It is yet another failure of our elected officials and public servants to be accountable to their voters and taxpayers, another sign that politicians and bureaucrats govern, not for public interest, but for vested interests.
Almost two months have rolled by since the government’s export agency, Export Finance and Insurance Corporation (EFIC) was asked by this reporter if it was secretly assisting to finance Adani’s $16 billion Carmichael coal project.
Nothing. No response from EFIC apart from the usual manicured PR reply. Nothing either from the minister who instructs EFIC, Steven Ciobo. Nothing at all apart from a pledge that a response would be forthcoming. Again, nothing forthcoming.
The EFIC financing angle is contained in a report by the Australian Conservation Foundation, Dirty Deeds, Done for Cheap Dirt, which also investigates the board and the investment mandate of the Northern Australian Infrastructure Facility (NAIF).
NAIF was set up by the Federal Government in 2015 to invest $5 billion in taxpayers’ funds in infrastructure projects. And although its mandate is all infrastructure, the expertise of directors – and indeed the pro-coal rhetoric of government ministers suggests it is something of a coal and resources slush fund.
In the meantime, immense public resistance to the world’s biggest new thermal coal mine, Carmichael, has yielded some news in recent days. While mainstream media has cavalierly ignored the elephant in the room – the prospect of the government deploying taxpayer funds to back, not just the rail link, but the Carmichael coal mine itself – royalties have been a winning diversion.
After days of debating whether to sling Adani a “royalties holiday” of $300 million-plus on its coal volumes (in addition to a free unlimited water licence) the government of Annastacia Palaszczuk vowed to reject a preferential royalties arrangement on Friday. Further, she debunked the idea that the state would play a part in funnelling taxpayer funds from the federal government to Adani.
A couple of points: although a royalties “freebie” has been quashed, a royalties “deferral” appears still on the table. This is still a substantial concession as, if no royalties are paid in the initial years and the project goes belly up, there will be no royalties paid.
The next point: in ruling out state assistance, the Queensland premier seems to have quarantined herself from a likely voter backlash, while still leaving the door open for federal funding.
Adani Power has just released its annual results for the year to March showing a net loss of $US954 million. The auditors qualified the accounts. At $US2 billion, current liabilities outstrip current assets. As opposed to Adani Enterprises, which controls Carmichael, Adani Power is seeking to expand its ties to Indian domestic coal assets.
What with falling futures prices for thermal coal, Adani Australia’s controlling interests sitting in tax havens and its immediate Indian parent entities heavy on debt and light on equity, commercial banks around the world are highly unlikely to stump up project finance for Carmichael without the backing of the Australian government.
The Federal Government needs to come clean. Is EFIC, or any other government entity, evaluating financing options for Carmichael, including insuring and guaranteeing commercial bank loans?
After a particularly challenging event recently, I tried to take on board this advice, comforting myself with the thought “what a wonderful opportunity for personal growth this presents”.
So, too, should we view the leadership of former prime minister Tony Abbott.
Abbott’s now infamous 2014 budget horror show was so manifestly unfair in the way it targeted different groups of Australians in the quest to restore the budget to balance that it has, for the moment at least, fundamentally altered the national conversation about the role of government in society and how governments should best go about collecting taxes and spending them to improve the wellbeing of the nation.
For all the talk of middle-class welfare, Australia today boasts one of the most efficient and tightly targeted tax and transfer systems in the world.
Bureau of Statistics figures show that the richest 20 per cent of Australian households still receive about 12 per cent of all government handouts, including childcare benefits and the private health insurance rebate.
Strict means testing of payments and the progressive way in which income taxes are applied means the Australian government plays a very active role in ensuring a more equal distribution of income.
One measure of inequality in an economy is the “Gini coefficient”. It is a number between 0 and 1, in which 0 represents a situation of perfect equality – everyone earns the same – and 1 represents total inequality – one person gets all the income.
On the latest figures for 2013-14, Australia’s Gini coefficient is 0.33. Sure, this is better than America’s 0.39. But it is an increase from around 0.29 in the mid 1990s.
For much of the early 2000s, Howard government increases to family payments helped lower income households keep ahead of the growing dispersion in private wages. But income tax cuts towards the later days of the Howard government started to favour the top end.
Importantly, however, without the impact of government taxes and transfers today, Australia’s Gini co-efficient would be 0.52, not 0.33.
