December 4, 2020

Australian politics live: Labor questions Coalition decision to cut jobseeker during ‘worst recession in almost a century’

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/live/2020/nov/10/australian-politics-live-coalition-labor-morrison-albanese-porter-tudge-abc-turnbull




6.05am GMT06:05

Senate Estimates has started with Penny Wong grilling the infrastructure department about incorrect evidence about when it first became aware about concerns with the Leppington Triangle sale.

The secretary, Simon Atkinson,had told an earlier session he thought he first learned about the issue when the audit office sent through its proposed report in August.

That was incorrect – the department received “preparation papers” on 23 June that identified the problems with the purchase. Atkinson explains that he got those two stages of the audit process confused and had treated them “as one” because he was venturing his best guess.

Wong is upset, telling Atkinson he had given “incorrect evidence that you should’ve corrected”.

She then queried why it took until 21 August to set up investigations into alleged code of conduct breaches, when it had actually known “a number of months and weeks” before about allegations of misconduct or corruption involving the sale.

Deputy secretary, David Hallinan, told the hearing the department hadn’t done nothing, it had ensured that the two staff members who were impugned by the ANAO report played no further role in compiling the department’s response. HR also began to look into the issue as a “precursor” to the later code of conduct investigations.

On 14 July it responded to the ANAO – including to query whether it had taken further action such as referring the matter to the police.

Wong is now asking for a series of documents, including the briefs the ANAO found failed to warn the minister, Paul Fletcher, about the total price and the basis of the calculation.

Wong wants to know whether two briefings to Fletcher in January 2018 and July 2018 are included in the scope of code of conduct investigations. “I want to know that every brief the minister had is being investigated properly,”she said. Officials say their expectations is the answer is yes.

Wong is concerned there are more than two public servants involved in writing the briefs, officials have taken it on notice.




5.58am GMT05:58

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5.32am GMT05:32

The Morrison government will narrow the coverage of its foreign veto bill – and enshrine more details in the legislation itself – in an attempt to ease concerns of the university sector and the opposition of the reach of the planned new powers.

Guardian Australia understands the government will make two major amendments, including putting the definition of foreign universities’ institutional autonomy into the bill itself.

The other change will be requiring a review of how the new powers have operated to be completed within three years of the law coming into effect.

The definition is crucial to how far-reaching the powers as they relate to universities will be.

This is because universities will have to notify the government of any planned deals with foreign universities only if that foreign university “does not have institutional autonomy”.

The foreign affairs minister will have the discretion to block such deals if they would adversely affect Australia’s foreign relations or would be inconsistent with Australia’s foreign policy.

Originally the government had not included the definition in the bill itself and was going to leave it to the foreign minister to spell out in accompanying rules (ie by regulation) – prompting fears of a lack of adequate parliamentary scrutiny.

It is understood the new definition will say: “A university does not have institutional autonomy if the government where the university is located – whether it’s a national or sub-national government – is in a position to exercise substantial control over the university.”

And what is meant by substantial control? Apparently, it is based on factors such as who is on the university’s governing body, whether there is a law or governing body that spells out the control that can be exercised, and whether academic or research staff are required to adhere to political principles or doctrines.

The government has previously insisted the legislation is country-neutral, and that it would not be spelling out which countries will and won’t be in the frame. But based on the definition that is being discussed, universities would likely not have to notify the government about agreements they make with counterparts in countries such as the United Kingdom and United States.

The government hopes the legislation will pass both chambers of parliament by the end of this year.

Labor had been calling for changes including to address the “lack of clear definitions of critical terms”.

Updated
at 6.03am GMT




5.20am GMT05:20

Federal Labor staff asked to contribute to party ‘fighting fund’

The staff of federal Labor MPs and senators have been asked to contribute to a fighting fund to prepare for the next election. The party is seeking regular monthly contributions ranging from $25 to $250 per month, in addition to the long hours hard-working staff already put in.

The Labor national secretary, Paul Erickson, told Guardian Australia:


I presented at an all-staff meeting and provided Labor parliamentary staff members the plan for the development of a campaign. I invited them to sign up voluntarily to a fighting fund. The fighting fund is entirely voluntary and was presented as such – I respectfully requested staff make a contribution.

Elections aren’t solely about the quality of arguments and the organisation – and often the loudest voice in the room wins.

We are at a structural disadvantage in terms of money compared with the Coalition. This is one of a number of fundraising initiatives to build the biggest resource base possible to take on the Coalition and their many allies.

That sounded like a dig at Clive Palmer, who spent more than $60m before the last election, failing to win a single seat but dragging Labor down with a negative campaign including boosting claims it planned to introduce a death tax.

In August The Australian reported that Labor’s election war chest is set to be $15m lower than Bill Shorten took into the 2019 election, but Erickson disputed that characterisation of the financial position.

“Our campaign budget today is in a very similar position to the equivalent point in the last cycle,” he said.

The party’s other fundraising efforts involve using digital channels to seek small dollar donations.

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5.19am GMT05:19

Ken Wyatt says he will legislate for an Indigenous body

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5.16am GMT05:16

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5.14am GMT05:14

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4.43am GMT04:43




4.18am GMT04:18

Simon Birmingham says the government is “not afraid of anything” as it works on its plans for a national integrity commission.

Before Senate question time ended, the Labor senator Carol Brown contended that the government had been “dragged kicking and screaming” to release draft legislation to set up a corruption watchdog and she pointed to expert commentary that it was the weakest such body in the country.

Brown asked: “What is the Morrison government so afraid of?”

Birmingham, the leader of the government in the Senate, replied: “We’re not afraid of anything – we’re determined to get things right.”

Birmingham said it was important to strike “the right balance between indeed what are sometimes criticised as star chambers … or indeed others that are criticised in different ways”.

He said the attorney general, Christian Porter, was “carefully stepping through” those issues.

Brown then asked whether the Coalition would guarantee the body would be established before the next election. Birmingham was unable to do so, saying it would depend on the passage of the legislation. He added it would be “a brave person” who would predict how parliament would handle legislative proposals, particularly the Senate.

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4.07am GMT04:07

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4.02am GMT04:02

Jacqui Lambie isn’t impressed with the Morrison government’s proposed model for a commonwealth integrity commission, including the lack of public hearings into allegations of corruption involving the public sector, and the inability to act on anonymous tip-offs from the community at large.

In Senate question time, the Tasmanian independent senator asked Marise Payne – who represents Christian Porter’s portfolio in the Senate – about the cases of former state MPs Eddie Obeid and Daryl Maguire in New South Wales and Adem Somyurek in Victoria.

Lambie’s general line of argument is that those cases may never have been investigated or become public knowledge if those states had the model of integrity commission that Porter has proposed for the federal sphere.

Payne argued the government was committed to a period of extensive public consultation after the recent release of the draft legislation. The government had carried out “very detailed planning” to ensure the body had the resources and powers needed to investigate criminal, corrupt conduct across the public sector.

“We believe that our commission … will do the task that it is required to do at the commonwealth level. It will have greater investigatory powers than a royal commission.”

Payne added that the courts would be the sole arbiter of a person’s guilt or innocence.

For more on the concerns of crossbenchers, see this story from last week:

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