Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Australia’s hidden money problem

Australian tax authorities are not doing enough to counter money laundering and international tax avoidance, according to the 2020 Financial Secrecy Index. The Cayman Islands topped the Tax Justice Network’s index, with Australia ranked at 48th position, earning criticism for still “considering” a register of people behind secret shell companies floated in the wake of the 2017 Panama Papers revelations.  The Tax Justice Network said Australia “undoubtedly hosts significant quantities of illicit funds outside the country” and called for anti-money laundering provisions to be introduced to cover real estate agents, precious stones and metals dealers, lawyers, and accountants. The report lauded Australia’s Multinational Anti-Avoidance Law, which it said should be expanded to require tech giants to disclose the revenue booked overseas from local clients.

Coronavirus evacuation: Evacuations are set to begin today of more than 200 Australians quarantined on the Diamond Princess Cruise ship, where the largest outbreak of COVID-19 outside China continues to grow. An additional 88 people on the ship moored in Yokohama port tested positive for the coronavirus, with health experts suggesting the quarantine has turned the ship into an incubator. About 20 Australians on the ship are yet to register for the evacuation, with passengers expressing concern about hygiene and a second quarantine period in Darwin. Brisbane woman Katherine Jones reluctantly accepted the offer, which she said involved signing a waiver agreeing not to sue if she falls ill during the evacuation. “The brilliant plan is to take us out of our cabins, put us all together in a bus with recirculated air, then a plane with recirculated air then another bus with recirculated air,” she said. “If every one of us isn't infected by the time we get there it will be a miracle.”

MH370 revelations: Former prime minister Tony Abbott claims he was told “early on” that top Malaysian officials believed the pilot of missing flight MH370 had likely committed mass murder. Abbott, who was prime minister in 2014 when the plane disappeared over the South China Sea, detailed his conversations with Malaysian leaders in a new Sky News documentary. “My understanding, my very clear understanding, from the very top levels of the Malaysian Government is that from very, very early on here they thought it was a murder suicide by the pilot,” he said.

Antarctic suppression: An officer on an Antarctic icebreaker was ordered to remove a social media post showing her holding a banner critical of Scott Morrison’s climate policies. Guardian Australia reports that Australia’s Antarctic Division contacted P&O Marine, the employer of officer Madeleine Habib, to ask that she take down a Facebook post of her holding a banner reading  “Scomo – Coal or Ice?”. In other Antarctic news, the continent is the latest frontier for the #MeToo movement, reports Buzzfeed News. Professor Meredith Nash, co-author of a study that found 63 per cent of women in Antarctica with the Australian national program claimed they experienced sexual harassment during fieldwork, said: “there are a lot of really difficult power dynamics because if you're out in the field for say six weeks, you can't leave and it is really hard to report.”


“Whatever else might be said of Australia’s new Resources minister, Keith Pitt’s history suggests a politician with the courage of his very conservative convictions ... Pitt’s behaviour since taking up the Resources portfolio doesn’t suggest he has altered his views on energy. In a series of media interviews he vindicated his nickname ‘Pitt to Port’, trumpeting his determination to increase Australian production of coal, gas and uranium.”


“There is something in the Australian psyche that craves punishment. Perhaps it is in the fact that White Australia began as a penal colony. Perhaps there is a deeper thread of inferiority and submission in the British settlement. Whatever it is, the society we have is an orderly one – deeply so. We created the myth of the larrikin so we might feel less bad about our deference to power. He is a sort of court jester who makes the draconian more comfortable.”


“True, she was incarcerated in Auschwitz between 1942 and 1945, where she worked as a supervisor of Block 25, and she was then taken by the Russians after the war. True, she had been a girl when the Nazis abducted her. But over time she had become something else, long remembered by other inmates after they had the misfortune to cross her path.”


“Last month, Australian comedian Celeste Barber raised a staggering $51.2 million for the Trustee for NSW Rural Fire Service & Brigades Donations Fund, with the final total smashing the comparatively modest early target of $30,000. But not a single dollar has actually made its way to those doing it tough because the RFS trust deed prevents donations being spent on purposes other than firefighting equipment and facilities, training and some administrative costs of the brigades.”


“Restoring 10 per cent of the vegetation destroyed in this season's bushfires would require more than $800 million in new seeds – ‘magnitudes’ more than the funding available so far … ‘You can’t have bushfire recovery without seed, just as you can’t build a national road network without concrete,’ Mr Della Libera said. The national capacity to produce seed ‘doesn’t exist at the moment in the way that we need it to’.”


“Dag has an uncanny ability to capture these animals in statuesque stillness. ‘The cats can be prone to be divas but I have a good connection with them and just like human divas, they eventually give me a shot,’ says Dag. The dogs on the other hand, are a completely different story. ‘The dogs pretty much shoot themselves due to their unconditional crave for either attention, or snacks. They are very corrupt. The fox was actually quite tricky. All the lizards are really quick so you have to move around and be agile.’”

Max Opray is Schwartz Media’s morning editor and a freelance writer.