Economists are beginning to appreciate both the social and economic costs of rising inequality. Obviously, being poor is associated with myriad disadvantages, including poorer standard of living, social stigma and worse health outcomes.
Indeed, a person living in a household on an annual income between $5000 and $10,000 has twice the chance of suffering heart disease and depression as someone on above $70,000, and about three times the chance of suffering diabetes and cancer.
But it turns out too much inequality is bad for economies too. Lower-income households have a higher propensity to consume, rather than save, their income, leading to more spending, jobs and activity.
While some degree of differentiation in the rewards available from work acts as an important incentive to promote labour market flexibility, investment in new skills and rewards from working, it is possible for inequality to go too far.
The economist Branko Milanovic has likened inequality to “good” and “bad” cholesterol: a little bit of the good stuff can be good for your health, but too much of the bad stuff can kill you.
” ‘Good’ inequality is needed to create incentives for people to study, work hard, or start risky entrepreneurial projects … But ‘bad’ inequality starts at a point – one not easy to define – where, rather than providing the motivation to excel, inequality provides the means to preserve acquired positions.”
In 2015, the OECD released estimates finding that higher levels of inequality, in fact, lead to lower levels of economic growth. Its estimates suggest the rise in income inequality in OECD countries between 1985 and 2005 reduced cumulative growth by 4.7 per cent during the two decades from 1990 to 2010.
It is increasingly clear that we should worry about rising inequality. And government budgets remain the most potent way of addressing it.
It rang immediate alarm bells that the 2014 budget was the first in more than a decade not to include a table of “cameos”, detailing the dollar impact of budget policies on different household budgets.
A freedom-of-information request by my colleagues at Fairfax Media later revealed why.
The Treasury analysis – available to the government before it delivered the budget – showed the spending cuts would cost an average of $842 a year for lower-income households, while the average high-income family lost just $71. Middle-income families would be down $477.
The proposed freezing of family payments and a less generous indexation of the pensions were largely to blame.
And a NATSEM analysis at the time also revealed those inequalities would only grow over time. While the temporary budget repair levy on very -high-income earners disappeared after a few years, the impact of the spending cuts only grew overtime, hitting low-income households harder and harder.
This year’s budget suggests the lessons of 2014 have been somewhat learnt.
NATSEM’s latest distributional analysis of the 2017 budget shows all taxpaying households bearing the burden of budget repair, thanks to the Medicare Levy increase.
Lower-income older households also get the benefit of keeping an extra energy assistance payment. Families on about $100,000 bear the burden of the freeze in family tax benefit B.
Other specific groups, such as university students and drug users, will also lose out.
But overall, the measures in this year’s budget appear roughly “proportional” in their impact, meaning they will not significantly alter the distribution of income in the economy.
The only unknown is the impact of the bank levy, which will be borne by bank customers or shareholders to some degree that is yet unclear.
But overall, the Turnbull government seems to have finally realised what Abbott and his supporters fail to see, that the November 2013 election outcome was never a plea by Australians for a radical downsizing of the role of government in Australia, or a call to balance the budget on the backs of the poorest in society, but a simple denunciation of the political rabble the leadership of the Australian Labor Party had become.
It is crucial that lesson remains learnt.
A fantastic way to do that would be to follow the recommendation made last week in a piece for the Mandarin website by a former Treasury official, David Sligar.
Sligar recommends we follow the example of the British Treasury, which includes with every budget a statement revealing the impact of budget measures on the distribution of income, including the dollar cost to households in every income bracket.
The idea was also canvassed in a recent budget white paper released by Labor’s shadow minister for finance, Jim Chalmers.
It’s a great idea. Let’s do it.
At the very least, the government must commit to bringing back those budget “cameos” that are still mysteriously missing in action.
Jessica Irvine is a Fairfax Media columnist
The central aim of the government’s plan to protect the Great Barrier Reef is no longer achievable due to the dramatic impacts of climate change, experts have told the government’s advisory committees for the plan.
Environmental lawyers said the revelation could mean the Great Barrier Reef might finally be listed as a “world heritage site in danger”, a move the federal and Queensland governments have strenuously fought.
The federal and Queensland government’s Reef 2050 Long Term Sustainability Plan was released in 2015, with it’s central vision to “ensure the Great Barrier Reef continues to improve on its outstanding universal values”. The plan was created to satisfy the Unesco World Heritage Centre, which was considering adding the Great Barrier Reef to its list of world heritage sites in danger, that its condition could be improved.
