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Published: Canberra Times & Australian Financial Review

I have paid my tax assessment. Within a week of doing so I learnt that tax refunds were delayed.
It is said that this delay is due to difficulties with the installation of a new computer program.

I don’t believe this. I think that my refund is on the short term money market to help fill the black hole created by Rudd’s GFC panic.

With no advice or apology I rang the Treasurer. I was flicked to Nick Sherry’s office. A polite young man went through the installation problem and managed a weak laugh when I made the sly remark that this was not a government strong on installation.

I noted that the government’s churlishness in meeting its obligations might lead some taxpayers to similar action. He told me that all the compliance computers were working and that people should think twice before adopting what he termed a negative course of action.

I suggested that the Taxation Department flick these computers over to processing our cheques. He took me seriously, explaining they were programmed differently, but soon sensed that I was in no mood to be deflected.

He then asked if I was suffering undue hardship because if so I could be fast tracked. Taken aback I asked if he meant jump the queue. He said yes, in cases of hardship, payments had been expedited through the Ministers office.

Well you can imagine how I felt. I said that I thought this was a government actively opposed to queue jumping; he managed another weak laugh.

And as if this wasn’t enough, I received a statement from the tax office this week for tax due on my Super Fund with the advice that if I do not pay

Published: Mudgee Guardian

An act of wilful corporate vandalism has been committed on the trees and shrubs surrounding Big W.

The decision to impose a very large box on a prime sight in Mudgee was opposed by many Mudgee residents. After a deal of public pressure was brought to bear on the management of Woolworths the design was modified slightly. The major concession was that a heritage fence would be built around the car park and trees and shrubs planted to soften the building and screen the car park from the road.

Someone has authorised the massacre of the screen and the Council appears complicit. Who controls the streetscape of Mudgee? This act of corporate vandalism breaks the agreement that council had with Big W.

It is not through the efforts or concern of council that Mudgee retains aesthetic appeal, so valued by many residents and tourists. It is these tourists that bring dollars to the wineries and small businesses.

Mudgee council is poor on parks and trees. It cut down an avenue of elms on the Gulgong entrance to town which were a WW1 Memorial planted in 1920 and the replacement trees are not being looked after and are in poor condition.

I am sick of the self seekers on council, both elected and staff, who take plenty but give little in return. A majority of councillors are smug philistines bending to the slightest pressure and are too eager to serve vested interests.

The council must make whoever it was who engineered this civic vandalism make good the damage.
Elected councillors and senior paid staff have a mandate to build a new library, how dare the general manager try and break that compact and how weak of the mayor and other councillors to let him act as their stalking horse; or is he running Mudgee?

The desecration of the Big W garden was the straw that broke my back and zapped what little tolerance I had left for a mob of idle rent seekers. Do something, try and show a modicum of intelligence, if not common sense and start to act in the public interest.

The enduring monument to the current general manager is a large patch of dirt preserved for posterity in the centre of town as memorial to the vested interests that have been allowed to shape everything that is ugly in this town.

Published: Online Opinion Link to article: http://bit.ly/a16rJb

That Rudd should have allowed himself to be spooked by Abbott over refugees is a measure of the man. Abbott and his Coalition stand little chance of winning the forthcoming election, likely to be in August.

Rudd cannot handle criticism, to avoid it he will apparently go to any length, including attacking the fragile rights of refugees and behaving like King Canute. The situation in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka will not improve just because he wants it to.

For the Australian government to declare that the security of Tamils in Sri Lanka is improving flies in the face of evidence coming out of the country. If the Australian High Commission in Colombo cannot report on the situation as it is then why are we funding it?

Sri Lanka has just been through a thirty year civil war, which ended with the crushing of one side by the other. The majority Sinhalese have shown no inclination to deal with Tamils unless it was on the basis of inequality. For Tamils to survive amongst Sinhalese they must tug their forelocks and accept second best.

It cannot be expected that against the background of the war with all of its attendant cruelties, the continued detention of 10,000 young Tamils as LTTE suspects, the continued arrest of young Tamils off the streets, the expropriation of Tamil land in the north and the rampant Sinhalese nationalism now abroad that Tamils will find equality in Sri Lanka. In addition the government of Sri Lanka is corrupt and press freedom is proscribed. Journalists have been detained and killed; a regime as morally bankrupt as that in Sri Lanka can hardly be trusted with the protection of a crushed minority. Have Evans, Smith and Rudd let go of their senses? If they want to stop the boats they should put real pressure on the government of Sri Lanka to reform.

