Monday, October 19, 2020

Offshore tax evaders raided

Westpac, the Perth Mint, and hundreds of Australians have been ensnared in a major global tax evasion investigation into an offshore bank linked to organised crime syndicates. The J5 taskforce made up of the tax chiefs of Australia, the US, UK, the Netherlands and Canada are investigating Euro Pacific Bank in Puerto Rico, fronted by celebrity business commentator Peter Schiff. An investigation by The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, 60 Minutes and The New York Times found that simultaneous raids around the world in January could lead to about 100 Australians investigated and jailed over tax evasion. The customers of Euro Pacific are advised to create accounts using front companies in other tax havens, creating a web of arrangements that are difficult to trace. Westpac facilitated the Puerto Rican’s bank’s dealings with its Australian customers, while Perth Mint partnered with Euro Pacific to allow wealthy customers to buy gold. Euro Pacific’s Australian clients have included Simon Anquetil, who was jailed for engineering Plutus Payroll, the country’s biggest tax scam.

Melburnians are waking up today to eased restrictions after more than 100 days of a hard lockdown. The five kilometre travel restriction has been extended to 25 kilometres, with two-hour time limits on gathering and exercising outside scrapped. The number of people gathering outdoors has been increased to 10 people, from two households. Residents will be able to get their hair done, play tennis, and sell their home at auctions, but are still not be able to dine out or go to a bar. Regional Victorian restrictions are also easing further. In a joint statement Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Health Minister Greg Hunt welcomed the changes but urged the Victorian government to go further, highlighting job losses and mental health concerns. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said he would not be rushed in reopening the state.   

A class action will be lodged in the Federal Court today, seeking compensation from the West Australian government over decades of historic unpaid labour forced upon Indigenous people. More than 1000 people have registered for the claim, which could be expanded to cover up to 10,000 workers and their descendants, according to Shine Lawyers. The claimants include Lester Coyne, whose mother Jessie was kidnapped from her family at the age of nine and put to work in 1927 on poultry and citrus farms on the outskirts of Perth.

Dozens of travellers from New Zealand have flown into Western Australia, Victoria, and Tasmania, despite those states not being part of Australia’s international travel bubble arrangement. WA Premier Mark McGowan said that 23 people from New Zealand were now in hotel quarantine at their own expense, and criticised the Federal Government, NSW and the Northern Territory for allowing the breach. In Victoria, 55 New Zealanders arrived in the state, with border officers now patrolling Melbourne airports to prevent further international arrivals. 

The United States remains the most powerful country in the region but registered the largest fall in relative power of any Indo–Pacific country this year, according to the Lowy Institute’s Asia Power Index for 2020. Australia, Vietnam and Taiwan have seen their power in Asia rise partly due to their handling of the pandemic, with the trio’s efforts to shape the regional order through collaborative efforts among middle powers also of relevance. Australia surpassed South Korea on the index this year, to be listed as the sixth most powerful country, but ecological issues and a reliance on imported fuel threatens to halt this momentum.

The new path out of lockdown
After more than 100 days of strict lockdown, Victorians finally have a new path out of restrictions. It signals a more gradual easing than the government originally hoped. Today, Osman Faruqi on the story behind the slower path out of lockdown and where the risk now lies.

“In its unique way, the defence of Gladys Berejiklian, following her appearance before the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) this week, was as sexist as any of the attacks we have seen on female politicians. Call it the ‘poor Gladys’ defence. It encouraged the public to focus not on the actions of a powerful politician but on her vulnerability.”

“When it came to funeral planning, my mother had only two requests. She dictated them to me a year ago, when she could no longer write. Margot wanted ‘no church but lots of music’, and she wanted her body to be ‘left to science’. When she died seven weeks ago ... we were able to fulfil her first request, but the second proved impossible. The bodies of those who’ve had Covid-19 are not currently welcomed by the medical research establishment. Instead, Margot’s death is being co-opted by those preaching a brand of politics she loathed.”

“A beaming Scott Morrison gave the TV news crews the sort of picture opportunity they really appreciate. Perched behind a machinegun in the turret of a military tank, the prime minister was having a fun ride. The fun, however, didn’t last and the image became an apt metaphor for Morrison’s six days of scheduled campaigning in Queensland, selling the federal budget and supporting struggling LNP leader Deb Frecklington’s campaign for the state election in two weeks’ time.”

“The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) is the worst-performing government agency, particularly in Indigenous affairs, according to the auditor-general. On October 7, Auditor Grant Hehir published his midterm review without fanfare, a day after the federal budget slashed his funding by $14 million ... Hehir wrote to Prime Minister Scott Morrison seeking a $6 million funding boost to meet his audit schedule. Instead, he received the $14 million cut.”

“With the Australian public service, and even its famed central agencies, now hopelessly politicised, sources of independent, high-quality policy advice are becoming rare. The Productivity Commission (PC) remains independent and willing to criticise government economic policies ... But there are concerns about the PC ... Scott Morrison appointed longtime Liberal Party staffer Michael Brennan to replace outgoing chair Peter Harris, who was often outspoken in his analyses, and a vocal critic of the government’s secrecy around the failed Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal.”

“Driving slowly around sewage ponds in the rain with a carload of twitchers and twitcher wannabes may not be everyone’s idea of a great day out … They are extraordinarily knowledgeable and observant people. Perhaps the talent is a remnant of hunting behaviour – an engagement with the fugitive object so intense that it dissolves ego, binding bird, watcher and the space that contains them. In any case I have never met an unpleasant twitcher. Nor can I imagine a twitcher being an axe murderer.”

“Histography is an interactive timeline that spans across 14 billion years of history, from the Big Bang to 2015 ... The site draws historical events from Wikipedia and self-updates daily with new recorded events.”

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