Monthly Archives: May 2019

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First Contact’s David Oldfield claims he was banned from visiting prison as ‘payback’

Ray Martin delivers the news that David Oldfield will not be going on the priosn visit with everyone else. Photo: David Dare ParkerDavid Oldfield claims he was barred from entering a remote prison for Aborigines in Western Australia because of a feud from his days as a staffer in Tony Abbott’s office.

In a stunning scene in the final episode of SBS reality series First Contact, Oldfield is about to board a bus to visit the West Kimberley Regional Prison along with his five fellow cast members when he is told he has been refused entry.

He is told the decision was made by Joe Francis, Western Australia’s Minister for Corrections. No reason for the refusal is given.

The show’s producers, Blackfella Films, told Fairfax Media negotiations for the visit began months earlier but the decision to block Oldfield was only communicated at the last minute.

Oldfield told Fairfax he was convinced the call was made on purely personal grounds, and not because of fears his presence would spark trouble among the prison’s Indigenous population.

“My belief is that it was some old payback because the minister was an underling in Tony Abbott’s office when I worked for Tony,” says Oldfield, who worked for the then Liberal backbencher from 1996, before leaving to co-found One Nation with Pauline Hanson the following year.

Whatever grievance Mr Francis might hold would stem from “nothing particular”, Oldfield insists. “We just didn’t get along. He was probably aware I didn’t think very much of him. But back then, nobody much did.”

But a spokesman for Mr Francis insisted it was not personal, merely a matter of timing.

“Given that we were in a caretaker period in the run-up to the federal election [when the visit was filmed in June], the minister thought it was inappropriate to have a former One Nation MP visiting a West Australian prison.”

The spokesman added: “He wasn’t aware it would be a six-month turnaround for the program to go to air.”

WA Corrective Services minister Joe Francis. Photo: James Mooney

Ray Martin telling Oldfield he will not be allowed to join the others on the prison visit provides one of the most memorable moments in the second season of the documentary-cum-reality show.

“In a few minutes, a van from the West Kimberley Regional Prison will arrive here and collect you,” Martin tells the six “well-known” Australians on the show. “That is, all of you except you, David.

“David, the Minister for Correctional Services here in WA has intervened, and he’s told us he doesn’t want you to go inside the prison. I don’t know why, it’s not our call, it was his decision. It’s unfortunate, we would like you to go.”

“I would like to go as well,” says a clearly surprised Oldfield.

“We asked why and their reply was no comment,” says Martin.

“It’s appalling really, Ray … I would have liked to have gone, and to just single me out, as a retired Member of Parliament, that I’m not allowed to go in. What is he worried that I’m going to see, what is it that he’s worried I’m going to say?”

“I can’t answer that.”

David Oldfield, Natalie Imbruglia, and Ian ‘Dicko’ Dickson in First Contact. Photo: David Dare Parker

His fellow cast members are divided in their response to the bombshell. Ian “Dicko” Dickson opts out of the visit in protest, but actress Nicki Wendt declines to join him.

“I think maybe David’s reputation has a little bit preceded him,” she says.

Speaking to Fairfax, Oldfield conceded that thought had crossed his mind at the time, but he no longer felt it was the case.

“If he’d said, ‘You’re a controversial person and your appearance may cause some problem’, I’d have accepted that. But the fact that never occurred indicates it was something else.”

Karl Quinn is on facebook at karlquinnjournalist and on twitter @karlkwin

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Treasurers’ housing summit to focus on cheaper rentals, more supply

Treasurer Scott Morrison is determined to ensure money for affordable and social housing is better spent. Photo: Alex EllinghausenHousing supply and more affordable rentals will be top of the agenda when Treasurer Scott Morrison and his state counterparts meet in Canberra on Friday.

A leaked copy of an affordable housing report, which will be considered by the treasurers on Friday,  identifies planning rules, local councils and, crucially, federal and states taxes such as negative gearing and stamp duty, as factors that impact on the supply of affordable housing.

The report suggests four financing models that could unlock spending to grow the supply of affordable housing including, crucially, from the private sector.

Governments across Australia spend close to $11 billion a year on affordable and social housing, and Mr Morrison is determined to ensure the money is better spent – and in their final meeting for 2016, the treasurers will examine a report prepared by a federal-state affordable housing working group that examines this issue.

Back in October, the Treasurer effectively put the states on notice over the need to increase housing supply and tackle planning laws that stop, or delay, new houses being built. Those supply constraints can increase demand and force up house prices.

The meeting also comes a week after NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes broke ranks with his federal counterparts and joined the federal opposition in criticising negative gearing tax breaks, arguing that increased supply alone would not solve the housing affordability crisis.

The Affordable Housing Working Group report, written by state and federal bureaucrats, is focused on rental affordability rather than the rising cost of purchasing a home.

