Diary

Gadfly
Services? Oh myGov!

Pensioners were excited to get letters last month from Centrelink asking for details of their “account-based income stream/s”.

After spending hours of research working out what is meant by “account-based income stream/s”, it turns out, basically, to be payments from superannuation funds.

The information had to be given to Centrelink by February 6, otherwise “your payment may be stopped”. Come the first week of February, though, the myGov and Services Australia websites responsible for handling the review weren’t functioning. This is puzzling, even amazing, since the responsible minister, Stuart Robert, is an internet whiz who spends massive amounts of his time online, running up a jaw-dropping internet bill on the taxpayers’ dime.

The minister, of course, paid it all back – after the government sent him a bill for $37,975 in excess usage charges.

On the myGov site, pensioners who began to type in their information found words were arranged backwards. The site itself was replete with curious spelling requiring the assistance of translators – Allocated Pension, for example, was “Allpicated Pesnion”.

If pensioners couldn’t make things happen on the internet, they were told to go in to a Centrelink office – filled, no doubt, with people crawling up the walls and eating government furniture after waiting the better part of a day.

The contact page on myGov suggests concerns and questions be emailed to Centrelink. Advice that would have been helpful, had there been an identifiable email address anywhere handy.

By now, the February 6 deadline had passed, and panicked citizens were madly jabbing at their keyboards trying to transfer their income stream information, in fear of Mr Robert cancelling their pension. Miraculously when some did get through to the “entry page”, they were told they need not have bothered: “You do not have an outstanding review to complete.”

And this is the government that is abolishing red tape and downgrading policy advice – all in the name of making “service delivery” a top-notch priority.

Spooks spruik

Further to our mention last week of ASIO asking for more resources to protect democracy from undesirable foreign investors, comes word from Peter Dowding, a former premier of Western Australia. During his time running the state, in the post-Brian Burke WA Inc period, a number of Chinese restaurants were torched in Perth and the rozzers were having trouble tracking down the culprits.

Dowding tells your correspondent that he turned to Gareth (Biggles) Evans for suggestions. Biggles had at that point recently been the Commonwealth attorney-general and he suggested that ASIO get on the case of the flambéed Chinese kitchens.

The local WA ASIO officer was keen to assist and told the premier he would start sleuthing immediately, but could Dowding do a favour and ask his friends in Canberra to increase the spy service’s budget?

It seems the spooks never waste an opportunity to leverage more money out of the paymasters in government, and so we’ve ended up with a vast organisation chomping its way through a mega-budget.

As it happened, the local WA plod caught the firebugs, leaving ASIO to get on with the pressing job of eavesdropping on dangerous lefties.

Jolly Hockey schtick

There’s a possibility that readers of the Nine mastheads have recovered from the acres of nauseating PR about the outgoing ambassador to Washington, Joe Hockey.

Regarded as a cack-handed politician on home soil, suddenly he’s transmogrified into the saviour of the United States–Australia alliance, the new Talleyrand, an awe-inspiring Metternich.

He did this as ambassador by handing out “mateship badges” and reminding anyone who would listen that Australia has been on “America’s side in every major war of the last century”, even the catastrophic ones. Readers of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age must have been choking on their morning crumpets. Is this the same Hockey who bumbled his way through an unmemorable political career?

There he is playing golf, discussing the plight of koalas, having cosy tete-a-tetes and wolfing down clam chowder with President Pussy Grabber, one of the most feckless, ignorant and corrupt individuals to occupy the White House.

“Trump loves Australia and Melania really loves Australia,” Metternich tells journalist Peter Hartcher, despite neither the president nor his wife ever having set foot in the place. Praise be.

“Asked the origins of this affection, Hockey pleads ignorance, but swears it’s real,” writes Hartcher. An accompanying video has the ambassador laying it on thick, telling a TV host that people around the world want to be part of America’s “value system”.

Washington “is the modern Rome”, he told another Smage reporter – an analogy that should give us pause for thought. He plans to start a business consultancy and to teach diplomacy at Georgetown University.

You wouldn’t read about it.

Taylor-made figures

Fresh from Constable Plod’s latest refusal to investigate a politician’s alleged malfeasance, Grassgate Gussy Taylor burst forth with an article for The Australian Financial Review extolling what passes for the government’s energy and emissions policy, replete with his trademark factual fudges.

