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Monthly Archives: August 2019

Top diplomat takes over in Defence shake-up

Foreign Affairs chief Dennis Richardson.ONE of Australia’s most respected diplomats has been parachuted into the Defence Department to bridge a deepening rift between Defence Minister Stephen Smith and the military.
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In the dramatic shake-up in the $24 billion department, former special forces commander Duncan Lewis has been replaced as secretary of Defence after barely a year in the job.

The department has been in near revolt in recent months over budget cuts and Mr Smith’s criticism of a culture of abuse in the military that has led to a series of sex scandals.

Foreign Affairs chief Dennis Richardson, who had been planning to retire at the end of his term, has now agreed to take on the notoriously challenging Defence portfolio.

Mr Lewis’ sudden resignation caught many close observers by surprise and follows persistent reports of a break-down of trust with Mr Smith.

Mr Lewis warned last month of a gap between the government’s strategic ambition and what it was willing to spend.

Labor has delayed several major projects, notably a decision to build a fleet of 12 attack submarines and finalise plans for air warfare destroyers, helping to bring the budget back into surplus. But the move has sparked fierce debate in defence circles over whether Australia might be left exposed.

The debate has come to a head after the government brought forward the date to publish a new Defence white paper, with insiders now dismissing it as a ”white pamphlet” that will be light on detail.

Mr Lewis will be shoe-horned into the role as Australian ambassador to NATO, taking over from Brendan Nelson, defence minister in the Howard government.

In a memo to Defence staff yesterday, Mr Lewis said ”several weeks ago” Prime Minister Julia Gillard had asked him to consider accepting the post.

”I would like to make it very clear that, notwithstanding media reporting, I have not been forced out of my current position and I am not departing Defence for any reason other than to take up this ambassadorial post at the request of the Prime Minister,” Mr Lewis wrote.

But the move has sidelined senior diplomat Bruce Gosper who had been expected to take up the job.

Mr Richardson has a reputation as a tough operator who reformed the deeply troubled Australian Security Intelligence Organisation in the years before the terrorist attacks of 2001.

He will achieve a rare double: the first person to hold the top jobs in Defence and Foreign Affairs since the formidable Sir Arthur Tange in the 1970s.

Another former spy chief, Peter Varghese, Australia’s high commissioner to India, will take over as Foreign Affairs head.

Mr Varghese has also been persuaded not to quit the public service, having earlier made plain a desire to switch to the private sector after a long diplomatic career and a stint in charge of the Office of National Assessments.

Mr Lewis, a former commander of the elite special forces troops, was National Security Adviser under then prime minster Kevin Rudd.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Lifting GST rate to 15pc could net extra $25bn

LIFTING the goods and services tax to 15 per cent would boost Australian state budgets by an extraordinary $25 billion per year – almost $6 billion of which would be kept by the Baillieu government in Victoria, but experts warn it would soon evaporate.
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Razor-gang budgets have reignited the debate on the rate of the GST, which was originally set at 15 per cent when first mooted in opposition by then Liberal leader John Hewson before the 1993 election. That is also the rate to which New Zealand has now lifted its GST after two decades at 12.5 per cent. It is dwarfed by GST rates of 20 per cent or more in most of Europe.

At 10 per cent, Australia’s GST earns the states $50 billion per year, double the $24 billion it earned when introduced in July 2000.

But as a proportion of gross domestic product it has been slipping for years, something Treasury budget papers blame on increased household saving, and also a ”steady decline in expenditure on items attracting GST as a share of total consumption”.

”We knew this was going to happen,” says Greg Smith, a former head of Treasury’s revenue group and a member of the Henry Tax Review.

”It was clear people were moving their spending from goods to services … but it was also clear they were moving spending to services outside the scope of the GST such as health and education.”

Treasury calculations show the prices of health, education and rent – all excluded from the GST – have been increasing far faster than the prices of items covered by the GST, meaning a growing proportion of spending is GST-exempt.

It is why NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell has called for a debate about lifting the GST, receiving backing from South Australia’s Treasurer Jack Snelling.

But experts warn that lifting the rate to 12.5 or 15 per cent would only buy time, perhaps even accelerating the shift in spending away from items covered by the GST.

”The greater the GST rate the greater the incentive for fraud and for moving spending elsewhere,” says Neil Warren, professor of taxation at the University of UNSW. ”To stop it you would need to tighten up on GST-free imports and consider extending the GST to food, education and health.”

The Age calculations show extending the GST to presently exempt fresh food would raise an extra $6 billion per year (some of which would need to be spent compensating low-income earners), extending it to education would raise a further $3 billion, and health another $3 billion.

But Professor Smith says the health and education savings are illusory.

”The states themselves are the biggest providers of health and education. Taxing their services in order to help fund their services would mean money in one door and out the other. It isn’t a net revenue gain.”

And much of the extra income would be earmarked as soon as it came in.

”The Commonwealth would want the states to cut insurance taxes and stamp duties,” said Professor Warren.

”Those two alone would eat up the extra income.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Labor’s ‘Pacific Solution’ gets going in Nauru

Green and khaki canvas tents at the asylum-seeker accommodation centre in Nauru await the arrival of more refugees.A PLANELOAD of Sri Lankan boat people is expected to land on Nauru today as the Labor Party’s reinvigoration of the so-called ‘‘Pacific Solution’’ gathers pace.
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The new arrivals, the second group to go to Nauru since Labor reopened the John Howard-era detention centre on the tiny Pacific island, were expected to touch down shortly after 7am (5am Australian time).

Like the 30 Tamils who arrived on Friday, they will be  taken by bus to the 500-person capacity tent city in the sweltering middle of the island, where they will be hemmed in by thick jungle, the island’s rubbish tip and a rock quarry.

