21 December 2009

Policy motion passed by the Liberal Party of Australia (WA Division) opposing Government censorship of the Internet

The following policy motion (as printed in the Conference Handbook) moved by the Western Australian Union of Liberal Students was debated and passed at the 59th Annual Western Australian State Conference held on 21 March 2009:

That the Liberal Party of Australia (WA Division), is opposed to all Government censorship of the internet.

Support was emphatic, with no more than 5–10% of conference delegates voting against the policy motion.

20 December 2009

ALSF Media Release: Fight the filter!

Published at http://www.alsf.org.au/news.php?n=54:

Wednesday, 16 December, 2009

Fight the filter!

The Australian Liberal Students’ Federation (ALSF) has today slammed the Rudd Labor Government for its proposed internet filter and called on the Coalition to fight the filter.

“There is a grass-roots movement against this policy, and the ALSF is a leading group in that movement,” ALSF President Alex Butterworth said today.

“The ALSF will continue to campaign hard against this oppressive policy, which will limit freedom of speech, slow down internet speeds substantially, and cause an estimated 20 million legitimate sites to be blocked,”

“Rudd promised broadband for all Australians and a computer for every child, and all he is doing is slowing down the internet, slowing down the economy and taking us backwards,”

“Importantly, we need to ask why the filter is even being considered when voluntary filtering packages are already available to those who want them?”

“The filter shows that the oppressive nanny state is alive and well under the Rudd Labor Government,” “Australia will join countries such as Iran, Syria, China and North Korea as one of the few nations where the internet is filtered,” said Mr Butterworth.

Media Enquiries:

Alex Butterworth
+61 418 264 020
abutterworth@alsf.org.au
www.alsf.org.au

19 December 2009

Censorship: it's already happening under Kevin Rudd

Actions that the government has already taken to suppress politically unfavourable views raise doubts about Kevin Rudd's motives for implementing mandatory ISP-level filtering. It is unfortunate that these outrageous violations of freedom of speech have received little attention in the media.

When an MP instructed his supporters to contact him to obtain copies of a speech because new regulations issued by the Department of Finance and Deregulation prevented him from distributing material critical of the government, I thought it was only a joke. Unfortunately, it wasn't—so much for deregulation. Luke Simpkins, Federal Member for the Western Australian seat of Cowan, raised this issue in a speech given under Parliamentary privilege on 27 October 2009:

Mr SIMPKINS (Cowan) (8:49 PM) —It is a great honour to be able to stand in this parliament as an elected representative of the people of Cowan. It is great to be able to stand here and speak with the protection of parliamentary privilege to ensure that I am not restricted in saying what needs to be said. I can talk, and have done so, about the things that matter to my constituents without my right to freedom of speech being restricted. This is a cornerstone of the great democratic tradition. That being said, I do not use parliamentary privilege to tell lies; I use it to tell the truth. If we did not have parliamentary privilege then our ability to tell the truth and convey information would effectively be restricted. The other great advantage of parliamentary privilege is that we cannot be told what we can and cannot say. If we were, that would be censorship and the argument would very clearly be that such censorship would exist to deny us the ability to communicate alternative viewpoints for the benefit of our nation or to deny us the opportunity to be critical of the government in a constructive manner.

Censorship does not exist in the parliament, but in conveying information about what happens here censorship does apply. When I convey information to my constituents, what I need to tell them is censored. The government’s appointed censors in the Department of Finance and Deregulation can tell me that I cannot print certain statements. They tell us that freedom of speech is not allowed. I cannot send my constituents copies of Hansard, the official recording of what is said in this place, if that Hansard record states or implies any words that are critical of the Labor government. The text of this speech, once in Hansard, would be predominantly blacked out by a thick black marker—a marker that serves to eliminate the ability of anyone to engage constructively in a critical debate about government policies and actions.

If I were to say that the Prime Minister was very good at finalising the delivery of quality Howard government projects and programs, and taking credit for them, but hopeless in terms of his own policy performance, that would be censored. I cannot report that in writing. If I were to say that the Deputy Prime Minister’s bungled, over-budget, behind schedule, hopelessly mismanaged—and now under investigation by the Auditor-General—memorial school halls debacle was a fiasco, that would be censored as well. If I were to say that the Minister for Health and Ageing has failed to fix public hospitals by the promised mid-2009 deadline then that would be censored.

If I were to talk about the failure by serial bungler the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy to achieve the original broadband tender at over $4 billion—he is now risking $43 billion of funds borrowed from taxpayers on a broadband plan that has no business plan, which is a very expensive plan without a plan to make sure that taxpayers’ money is spent properly—that would be censored. If I were to say that the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government claimed responsibility for infrastructure projects most of which were initiated by, and many of which were completed by, the previous coalition government then that would be censored. In fact, I do not think that you can even report anything about unauthorised boats arriving in Australian waters, as the mere mention of such an event would be critical of the government and that would be censored.

All these comments would be blacked out. Criticism of the Labor government is not allowed in our letters and newsletters. Bringing the people’s attention to mistakes of the government is no longer allowed in this country. The outlawing of legitimate criticism is occurring now in the printed format by the design of the Labor government, but who knows what the future holds.

I wonder what will be next. Perhaps we will have a list of unparliamentary words expanded so that we can no longer say—in reference to ministers, the Labor Party, State Labor governments, former members of the Labor Party, unions or any other association to do with the Labor Party—words such as ‘bad’, ‘mismanagement’, ‘bungled’, ‘incompetent’, ‘hasty’, ‘knee-jerk’, ‘putting Australia at risk’, or even ‘debt’ or ‘deficit’ et cetera . It is very hard to accurately describe the government without those words.

Perhaps the next step will be that Hansard can be edited to take out any criticisms of the Labor government. Perhaps what is being planned is that standing orders can be modified so that questions or criticisms of the Labor government will, in the future, result in exclusion from the chamber. At least then the Labor government would be able to say that there has not been a bad word said about them in parliament.

This censorship has resulted in the Labor government censors stopping criticism of the government by the opposition in letters or newsletters. The censors are not elected, just directed by the Labor government. These restrictions do not apply to the Prime Minister and ministers in the Labor government, who can continue to use ministerial budgets to criticise the opposition—double standards of the worst kind. This is, without doubt, censorship and an attack on the basic principle of democracy—freedom of speech.

Recently, Dr Clive Spash, a scientist at the CSIRO, was prevented from publishing a paper critical of the Rudd Labor government's emissions trading scheme (ETS). The political interference in research conducted at the CSIRO was raised in Parliament by Eric Abetz, Senator for Tasmania, on 25 November 2009:

It is often in matters of contention and sharp debate that the knowledge and expertise of the scientific community is most valuable. This is why it is so important to protect the right of scientists to speak out about their research and discoveries.’

Going back to that topic of—what was it?—matters of contention, guess what? We have a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme being considered by the parliament as we speak—somewhat contentious—and guess what Dr Spash was writing about? The Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. So by the very test that Senator Carr puts down, he nevertheless puts the censor’s pen through and says, ‘No, we don’t want to hear in any unfettered way what Dr Spash might have to offer not only the government but also the Australian people to help inform them in their debate.’ We do not get the full and detailed treasury modelling on matters to do with the government’s legislation in recent times; we do not get the whole story out of this government.

When you have an institution as proud as the CSIRO being muzzled in this way in the face of a minister who claims that he has been an advocate his whole public life for ‘vigorous and transparent public debate unfettered by political interference’, when you have a minister who says that but then does the exact opposite, you know why he is a cabinet minister in the Rudd government. He fits the mould. That is what the Labor cabinet ministers do: they say one thing, promise one thing and then do another.

Open letter to Australia's Prime Minister from Reporters Sans Frontières

Published at http://www.rsf.org/Open-letter-to-Australia-s-Prime.html:

The Hon Kevin Michael Rudd Prime Minister Parliament House Canberra ACT 2600 Australia

Paris, 18 December 2009

Dear Prime Minister,

Reporters Without Borders, an organisation that defends free expression worldwide, would like to share with you its concern about your government's plan to introduce a mandatory Internet filtering system. While it is essential to combat child sex abuse, pursuing this draconian filtering project is not the solution. If Australia were to introduce systematic online content filtering, with a relatively broad definition of the content targeted, it would be joining an Internet censors club that includes such countries as China, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Communications minister Stephen Conroy announced on 15 December that, after a year of testing in partnership with Australian Internet service providers (ISPs), your government intended to introduce legislation imposing mandatory filtering of websites with pornographic, paedophile or particularly violent content.

Reporters Without Borders would like to draw your attention to the risks that this plan entails for freedom of expression.

Firstly, the decision to block access to an "inappropriate" website would be taken not by a judge but by a government agency, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). Such a procedure, without a court decision, does not satisfy the requirements of the rule of law. The ACMA classifies content secretly, compiling a website blacklist by means of unilateral and arbitrary administrative decision-making. Other procedures are being considered but none of them would involve a judge.

