after Mr Shorten announced on Friday that if elected, the ALP would hold a two-year, $53 million inquiry after a string of allegations of wrong doing at Westpac, ANZ, the Commonwealth Bank and elsewhere in recent years.
On Sunday, cabinet ministers Peter Dutton and Josh Frydenberg as well as Mr Turnbull pushed back against the inquiry, with the prime minister describing it as a "thought bubble" and arguing banks and financial services were already heavily regulated.
"[ASIC] has all of the powers to inquire of a royal commission but it's got the powers to prosecute and to take action, which it is doing. It has many current actions on the books at the moment. It has banned people from in the industry, it has enacted fines, it is a very active regulator," he said.
"In addition to that you have the prudential regulation authority, APRA, and it also has powers equal to a royal commission and indeed greater."
The opposition leader, Mr Turnbull said, was trying to distract people from the fact that Labor opposes the restoration of the construction industry watch, the ABCC.
But Nationals MP George Christensen backed the probe, while MPs Luke Hartsuyker and Ken O'Dowd indicated they could be prepared to support it too, creating a political headache for the prime minister.
Mr Hartsuyker, a former minister for vocational education in the Abbott government, said of the inquiry: "I think it is definitely something that should be considered". He is the most senior government MP yet to indicate a willingness to support the probe.
Mr O'Dowd said he was "open to the idea, but I need more evidence and I wouldn't like to see the reputation of the big four banks tarnished overseas".
Mr Christensen went further, declaring " there is disgruntlement out in the community with banking practices, which are less than fair, in some cases highly unethical and bordering on the illegal".
Coalition MPs Warren Entsch and John Williams – who has led the charge on the issue – have already called for a royal commission into the banks.
In June 2015, Labor voted with the government against a Greens push for the creation of a royal commission into "misconduct within the financial services sector".
But party strategists say the recent spate of scandals in the finance sector, many of which have been revealed by Fairfax Media, represent a tipping point and have caused the re-think.
One Labor MP confidently predicted the federal government was "on the wrong side of this one, how can they keep defending the banks?" and that the decision to hold the inquiry was an "80-20 proposition".
Along with his letter to the Prime Minister, Mr Oliver included a list of 73 examples of allegations of wrong-doing at the major banks in recent years.
"The recent allegations of corrupt behaviour, unlawful payments, and unconscionable conduct have made it clear that there is a need for serious scrutiny of alleged corruption, wherever it may occur. There is a clear need to ensure that the people of Australia have faith in the banking sector," he said.
"Honest, hard working banking employees should have nothing to fear from this inquiry and should be encouraged to come forward with their evidence of perverse incentives, inappropriate practices and exploitative processes."
Turnbull might have to ditch the double dissolution
Over the Christmas break Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull reportedly war-gamed the political year to come, with "all options" apparently considered. This anecdote was relayed last month to indicate the amount of pre-planning that went into the PM's audacious strategy to outwit the Senate, involving the Governor-General recalling Parliament to establish the justification for going to a double dissolution election.
But to what extent did Turnbull's scenario planning really canvass all the options? Did the prime ministerial ego permit consideration of sub-optimal situations such as that in which Turnbull currently finds himself?
And if so, did he leave himself options beyond going to a double D? The most easily foreseen factor in Turnbull's scenario planning would have been the subsidence of the PM's popularity rating to that of mere mortals. Turnbull may have hoped his stellar run in the opinion polls would be sustained until closer to the election, but he would have been a fool not to expect it to fall at all.
However, could Turnbull have anticipated that, a bare six months after taking on the top job, Labor would be back in contention for the upcoming election? This is the trend being suggested by the swarm of opinion polls now being covered by Australia's political media. It may have also been relatively easy for Turnbull to predict he would remain ahead of Labor Leader Bill Shorten in the opinion polls as preferred PM.
But did the PM credit the Opposition with being able to keep its nerve in the face of his initially stratospheric popularity, hanging on to its less than inspiring leader in the name of party unity? According to one media report on the weekend, such a change was barely averted last month when a "contingency plan" to change Labor leaders was shelved in light of Turnbull's ongoing poor form.
Similarly, would Turnbull have anticipated that voters would tire quickly of his "float and drop" approach to policy consideration, where options are raised without warning for public "discussion" only to be summarily discarded once they become too challenging to defend? As a result, there may be a growing perception that the PM only waffles and dithers.