But in a meeting of the Reef 2050 advisory committee, whose role is to provide advice to state and federal environment ministers on implementing the plan, two experts from government science agencies said improving the natural heritage values of the reef was no longer possible.
With climate change causing unprecedented back-to-back mass bleaching events in 2016 and 2017, killing almost half of the coral, and with the risk of those events set to increase in the coming years, loss of coral cover and biodiversity was virtually assured.
The Great Barrier Reef serves many “ecological functions”. For example, the coral provides shelter and food for fish, it provides fish for humans, the various ecosystems provide experiences for tourists, and the reef structure itself provides protection to the coast from waves.
Members of the advisory committee would only speak on the condition of anonymity, but several told the Guardian about the details of the discussion.
The view presented reflects that previously expressed by a group of scientists who called themselves the Great Barrier Reef Independent Review Group, some of whom sit on Reef 2050 advisory committees. In their review of the plan’s implementation, published in February, they said improving the heritage values of the reef, as it aimed to, was “no longer attainable for at least the next two decades”. That assessment was made before the latest mass bleaching.
The language was echoed in a communique from the Independent Expert Panel – another body advising on the implementation of the Reef 2050 plan – dated 5 May. The communique said: “There is great concern about the future of the reef, and the communities and businesses that depend on it, but hope still remains for maintaining ecological function over the coming decades.”
It continued: “Members agreed that in our lifetime and on our watch, substantial areas of the Great Barrier Reef and the surrounding ecosystems are experiencing major long-term damage which may be irreversible unless action is taken now.”
Both advisory bodies have recommended that the Reef 2050 plan must address climate change, the biggest threat to the reef, which it does not.
Brendan Sydes, a lawyer and CEO at Environmental Justice Australia, said the news should be a wake-up call, and could result in the reef being considered again by Unesco for inclusion on the in-danger list.
“There’s a real risk that this new information will cause a renewed scrutiny for what Australia is or is not doing to protect the reef – particularly around climate change,” Sydes said, adding that if the outstanding universal values continued to degrade, the very listing of the reef as a world heritage site at all could come into question. “That would be a tragic situation.”
Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, who sits on the Independent Expert Panel, declined to comment on discussions in the meetings. But he said the shock of what had happened in the past two years had made people reassess what was possible.
“We’re managing reefs in a rapidly changing world,” Hoegh-Guldberg said. “So managing to restore the reefs of the past – the way they were prior to the big insults of the 80s, 90s and 2000s … maybe we need to be looking at this in a different sense. What are the key ecological functions? Essentially, what roles do they play that are important to humans?”
He said that idea had a similar “cold hard light of day” feel to his own “50 reefs” project, which aims to identify 50 reefs around the world that have the best chance of being saved – and which could one day potentially help repopulate other reefs.
Despite the advice, the federal environment minister, Josh Frydenberg, and the Queenslandenvironment minister, Steven Miles, told the Guardian they remained committed to the aims of the Reef 2050 plan.
Frydenberg said: “The Turnbull government is firmly committed to protecting the Great Barrier Reef for future generations and delivering the Reef 2050 plan.
“The government has been clear from the outset that the Paris Climate Agreement is the place to deal with climate change.”
Miles said the purpose of the Reef 2050 plan was to “boost the health and resilience of the Great Barrier Reef, including in the face of climate change”.
Miles said the plan was intended to be reviewed, and the opportunity to do that would come in 2018.
But he also criticised the lack of action from the federal action on climate change. “Australia doesn’t currently have a policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and we need one,” he said. “For the sake of our reef, it’s time Malcolm Turnbull took his commitments from Paris seriously and introduced a real plan that will cap and reduce carbon pollution.”
Imogen Zethoven from the Australian Marine Conservation Society said: “Two years after the World Heritage Committee endorsed the Reef 2050 plan, the federal government appears to have conceded that the plan’s vision is unachievable.
“Climate change is the single biggest threat to our reef. Yet the government is aggressively backing the reef-wrecking Adani coalmine and its climate policies are shameful.”
Richard Leck, a campaigner at WWF, said the recent bleaching events, as well as Cyclone Debbie, showed that “the Great Barrier Reef is a system in crisis”.
“And the elephant in the room, that is not included in the plan, and Australia is not performing well on, is climate change,” Leck said. “Until Australia gets serious about playing its part in limiting emissions to 1.5C temperature rise, we are not taking saving the reef seriously.”