Secondly, the criteria that the proposed law would use are too vague. Filtering would be applied to all content considered "inappropriate," a very slippery term that could be interpreted very differently by different people. In all probability, filtering would target "refused classification" (RC) sites, a category that is extremely controversial as it is being applied to content that is completely unrelated to efforts to combat child sex abuse and sexual violence, representing a dangerous censorship option. Subjects such as abortion, anorexia, aborigines and legislation on the sale of marijuana would all risk being filtered, as would media reports on these subjects.

The choice of filtering techniques has not been clearly defined. Would it be filtering by key-words, URL text or something else? And what about the ISPs that are supposed to carry out the filtering at the government's request? Will they be blamed, will they be accused of complicity in child sex abuse if the filtering proves to be ineffective, as it almost certainly will?

Your government claims that the filtering will be 100 per cent effective but this is clearly impossible. Experts all over the world agree that no filtering system is effective at combating this kind of content. On the one hand, such a system filters sites that should not be affected (such as sites about the psychology of child sexuality or paedophile crime news). And on the other, it fails to filter targeted sites because their URLs contain key-words that are completely unrelated to their content, or because their content (photo and text) is registered under completely neutral terms. Furthermore, people who are determined to visit such sites will know how to avoid the filtering by, for example, using proxy servers or censorship circumvention software or both.

The Wikileaks website highlighted the limitations of such as system when it revealed that the ACMA blacklist of already banned websites contained many with nothing reprehensible in their content. According to Wikileaks, the blacklist included the Abortion TV website, some of the pages of Wikileaks itself, online poker sites, gay networks, sites dealing with euthanasia, Christian sites, a tour operator's site and even a Queensland dentist's site.

The US company Google has also voiced strong reservations. Google Australia's head of policy, Iarla Flynn, said yesterday: "Moving to a mandatory ISP filtering regime with a scope that goes well beyond such material is heavy handed and can raise genuine questions about restrictions on access to information."

As regards paedophilia, the most dangerous places on the Internet are websites offering chat and email services. So if this project were taken to its logical conclusion, access to sites such as Gmail, Yahoo and Skype would also have to be blocked, which would of course be impossible.

There are more effective ways to combat child pornography, including tracking cyber-criminals online (by means of cookies, IP address comparison, and so on), combined with police investigation into suspects and their online habits. Why did your government end the programme launched by the previous government, which made free filtering systems available to Australian families? This procedure had the merit of being adapted to individual needs and gave each home the possibility of shielding its children from porn.

A real national debate is needed on this subject but your communications minister, Stephen Conroy, made such a debate very difficult by branding his critics as supporters of child pornography. An opportunity was lost for stimulating a constructive exchange of ideas.

We also regret the lack of transparency displayed by your government as regards the tests carried out in recent months using procedures that have been kept secret. Your government paid some 300,000 Australian dollars to ISPs to finance the tests. Australian taxpayers have a right to be given detailed information about the results.

Finally, you must be aware that this initiative is a source of a concern for your compatriots. In a recent Fairfax Media poll of 20,000 people, 96 per cent were strongly opposed to such a mandatory Internet filtering system, while around 120,000 Australians have signed a petition against Internet censorship launched by the online activist group GetUp. The withdrawal of this proposal would therefore satisfy public opinion as well as prevent a democratic country from introducing a system that threatens freedom of expression.

I thank you in advance for the consideration you give to our recommendations.

Sincerely,

Jean-François Julliard
Secretary-General

Liberal MPs and senators who have spoken against mandatory ISP-level filtering

Cory Bernardi, Senator for South Australia and Shadow Parliamentary Secretary Assisting the Leader of the Opposition, for The Australian, 6 February 2009:

I identify myself as a social and fiscal conservative and most people who know me would agree with that assessment. As such, one could reasonably expect me to support ISP filtering as a means of ensuring inappropriate content remains unavailable via the internet.

Yet I have grave reservations about the Labor Party proposal on mandatory ISP filtering which is described as a ‘clean feed’ – words that just sugar-coat compulsory censorship of whatever the government deems you are not allowed to see.

Dr Dennis Jensen, Member for Tangney, in the House of Representatives, 14 September 2009:

Computer users, particularly the more tech-savvy—and a special mention must go to the Whirlpool website forums for fostering real debate of the issue—hold the minister as an object of contempt and ridicule, particularly for his bumbling attempt to impose controls over the medium which is ultimately setting the world free. The internet delivers power to the world’s people. It is an ally of all who cherish freedom, individual liberty and true democracy. That is why it is the enemy of authoritarian rulers in countries such as China, Burma and Iran—and, it seems, of the Australian Labor Party.

Members should recall that under the last coalition government we had a very simple, very cost-effective and very popular program under which families could get free copies of an internet filter program for their homes to protect their children from unsavoury internet content. The Rudd government scrapped that, and two years after taking office the minister is still unable to offer an alternative. Delay after delay has very fortunately put this censorship plan on hold, and for this some thanks must go to internet service providers who refused to take part in sham trials.

By now, the members opposite must also have realised how deeply flawed is the internet filter pursued by the minister, and we can only hope that they will quietly abandon it at some stage. What grew from the idea of protecting children using the internet rapidly became billed as a weapon against child pornography, and these are surely two very different issues. From there, the minister has broadened it to propose blocking Australians from viewing any material which a select group of faceless bureaucrats deem inappropriate. And to top it off, the list of banned material would itself be banned from public scrutiny, effectively making the censors unaccountable. IT experts say such a system will slow the network and that it will not work, regardless. This is particularly the case in combating traffic in child pornography, which reportedly is usually distributed through peer-to-peer networks rather than via websites, and so could continue unhindered by the filter.

And so we have a government pledging to spend tens of billions of dollars on a national broadband network of dubious worth which will supposedly offer higher speed data links to all. At the same time, the government is planning a censorship scheme which will have the opposite effect, reducing data speeds and hindering access. And, most crucially, it would stop the free flow of information which we have come to expect from the internet, a strategy more akin to foreign dictatorships, for which Labor feigns distaste, a strategy wholly not in keeping with our country’s proud history of free speech and open debate. The internet promised to take us all into the future, but this government appears intent on applying the policies of the past in its selfish pursuit of power and control, not only in this building but over the lives of all Australians.

Jamie Briggs, Member for Mayo, for The Punch, 27 August 2009:

Proponents of ISP filtering claim it will make it safer. Rubbish. Indeed the ISP filter systems work by closing down access to web addresses after they have been launched. Some claim that this will be as little as 24 hours after the website is launched. Even in the best case scenario it is going to be the old dog chasing its tail.

The ISP filters fail to address online chat rooms, peer to peer connections and emails.

What we have to ask ourselves here is how much are we sacrificing for additional ‘protections’?

The internet surely has dangers but they are so far outweighed by the enormous educational, economic and social benefits that we should be very wary of allowing our Government to attempt to regulate it.

If parents want to protect their children from the nasties, they should. We should be telling parents, like not talking to strangers, that the Government cannot protect you from every danger in the world and that you must take responsibility for your children’s safety.

There is a massive risk with this false promise that we will start to walk down a very dangerous path of censorship that can’t end well.

Simon Birmingham, Senator for South Australia, for The Punch, 10 November 2009:

Somehow, when promising to clean up the internet, they forgot to say what exactly it was they were going to protect kids from. Cyber bullying? Information about drugs, suicide or cults? Pornography perhaps? Surely kids shouldn’t be seeing any of these things online. Lucky for mum and dad Uncle Kev is on the case cleaning up the net.

Or is he? Ever since Labor announced its policy I’ve been trying to find out exactly what would be blocked. The story appears to have changed month by month – sometimes it’s all pornography, sometimes X rated material, sometimes inappropriate content. But now it seems to be stuff that’s already illegal – content that has been Refused Classification.

So while mum and dad are busy cooking dinner and Uncle Kev is meant to be looking after the kids on the internet, they will still be able to access pornography, information about drugs and unsuspectingly chat away with goodness knows who in chat rooms – hardly being kept safe from inappropriate content!

Originally the government proposed a very broad filter that would provide a ‘clean feed’ to each and every internet user, whether you wanted it or not. The notion of a ‘clean feed’ that protects children from “harmful and inappropriate online material” would have been a compulsory ISP level filter of such scale that China and Iran might have felt a little filter envy.

However, many experts believe a compulsory ISP level filter would result in the decimation of internet speeds and force serious restrictions on free speech. The more you filter, the greater the impact on speeds. And, the more you try to filter, the more likely you are to block access to material that law-abiding adults would legitimately want to access.

Michael Johnson, Member for Ryan and Opposition Whip, in a media release, 17 December 2009:

The frightening question is where will Rudd’s state censorship and government intrusion into the privacy of our lives end? We have seen Mr Rudd try to make homebirths illegal and take away the right of women to choose the place of giving birth and recently attempted reprehensible muzzling of Opposition Members of Parliament from criticizing the Federal Government.