More gas and better technology seem to be the message, while in Gussy’s mind renewables that depend on the weather and batteries remain terribly dodgy.

Fin Review customers had to read the article twice when they came to this bit: “... policies need to be fact-based ...”

Recent history would suggest facts are not the minister’s strongest point.

By way of further illustration comes journalist David Hardaker’s report of Taylor’s falsifications about wind farms, published by the inquiry website Inq.

In 2013 the aspiring pollie claimed that by 2020, because of “massive subsidies”, wind farms will be an impost on electricity bills of about $3 billion a year.

Hardaker notes that 2020 has arrived and Taylor’s figures are out by, er, $3 billion. Charlie Prell, a farmer from Gussy’s electorate who supports wind energy, is quoted as saying the MP is being “disingenuous at best”. Tristan Edis, director of analysis at Green Energy Markets, adds that the prices Taylor built into his model are completely off the mark.

This is because he assumed the cost of tradeable renewable energy certificates would forever be $85 a megawatt hour. The current price is about $28, or lower, and heading towards $10 by 2023. In fact, the CSIRO says that wind is a cheaper form of energy than coal, gas or nuclear. What would a scientific outfit like the CSIRO know when Gussy has the facts at his fingertips?

Alien notion

This week the High Court made a stab at disentangling the knotty question, “Are Aboriginal people aliens?”

If they are aliens, then it is within Benito Dutton’s power to deport them, should they fail his “character test”.

The two men in the case at hand identified as Aboriginal. They were born overseas and remained citizens of New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, respectively, but nonetheless lived in Australia since childhood. And they were in the queue to be deported, after being found guilty of criminal offences in this country.

The High Court had trouble with this one and its recent attempts at the smooth delivery of joint judgements dissolved into a medley of seven separate stabs.

Chief Justice Susan Kiefel said both the plaintiffs were aliens. Justice Virginia Bell said they weren’t. Justice Stephen Gageler also said they were. So, too, Justice Patrick Keane.

Justice Geoffrey Nettle, Justice Michelle Gordon and Justice James Edelman found Indigenous people are not aliens, while some thought that one of the men had to do further work to establish his Aboriginality.

The non-alien position squeaked home and some of our most disturbed paleo-conservatives, such as Dr Blot and Chris (The Tamil) Merritt at The Catholic Boys Daily, were incandescent, declaring this to be a racist decision. The Christian Porter, as attorney-general, thinks the majority is wrong, but, as he reminds us, “I am not a High Court judge.”

It’s a little surprising that Dr Blot didn’t seek leave to intervene in the case, making submissions on his well-refined thoughts about Aboriginality.

Some of the judges were swayed by “the deeper truth” of the Mabo decision, that the connection between First Australians with the land and the waters was not severed or extinguished by European settlement. The other important question was who should pay the costs – presumably that will now be Peter Dutton.

Julian Burnside of Liberty Victoria said Benito should immediately release all Aboriginal people held in immigration detention, especially as they are disproportionably affected by the minister’s definition of “character”.

Nic’s knack for posting content

Earlier this month, ABC chair Aunty Ita Buttrose welcomed the appointment of Nicole Sheffield to lead the national broadcaster’s advisory council.

The council has the task of advising the board “on matters relating to the corporation’s broadcasting programs”. No mean feat. Nicole’s full-time job is executive general manager for “community and consumer” at the post office, aka Australia Post. She has had a career in the corporate sector, so presumably knows all about “consumers”. The advertising industry sheet AdNews reported in 2018 that Sheffield resigned as News Corp’s chief digital officer.

Apparently, there had been a power struggle at News between Nicole and Damian Eales, the chief operating officer, publishing. On the way out, Nicole said: “I’ve loved my time with News through a period of extraordinary change with so many opportunities and such wonderful content, it has been an incredible experience.”

News Corp’s “wonderful content”? Clearly Nicole and her council’s advice to the ABC board will be something to watch closely.

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 15, 2020 as "Gadfly: Services? Oh myGov!".

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Richard Ackland
is the publisher of Justinian. He is The Saturday Paper’s diarist-at-large and legal affairs editor.

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