New concerns surround the government’s increased use of legislative powers to bypass the parliament and create laws that cannot be amended or overturned. The federal government has embedded special powers in new Covid-19 laws to make unilateral changes to non-pandemic-related legislation, using what are known as ‘Henry VIII clauses’ – named for the unchecked power they involve.
Broader role for Broadcast Australia
Margaret Simons’ “Funding channels”, June 7-13, contains misleading and factually unsupported points. Broadcast Australia was privatised in 1999 by the government to reduce risk and drive efficiency in managing the transmission of ABC and SBS services. We’ve exceeded our service level agreements every year since. Our $280 million revenue represents a wide number of customers, not just the national broadcasters, but there alone we provide 1500 radio and television services reaching 99.6 per cent of Australians. Since privatisation we’ve invested substantially in our network, and we underpin the ABC’s role as the emergency services broadcaster during disaster, providing critical communications to communities. We rolled out the digital television network in Australia on time and to budget and are managing the program to release the 700Mhz spectrum, the sale of which raised $1.9 billion for the government. Still, terrestrial broadcast remains the least expensive technology to deliver TV and radio to mass audiences.
– Jim Hassell, group CEO, Broadcast Australia
On Future Fund’s money trail
“Buried treasures” by Mike Seccombe, June 7-13, includes some details of Mark Zirnsak’s excellent research listing Australia’s top-100 companies with tax-haven subsidiaries. Australia’s Future Fund invests overseas using 47 tax haven entities it owns, and three it does not own – 50 all up. Forty are based in the Cayman Islands, five in Luxembourg, two in Jersey and one each in Guernsey, British Virgin Islands and Ireland (2012-13 annual report, note 17, pp. 101-4). The fund allocates $22.6 million for “other foreign corporate tax”, which is about 0.02 per cent of total assets of $94.9 billion, and 0.2 per cent of total comprehensive income of $11.9 billion. The Future Fund pays no Australian income tax, just GST and fringe benefits tax. A reply I received from Joe Hockey stated that the Future Fund is following its own environmental, social and governance guidelines, and is operating within the framework of the principle of sovereign immunity (the state cannot commit a legal wrong). The government’s concerns with multinationals using tax havens appears to be a case of “do as I say, don’t do as I do”. Sovereign funds are not of a higher moral order than an ordinary corporation.
– Bill Johnstone, Marrickville, NSW
VFT reasons get personal
Re Jon Fairall, “Fast trains running late”, June 7-13, for those not in a hurry to get from Sydney to Melbourne, there always has been a train service that is much more comfortable than the drip-priced airport parking/check-in/security/departure lounge/cramped seat/baggage collection/shuttle bus system, and provides interesting scenery, with food no worse than airlines offer. Until very fast train proponents can explain why Australians prefer to fly, then I suggest they pull their heads in. When complaints about the train journey time come from people happy to sit for the same time on a flight to LAX, I suspect that their real objection, which they dare not utter, is to slumming it with the great unwashed on a train. My evidence for this supposition is that the complainants do not catch the perfectly good suburban train from upmarket Sydney suburbs such as Bondi Junction, Pymble, Eastwood, Strathfield and Sutherland, to Sydney Airport (the last report I saw said about 5 per cent of air travellers took the train to Sydney Airport).
– John Sutherland, Couridjah, NSW
Royal commission too long to wait
Daniel Andrews (“Failing our families”, June 7-13) is sidestepping getting on with the task of addressing family violence by his royal commission proposal. A call for a cross-party parliamentary committee of inquiry into the problems should be made now by either side of politics. The parliamentary committee of inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious and other organisations did an excellent job and showed the ability of MPs. Andrews’ proposal is taking the long way round because who does a royal commission report to but the parliament and, very likely, in two years’ time.
– Des Files, Brunswick, Vic
IPA views on racial discrimination go deep
I very much appreciated Mike Seccombe’s piece on the Institute of Public Affairs (“Abbott’s faceless men”, May 31-June 6). However, I think he’s wrong about the IPA’s interest in the Racial Discrimination Act. In the early 1990s, amidst the brouhaha and, for the mining industry, moral panic of the Mabo decision and the Native Title Act, the IPA employed the anthropologist Ron Brunton. He is a long-time Liberal Party member and advocate for mining companies over Indigenous issues such as the Coronation Hill case of the late 1980s. From 1996, Brunton was extremely vocal about the Racial Discrimination Act. He has a declared antipathy to any form of discrimination, either positive or negative, because of its underlying essentialism and the potential for any positive discrimination to become negative by executive fiat. The extent of IPA antipathy on Indigenous matters noted by Seccombe included targeting the Racial Discrimination Act as far back as the mid-1990s. Importantly, the Northern Territory intervention in 2007 was the first effective attack, because any intervention would necessarily be discriminatory. I do not regard the Abbott government efforts as actually being concerned with legal decisions against Andrew Bolt or, for that matter, ongoing cases involving Alan Jones and the Cronulla riots of 2005. The IPA agenda is always much bigger and, as it were, deeper.
– Rohan Bastin, deputy head of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Deakin University
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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jun 14, 2014.
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