The arguments against Labor’s ISP filtering censorship plan are compelling. I believe there are many arguments to support my position:

  1. The ISP filter will provide a false sense of security. Antivirus is a prime example – as much protection as we load onto our computers and networks we access, there are always new viruses, worms and trojans gaining access and creating havoc.
  2. The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) already has the responsibility for issuing take-down notices for black-listed content hosted in Australia. This Service Provider Responsibility List can be accessed at: http://www.acma.gov.au/WEB/STANDARD/pc=PC_90157
  3. There are already tools available for parents in commercial form which are just as foolproof as this ISP filtering plan, but don’t equate to censorship. These come in the forms of personal internet filters, parental control software and remote monitoring.
  4. Parents should be providing their children with the educational resources and know how to support the disciplinary responsibilities not only they, but their children, must be aware of when using the internet.
  5. Even with the ISP filtering plan in action, it will not protect your child from online chat rooms, peer to peer connections or emails.

Alex Hawke, Member for Mitchell, to ZDNet Australia, 18 December 2009:

I'm inherently against this concept, it's a very bad way to do governance.

I'm a Christian and I have spoken to the Christian lobby and told them that this policy will not be effective. It could even potentially lead to some of their views being added to a government filter.

I don't think they're open to the danger of this policy mechanism. It will go beyond [child pornography] and that's where it could run into trouble. I'm going to be arguing strongly inside the liberal party that we should oppose this policy.

18 December 2009

Rudd Labor government censors results from ISP filtering trial

Crucial information on the Rudd Labor government's trial of ISP-level content filtering is conspicuously absent in the Enex TestLab report. Senator Stephen Conroy, Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, has failed to disclose the rate of over-blocking that occurs when the filter is configured with the ACMA blacklist. While the report includes results on the degree of over-blocking and under-blocking for a list of URLs provided by Enex, the figures for over-blocking for the ACMA blacklist are more important as this is the list that ISPs will be required to block when mandatory ISP-level filtering is in force.

The reality of Internet content filtering is that as the success rate for blocking of prescribed prohibited content increases, so too does the over-blocking of legitimate content, as Enex makes clear in its own report:

Enex considers it unlikely that any filter vendor would achieve 100 percent blocking of the URLs inappropriate for children without significant over-blocking of the innocuous URLs because the content on different commercial lists varies and there is a high rate at which new content is created on the internet. Enex has also noted, through previous testing, that the higher the accuracy the higher the over-blocking.

Enex reported that they were successful in blocking 100% of the pages listed on the ACMA blacklist, but what was the price paid in blocking of legitimate content? Even though the Minister has not released this information, he is proceeding with the implementation of ISP-level content filtering without consulting the Australian people on whether they are prepared to accept the negative impact it will have on the accessibility of the vast majority of sites on the Internet that do not pose a threat to children.

17 December 2009

Mandatory ISP-level filtering: issue of feasibility or freedom of speech?

Most disagreements I've had on the issue of mandatory ISP-level filtering are not on whether it is bad policy, but the reasons why it is bad policy. The community's concerns fall into two categories:

  • Social: objections to government regulation of access to online content.
  • Technical: foreseen technical challenges that ISP-level filtering creates, such as preventing circumvention and a reduction in network performance.

Engineers will tell you that ISP-level filtering simply doesn't work, which might appear to contradict the fears that people have about the government being able to block access to content to further its own political interests. The social and technical arguments at first may appear to disagree with each other, but they are closely related and can be even seen as one and the same issue being debated from different angles.

The success of the Internet has been built on its open, decentralised and robust design that has enabled its rapid expansion and information to quickly and reliably flow from one host on the network to any other host located anywhere on the globe. Attempting to regulate communications requires intervention in the fundamental underlying workings of the Internet and inevitably leads to undesirable results. Whether you view this from a social or technical perspective, the policy undermines the strengths of the Internet that have allowed it to transform the way we communicate.

Proponents of Internet censorship sometimes compare the Internet to TV in the censorship debate—programs are censored on free-to-air television, so why should the Internet be treated any differently? The difference is that free-to-air programs are delivered over a broadcast medium and communication occurs in only one direction between the station and the public. When programs are censored, the content is removed at the source. Censorship on the Internet via ISP-level filtering is achieved by blocking communication between hosts connected to the Internet, not removing the content at the source, and has an adverse impact on all communication that takes place between Internet users.

15 December 2009

WAIA President's two opposing positions on ISP-level filtering

Richard Bone, President of the WA Internet Association, appears to have a good understanding of the inherent flaws of using ISP-level filtering to regulate content on the Internet, as he wrote in an article for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute:

  1. It is not an effective way to block or stop the content that it is designed to prevent.
  2. Filters can be bypassed. This would be particularly relevant in radicalisation networks where the participants form a relationship with each other which could involve sharing of techniques to bypass filters.
  3. The introduction of (arguably ineffective) filters will increase the costs to ISPs and impede their ability to provide superior performance. This will ultimately lead to higher costs and lower performance for consumers.
  4. Legislative change is far too slow to be effective. For example, the time to introduce filtering legislation, or revisions to such legislation is months or years whereas technology to bypass and/or avoid filters would occur in days or even hours.
  5. The introduction of filtering legislation would be an impediment to investment and innovation in the Australian internet industry. It is already the case that the lack of safe harbour legislation for hosts within Australia drives Australian content to be hosted offshore. If filtering is introduced this will worsen.

He clearly understands that ISP-level filtering won't work and law enforcement is a better policy alternative:

In forming counter-radicalisation policy it should be remembered that the internet provides a tool to help humans communicate better and more easily. It is a facility that underpins a human activity system. As part of a human activity system, the internet evolves often very rapidly to trends driven by human behaviour. The internet is resistant to impediment—where changes are introduced they are often quickly circumvented.

From an industry perspective, the best way to fight radicalisation is to use human law enforcement, equipped with state-of-the-art technology, assisted by the Australian internet industry.

Despite writing the above for the strategic policy think tank, he publicly stated his support for the government's plan for mandatory ISP-level filtering:

This initiative will help reduce access to significant amounts of harmful content.

It is difficult to see how he was giving an open, honest opinion on this ill-conceived policy after making the earlier remarks for the ASPI.

13 December 2009

Rudd's Copenhagen entourage

Below is the provisional list of 114 participants that Australia has sent to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. According to the statistics provided on the provisional list of participants, 194 nations have sent a total of 8053 participants, so the average number of participants in each party sent to the conference is 42.

The party includes 28 people from the Department of Foreign Affairs, but surprisingly the Foreign Minister's name Stephen Smith doesn't appear on this list.

H.E. Mr. Kevin Michael Rudd
Prime Minister

H.E. Ms. Penelope Wong
Minister, Climate Change and Water
Office of the Minister for Climate Change and Water

H.E. Ms. Louise Helen Hand
Ambassador for Climate Change
Department of Climate Change

Mr. David Fredericks
Deputy Chief of Staff
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

Mr. Philip Green Oam
Senior Policy Adviser, Foreign Affairs
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

Mr. Andrew Charlton
Senior Adviser
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

Mr. Lachlan Harris
Senior Press Secretary
Prime Minister's Office
Office of Prime Minister

Mr. Scott Dewar
Senior Adviser
Office of Prime Minister

Ms. Clare Penrose
Adviser
Office of Prime Minister

Ms. Fiona Sugden
Media Adviser
Office of Prime Minister

Ms. Lisa French
Office of the Prime Minister
Office of Prime Minister

Mr. Jeremy Hilman
Adviser
Office of Prime Minister

Ms. Tarah Barzanji
Adviser
Office of Prime Minister

Mr. Kate Shaw
Executive Secretary
Office of Prime Minister

Ms. Gaile Barnes
Executive Assistant
Office of Prime Minister

Ms. Gordon de Brouwer
Deputy Secretary
Prime Minister and Cabinet

Mr. Patrick Suckling
First Assistant Secretary, International Division
Prime Minister and Cabinet

Ms. Rebecca Christie
Prime Minister's Office

Mr. Michael Jones
Official Photographer
Prime Minister and Cabinet

Mr. Stephan Rudzki

Mr. David Bell
Federal Agent
Australian Federal Police

Ms. Kym Baillie
Australian Federal Police

Mr. David Champion
Australian Federal Police

Mr. Matt Jebb
Federal Agent
Australian Federal Police

Mr. Craig Kendall
Federal Agent
Australian Federal Police

Mr. Ian Lane
Squadron Leader Staff, Officer VIP Operations

Mr. John Olenich
Media Adviser / Adviser to Minister Wong
Office of the Minister for Climate Change and Water

Ms. Kristina Hickey
Adviser to Minister Wong
Office of the Minister for Climate Change and Water

Mr. Martin Parkinson
Secretary
Department of Climate Change

Mr. Howard Bamsey
Special Envoy for Climate Change
Department of Climate Change

Mr. Robert Owen-Jones
Assistant Secretary, International Division
Department of Climate Change

Ms. Clare Walsh
Assistant Secretary, International Division
Department of Climate Change

Ms. Jenny Elizabeth Wilkinson
Policy Advisor
Department of Climate Change

Ms. Elizabeth Mary Peak
Principal Legal Adviser, International Climate Law
Department of Climate Change

Ms. Kristin Tilley
Director, Multilateral Negotiations
International Division
Department of Climate Change

