Thursday, November 19, 2020

Facebook apologises to Australian MP falsely accused by conspiracy theorist of being in 'paedophile network'

A rogue organization

Facebook has apologised to Nationals MP Anne Webster over months-long delays in responding to reports of abuse she received from an online conspiracy theorist that led to an $875,000 defamation payout order.

In September, federal court justice Jacqueline Gleeson ordered the payout to the first-term Mildura MP over Facebook posts in April by Australian conspiracy theorist Karen Brewer. The posts were shared hundreds of times and falsely accused Webster of being “a member of a secretive paedophile network” who had been “parachuted into parliament to protect a past generation of paedophiles”.

Webster’s husband and the not-for-profit they set up to help single mothers were also included in the payout.

Gleeson in her decision said Brewer’s posts were “disgraceful and inexplicable”.

Brewer’s account was not deleted by Facebook until Guardian Australia reported on the case in August.

Webster installed security cameras at her home because she feared being physically attacked.

In a parliamentary committee hearing on family, domestic and sexual violence, Webster questioned whether Facebook could support people subject to abuse online if it took around five months for Facebook to take action in her case.

“It took till August until anything was done, after several court hearings and Facebook being reminded that they were part of the contempt of court if they continue to post it – if you continue to post it,” she told Facebook’s Australian director of public policy, Mia Garlick.

“So I’m concerned that the responsiveness is actually not there. If it’s not there for me, then is it there for people who are abused in domestic relationships, or relationships that are over?”

Garlick apologised for how Facebook had handled the case.

“I do want to apologise for the experience that you had on our platform and I understand how upsetting and damaging untrue accusations that were said must have been for you.

“And I think that there are a number of claims that are made particularly about public figures – and primarily, it’s often female public figures – that will violate our community standards that we will be able to take action on and remove promptly,” she said.

But Garlick differentiated between Webster’s experience on Facebook and the experience of people who are not public figures. She said content was not automatically removed in cases where public figures are accused of crimes, but said Facebook reviews applicable laws to see if the content could be found to be in breach of the law, and then it is blocked.

“I think one of the difficulties that arise in relation to the current state of defamation law is where we have to make a judgment about whether the person posting the content could rely on the defence of truthfulness,” Garlick said. “And recent court decisions have also changed the standard for the content to be considered unlawful.

“And so we actually engage with local counsel to work through that legal analysis.”

Garlick said posts were blocked, and the account was removed for “repeatedly violating community standards”, but blamed “legal complexities” for Facebook not acting faster.

“There were some additional legal complexities in that case. And certainly, you know, we’re actively engaged in advocating for reform of defamation law to try to assist in more swiftly addressing those kinds of issues.”

Webster pointed out the defamatory posts also targeted her husband and a charity, and she said Facebook’s abuse reporting tools were not fit for purpose.

“If they are to guard the safety of the users, I don’t think it’s doing a very good job,” she said. “The fact that it takes maybe 48 hours – maybe three days – for a response to come at all and then for any action to be taken really was only after a court finding that meant Facebook would be held in contempt of court.

“I’m just assuring you that I am absolutely focused on ensuring that people in Australia are not harmed in the way that I was harmed, and that my organisation was harmed and that my husband was harmed – it is not OK.”

The MP said the policies were not working and needed to be improved.

Garlick said Facebook’s machine learning and AI processes were developing to ensure that abusive content was caught before it was posted, but it was hard to hard code in potentially defamatory content.

“Our goal is to try to remove harmful content before people even see it, because that removes the harm,” she said.

“I very much understand and I’m very sympathetic to your case. And I do think that our ability to sort of code for defamation law is a much more complex thing.”

First home buyers up $54,000 but empty nesters worse off: Here's what the NSW government plan to abolish stamp duty and create an 'opt in' property tax means for you

Stamp duty is a huge disincentive to buying and selling so this should boost the property market

The NSW government's ambitious plan to make stamp duty optional is a huge win for first home buyers but may not benefit a family looking for their 'forever home'.

Under the proposal, which was raised during the state budget announcement on Tuesday, home buyers would have the option to pay stamp duty or an annual 'property tax'.

Stamp duty is a lump sum but the annual property tax would involve a small percentage of the land's value each year.