With the Australian Army almost finished building the tent city and with the Christmas Island detention centre already exceeding its capacity due to an influx of boats  this year, today’s arrivals will soon be followed by more. Indeed a boat carrying 10 people was detected off West Australia’s coast last night.

Another planeload of several dozen Tamils are expected later this week, and the first group of Afghan Hazaras early next week. By then the camp will house more than 150 asylum seekers.Some of those 150 may also turn out to be women, children or whole families, as Immigration Minister Chris Bowenlast week told a press conference that ‘‘you can expect to see a broad cross-section of people transferred to Nauru next week and in coming weeks’’.

Despite promises by Mr Bowen that Labor’s system on Nauru would involve a processing centre, not a detention camp, the site’s inhabitants are forbidden from leaving.

A Nauruan government spokesman, Rod Henshaw, said on ABC radio that the situation was a ‘‘period of settling in’’.

‘‘I know the Nauru government is anxious to have them settled and, over a period of time, to give them the privileges of wandering around.’’

He said he hoped the asylum seekers would be free to leave the camp in weeks or a month. ‘‘I couldn’t put a time on it … but that is the objective, [to give the asylum seekers] the freedom of the island to some degree.’’

Questions also continue to be asked about the decision to process the refugee claims under Nauruan law. Last week the regional head of the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, Rick Towle, said that Australia was handing over legal responsibility for people seeking asylum in that country.

Some  have  expressed concern that Australia may disagree with a refugee approval made under Nauruan law and refuse to take the person, meaning they can’t be returned to their country or resettled in Australia.

The media remains barred  from the site, but yesterday The Age was able to glimpse the tents that house the arrivals.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Pakistan will cull ‘healthy’ sheep

MORE than 20,000 Australian sheep are facing premature slaughter in Pakistan after local authorities said the animals were diseased and must be killed.
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Livestock exporter Wellard yesterday said the veterinary department in Pakistan had issued orders that prevented Australian sheep exported to Pakistan two weeks ago from entering the consumer supply chain and must be euthanised.

This month, the Ocean Drover, owned by Wellard, unloaded sheep in Pakistan, after being at sea for two weeks following rejection from Bahraini authorities because they were infected with the contagious viral disease, scabby mouth.

Wellard said the new orders conflict with previous advice from Pakistani authorities that tests taken from the sheep were still being tested or confirmed the sheep were disease free.

The Age understands slaughter had begun with ”several hundred” already killed, but has now stopped as the company, industry and the Australian government work to stop the cull while Pakistan’s government conducts disease tests.

”We are not sure what is going on as the sheep are healthy,” Wellard managing director Mauro Balzarini said.

”The sheep were farmed for human consumption, so it is disappointing that some healthy sheep are being euthanised when they are absolutely safe to be processed.”

The new revelations have been seized on by Greens senator Lee Rhiannon as further evidence the industry should be shut down.

”Either [Agriculture] minister Ludwig has no idea about the fate of these 21,000 sheep or he is deliberately staying tight-lipped,” Senator Rhiannon said.

Senator Joe Ludwig said the Greens were scaremongering and were putting out media statements before contacting his office or industry.

”The Greens want the trade ended and will sabotage it at whatever opportunity they get.”

The sheep had been approved for arrival in Pakistan by local and Australian authorities – Australia has the strictest export conditions in the world.

An agriculture department spokesman said it was confident the sheep delivered to Pakistan were healthy on leaving Australia.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

The farmer wants a life: minister urges lockout over coal seam gas

THE Minister for Western NSW, Kevin Humphries, has encouraged a group of farmers to continue to ”lock the gate” to prevent coal seam gas companies entering their land just days after a cabinet decision on new rules to balance the interests of miners and farmers.
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Mr Humphries, who is the member for Barwon, flew to Moree last Thursday to meet a local farmer and anti-coal seam gas activist, Penny Blatchford.

Ms Blatchford owns 7000 hectares at Gurley and Bellata, between Moree and Narrabri, covered by an exploration licence for Leichhardt Resources, which wants to look for coal seam gas.

The exploration licence is one of 22 such licences renewed on Tuesday, the same day the government announced its strategic land use policy for how coal seam gas drilling and coal mining may be carried out in NSW.

Ms Blatchford and 83 other landholders have been refusing to sign access agreements with Leichhardt Resources and other companies for about 18 months as part of a ”lock the gate” protest.

”He said it was important for me to hold the line and not take our [protest] signs down just yet,” Ms Blatchford said. ”He said he had no problem with people locking their gates.”

She said Mr Humphries told her: ”My view is no means no. If you don’t want them in, I think you still have a very good case. I think it would be impossible for them to break through that.”

Mr Humphries expressed concern over the policy when a draft version was released in March.

His latest comments risk undermining cabinet solidarity and reinforce tensions between the Nationals and Liberals.

The policy makes mining companies wanting to access areas classified as ”strategic agricultural land” have their proposals examined by an independent scientific panel. But farmers and environmental groups are furious no area has been quarantined from potential mining activity.

Ms Blatchford said Mr Humphries was genuinely concerned about farmers. But the NSW Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham said his comments acknowledged the policy meant farmers’ only choice was to break the law.

”The Nationals have such a low level of confidence in their own government’s policy that they’re telling farmers to keep locking the gate,” he said.

But Mr Humphries said he was aware of Ms Blatchford’s concerns and wanted to explain the policy.

”I fully support the NSW government’s strategic regional land use policy and am proud of the balance it has struck between the interests of agriculture, the environment and mining,” he said.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.