Mr. Andrew Ure
Acting Director, Multilateral Negotiations
International Division
Department of Climate Change

Ms. Annemarie Watt
Director, Land Sector Negotiations
International Division
Department of Climate Change

Ms. Kushla Munro
Director, International Forest Carbon Section
International Division
Department of Climate Change

Ms. Kathleen Annette Rowley
Director, Strategic and Technical Analysis
Department of Climate Change

Ms. Anitra Cowan
Assistant Director, Multilateral Negotiations
Department of Climate Change

Ms. Sally Truong
Assisting Director, Multilateral Negotiations
International Division
Department of Climate Change

Ms. Jane Wilkinson
Assistant Director
Department of Climate Change

Ms. Tracey Mackay
Assistant Director
International Division
Department of Climate Change

Ms. Laura Brown
Assistant Director, Multilateral Negotiations
International Division
Department of Climate Change

Ms. Tracey-Anne Leahey
Delegation Manager
Department of Climate Change

Ms. Nicola Loffler
Senior Legal Adviser, International Climate Law
Department of Climate Change

Ms. Tamara Curll
Legal Adviser, International Climate Law
Department of Climate Change

Ms. Jessica Allen
Legal Support Officer
Department of Climate Change

Mr. Sanjiva de Silva
Legal Adviser, International Climate Law
Department of Climate Change

Ms. Gaia Puleston
Political Adviser
Department of Climate Change

Ms. Penelope Jane Morton
Policy Adviser, Multilateral Negotiations (UNFCCC)
International Division
Department of Climate Change

Ms. Claire Elizabeth Watt
Policy Advisor
Department of Climate Change

Ms. Amanda Walker
Policy Officer, Multilateral Negotiations
Department of Climate Change

Mr. Alan David Lee
Policy Adviser, Land Sector Negotiations
Department of Climate Change

Ms. Erika Kate Oord
Australian Stakeholder Manager
Department of Climate Change

Mr. Jahda Kirian Swanborough
Communications Manager
Ministerial Communication
Department of Climate Change

H.E. Mr. Sharyn Minahan
Ambassador
DFAT
Diplomatic Mission of Australia to Denmark

Ms. Julia Feeney
Director, Climate Change and Environment
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Mr. Chester Geoffrey Cunningham
Second Secretary
DFAT
Diplomatic Mission of Australia to Germany

Ms. Rachael Virginia Cooper
Executive Officer, Climate Change and Environment
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Ms. Rachael Grivas
Executive Officer, Environment Branch
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Moya Elyn Collett
Desk officer, Climate Change and Environment Section
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Mr. Rob Law
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Mr. Robin Davies
Assistant Director General, Sustainable Development Group
Australian Agency for International Development

Ms. Deborah Fulton
Director, Policy and Global Environment
Australian Agency for International Development

Ms. Katherine Renee Ann Vaughn
Policy Advisor, Policy and Global Environment
Australian Agency for International Development

Mr. Brian Dawson
Policy Adviser
Australian Agency for International Development

Mr. Andrew Leigh Clarke
Deputy Secretary
Department of Resources Development, Western Australia

Mr. Bruce Wilson
General Manager, Environment Energy and Environment Division
Department of Resources Development, Western Australia

Ms. Jill McCarthy
Policy Adviser
Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism

Mr. Simon French
Policy Adviser
Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

Mr. Ian Michael Ruscoe
Policy Adviser
Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

Mr. David Walland
Acting Superintendent, National Climate Centre
Bureau of Meteorology

Mr. Damien Dunn
Senior Policy Adviser
The Australian Treasury

Ms. Helen Hawka Fuhrman
Policy Officer, Renewable Energy Policy and Partnerships

Mr. Scott Vivian Davenport
Chief Economics
NSW Department of Industry and Investment

Mr. Graham Julian Levitt
Policy Manager, Climate Change
NSW Department of Industry and Investment

Ms. Kate Jennifer Jones
Minister, Climate Change and Sustainability
Queensland Government

Mr. Michael William Dart
Principal Policy Advisor
Office of the Hon. Kate Jones MP
Queensland Government

Mr. Matthew Anthony Jamie Skoien
Senior Director, Office of Climate Change
Queensland Government

Mr. Michael David Rann
Premier, South Australia
Department of Premier and Cabinet, Southern Australia

Ms. Suzanne Kay Harter
Adviser
Department of Premier and Cabinet, Southern Australia

Mr. Paul David Flanagan
Manager, Communications
Government of South Australia

Mr. Timothy William O'Loughlin
Deputy Chief Executive, Sustainability and Workforce Management
Department of Premier and Cabinet
South Australian Government

Ms. Nyla Sarwar
M.Sc student
Linacre College
University of Oxford

Mr. Gavin Jennings
Minister, Environment and Climate Change and Innovation, Victorian Government

Ms. Sarah Broadbent
Sustainability Adviser

Ms. Rebecca Falkingham
Senior Adviser
Victoria Government/Office of Climate Change

Mr. Simon Camroux
Policy Adviser
Energy Supply Association of Australia Limited

Mr. Geoff Lake
Adviser
Australian Local Government Association

Sridhar Ayyalaraju
Post Visit Controller
DFAT
Diplomatic Mission of Australia to Denmark

Mr. Tegan Brink
Deputy Visit Controller and Security Liaison Officer
DFAT
Diplomatic Mission of Australia to Denmark

Ms. Melissa Eu Suan Goh
Transport Liaison Officer and Consul
DFAT
Diplomatic Mission of Australia to Denmark

Ms. Lauren Henschke
Support Staff
DFAT
Diplomatic Mission of Australia to Denmark

Ms. Maree Fay
Accommodation Liaison Officer
DFAT
Diplomatic Mission of Australia to Denmark

Ms. Patricia McKinnon
Communications Officer
DFAT
Diplomatic Mission of Australia to Denmark

Eugene Olim
Paasport / Baggage Liaison Officer
DFAT
Diplomatic Mission of Australia to Denmark

Ms. Belinda Lee Adams

Ms. Jacqui Ashworth
Media Liaison Officer
DFAT
Diplomatic Mission of Australia to Denmark

Ms. Patricia Smith
Media Liaison Officer
DFAT
Diplomatic Mission of Australia to Denmark

Mr. Martin Bo Jensen
Research and Public Diplomatic Officer
DFAT
Diplomatic Mission of Australia to Denmark

Mr. Mauro Kolobaric
Consular Support
DFAT
Diplomatic Mission of Australia to Denmark

Ms. Susan Flanagan
Consular Support
DFAT
Diplomatic Mission of Australia to Denmark

Mr. Stephen Kanaridis
IT Support Officer
DFAT
Diplomatic Mission of Australia to Denmark

Mr. George Reid
Support Staff
DFAT
Diplomatic Mission of Australia to Denmark

Ms. Ashley Wright
Support Staff
DFAT
Diplomatic Mission of Australia to Denmark

Ms. Jodie Littlewood
Support Staff
DFAT
Diplomatic Mission of Australia to Denmark

Mr. Thomas Millhouse
Support Staff
DFAT
Diplomatic Mission of Australia to Denmark

Mr. Timothy Whittley
Support Staff Driver
DFAT
Diplomatic Mission of Australia to Denmark

Ms. Julia Thomson
DFAT
Diplomatic Mission of Australia to Denmark

Mr. Donald Frater
Chief of Staff to Minister Wong
Office of the Minister for Climate Change and Water

Ms. Jacqui Smith
Media Liaison
DFAT
Diplomatic Mission of Australia to Denmark

Mr. Greg French
Senior Legal Advisor, Environment
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Mr. Jeremy Hillman
Advisor
PMO

30 October 2009

Chameleon loses its camouflage

Kevin Rudd's major immigration bungle—the so-called "Indonesian Solution", which really should be called the Indonesian Fiasco—exposes his phoniness. Such is his mastery of delivering spin over the 24-hour media cycle and contempt for the average voter that he masquerades as an economic conservative, environmentalist, humanitarian and Christian socialist, depending on which voters he wants to con in the message that he is conveying. He makes extraordinary and incoherent ideological shifts not just between press releases, but between sentences within the same speech.

Rudd has spun a web of deception extending from the political left to the political right, and it has inevitably left him entangled. Julie Bishop, Deputy Opposition Leader and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, asked Rudd about a newspaper report that he is offering millions of dollars to Indonesia to intercept the growing wave of asylum seekers in Indonesia:

Ms JULIE BISHOP (Curtin) (2:21 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer the Prime Minister to the report in today's West Australian newspaper that 'Indonesia will be offered millions of dollars to intercept and house asylum seekers who attempt to make the journey to Australia', which could be paid 'as a bounty for every boat intercepted'. Will the Prime Minister inform the House whether such arrangements are under consideration and the estimated cost to Australian taxpayers?

Mr RUDD (Griffith) (Prime Minister) —I thank the Deputy Leader of the Opposition for her question, which goes to the fabric of our cooperation with Indonesia in dealing with the global challenge of people smuggling. I note that that question follows the previous question from the leader of the National Party, which pointed to the push factors which are at work, one of which is from Afghanistan and another of which is from Sri Lanka, given the recent civil war. This government has been absolutely consistent in saying that in dealing with this problem, which is a global problem, we must maximise our global cooperation with the UNHCR and resettlement countries. That is the first part of it.