Ron Paul : posted :Feb 20 2017
Posted: Feb 20, 2017 2:15 PM
Defending Donald Trump — No Matter What
Just over a week into the Trump administration, the president issued an executive order giving Defense Secretary James Mattis 30 days to come up with a plan to defeat ISIS. According to the order, the plan should make recommendations on military actions, diplomatic actions, partners, strategies, and how to pay for the operation.
As we approach the president’s deadline it looks like the military is going to present Trump with a plan to do a whole lot more of what we’ve been doing and somehow expect different results. Proving the old saying that when all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail, we are hearing increasing reports that the military will recommend sending thousands of US troops into Syria and Iraq.
This would be a significant escalation in both countries, as currently there are about 5,000 US troops still fighting our 13-year war in Iraq, and some 500 special forces soldiers operating in Syria.
The current Syria ceasefire, brokered without US involvement at the end of 2016, is producing positive results and the opposing groups are talking with each other under Russian and Iranian sponsorship. Does anyone think sending thousands of US troops into a situation that is already being resolved without us is a good idea?
In language reminiscent of his plans to build a wall on the Mexican border, the president told a political rally in Florida over the weekend that he was going to set up “safe zones” in Syria and would make the Gulf States pay for them. There are several problems with this plan.
First, any “safe zone” set up inside Syria, especially if protected by US troops, would amount to a massive US invasion of the country unless the Assad government approves them. Does President Trump want to begin his presidency with an illegal invasion of a sovereign country?
Second, there is the little problem of the Russians, who are partners with the Assad government in its efforts to rid the country of ISIS and al-Qaeda. ISIS is already losing territory on a daily basis. Is President Trump willing to risk a military escalation with Russia to protect armed regime-change forces in Syria?
Third, the Gulf States are the major backers of al-Qaeda and ISIS in Syria – as the president’s own recently-resigned National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, revealed in a 2015 interview. Unless these safe zones are being set up to keep al-Qaeda and ISIS safe, it doesn’t make any sense to involve the Gulf States.
Many will say we should not be surprised at these latest moves. As a candidate, Trump vowed to defeat ISIS once and for all. However, does anyone really believe that continuing the same strategy we have followed for the past 16 years will produce different results this time? If what you are hammering is not a nail, will hammering it harder get it nailed in?
Washington cannot handle the truth: solving the ISIS problem must involve a whole lot less US activity in the Middle East, not a whole lot more. Until that is understood, we will continue to waste trillions of dollars and untold lives in a losing endeavor.
Divisions between Donald Trump and other members of the G7 at the summit in Sicily have become so broad and deep that they may be forced to issue a brief leaders’ statement rather than a full communique, dashing Italian hopes of engineering a big step forward on migration and famine.
With the US president apparently reluctant to compromise with European leaders over climate change, trade and migration, the European council president, Donald Tusk, was forced to admit on Friday that this would be the most challenging G7summit in years and there was a risk of events spiralling out of control.
A draft statement shown to the Guardian reveals Trump wants world leaders to make only a short reference to migration and to throw out a plan by the Italian hosts for a comprehensive five-page statement that acknowledges migrants’ rights, the factors driving refugees and their positive contribution.
The Italian plans – one on human movement and another on food security – were set to be the centrepiece of its summit diplomacy. Italy had chosen Taormina in Sicily as the venue to symbolise the world’s concern over the plight of refugees coming from the Middle East and Africa.
It had hoped the summit would end on Saturday with a bold statement that the world, and not just individual nations, had a responsibility for the refugee crisis. Italy is expected to take in 200,000 refugees in 2017; more than 1,300 have drowned so far this year while trying to make the perilous crossing from north Africa.
The new text, offered by the US on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, acknowledges the human rights of migrants, but affirms “the sovereign rights of states to control their own borders and set clear limits on net migration levels as key elements of their national security”.
It also asserts the need for refugees to be supported as close to their home countries as possible.
Diplomatic sources said intense talks were under way to rescue some of the Italian agenda on migration.
Italian officials, faced with little option, insisted the brief wording on migration in the draft represented a good compromise and said there was no problem with the Americans. The communique did reference the idea of “upstream” action on the issue – but also supporting legal pathways to return individuals to their country of origin.
In a sign of the immediacy of the refugee crisis, the Libyan coastguard said as many as 20 boats had been spotted off the Libyan coast on Friday carrying thousands of migrants.