In contrast, Shorten has appeared to become increasingly sure-footed, aided by a more streamlined appearance (yes, looks are important in politics), improved elocution, sharpened lines and a modest collection of populist policies that have so far evaded any serious scrutiny from the media or Government.
In addition to the foreseen developments are the ones that were less likely to be anticipated, such as the release of the Panama Papers and the exposure of shady behaviour by Australian corporates.
Combined with the revelations of the Liberal Party's dodgy fundraising practices and the indulgent, self-destructive behaviour of Government MPs, these events have - rightly or wrongly - framed the Prime Minister as the protector of corporate crooks and the leader of a parliamentary wing made up of spoilt and entitled brats.
If the PM has truly considered all the options, doing a deal with the Senate crossbench on the ABCC and skipping the DD should definitely be on the table.
Given these circumstances, would it be a mistake for the PM to go to a DD election even if the Senate gives him the trigger? Analysis by the ABC's psephologist, Antony Green, has projected the new Senate voting rules paired with the halved Senate quota at a DD would clean out some of the micro party MPs who currently sit on the crossbench. Others with a higher public profile may survive. But if Labor continues to close in on the Coalition there is also a greater chance of a hung parliament occurring in the House of Representatives.
As a result, Turnbull may well end up swapping one crossbench for another, or even ending up with two. If Turnbull didn't war-game this scenario over Christmas, he certainly should be doing so now. It is not impossible to navigate legislation through the Parliament's two chambers when the Government has only a minority in each - as the Gillard Government showed - but the dual minority status does make it difficult for the Government to argue that it has any mandate for reforms that it took to the previous election.
Consequently, there is yet another scenario the PM should be war-gaming right now. Turnbull has said he'd rather the Senate passed the Government's legislation to re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission, thereby avoiding the need for a DD election. Several of the crossbench Senators have demanded the ABCC bills be amended to transform the proposed regulator into a federal ICAC, which is an entirely different beast.
But by committing to a Senate inquiry into the establishment of a federal ICAC (which, incidentally, Labor does not support) Turnbull could possibly win the six crossbench votes needed to pass the ABCC bills.
This would also give the PM a plausible justification for passing up the chance to go to a DD, and secure up to five months more time for the Government to re-establish its favourability with voters before heading to a normal election. In fact, a media report last month suggested the Liberal Party's pollster, Mark Textor, advised the PM to forgo the early election and avoid calling an election altogether unless his approval rating was trending up again.
Wriggle room of this kind may be even more important if the federal budget is not received particularly well by the voters. Granted, forgoing the DD means the Government will be saddled with a feisty and cranky Senate crossbench for another three years, but some of the alternatives - a hung parliament, no mandate, or even an election loss - are palpably less attractive.
If the PM has truly considered all the options, doing a deal with the Senate crossbench on the ABCC and skipping the DD should definitely be on the table. It would be the "float and drop" to surpass all others, but perhaps the key to the Turnbull Government's survival.
Diplomats gone wild: Saudi staffers run riot on our roads with police powerless to stop them
Imagine driving at 135km/h past Parliament House at 2am on a Tuesday, leading police on a pursuit, failing to provide a valid licence, blaming your behaviour on a lack of antibiotics and getting away with it.
That's exactly what happened to one diplomat at the royal embassy of Saudi Arabia who used his immunity to escape a $1811 fine and six demerit points.
His exploits are just one chapter in the latest chronicle of diplomats behaving badly, dutifully archived by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and released under freedom of information laws.
Another Saudi diplomat was caught speeding through an intersection at 107km/h in an 80km/h zone. Officers attempted to stop him as he approached, but he sped right past them.
Officers eventually caught up but he again refused to pull over despite sirens and lights blazing in his rear view mirror. Eventually, police gave up due to fears for public safety.
Another Saudi, who was caught at 126km/h in an 80km/h zone, told police he was driving his father's car and was speeding "because he needed to go to the toilet".
"The excessive speed he was travelling at risks undermining the reputation of the royal embassy of Saudi Arabia and that of the wider diplomatic community," said one DFAT official.
In some cases, the foreign diplomats were drunk behind the wheel. One Saudi told police he had not had anything to drink and didn't understand why he returned a blood alcohol reading of 0.15, triple the legal limit. A woman in the car began yelling at the man in a foreign language and told police it was forbidden in Saudi culture to drink alcohol.