The second part of it, of course, is to employ the cooperative arrangements with Indonesia and other regional countries through the Bali process and also under the provisions which are provided for under the Lombok treaty—which I seem to recall was negotiated by those opposite, though it was ratified and concluded after this government took office. That treaty, in one of its provisions, deals with cooperation between Australia and Indonesia on people-smuggling. The President of Indonesia and I have made no secret of the fact that we intend to continue to develop a framework for further cooperation on people-smuggling. That is what we intend to do. That will mean providing additional assistance to our friends in Indonesia to help with the resettlement task and to help with all the associated functions which they might undertake in the future to assist Australia and other countries in dealing with this regional problem. There is nothing remarkable in that; it is the right thing for Australia to do. This government makes no apology whatsoever for the fact that we have a tough line on asylum seekers when it comes to dealing with the challenges of people smugglers around the world—tough but humane.

Rudd's attempt to politically escape from this policy debacle by outsourcing border protection to Indonesia is anything but tough and humane. Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull summed up Rudd's epic policy failure in his address to Federal Parliament:

Well, it’s time for this Prime Minister to face up to the facts; he cannot escape responsibility for the people aboard that Australian Customs vessel. He cannot refuse to answer for how his policies have led to this outcome. He says his policies are tough and humane. Tough but humane – it’s just another of the phoney formulas dreamed up by the Winston Smith wannabes in his office to create an impression with the Government’s border protection policies are something they are not.

In fact, this Government’s policies are neither tough nor humane. They are dysfunctional. They do not work. They fail to achieve the object of the policy, which is to stop the people smuggling. They have failed and they will continue to fail. And Australians know that, because they see with their own eyes how these policies are unravelling as each and every day passes.

The Bilateral Solution

Kevin Rudd must end the farce that has unfolded in Indonesia over the past 11 days as soon as possible before it does further damage to our international image. The vacuum in our border protection policy is clearly evident and it will only add to Australia's appeal as the ideal destination for the operations of people smugglers.

This policy debacle was entirely preventable and of the Prime Minister's own making because in trying to please the left and right at the same time using deceptive spin, he has created a situation that is bad for the asylum seekers, bad for Australia's diplomatic relationship with Indonesia, bad for our international reputation and undermines our border protection policy objectives.

Rudd should consider offering the 78 asylum seekers on board the Oceanic Viking currently anchored in Indonesia a compromise: allow women and children to be processed via Australian facilities if they disembark at once.

25 October 2009

Cut the spin and bureaucracy and fix our phone companies, Senator Conroy

While Senator Conroy seems to now be aware that mistreatment of customers in the telecommunications industry is rife, it remains to be seen whether he will show some leadership on this matter and deliver reform that working Mums and Dads will see on their phone bills. Conroy did not sound particularly proactive in the comments he made on Network Ten:

What we need to do is put pressure directly onto the telecommunications companies

If we do not start seeing a significant improvement in these sorts of reports ... we will legislate.

Even though phone companies have been ripping customers off for years by withholding details of charges from customers, he fails to commit himself to reform that is necessary to ensure that the rights of the customer are protected from dishonest business practices. The problems will not be fixed with bureaucracy, spin as a substitute for progress or endless process in the form of reviews, inquiries, commissions, committees and task forces that characterise the leadership style of Labor governments.

Twitter popular among the well-paid and educated: research

The results of research carried out by Nielsen on the people who use Twitter would surprise some people, especially those who have tried out the social network for a short while and deride it after finding the experience rather underwhelming.

The results of the research published in the Australian Financial Review on 1.6 million Twitter users in Australia show that 61% of users earn more than $75,000 and 40% earn more than $100,000. 421,000 users have a Bachelor's degree, while 202,000 users acquired a postgraduate degree, with these two groups together comprising 39% of the Twitter users studied. The professionals using Twitter tend to work in sales, administration, technical areas, executive management or be self-employed.

Deirdre Macken, the journalist who wrote the article, explains the power of Twitter:

Because of the endless linkages between Twitter users, it is the ultimate expression of the idea that there are at most six degrees of separation between any two people in the world. Information jumps through wildly different networks, rapidly forming opinions or spreading news.

Much of the power of the network is a reflection of the people who use it. Worldwide, users tend to be adults established in their own professions who have a lot of opinions, even though they might lack outlets to express them.

Crocodile tears from gang not welcome in Western Australia

Despite the complaints made by members of the Finks and their attempts to portray themselves as victims of police bullying in the media, it would be naive to think that they came to Western Australia just to go on a picnic. The Western Australian community has every reason to be concerned about the arrival of a group that was declared a criminal organisation just across the border in neighbouring South Australia. The South Australian Supreme Court ruled that Section 14.1 of the Serious and Organised Crime (Control) Act 2008 was invalid, although the South Australian Government is seeking to overturn the ruling in the High Court.

A Finks nominee from the Perth suburb of Belmont was recently charged for a range of offences, including a shooting incident in Landsdale.

One Finks member pleaded guilty in a Brisbane court on Friday for his involvement in a savage spree of bashings and sexual assaults carried out by gang members on the Gold Coast in January.

WA Attorney-General Christian Porter said that under legislation to be introduced into WA Parliament next year, it would be easier to declare the Finks a criminal organisation than other groups such as the Mafia, Chinese Triads or Sword Boys.

The Finks do not appear to have any support from the WA Opposition, either. Shadow Minister for Police, Margaret Quirk, said that an increase in their presence within WA "is certainly not welcome". She also said that they are "keen to set up somewhere else" because they are being pushed out of South Australia.

24 October 2009

Adam Shand from The Sunday Times joins in Finks PR campaign

A report by Adam Shand from The Sunday Times was just published attacking the efforts of our police to ensure the safety of the Western Australian community with the influx of members of the Finks motorbike gang from South Australia. He picks up a couple of Finks members from the airport and drives them to their clubhouse where they were holding a party and gets a first-hand glimpse at life inside the motorbike gang. The report begins with SPECIAL REPORT: Adam Shand, Inside Finks clubhouse—they must think they've gotten a real scoop to be given opportunity to enter their clubhouse and inform the outside world about how well behaved they are.

The report is titled 400 WA officers target Finks bikies . . . but no arrests and he appears to regard the operation as somewhat of a waste of taxpayers' money. After the impressions he gained from his visit to the clubhouse, he is convinced that the poor gang members are just misunderstood:

Not to everyone's taste, but not a threat to law and order.

...

At the time of writing, the weekend had been virtually incident-free.

The point he seeks to make in the story is then made in the final paragraph:

It's said there were nearly 400 officers statewide involved in the visit by the Finks. WA Police is facing a huge overtime bill with precious little to show for it.

We must remember that Adam Shand is a journalist, so perhaps he was disappointed that he didn't have a more exciting story to tell because the police did their job in maintaining the peace.

Reform needed to protect customers in the telecommunications industry

Date: Sat, 24 Oct 2009 14:07:43 +0800
Subject: Reform needed to protect customers in the telecommunications industry
From: Justin Lee
To: Nick Minchin
Cc: Malcolm Turnbull, Julie Bishop, Mathias Cormann, Dennis Jensen

Hi Nick,

If Senator Conroy wants to reform the telecommunications industry, he should begin by introducing legislation that compels carriers to meet their basic service obligations, rather than leaving it to working Mums and Dads to ensure that they are not being robbed by stealth.

As we all know, the quality of the customer service (or lack thereof) provided by our telecommunications carriers is appalling, and this is due to the inadequate protection available to ordinary customers who do not have any practical recourse when the carrier fails to meet its basic service obligations. Carriers do not have any incentive to provide customer service at a level of quality that any customer would consider fair and reasonable.

My experience with the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) has been that it is slow, bureaucratic and places an unfair burden on the customer when the carrier has clearly failed to meet its basic service obligations. No customer should have to go through a lengthy dispute arbitration process every time they are incorrectly billed. I was continually billed with hefty, unexplained charges by Optus and each time I raised a complaint, the billing errors became worse. To make matters worse, they refused to disclose details of the services that were incurring data charges for reasons of "privacy". They refused to even confirm that none of the data charges on a bill were for services that I was not using. I was informed that there was no process I could go through to access details of my data charges.

We should have no illusions about the current regime under which our telecommunications carriers operate. Signing up to a phone service when the carrier is allowed to withhold billing information is like handing them a blank cheque.

Cheers,
Justin.

18 October 2009

COALITION PLAN TO SAVE JOBS AND REDUCE COSTS

Press release issued by the Hon. Malcom Turnbull MP following party room discussions on amendments to the Rudd Labor government's emissions trading scheme (ETS).

The Coalition has unveiled a plan to save thousands of Australian jobs and limit increases in electricity prices for small business through common sense amendments to Labor's flawed and rushed emissions trading scheme.

The Shadow Cabinet and Joint Party Room today agreed to a package of amendments that will form the basis for good faith negotiations with the Rudd Labor Government. The package demonstrates Labor's CPRS can be made cheaper and smarter, protecting jobs.