Large rescue and interception operations were under way with the help of the Libyan coastguard, fishing and commercial boats and in coordination with the Italian authorities, the navy spokesman Gen Ayoub Qassem said.
“Today is the day of a massive exodus of illegal migrants toward Europe,” he added.
The disagreements between Trump and other world leaders have spread to climate change, trade and food security, revealing the philosophical gulf about how to handle globalisation and security.
One source said that with four leaders attending their first summit – Trump, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, and the UK and Italian prime ministers, Theresa May and Paolo Gentiloni – the emphasis was being placed on the politicians building a personal bond of trust rather than delivering lengthy communiques.
Speaking at the end of the first day’s formal session, Gentiloni said agreement had been reached on terrorism and Syria, but Trump was holding out on climate change.
Trump has come under pressure from other world leaders to stick with the UN climate change treaty signed by Barack Obama’s administration in Paris. He has deferred a decision on whether the US will pull out of the 2015 deal. The Trump administration is internally divided and might simply reduce the level and timescale of US commitments made at Paris on emission cuts.
The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said “we put forward very many arguments” for the US sticking with the agreement.
May also raised the issue of climate change admitting that “the US is considering its position in relation to these matters” but claiming all seven countries agreed on the importance of the Paris agreement.
Late on Friday, a senior White House official said Trump’s views on climate change were “evolving” following the talks. “He feels much more knowledgeable on the topic today,” said Gary Cohn, Trump’s top White House economic adviser. “He came here to learn; he came here to get smarter.”
“He said they’re very bad on trade, but he doesn’t have a problem with Germany,” said Cohn.
A White House adviser said Trump told the G7 that America would treat other countries on trade in the same way that the US was treated, adding the President’s goal is “free and fair trade, not high tariffs”.
On Friday night, Gentiloni said the leaders had made progress on the issue of foreign trade, but that the wording of the final communique still needed to be worked out. Trump has previously promoted a protectionist agenda that alarmed his G7 allies.
Gentiloni said: “On the major theme of global trade, we are still working on the shape of the final communique, but it seems to me the direct discussions today have produced common positions that we can work on.”
Germany and Japan are trying to pin Trump down to define his version of fair trade by making him accept there has to be a rules-based system in which the World Trade Organisation has a leading role. Trump has vowed that he will cut the US deficit and has pointed the finger of blame at countries such as Germany and China. He has accused China of using exchange rate manipulation to sell goods in the US.
The German trade surplus, which reached a record $283bn (£220.9bn) in 2016, has also been a source of contention within Europe, with Berlin’s partners encouraging it to do more to promote domestic demand.
In the dozen years since Schapelle Corby arrived in Indonesia with just over 4kg of cannabis in a boogie board bag, neither the intrigue nor public enthralment with her case has waned.
Corby, arguably the most famous Australian prisoner of her generation during her nine years inside Bali’s Kerobokan jail, is due to return home this weekend in a blaze of publicity.
The 39-year-old will arrive in Brisbane – en route to her presumed return to living with family on the Gold Coast – with her sister, Mercedes, and a hired bodyguard who has shepherded the likes of Roger Federer and Lady Gaga.
Corby’s mother, Rosleigh Rose, told reporters on Thursday that “Schapelle should have been coming home 12-and-a-half years ago, not now”.
The persistence of the conspiracy claims of her supporters, which raised plausible suspicions of insider corruption at Australian airports but never produced smoking gun evidence before Balinese judges, is partly what sets Corby’s story apart from those of untold other Australian drug prisoners abroad.
This was one undercurrent to the very public drama of an outwardly ordinary young woman dealt a crushing punishment to the despair of a family given to showing raw emotion.
TV audiences in Australia and New Zealand watched live in May 2005 as Corby, a picture of despair, slapped her own forehead as if to wake up from the nightmare of a 20-year sentence for importing narcotics, while Mercedes and Rosleigh cried out at the court in rage.
The backdrop, Bali, has been a tourist magnet for ordinary Australians for generations: familiar yet exotic, permissive yet draconian for anyone in the crosshairs of its harsh drug laws.
The unanswered question of the prior source and ultimate destination of the cannabis led to media focus on the wider Corby family, in particular her late father, Michael, and associates, in search of drug links. The Corby family received large defamation payouts over two such examples, by tabloid TV show Today Tonight and a book by a Fairfax Media journalist, and an apology from the ABC over another.
Mercedes, a successful litigant in both cases, gained celebrity in her own right, posing in a bikini for a men’s magazine.