As Afghanistan moves into the summer months, military activity, by war lords, drug barons, coalition hating Pathans, and the Taliban, will increase and this year looks like being more intense than anything so far experienced in the current Afghan war. The Afghan President, Hamid Khazai, gives a sense of it with recent statements criticising the conduct of the war by Coalition forces and indicating that negotiations with the Taliban should take place. Khazai knows he will be under pressure and is preparing the ground for his political survival; it’s not likely to happen no one wants him, if he is lucky he will see out his days in the US or Switzerland.

With the build up in military activity will inevitably come increased numbers of refugees, where is the reality check that should be governing the Rudd government’s decision making. The Taliban and hangers on will be well aware that there is an election in Australia this year and will probably try to influence public opinion toward a withdrawal of Australian troops. Tarin Kowt will not be the place for grandstanding Australian politicians looking for a khaki backdrop to enhance their election prospects.

The UNHCR would be well aware of the foregoing, so what has prompted talk of a review of Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, countries which are politically sensitive to Australia in terms of boat arrivals and the resultant refugee policy in the run up to the election?

Ten days ago the UNHCR regional director was making positive public noises about improvements in the security situation in both countries and indicated that a proposed review would have findings which the Australian government would not be displeased with. With the adverse reaction to the government’s hairy nosed proposal to freeze for three months the processing of refugee applicants from Sri Lanka and for six months those from Afghanistan because of security improvements, the UNHCR Regional Director hedged his bets, saying on 9 April that the review was not yet complete. He said he had never indicated that he thought the situation in those countries was improving, which is not so, but even he must now see that UNHCR would be flying in the face of available evidence and other considered reviews.

Nonetheless The Minister for Immigration, Chris Evans, acted upon the UNHCR murmurings and sent back Tamil and Afghan asylum seekers on Christmas Island to the Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. It all had the smell of a deal between UNHCR and the Australian government to save their bacon in an election year.
It would not be the first time. In 1993 the regional director of UNHCR did a deal with the Department of Immigration that Chinese women fleeing China for fear of persecution for having transgressed the one child policy would not be regarded by UNHCR as persons eligible for protection. This despite women being subjected to enforced abortions, loss of jobs and homes, imprisonment and relocation away from family. The Australian government were concerned with a flood of applicants which on any cool headed assessment was never going to happen. The quid pro quo of the deal was that Australia would agree to help the UNHCR by taking Afghan refugees from camps in Pakistan.

The fact that the AFP has been sent to Christmas Island to quell possible riots demonstrates the unfairness of the decision. Asylum seekers are acutely aware of the justice of their claims. When will it be that the taxpayer funded AFP acts to uphold human rights?

It is a cowardly and bullying act. Why take such a path when events on the ground will inevitably prove the Australian government wrong, sooner rather than later? In embarking on this course of action the government has turned its back on the UN Convention on Refugees which is also incorporated in Australian law. In attempting to achieve a favourable political outcome for himself, Rudd has been prepared to break the law; even as a politician you cannot go much lower than that.

Rudd has put himself offside with every fair minded Australian. He has given us an insight into the motivation behind his decision making; fear of personal failure, of losing office, is a strong driving force; morality and compassion are low priorities when pitted against Rudd’s ambition. We have been given an insight into the process behind his GFC splurge and the resultant failure of oversight and accountability that has become the Hallmark of that panicked response.

Rudd and Abbott are fighting over the carcass of Australian democracy and fair play. Rudd should not attend the dedication of the cemetery at Fromelles as the sound of the Diggers turning in their graves will drown out the service. He should also stop wasting tax payer money on trying to get a seat on the UN Security Council, he has no hope; a rich country behaving like a spoilt child.

Published: Crikey

Link to article: http://bit.ly/bpOx70

In pursuing a case against three Australians of Sri Lankan Tamil background for supplying funds to the LTTE the AFP relied on information provided or vetted by the Sri Lankan government. These facts emerged during the trial of Arumugan Rajeevan, Aruran Vinayagamoorthy and Sivarajah Yathavan before Victorian Supreme Court Justice Paul Coghlan which concluded on 31 March with stinging criticism by the Judge of the methods of interrogation employed by the AFP. Justice Coghlan described these methods as outrageous and a fundamental departure from the principals accepted as governing interrogations.

Once again it appears as if the AFP have moved very close to the edge of the law in getting a desired outcome, another being the interrogation and charges brought against Dr. Haneef, a monumental blunder and error of judgement which is a contributor to the current poor relationship between Australia and India.

For the past fifteen years or so the Sri Lankan government has applied pressure on the Australian government to proscribe the LTTE as a terrorist organisation. Denis Richardson as head of ASIO (now head of DFAT), rightly resisted that pressure, but following his departure, the AFP asserted dominance within intelligence circles and circumvented that restraint, culminating in the case against the three Australian citizens. The judge took such a leery view of the case that all three have been released on bonds.