The ambitious plan - which will go to public consultation in March and could be introduced in the second half of next year - has been welcomed by economists real estate experts and the state opposition.

First-home buyer: Could save $54,000 at the time of purchase

If unimproved land was worth $500,000 they would pay $2,000 a year in property tax

Empty-nesters: Could face a bigger bill if they choose a property tax

A $700,000 would be up for $27,500 more over 20 years

Owner/occupied residential property: $500 + 0.3 per cent of unimproved land value

Investment residential property: $1,500 + 1.0 per cent of unimproved land value

Farmland: $0 + 0.3 per cent of unimproved land value

Commercial property: $0 + 2.6 per cent of unimproved land value

Stamp duty - or transfer duty - is a tax that buyers must pay when they purchase a new home. The amount due depends on the value of the property. For a $750,000 property, the duty would be $29,085.

The tax is a major cash cow for the state government, raising an estimated $8.3billion in the 2019-20 financial year - and scrapping it would require financial help from the federal government in the short term.

The duty tax can discourage people from moving house and replacing it with an annual land tax would increase the number of sales and let people keep more of their money to spend in the economy, the Treasurer said.

First-home buyers would benefit with a grant up to $25,000 instead of existing concessions.

Buyers with a growing family needing to upgrade would also benefit from the changes depending on how often they choose to buy.

However, not everyone would be better off with choosing the property tax.

A couple buying their 'forever home' for $700,000 would be up for $27,500 more over 20 years. Therefore, they would be better off opting for stamp duty over the land tax.

Buyers of luxury properties will likely be excluded from the property tax, left with no option but to shell out stamp duty in a bid to limit the initial hit to revenue.

Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said the plan was a 'realistic pathway' to achieving the most important state economic reform of the last half-century.

The proposal could also generate $11 billion of economic benefits in the first four years, he said.

'Stamp duty is a relic of a bygone era when you picked one ­career, started a family, bought a home and basically settled in for life,' he said.

Chief executive of Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, Adrian Dwyer hailed it as an 'enduring legacy of positive tax reform'.

'Sensible land tax reform has ­finally been pulled out of the too-hard basket and placed on the table for reasoned public debate,' he said.

The treasurer is also consulting on handing out grants of up to $25,000 to help first home buyers pay the tax.

First home buyers are currently exempt from stamp duty if their home is worth less than $650,000 and receive concessional rates up to $800,000.

Land tax already applies to vacant land, holiday homes, investment properties and commercial properties over $755,000 but could be expanded to primary homes under the proposal.

Under current rules, the owner must pay 1.6 per cent of the value of their land above $755,000 to the government each year. For land worth $1,000,000 this figure amounts to $4,020.

Housing fears ease as majority of deferred loans get back on track

This is good news for bank shareholders

Mortgage deferrals have been slashed by 66 per cent since the COVID-19 peak, according to ABA data from the seven largest banks.

Fears of a housing crisis spurred by an avalanche of deferred loans have dissipated with new data showing the majority of COVID-19 mortgage deferrals are back on track.

Latest figures released by the Australian Banking Association today showed the number of mortgage loan deferrals had dropped 66 per cent since the COVID-19 peak earlier this year, to now sit below 170,000.

The data compared loan deferrals on June 24 to that of November 4 and found a staggering shift.

Of those mortgage loan deferrals, home loan deferrals fell 67 per cent in that time to now sit just over 145,000.

Australian Banking Association CEO, Anna Bligh, said economic recovery was gathering pace. “This is an encouraging sign that most Australians are through the worst,” she said.

“Australian banks have played a major role in carrying the economic burden of the pandemic for their customers. The good news is that the majority are now bouncing back as they restart their loan repayments.”

She said more than 900,000 loans were deferred by Australian banks at the peak of the pandemic – most of which was carried by the seven largest banks.

Ms Bligh said the number of loans on hold was expected to fall further in coming weeks as more of them reached the end of their six-month deferrals.

The figures were sourced from CBA, Westpac, NAB, ANZ, BOQ, Suncorp and Bendigo banks.