Her former husband, from a small surfing town in Japan called Omaezaki, was stunned to learn of her plight, just weeks before her conviction, via a reporter for a woman’s magazine who had tracked him down.
Acquaintances in Omaezaki recalled an earnest, kind and gentle but emotional young woman who struggled with loneliness and limited Japanese in the two years she lived there before her marriage broke up in 2000, when she was around 23.
The second was likely that fateful 2004 trip to Bali, ostensibly a brief holiday to celebrate Mercedes’ 30th birthday, but which proved to be her last, given her pending deportation and permanent ban from Indonesia.
A third major bout of culture shock looms for Corby with her return to Australia, where she has become a household name in her absence. Corby has reportedly told Balinese parole authorities she is looking forward to returning to Queensland. Whether she stayed with siblings on the Gold Coast or with her mother in the working-class Logan city suburb of Loganlea was undecided, Rose told media this week.
For the past fortnight, Australian media crews have been waiting outside the small villa in Bali where Corby is serving out parole. Mercedes left a note on the gate demanding they “stop invading our privacy – Immigration have been notified with footage of you putting the go-pro over our fence and cameras over the fence. SO RUDE!!”
Speculation continues about media gaining a paid exclusive interview with Corby but this has been fraught territory in the past. Proceeds-of-crime laws in Australia, at both the federal level and in Queensland, apply to serious overseas convictions such as Corby’s, preventing her from benefiting from any deal.
Commonwealth prosecutors succeeded in 2007 in stopping payments from Corby’s co-authored book, My Story, and a related magazine interview from going to Mercedes and her Indonesian husband, Wayan Widyartha. A $267,000 advance from publisher Pan Macmillan had been sent to Widyartha’s account in Bali. The Queensland supreme court made a confiscation order for $128,000 in 2009.
The last attempt to sew up an exclusive interview with Corby proved ill-fated for Channel Seven’s Sunday Night when Corby was released on parole in February 2014. A slated interview for a rumoured multimillion-dollar sum was canned after Corby was warned by Indonesian authorities about violating the terms of her parole. Seven was raided by the Australian federal police, in what the network described as “overkill”, denying any money was paid to the convicted smuggler.
On Wednesday, Rose denied any media deal had been done. A Sydney publicist, Steve Moriarty, who had been rumoured to be representing the Corby family in prospective deals, declined to comment.
In the end, Corby served less than half of her original 20-year sentence. The former Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono cut five years from her term in 2012, two years after Corby appealed for clemency, citing in part her downward spiral into depression.
A similar cannabis importing conviction in Australia would fetch a maximum of 10 years in jail. According to statistics published by one law firm, less than 10% of smugglers in similarly “marketable” quantities of heroin in Australia are sentenced to more than nine years.
Six months after Corby’s arrest, nine other young Australians were arrested for attempting to smuggle heroin out of Bali.
More than a year after Corby’s release on parole, two of them, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, were shot dead by firing squad. The other seven remain in Indonesian jails, four in Kerobokan, the relative obscurity of their fates a marked contrast.
The provenance and use of a plane by Pauline Hanson to campaign for One Nation is under investigation by the electoral commission, officials have said.
The Australian electoral commission commissioner, Tom Rogers, told Senate estimates on Thursday it had issued a number of compulsory notices to produce documents, converting its inquiry into a formal investigation.
Rogers also said a recording of Hanson’s chief of staff, James Ashby, discussing “making some money” from electoral reimbursements did not disclose any breaches of commonwealth electoral law, but might breach other laws.
The AEC is investigating whether the plane – which Hanson has used in campaigning and described as her own but is reportedly registered and insured in Ashby’s name – was a gift from One Nation’s biggest recent donor, the Victorian developer Bill McNee, and should have been declared as such.
On ABC’s Four Corners program McNee denied funding the purchase of the plane, saying he had not funded the party beyond what was publicly disclosed. Ashby has told Guardian Australia the hours flown for party business on his aircraft had been declared in accordance with the AEC rules.
The AEC’s chief legal officer, Paul Pirani, said the section provided a broad power to compel witnesses to appear or produce documents where the AEC had reasonable grounds to believe a person had information relating to a possible contravention of electoral law.
Rogers said the power was rarely used because information provided to the AEC was generally acceptable or parties opted to amend their disclosures, but he would not say if One Nation had sought to do so.
Refusing to comply with a notice is an offence punishable by a $1,800 fine. Providing false or misleading information could result in a prison sentence of up to six months.