The Sri Lankan government will not be pleased and through their High Commission in Canberra will no doubt make representations, as well as pursuing the issue through their networks within the AFP.

The Sri Lankan High Commission has conducted a campaign of harassment against Australians of Tamil background for the last decade. This has been tolerated by Australian authorities who should have been offering these citizens protection. The High Commission has been acting improperly; it should be directed to cease those activities. Officers posted to Australia to harass Tamils should be sent back to Sri Lanka.

If the AFP felt constrained to rely on the Sri Lankan government as the sole source of information on matters relating to the LTTE, it is safe to assume that ASIO does likewise. That information is biased and unreliable. Yet ASIO has seen fit to declare four Tamil asylum seekers on Christmas Island threats to national security. In a democracy we have a right to ask why? What is the threat they represent? What is the case against them? If they were former members of the LTTE they represent no threat. As soldiers or supporters on the losing side of a civil war they are deserving of our assistance and compassion.

For many years it has been a requirement of the Australian government to seek a security clearance from the Sinhalese police for Tamils seeking refugee status in Australia. When I was posted to the Australia High Commission in Colombo I could see no sense in the arrangement. It was best ignored for all it did was tom put the family of the applicant in jeopardy.

ASIO and the AFP rely on goodwill to carry out their duties toward ensuring the security of the nation. Goodwill is built on trust, without it security organisations operate in a hostile domestic environment and need to rely on an increasing number of agents. Look at East Germany or indeed China. The AFP has done little to build trust in recent years.

ASIO needs to revisit its decision relating to the Tamils who received an adverse security rating, particularly since these are the same people singled out as terrorists some months earlier by the Sri Lankan High Commission.

In the opinion of the regional director of UNHCR,security in Sri Lanka and Afghanistan is returning to normal and that there is now not a case for people from these countries to claim refugee status. Both the government and the opposition cite this authoritative UN source. The Department of Immigration has recently returned refugee applicants to both countries saying that their claims cannot be sustained in the light of positive change in these countries.

Other sources including Amnesty make no such assessment. Young Tamil males are still disappearing off the streets of Colombo and a quick glance at the evening news will show that nothing has changed in Afghanistan, in fact it is poised to get worse with the approach of summer.

When it comes to doing deals with ‘friendly’ governments UNHCR has form. In 1993 the regional UNHCR representative did a deal with the Australian government declaring that women fleeing China because of persecution or the fear of persecution, as a result of the one child policy, were not refugees. The Australian government, as usual, were concerned about a flood from the north. The quid pro quo was that Australia would agree to take more refugees from UNHCR camps, paradoxically amongst them being Afghan refugees in camps in Pakistan.

No doubt some sort of deal making has been involved to help Australia justify sending politically sensitive refugees back home in an election year.

It is a disgrace and there is not a single independent source of information that supports the contention that Tamils from the north do not face a fear of persecution in Sri Lanka or that life for the average Afghan trader and farmer is safe. Shame Senator Evans.

Published: Australian Financial Review

Free marketeers eschew the need for government intervention until such time as their own vital interests are threatened.

Dr. Ken Henry, Secretary of the Treasury, champion of the environment and the market place, has come out with both barrels blazing. He accuses State and Federal governments of having a disgraceful record on the management of water. “Water management on this driest inhabited continent on Earth has been a disgrace.” And who could argue. He noted that water extraction from the Murray/Darling Basin amounted to 93% of the average natural flow to the sea.; ”In three of these (last) 10 years water extraction actually exceeded inflows.”

But this should come as no surprise to Dr. Henry, an advocate of free market solutions for the distribution of water of which water licences form a key element; they are the instrument which makes it possible to extract more than replenishment.

In March 2008, just before the GFC and huge government handouts (typical free market solution to an economic crisis) Henry argued that a well functioning market would bring into play efficiencies governing the distribution and consumption of water.

He claimed that in times of drought water prices should rise, the extent being determined by the severity of the drought but also the ‘price-sensitivity’ of demand and supply. He said, in this utopia of economic modelling, that drought induced increases in price would naturally cause water to flow to those who valued it more highly. This is social engineering, to match that of Pakistan, where the haves get the water and the have nots miss out.

He said increases in price would be a market incentive to build desalination plants, new dams and water recycling plants. Development of the first two ‘solutions’ are not environmentally friendly.

The drought Henry refers to is climate change and a response to water shortages caused by long term climate change will need to be driven by government rather than the market.

Water licences cannot create water; they are an inferior and inefficient method of allocating scarce water resources, “…on this driest inhabited continent on earth.” They are unable to foster and create equitable outcomes; they are as effective in husbanding water resources as a mirage.

Management of water in Australia, while licences remain an integral part of the framework, is an illusion. Water licences should be scrapped as a first step in governments managing water on behalf of the nation.