02 January 2016
by Alan Austin
Corruption and incompetence escalate on Turnbull’s watch
The pile of evidence of corruption and incompetence infecting the Coalition parties has continued to rise through December. Alan Austin updates the shame files.
Consumers of Australia’s mass media have been pummelled continually for years with front page news stories of corrupt Labor MPs and union officials. So the quiz question asked here last month did, as expected, generate hostility in the social media.
That debate – together with subsequent events – requires a revision of the question and the answer.
So here it is again.
Over the last 31 months, since May 2013, 23 state or federal parliamentarians have been forced to resign from their party or the executive (government or parliamentary) following allegations of misconduct. How many were Labor Party MPs?
(a) All 23.
(b) Eleven, fewer than half.
(c) Only six.
Give it your best shot.
Most readers of the mainstream media offer (a) or (b). Perhaps (c). The answer is, in fact, (d) Three. The other 20 are all members of the Coalition parties — the Liberals or the Nationals. We shall identify these miscreants shortly.
There are two notable additions this week. Mal Brough was forced to resign as special minister of state — largely as a result of investigative reports in Independent Australia by David Donovan, Ross Jones, and others. The rest of the media are now catching up.
Jamie Briggs was forced to resign this week as minister for cities and the built environment after an incident with a woman in a Hong Kong bar which he describes as “an error of professional judgment”. The scant details suggest uninvited touching and kissing. But was there more?
The disparity between the parties – twenty Coalition and three Labor MPs sin-binned – cannot be explained as a statistical blip. It strongly suggests the Coalition has not yet dealt with systemic corruption. Thirteen areas of serious concern were outlined here last month. Further facts have emerged in December.
Taxation optional for the big multinationals
The tax transparency data released on 8 December by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) revealed that almost 38 per cent of Australian companies earning over $100 million in revenue paid no tax at all in 2013-14.
Mining company Arrium Limited generated a taxable income of $888.4 million but paid nothing. Energyaustralia Holdings, with revenue of $9 billion and a declared profit of $52 million, also paid zip.
Private health insurance company Australian Unity’s revenue was an impressive one billion dollars, with declared profit of $25.7 million, but paid just $5,649 in company tax. Instead of paying the required $300 for every thousand dollars of its robust profit – at the company tax rate of 30% – it paid 21.7 cents.
Health products company Unicharm Australasia had a great year with total revenue a healthy $130.5 million. Of that, only $10 was declared as taxable income. But at least they paid the full 30% — $3.
It is now clear from this, the Senate inquiry, ATO annual reports and other sources that the current Government is allowing big corporations to avoid their duty. This places the tax burden disproportionately on wage earners and the many thousand Australian small businesses.
The matter of the correlation between companies avoiding tax and donations to the Liberal and National parties is the topic for another day.
Deal with the Greens to protect the tax avoiders
In the dying hours of the final 2015 parliament, the Greens supported the Coalition’s tawdry scheme to let companies with total income below $200 million conceal their tax payments henceforward. This cuts the number of large corporations disclosing their contributions from 1,539 this year to below 1,000.
There is no justification for this other than shielding big companies from having to declare publicly the tax they are paying or, in most cases, not paying.
The Coalition and Victoria’s East-West link funds
A scathing report by the Australian National Audit Office released on 9 December found the federal Coalition Government inflated the budget deficit during its first year by transferring $1.5 billion to Victoria for the proposed East-West toll road despite “clear advice” that the project had not been finally assessed. This fraudulently inflated Labor’s final deficit by $1.5 billion and made the deficit the following year lower than it should have been.
The auditor described 'the usual process for obtaining the required statutory approvals' relating to projects of this nature.
'That did not occur on this occasion.'
Construction and mining fatalities
The two sectors the Liberal Party singled out for attention in reducing compliance with onerous regulations were mining and construction.
Tony Abbott said in July 2013:
“There’s no reason why Australia can’t again be the world’s premier destination of mining investment once uncompetitive taxes and regulations are removed." In calendar 2014, mining activity dropped dramatically from 2013 levels. But fatalities jumped from 10 to 13. In 2015, mining activity declined further, but the deaths remained at 13 – by Christmas eve.
Regarding construction Abbott said when launching the Coalition’s 2013 election campaign:
“I hope to be an infrastructure prime minister who puts bulldozers on the ground and cranes into our skies.”
Construction deaths in 2014 increased a staggering 70% over 2013, up from 17 to 29. That is despite a dramatic contraction in activity over the year. So far in 2015 the fatalities number 24. Again, there has been a dramatic drop in activity relative to 2013.
The conclusion seems unavoidable — the Coalition has abandoned the concept that government is there to serve the people of Australia. It appears to be serving instead the one per cent who donate to the Liberal Party.
Speaking of which, this is the list of MPs forced out of the parliament or their party in the last 31 months:
Troy Buswell (Liberal, WA)
Chris Spence (Liberal, NSW)
Darren Webber (Liberal, NSW)
Garry Edwards (Liberal, NSW)
Andrew Cornwell (Liberal, NSW)
Tim Owen (Liberal, NSW)
Craig Baumann (Liberal, NSW)
Bart Bassett (Liberal, NSW)
Peter Dowling, (Liberal National Qld)
Marie Ficarra (Liberal, NSW)
Billy Gordon (Labor, Qld)
These are MPs sacked from the executive government:Barry O'Farrell, (Liberal, NSW)
Arthur Sinodinos (Liberal, Federal)
Greg Pearce (Liberal, NSW)
Mike Gallacher (Liberal, NSW)
Chris Hartcher (Liberal, NSW)
Jo-Ann Miller (Labor, Qld)
Adem Somyurek, (Labor, Victoria)
Mal Brough (Liberal, Federal)
Jamie Briggs (Liberal, Federal)
These are the MPs sacked from speaker roles:Adam Marshall (National, NSW)
Bronwyn Bishop (Liberal, Federal)
The footnote added last time still applies: not all stood aside are necessarily guilty. At least one has since been rehabilitated.
Unfortunately there is no sign that new prime minister Malcolm Turnbull – now nearly four months into the top job – is dealing with these issues. With the incredibly romantic extended honeymoon the Australian mainstream media are giving him, perhaps he doesn’t need to.