Rogers said that because the notices to produce have been issued, the matter “ceased to be an inquiry and is now a formal investigation”. The investigation “now has to play out” and after that the delegate would decide whether to refer the matter to another agency for possible “further action”.
In her questioning of officials, Hanson suggested One Nation had written to the AEC on 12 January seeking advice about how to disclose use of the plane and had submitted log books “because it is so unusual for a plane to be used for electoral campaigning”.
Rogers told the Senate committee the AEC “looked at the facts that were publicly available” and concluded it was “fairly clear cut” there was no breach of commonwealth electoral law, although there could be breaches of other laws disclosed.
The Labor senator Murray Watt has referred the matter to the Australian federal police, Queensland police and the Queensland electoral commission.
Hanson raised several points of order objecting to Watt’s line of questioning, noting the AFP had said it had received a complaint not that it was under investigation.
Rogers also confirmed the AEC was undertaking a regular compliance review of One Nation.
The former prime minister Tony Abbott has praised Pauline Hanson as an “honourable exception” to the populism of the crossbench and criticised his successor, Malcolm Turnbull, for “freelancing” when he served on Abbott’s frontbench.
Abbott made the comments in a wide-ranging interview on 2GB Radio in which he called his own possible return to the frontbench an “interesting proposition” and mused that he was not as busy as he used to be.
Abbott said Hanson was a “much more mature politician and parliamentarian” than when she first came to Canberra in the 1990s.
Abbott said he feared there was an “inbuilt majority for bad government in the Senate”, describing Hanson as a “partial and honourable exception” on a crossbench dedicated to populism.
“A centre-right government … now has to negotiate every bit of legislation clause by clause, line by line through the Senate,” he said. “The idea the government can just get its legislation through – we assumed that in past, you just can’t assume that now.”
Asked about the possibility he could serve as more than the member for Warringah, Abbott said it was a matter for the prime minister but added becoming a more vocal frontbencher was “an interesting proposition”.
Abbott said he could not return to his former role as the Howard government’s “assault man” because he had been prime minister since then.
“The thing about the prime ministership is you’re not just the leader of a tribe, you’ve got to be, in a sense, the leader of the whole nation,” he said,
Abbott noted he was not as busy as he used to be and suggested his wife, Margie, might want him to get more involved with the volunteer firefighters because he was “not busy enough”.
Broadcaster Ray Hadley asked about comments by Turnbull last week that he had always opposed a carbon tax, although some other members of the Coalition had supported one in the past.
The comment was a reference to the period in 2009 when Abbott suggested a carbon tax while Turnbull proposed offering Labor bipartisan support for an emissions trading scheme (ETS).
Abbott said he was “trying to be helpful” by offering the suggestion but, as 2009 wore on, it became clear the ETS was “going to be great big new tax on everything”.
“I’m delighted that since 2009 we’ve had a firm position as Liberal-National Coalition: no carbon tax, nothing that looks like a carbon tax, whether you call it an emissions trading scheme or an emissions intensity scheme.”
Last week the environment minister, Josh Frydenberg, left an emissions intensity scheme on the table but then backtracked, with Turnbull confirming the Coalition opposed such a measure because it put a price on carbon.
Abbott encouraged Australia to become the “affordable energy superpower of the world” and continue to oppose any measure that would raise power prices, despite research that suggests an emissions intensity scheme would in fact lower them.
Hadley then played a clip of Turnbull on the ABC’s Q&A in 2011, when he served on the opposition frontbench, supporting a price on carbon.
“That was then, now he’s the prime minister. He is leading a centre-right government that is absolutely committed to never having a carbon tax, or anything that looks remotely like a carbon tax.”
Asked about Indigenous affairs, Abbott said there were still too many people on “sit-down money”, in reference to welfare, and too many not going to school or in unpoliced communities.
Abbott also criticised “white welfare villages”, broadening the critique to welfare dependence generally. He said if it was “literally impossible to find work” people should be looked after.
“We’ve been far too ready to put people on the disability support pension with bad backs or a bit of depression and so on,” he said. “And these are not permanent conditions, they don’t necessarily stop you from working.”
Abbott wished the US president-elect, Donald Trump, luck, saying whatever one thought of the way he had campaigned it was “important that he succeeds for the world’s sake, as the leader of free world”.
Abbott said some of the things Trump said in the campaign were “pretty crook” but others had been “spot on”.