Key export industries, including coal mining, food processing, natural gas and aluminium will be better protected, saving thousands of Australian jobs under threat from Labor's scheme.

The package also protects farmers from the scheme by exempting agriculture altogether. By allowing agricultural offsets which include carbon sequestration in soils and vegetation, there is the opportunity for financial and land management benefits in the rural sector. This is a win/win for farmers and the environment.

By including voluntary measures, the environment will also benefit from individuals, businesses and community groups who develop their own initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The Coalition will continue to advocate an intensity-based cap and trade approach to the electricity sector, as this more than halves the initial increase in electricity prices, reducing the economic costs of achieving emissions cuts.

If the Government refuses to consider the intensity-based approach, it must clearly explain why, and work with the Coalition to provide an alternative strategy for cushioning the initial impact of higher electricity prices on small businesses.

The key amendments to Labor's flawed CPRS and the commitments required from the Government that will be sought by the Coalition are outlined below.

Trade Exposed Industries

  • Amend the CPRS to provide a single level of assistance for emissions intensive trade exposed (EITE) industries at 94.5 per cent until 2015 and 90 per cent thereafter.
  • Lower the threshold for assistance from the CPRS proposal of 1000 tonnes of CO2 per $1 million of revenue to 850 tonnes of CO2 per $1 million.
  • Continue to provide assistance to Australian EITE industries at 90 per cent until 80 per cent of their international competitors have also implemented carbon abatement measures.
  • Include primary food processing such as dairy and meat in the EITE scheme.
  • Allow industries that include a series of sequential or parallel production processes to have these assessed as a single activity in determining assistance.

Agriculture

  • Permanently exclude agricultural emissions from the CPRS.
  • Obtain Government agreement to introduction of an agricultural offset scheme in line with similar offset schemes to be introduced in comparable economies such as the US and EU.

Coal Mine Emissions

  • Exclude coal mine fugitive emissions from the CPRS.
  • Provide the Minister with authority to use regulation to control fugitive emissions with the objective of achieving a 30 per cent reduction by 2025 as technology and international best practice allow.

Lower Electricity Prices

  • Coalition will continue to advocate an intensity-based cap-and-trade model for generators. This delivers the same emissions cuts as the CPRS but with a much smaller increase in electricity prices.
  • This would greatly reduce the burden on small and mid-sized businesses, which receive no compensation for higher power bills under Labor's proposals.
  • Under the CPRS retail electricity prices will rise by close to 20 per cent in the first two years. Under an intensity approach, retail electricity prices would rise by less than 5 per cent in the first two years.
  • If the Government continues to refuse to consider the intensity model, the Coalition will negotiate for an alternative approach to cushion near-term electricity price increases for small businesses.

Compensation for Electricity Generators

  • Coal-fired generators must be better compensated for loss of value they experience from the CPRS, to ensure security of electricity supply and enable them to transition to lower emission energy sources.
  • The CPRS offers coal-fired generators 130 million permits over five years worth $3.6 billion. Yet three respected private sector analysts estimate their losses at $9–$11 billion.
  • Assistance should be increased to 390 million permits over 15 years (or about $10 billion). Assistance should be allocated to all generators in proportion to the losses they suffer.
  • In the absence of access to the Government's secret Morgan Stanley report, this represents the Coalition's best estimate of appropriate generator compensation given the available data.

Energy Efficiency and Voluntary Action

  • The Coalition will negotiate for a national "white certificate" energy efficiency scheme so households and businesses earn credits for efficiency measures, and contribute to reducing national emissions.
  • Likewise, the Coalition supports creation of a voluntary offset market in advance of the introduction of the CPRS, and amending the CPRS to ensure voluntary abatement leads to a lower national level of emissions.

The Coalition will negotiate the above matters with the Government in good faith, and in the expectation that the proposed emissions trading scheme can be improved to deliver the same environmental benefits with less severe economic costs.

The ball is now in Mr Rudd's court. If he wants to fix the flaws in his proposed emissions trading scheme, he needs to give Senator Wong the green light to engage with the Coalition and embrace our plan to save Australian jobs and reduce costs.

18 October 2009

They can "get away with higher prices" - IGA distributor

WA IGA President John Cummings claims that locally owned supermarkets are "highly competitive" according to a survey he "personally conducted", where a basket of products sold at his IGA store in Glengarry were compared with products purchased from Coles and Woolworths stores in the Sydney suburb of Warringah. In his findings, Cummings stated:

The only conclusions to be drawn from this survey is that Perth shoppers are either well served by the independent sector and that the independents continue to put downward pressure on day-to-day grocery prices, or both Coles and Woolworths are engaging in blatant price gouging of consumers in Sydney.

Cummings' personal research is not as definitive as he would like to believe, especially when one looks at one of the slides from a presentation that was given by Reitzer, CEO of Metcash, to US investors:

Reitzer tells investors that one of the reasons that Metcash's "independent" grocers have been successful is that "their location or format allows them to get away with higher prices." Far from having the downward pressure claimed by Cummings, Reitzer boasted that IGA is able to defy market forces and rip off consumers.

17 October 2009

The 800-pound gorilla standing in the way of extended trading hours

We keep hearing the same arguments against deregulation of retail trading hours in Western Australia: small shops will be put out of business by Coles and Woolworths and the results of the referendum held in 2005 on this issue show that the public do not want reform. Unfortunately, we would be naive to assume that the opponents of deregulation who give these flawed arguments have the general community's interests at heart and not their own.

The ACT and Northern Territory both have completely unregulated trading hours. Tasmania's trading hours are unregulated on all but two and half days of the year. Notwithstanding the claims made by the independent grocers' lobby, liberalisation of trading hours in other states and territories has not had an adverse impact on the performance of independent grocers.

The people were not asked in the 2005 referendum whether they wanted extended trading hours, but whether they thought it was good public policy. Furthermore, IGA led a fear campaign in the lead up to the referendum with claims such as extending trading hours threatens 15,000 jobs, which is totally absurd.

All the economic debate that has surrounded this policy issue is just a distraction from the grubby rent seeking and politics that are driving the resistance to reform. Metcash, the distributor for IGA and Foodworks that benefits from the current regulatory regime, donated a total of $26,000 to the WA Nationals for the financial year of 2007/2008, as reported on the Australian Electoral Commission's website.

Donations to WA Nationals for 2007/2008 reported by donors

The disclosed donations for the financial year of 2008/2009 are yet to be published, but they will be interesting indeed. The Barnett Liberal government introduced legislation to extend retail trading hours, but this was blocked by the Nationals and Labor opposition. The Liberal government then explored an alternative approach to extending trading hours without passing legislation through the Western Australian Parliament: extending the boundaries of the Perth tourism precinct, which the Nationals said they would block via a disallowance motion—they even blocked changes that didn't affect the constituents of any of the seats they hold.

10 September 2009

Finance Minister takes swipe at Hockey over Twitter use

Lindsay Tanner, Minister for Finance and Deregulation, took a swipe at his counterpart in the opposition yesterday over his use of Twitter within the chamber:

Mr TANNER —I am delighted that the member for North Sydney has dragged himself away from his twittering for a few moments. We know he has got an attention span problem, but it would be good if he actually paid attention to the parliament rather than sitting there twittering all day.

It is clear from a quick glance at his Twitter profile that he has his Twitter use very much under control. Given that the majority of the government's responses to questions are irrelevant and leave us none the wiser on how it intends to deliver on its policy commitments, it is fair to say that he is not necessarily making less productive use of his time communicating with his supporters and the wider public via social networking sites.

23 August 2009

Joe Francis to Eric Ripper on retail liberalisation: bring it on

Joe Francis MLA, Member for JandakotTranscript of the speech delivered by Joe Francis MLA, Liberal member for Jandakot, to the Western Australian Legislative Assembly on 18 August 2009.

MR J.M. FRANCIS (Jandakot) [4.14 pm]: I understand that this is a fairly passionate issue for many sectors of the community. Sometimes there is no black and white answer to some of the questions that are posed. I honestly appreciate the input that members opposite have made to this debate. However, I do not come here and lightly make a decision that will hopefully in some way affect the lives of my constituents, without giving it very serious consideration and certainly without talking to them first. We will obviously agree to disagree on many matters.

I did go through some of the history of this matter, and I will touch on it briefly. When the retail trading hours laws were first introduced into Western Australia 20-odd years ago, there were three main reasons for it. They confirmed the regulations that were already in existence; they were intended to give a limited protection for the lifestyle at the time; and they also preserved the idea, to some extent, that Sundays were family days and that retail workers, where possible, could ensure they would have a shorter working week.

Mr W.J. Johnston interjected.

Mr J.M. FRANCIS: I am talking about the original act that enshrined rules that were already in place. It has also been 21 years since Australia celebrated its bicentenary.

Mr W.J. Johnston interjected.