Deloitte climate report more a fearmongering manifesto

Just when you thought you’d had enough scary and ridiculous predictions for one year, along comes Deloitte Access Economics with claims Australia will lose $3.4 trillion in income and 880,000 jobs by 2070 unless it takes drastic action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

The meaningless numbers appear in A New Choice: Australia’s Climate for Growth, which urges the government to “get on with stopping climate change”.

“There is great opportunity for Australia to act on climate change today,” it enthuses, suggesting we incur $67bn in costs now to slash emissions and secure a gross domestic product and jobs boost of $680bn and 250,000, respectively.

The report is flawed, misleading, reading more like a manifesto than a sober economic analysis.

At a basic level, Australia can’t affect the trajectory of climate change whatever it does, having only 1.3 per cent of global emissions, or about 4 per cent including our coal exports.

Foreign policy is the only way we can meaningfully affect climate change.

Second, Deloitte’s “do nothing” path of supposed disaster assumes nations “do not meet their Nationally Determined Contributions” (emission reduction targets) agreed at the Paris climate conference in 2015. Therefore, it’s not really a base case to the extent government promises mean anything.

If they don’t, why the clamour for governments to say they will be “net zero by 2050”?

Third, the “do nothing” path assumes an obsolete, extreme trajectory for emissions, known as RCP8.5, that pushes up average global temperatures by 4C by 2100.

Professor Detlef van Vuuren, an academic involved in designing RCP8.5, has said it was “never meant to be a business-as-usual scenario”. Developed in 2014, RCP8.5 doesn’t even include more recent emissions data.

“The consequences of an RCP8.5 pathway demonstrate the orders of magnitude of impact well for analytical purposes,” the Deloitte reports says. Political purposes, more like it.

The bigger problem with these integrated climate and economic models is the false sense of precision and knowledge they create.

“They have crucial flaws that make them close to useless as tools for policy analysis,” top MIT economist Robert Pindyck recently wrote.

The pandemic, which has produced a library of wildly wrong expert predictions, should be a reminder of the weakness of mathematical models, especially when related to events decades into the future. Climate modelling is even harder because of a fraught two-part chain of estimation.

Determining “climate sensitivity” — the speed and size of the response of global temperatures to a doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere — is hard enough.

“Over the past decade our uncertainty over climate sensitivity has actually increased,” notes Pindyck. And the “damage function”, how temperature changes affect the economy, is “made up out of thin air … (not) based on any economic (or other) theory or any data”.

Humans will adapt to changed climate, develop new technology, for instance; there will be positives and negatives for different countries from climate change.

“Increasing temperatures can increase both heat and cold-related health problems,” the Del­oitte report states, illogically, given cold-related problems would obviously decline. There’s also the question of the additional 250,000 “jobs for the future” that will emerge by 2070 — “by being a country that reaches net-zero emissions, sooner rather than later”.

A world powered by renewable energy might be a scientific and ecological triumph, but also an economic disaster for Australia, which — absent some dramatic innovation — depends on fossil fuel exports to pay its way.

Australia’s coal and gas exports generated more than $100bn last financial year. Like it or not, we have a comparative advantage in fossil fuels in a way we do not in the production of solar and wind energy, or hydrogen.

Economist Warwick McKibbin says if the world moved away from fossil fuels as per the 2015 Paris Agreement our currency would depreciate 6 per cent, and wages fall 2 per cent, by 2030.

“Australia being part of — if not leading the way — in the global shift to net zero in a new growth recovery is in the national interest,” the Deloitte report asserts nonsensically.

Pindyck is well known to economics students for his concept of “the option value of waiting”. It’s far better to wait and see how events turn out tomorrow rather than lock yourself into a particular strategy today you might regret.

Leading the way would be a disaster for a fossil fuel exporter responsible for a sliver of global emissions.

The Deloitte report says solar and wind energy makes “complete or near decarbonisation of the grid a possibility”. But it doesn’t, curiously, mention nuclear power.

We’ve heard so much about the need to follow “the science” this year. The science says it’s the only emissions-free and reliable energy source, and batteries aren’t remotely up to the task of compensating for the intermittency of solar and wind.

Replacing ageing coal-fired power stations with the next generation of nuclear facilities would be a better option than an expensive and implausible “green new deal” that only makes sense if the rest of the world does it too.




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