Normally, this diplomat would be summonsed to appear before the ACT Magistrates Court and face a maximum penalty of $1400 or six months in jail. Instead, police allowed him to walk away scot-free.
It's not just the Saudis who are letting diplomatic immunity get to their head. One Mexican Embassy staffer was stopped by police and asked to complete a breath test. He raised his voice and said: "I don't want to, so I don't have to. I'm here with my family ... I'll complain if hear anything about this!"
Police believed he had been drinking, but were powerless to do anything more. He had an older woman in the passenger seat and children in the back.
These latest escapades only add to early offences reported by Fairfax Media, such as a $387 fine for a Saudi diplomat who failed to put a seatbelt on a seven-year-old girl.
These foreign diplomats were never formally charged by police or brought before a court of law like regular Canberra residents. In most cases, they never even paid their fines.
More than 200 reminder notices were served to foreign embassies chasing overdue money last year, ranging from simple parking fines to red light infringements.
DFAT's chief of protocol, Chris Cannan, has the unenviable job of reminding foreign diplomats to respect the law of the land. "Not happy," was how he described his mood after reading about one Saudi's exploits.
"I will be calling in the Saudi ambassador – most likely early next week – to express strong concern about this offence as well as another serious offence committed by a Saudi diplomat a week or so ago," he told a police official.
"I will also foreshadow to the ambassador a freedom of information release next week which will again list Saudi Arabia as the embassy with, by far, the highest number of traffic infringements."
An ACT Policing spokeswoman said road rules were designed to protect everyone's safety and those who break them dramatically increase the risk of injury and death, to themselves and others.
Hate-filled far-Leftist reporter gets a payout after his sacking
Sacked SBS sports reporter Scott McIntyre has settled his unfair dismissal case with broadcaster SBS over a series of controversial tweets he made on Anzac Day last year.
In joint statement released on Monday morning, an hour before McIntyre and SBS were due to begin a three day hearing in the NSW Federal Court, the parties confirmed the dispute over his termination had been resolved.
McIntyre, who had worked at SBS since 2003 and was employed as a sports reporter since 2008, had been suing SBS for unlawful termination under the Fair Work Act and sought a court order requiring SBS to pay compensation and damages.
McIntyre found himself at the epicentre of controversy after he referred to the commemoration of Anzac Day as "remembering the summary execution, widespread rape and theft committed by these 'brave' Anzacs in Egypt, Palestine and Japan".
In another tweet he wrote: "Wonder if the poorly-read, largely white, nationalist drinkers and gamblers pause today to consider the horror that all mankind suffered."
In the statement, McIntyre acknowledged the views expressed in his tweets were "contentious" and regretted "any attribution of his views to SBS and acknowledges that SBS was drawn into controversy following the expression of his views".
The broadcaster said in the statement that "Mr McIntyre was a well respected sports reporter with SBS for a period spanning over a decade, and SBS is disappointed that it was unable to continue with his services following his tweets".
Amid the controversy, which spiralled into a debate around free-speech and the limits around using employer-linked twitter accounts to express personal views, then-communications minister Malcolm Turnbull publicly condemned Mr McIntyre's comments describing then as "despicable remarks which deserved to be condemned".
The Minister then discussed the issue directly with the broadcaster's managing director Michael Ebeid in a late-night phone call on April 25, 2015. McIntyre was sacked the next morning.
However, both SBS and Mr Turnbull denied the Minister had directed SBS to take any action in relation to McIntyre's employment.
In a hearing in the Federal Court in December last year, lawyers for SBS maintained Mr McIntyre was not sacked because of the political views he held, but because the tweets were in breach of the broadcaster's social media policy and code of conduct.
The court heard SBS director of sport, Ken Shipp, had repeatedly told Mr McIntyre to delete the tweets and apologise, but he had refused.
Mr McIntyre's lawyers refuted this, claiming that at no stage prior to his sacking did SBS direct him to delete the tweets, apologise, or inform him that he had breached the code of conduct or social media guidelines.
He said he was denied procedural fairness and that he was sacked, in part, because of "his expression of political opinion".
The terms of the McIntyre's settlement with the broadcaster remain undisclosed.