Mr J.M. FRANCIS: The member will get his chance to make a contribution. Australia in 2009 is a very different place from what it was 21 years ago, and that includes Western Australia. Our lifestyle, population, work ethic, standard of living, spending habits, working hours and society have changed dramatically in that time. Metropolitan Perth is really no exception. Changing lifestyles mean that more people have been undertaking tertiary education, vocational training and shift work. More people are involved in fly in, fly out work, and there is more casual and part-time work. The whole gamut of employment and lifestyle issues has changed the shape of metropolitan Perth. As well as the demand for this kind of work there has also been a demand for flexibility in shopping hours. That is obviously mainly around the retail sector. Unfortunately, although so much has changed, the one sector that has not changed is the retail sector, apart from in 1994 when shopping hours were increased from 12 o'clock on Saturdays until later. I would hate to see the response if any member threatened to wind back the clock on that one. I remember going to shops when they shut at 12 o'clock, and it was not a pleasant experience.

One of the things that have surprised me in this debate is that the Labor Party members have said that they consulted with small businesses. Some have said that they consulted their constituents.

Point of Order

Mr C.J. BARNETT: There are some standards in Parliament, and one of them is that people do not drink out of bottles; indeed, members should not consume liquids in the house. Members should not consume liquids or food, and they should not drink out of a bottle in the house. If the member for West Swan wants a drink, she should use a glass, be civilised and be courteous.

Ms R. SAFFIOTI: When I talked to the Speaker about my pregnancy, I asked whether I could bring bottled water into the house because I do not drink water that has been left around for a while. He said that it was okay.

Several members interjected.

The ACTING SPEAKER: There is no point of order.

Debate Resumed

Mr J.M. FRANCIS: The point I wanted to make—I hate to talk about obvious observations—is that one of the issues that has not been raised is that the current retail trading regime in Perth —

Several members interjected.

The ACTING SPEAKER: Order! The member for Mandurah is on two strikes. I do not want to formally warn him for a third time. I have given the call to the member for Jandakot, and the member for Jandakot is the person whom I would like to listen to at this moment.

Mr J.M. FRANCIS: Thank you, Madam Acting Speaker. I am trying to do this in a non-confronting way. The issue that has not been raised is that the current regime really benefits the rich. Let me explain why to the member for Wanneroo, because I know he will be fascinated by this. The bill deals with trading until 9.00 pm on Monday to Friday, but if people live closer to a tourism precinct, and the main one is the city, they are probably more likely to own more expensive real estate. If they want to go shopping outside normal trading hours, they do not have far to travel. People who live at Jandakot or Armadale have a bit of a hike to get into the city. There are so many inconsistencies with retail trading laws that I would be absolutely surprised if members did not realise that the current regime benefits those people who live closer to the city and tourism precincts as opposed to those people who live in the suburbs in the south east and must make the extra effort to go somewhere to make a considered purchase.

Ms A.J.G. MacTiernan: Have you analysed how people voted in the referendum?

Mr J.M. FRANCIS: I have.

Ms A.J.G. MacTiernan: Had you done that, you would see that, contrary to your speculation, the further people are from Perth the less inclined they are to support it.

Mr J.M. FRANCIS: The member for Armadale makes a good point. I do not write off the referendum lightly, but I will make this point: if a referendum were held now, it would be very hard to say what the outcome would be in my electorate because in the referendum held in 2005 only 11 000 people were on the roll in Jandakot; since then, 10 000 people have moved into the area. I see what happens in my electorate. I see the absolute nightmare that people go through when shopping on a Thursday night and a Saturday. I am thoroughly disappointed with the member for Cockburn, because generally the majority of my constituents shop at the same shopping centre, Cockburn Gateway Shopping City, and it is not easy to move about there—shoppers cannot get a car park. Extending trading hours on Mondays to Fridays would alleviate the Thursday night and Saturday rush for the soccer mums and the mums and dads with other sporting commitments who force the issue of grocery shopping into their weekend regime. For working mums and dads—I hate that phrase—extending trading hours would give them the option to do their grocery shopping on a Monday night, a Tuesday night or a Friday night. Effectively, whatever we may say, we are really talking only about food and groceries. It is matter of choice for consumers and it is also a matter of choice for business owners—that is, whether they open.

That brings me to another issue—namely, the results of the referendum. I appreciate that a large percentage of people did not vote for extended hours at the recent referendum. However, it was a fairly loaded question. When talking about loaded questions, it is well worth noting the consultation done by members opposite in their electorates. I refer to the letter sent to small businesses by the member for Victoria Park in which he stated —

I am surveying all businesses in my electorate of Victoria Park to seek your views in relation to extended weeknight trading.

I have to say that other members opposite used the same loaded questions asked by the member for Victoria Park. These are pretty loaded questions. For example, the member for Victoria Park asked —

2. Do you support the State Government overturning the results of the 2005 referendum?

He should have asked whether people thought that business owners —

Several members interjected.

Mr J.M. FRANCIS: If members opposite want me to go through it, I will. They loaded the questions. If members opposite had sent out a survey that asked whether business owners thought that they should be able to determine when they can and cannot open their businesses, it might have been —

Mr P. Papalia: Which line do you reckon we will run at the election?

Mr J.M. FRANCIS: Be it a big business or a small business, shareholders—the member for Warnbro's constituents own shares in big businesses—are denied the opportunity at the moment.

Mr P.B. Watson: Not too many of mine do!

Mr J.M. FRANCIS: They do, in their super funds.

When it comes to the last referendum, regardless of what anybody says in the house, I would have to say that any person who seriously voted on this issue—I am asking for the member for Warnbro's indulgence and for him to put on his political strategist's hat—did not log onto the Liberal Party's website and read the policy document. People made up their minds reading the front page of The West Australian just before the election. Before the last election, people who really cared where the Liberal Party or the Labor Party, or any party, stood on the retail trading hours made up their minds after reading the front page of the paper and the quotes from the Premier. Robert Taylor wrote —

A Liberal Government would extend weekday shopping hours in its first term and fix some anomalies limiting weekend trading but would retain the ban on major grocery chains opening on Sundays, Opposition Leader Colin Barnett said yesterday.

A little later, the article continues —

He would seek to reach a consensus on extended Monday to Friday trading with the major grocery chains, Coles and Woolworths, industry and employee groups after he was elected.

The article goes on to quote the then Leader of the Opposition —

"On general trading hours I would sit down with Coles and Woolworths and the independents, consumer groups, representatives of the employees and industry," he said.

"The agreement I'd be seeking would be to extend weekday shopping as the next step in deregulation. Any staged deregulation needs to have time and I would want this to settle down before any further step in deregulation, so for the coming term of government if we can reach agreement what would be on the agenda would be an extension of weekday trading."

Mr Barnett insisted his move to extend weekday shopping hours honoured the spirit of the referendum, which rejected further deregulation.

He said —

"I respect the referendum result that was held. Labor failed to govern, they deserted the issue, they asked the people and now they're ignoring the people. I will not do that no matter what might be my views about deregulation,"

The point is, as I have said, people who voted on the issue of extended trading hours really did not make up their minds on the basis of what was on a website hosted by the Liberal Party or the Labor Party, but by reading what was in the mainstream media. It is pretty black and white. The heading on the front page of The West Australian states —

Libs promise late shopping on week nights

Mr P. Papalia: Did the Premier canvass it with the Nationals when he formed government?

Mr C.J. Barnett: No.

Mr J.M. FRANCIS: We were not a coalition going into the election. The National Party had —

Several members interjected.

Mr J.M. FRANCIS: I will tell members what the member for Warnbro's problem is with the debate about the National Party: the National's position, going into the election, was black and white.

Mr W.J. Johnston: Ours was black and white and yours was.

Mr J.M. FRANCIS: According to the Weekend Courier, the member for Rockingham —

...said he welcomed Labor's plan to extend trading hours, which would allow Sunday trading in Rockingham and continued trading on public holidays.

Mr P. Papalia: You are in government. You cannot get three of your own cabinet ministers to agree to your own legislation. You are a joke! The government is a joke.

Mr J.M. FRANCIS: Members opposite were far more divided on this issue than we ever were.

Several members interjected.

The ACTING SPEAKER: Order, members! I am sure Hansard has no hope whatsoever of recording any of this debate, which may in fact be in the wider interests of the general public. I call on the member for Jandakot to continue. Member for Warnbro, you are on two strikes.

Mr J.M. FRANCIS: Members opposite know as well as I do that the Labor Party has flipped and flopped on this issue for a long time. We know that in her heart the member for Armadale wants Sunday trading—I note her comments on 18 November of last year. The member for Willagee wants it, although he has changed his mind a number of times on this issue. There are a lot of facts and there are a lot of myths.

The retail sector in Western Australia is worth about $25 billion annually and we know that it employs about 74 000 people. Extending trading hours would give us the potential to grow that sector ever larger. In every state across this country that has slowly deregulated its trading hours, the figures and the facts prove that the retail sector has slowly grown greater than what could have been expected had that deregulation not happened.

As I have said, this is really a groceries issue. It comes down to the fact that at the moment some operators, through fairly convoluted and undisclosed franchise agreements, get away with not having the required minimum number of staff on their payroll. They are, therefore, exempt from the act and can open under certain provisions. My challenge to the people who run those stores and who essentially have a monopoly on extended trading hours, including late nights and Sundays, is that, if they really want to play fair and in the sprit of the game, they should publish their franchise agreements. Let us know what they say. Let us see that they are truly independent operators. Companies such as IGA are generally influenced by Metcash, a fairly large South African company, and I would hate for people to wrongly assume that they are not as independent as they make out to be. It comes down to a choice for consumers. At the moment, companies such as Aldi, a fairly large and popular discount retailer of grocery items in the eastern states, will not come to Western Australia. Aldi will not come to Western Australia because it does not think that the market is big enough for it to compete in. It is not the population size—in fact, there is an Aldi store where my parents live in Moss Vale in New South Wales. Certainly, towns such as Bowral and Moss Vale do not have anywhere near the population of my electorate alone. It is important to get a few other matters right as well. It is important to point out that this legislation does not force people to open; it just gives people the option to open.

I want to mention one of my experiences. In 2003 I was on a navy ship, HMAS Tobruk, when it berthed in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. When we pulled in there, I thought, "Well, we are in a communist country; it is going to be fairly backwards here." However, what stuck out more than anything else was that retail shop owners in Ho Chi Minh City, in a communist country, were not told by their government when they could or could not open their shops. But we do it in Western Australia. It is absolutely ludicrous.

Anyone who believes in the spirit of competitive capitalism, as I do and hopefully everyone does, will realise that increased competition will only benefit the consumer. I can use the example of my little local independent store. To be honest, it rips me off every single time I walk in. I pay 15 bucks for a jar of coffee that I can buy for seven bucks elsewhere. The tomatoes are green, the cheese is mouldy, the milk is at use-by date, the ham is sweaty—yet I am forced to pay the price. I do not have the option to go, after hours, to Coles or Woolies because they are not open. If Coles and Woolies could open —

Mr P.B. Watson: You don't support your local business if you go to Coles and Woolies.

Mr J.M. FRANCIS: There are two little businesses. One is in my electorate and the other is in the member for Cockburn's electorate, which I will come to, and they are poles apart. The extra amount of time that it takes to drive to the other shop is so great that people only go there to buy the minimum number of consumables. If I had to choose whether to go to Coles or Woolies tonight rather than the local guy around the corner, I would go to Coles or Woolies. I would do that to send my so-called local independent retailer a very clear message; that is, stop ripping me off or I will go somewhere else. These little guys can compete with the big businesses.

There is a little retailer in the member for Cockburn's electorate called Tony Ale and Co. I would encourage anyone to go there when they are in that part of South Lake. Tony Ale walks into Canning Vale markets, the fresh food markets, not the flea markets, at 4.00 am every day when they first open. This place is the thriving hub of capitalism in Western Australia. It is brilliant to watch in action. He goes in there and says, "I will take the best of everything you've got and I don't care how much it costs." He buys it and puts it on his shelf. People queue to get into his shop most days. Why? Because his tomatoes last longer and his lettuces do not go soggy after two days. He does such a better job at retailing food and groceries than anyone. He really does not care if Coles and Woolies open 24/7.

My point is that IGA and other independents can compete with the big guys. This bill will not make those retailers less competitive; it will force them to compete and to stop ripping people off. Not all IGAs are like that.

Mr P.B. Watson: You're saying that one of the businesses in your electorate rips you off.

Mr J.M. FRANCIS: Absolutely, especially when I have to pay $15 for a jar of coffee.

Mr P.B. Watson interjected.

Mr J.M. FRANCIS: I am happy for it to go into Hansard because 99 per cent of the consumers in my electorate who are forced to go to that retailer and pay $15 for a jar of coffee that they can buy for $7 in Coles will agree with me.

I challenge the independents such as IGA that are so beholden to Metcash, its parent company, to publicise their franchise agreements. Let us see how many people are really on the roll and how independent they are with their state-wide buying power.

Mr P.B. Watson: You are a member of Parliament on $150 000 a year criticising small business.

Mr J.M. FRANCIS: I am not criticising all small businesses; most small businesses do an absolutely outstanding job. The member should not put words in my mouth.

I am disappointed today because the Labor Party had the chance to come into this place and support this legislation. It would have been supporting the consumers. At the end of the day, 99 per cent of the people we are talking about who will be affected by this legislation are the consumers who will benefit from increased competition and increased choice. I gain my philosophical belief from that notion. In a perfect world I would like to think that some time in the future we will not have a Retail Trading Hours Act. I am realistic enough to know that we have to take small steps. We are aiming for a nine o'clock closing time. Even eight o'clock Monday to Friday is no great step—it is just a small step that will allow people to slowly come into line so that some time in the future we can bring Western Australia into the twenty-first century.

I want to make two points in my last two minutes. In all honesty, I say to the Leader of the Opposition that I think he has failed in his political judgement. He was going to make this an election issue at the next election. If he wants to make this an election issue in my electorate or any other marginal electorate at the next election, he should bring it on. He has got it wrong. He has read the mood of the people wrong. He asked loaded questions in his survey. He has not consulted with the consumers enough. I walked into the Leeming Bowling Club last Friday. Quite a few people were there. Before I even gave the members a spiel on deregulation —

Mr P.B. Watson: Did they rip you off there?

Mr J.M. FRANCIS: They made me the patron. I asked them an unloaded question. I said, "Before I speak about the issue, who here supports the deregulation of trading hours?" I got a standing ovation from the old people. If members think that the demographics are a bit tougher with old people, they are even greater on our side with young people. For the Leader of the Opposition's own political survival, he should go back and rethink this one. If he wants to make it an election issue, he should bring it on.

I will conclude by making one last point. I want to quote someone who passed on many centuries ago. He was one of the people that I have always admired. He was a navigator, a sailor, an explorer and a discoverer. Christopher Columbus famously said something that I think applies to this debate more than anything else that any member here can contribute. He said that nothing that results from human progress is achieved with unanimous consent, and those who are enlightened before the others are condemned to pursue that light in spite of others. Those words are very noteworthy and I ask the Leader of the Opposition to take them on board.

8 August 2009

Labor's branch stacking shame

Even though they claim to represent the interests of blue-collar workers, it costs more to join the ALP than the Liberal Party unless you are earning $450 a week or less, in which case the fee is $22 for one year. Membership with the Liberal Party for a year is $25 regardless of income, while joining the ALP will set you back $44 to $110 per year depending on how much you earn.

ALP membership fees

The reason membership is higher than expected is because branch stacking is rampant within the ALP. Democratic processes are no obstacle to winning preselection within the ALP — just sign up members en masse who have only a vague idea, if any, of the candidate they are supporting, paying their membership fees in bulk on their behalf.

Increasing membership fees might discourage branch stacking, but it doesn't stop those who have enough money to buy the stacks needed to win ALP endorsement.

5 August 2009

Conman Kevin

Kevin Rudd is a phoney who has duped voters hook, line and sinker with his mastery of spin that has created an illusion not matched by the outcomes of his policies.

He conned the Right in presenting himself as an economic conservative, but has mismanaged our economy with poorly designed stimulus packages and other policies such as FuelWatch and GroceryWatch where it was clear from the outset that they were not going to deliver. Very little of his stimulus packages went into roads, railways, bridges and other economic infrastructure. Schools are being forced to tear down their assembly halls and build the Julia Gillard Memorial Hall in their place - a poor use of taxpayers' money.

He conned the Left in presenting himself as an environmentalist, yet he is committed to implementing an ETS that far from reducing global emissions, may actually increase them.

People have been so far conned that they immediately dismiss reports about his abusive treatment of staff and vile temper, but they are consistent with what I've learnt via sources close to the PM. His office required some repair work because of his tantrums.

29 July 2009

We've learnt little since the 1930's

The common argument used to reassure us that the current global downturn won't be as severe as the Great Depression is that the actions taken by governments around the world will change the current course of the global economy. The present thinking appears to be that financial systems and our understanding of them have significantly progressed since the 1930's. While they have certainly changed and are more complex than ever before, one can only conclude from a quick look back at recent history that it is wishful thinking to suggest that we're any better equipped to tackle the fundamental problems that financial markets have always faced.

The inescapable reality that lawmakers are less than keen to explain to the general public is that this financial disaster came about because of a debt-fuelled asset bubble in the US housing market and while it was years in the making, they failed to see it coming or take any action to avert the market collapse.

The popular story that this all started with unscrupulous mortgage brokers who preyed on witless borrowers is baloney, just like most of the other rubbish that journalists write in our mainstream newspapers every day. They get rewarded for sales, not truth or accuracy. The cold hard truth is that America's debt binge began with the borrowing of money from China that was raised through its big trade surpluses. The US government, for political reasons, was all too keen for home buyers to live beyond their means with policies that encouraged irresponsible lending.

If our financial systems and management of them were that far superior to the 1930's, then the bubble and mountain of private debt—far greater as a percentage of GDP than it was back then—wouldn't have grown so large and burst. Once a bubble bursts, the damage has been done. It can't be reversed by re-inflating the values of assets that were purchased for more than they were truly worth.