On tax policy, however, the report notes that taxation rules and concessions “at all levels of government have a significant impact on supply and demand of housing across the housing continuum” and can “directly affect the viability of innovative financing models for affordable housing”.

This happens by affecting the supply of affordable housing, and through its impact on the attractiveness of community housing as an investment prospect.

“Commonwealth government taxation policy affects housing in a variety of ways, in particular through capital gains tax and negative gearing arrangements, which are applied to investments more broadly,” the report states.

“These settings may affect investment decisions in established housing and possibly make housing investment more attractive to individual ‘mum and dad’ investors over institutional investors due to the ability to deduct losses against other earned income.”

At the state and territory level, taxes and concessions including stamp duties and land taxes, grants for first-home buyers and principal place of residence rebates also have an impact.

To ameliorate the cost of rental housing, the report suggested four potential models be examined to increase finance available to increase the supply of affordable housing.

These four models were the creation of housing trusts, the creation of housing loan/bond aggregators to attract greater investment, housing co-operatives and so-called “impact investing”,a new form of financing that aims to address social problems, such as a shortage of affordable housing.

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Michaelia Cash: Malcolm Turnbull’s secret weapon is a woman on the rise

Employment Minister Michaelia Cash inside her Parliament House office. Photo: Andrew Meares Michaelia Cash and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull speak to the media after the ABCC bill was passed. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Michaelia Cash during question time at Parliament House. Photo: Andrew Meares

Michaelia Cash’s staffers are standing sheepishly in the corner of her office, looking at their watches.

Their boss is due to meet with the Governor-General to get royal assent for the Australian Building and Construction Bill which passed Parliament the night before. But she’s high on victory, waxing lyrical about the benefits the bill.

The two young men are more resigned than perturbed. When Hurricane Michaelia is spinning there’s no stopping her.

You could forgive Cash for being exhausted on the last sitting day of the year. “You do end up doing 18 hour days quite easily seven days a week,” she says of her recent weeks negotiating to get the government’s double dissolution trigger bills passed through the Senate.

Instead she’s wide-eyed, ebullient, buzzing with a caffeinated energy that’s equal parts intoxicating and exhausting. With her trademark theatrical hand gestures and exaggerated pronunciation, she’s a lip reader’s dream.

“She’s a ball of energy,” Liberal Democrat senator David Leyonhjelm says.

“She’s always very upbeat, always got a positive outlook,” one frontbench colleague says.

“She works her arse off.”

A government source who has worked closely with her says: “She’s a superstar.”

Elected as a Senator for Western Australia in 2007, the former Freehills lawyer sits on the conservative side of the Liberal Party’s broad church. After becoming a Malcolm Turnbull supporter late in the piece, his victory saw her shoot into cabinet as Minister for Workplace Relations and Employment. Unlike some of her accident-prone colleagues, Cash has earned respect for notching up a set of legislative victories.

When the Turnbull government emerged from the July election with a shrunken majority in the House of Representatives and a bloated crossbench, the decision to go to a double dissolution trigger seemed a disaster. Many assumed the chances of passing the ABCC and Registered Organisations bills – both rejected twice by the previous Parliament – were as good as dead.

Did Cash?

“No absolutely not,” she says. “I knew what I needed to do.”

Besides her computer sits a plaque, a replica of the one that sat on Ronald Reagan’s desk throughout his presidency. “It can be done,” it reads.

Former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher is another hero.

But while the Senator from Western Australia isn’t for turning, she is for negotiating.

Following the election, Cash flew around the country to meet with crossbenchers on their home turf to discuss what they needed to support the bills.

“That’s what you do when you’re negotiating – you show people the respect that is due to them,” she says.

“I never have an issue leaving the blue carpet [of the ministerial wing] ever. Ever! That’s my style; that’s my personality.”

Contrasting her approach to that of Tony Abbott and previous employment minister Eric Abetz, Leyonhjelm says: “There was a much more enthusiastic approach to negotiation.”

Cash gave a lot away to get the bills passed – from new community forums for the ABC and SBS boards to new “buy Australian” procurement requirements. The ABCC’s coercive powers have been softened and a two year transition period for existing contracts will slow its impact.

One conservative commentator described the final bill as an “appalling mishmash of inconsistent and unworkable provisions” that makes it all but worthless.

Cash insists she isn’t fazed by the bad reviews. “The reality is we don’t have the numbers in the Senate,” she says. She had to negotiate to get the job done.

The passage of the bills follows her previous success scrapping Labor’s Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal and passing new laws in support of Victorian Country Fire Authority volunteers.

Had Cash failed on the double dissolution bills, it would have been an embarrassing end to a difficult year for the Turnbull government. Now it enters 2017 with a sense of cautious optimism.

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‘Putting a fence around it is putting a noose around it’: Architects slam Parliament House security upgrade

A security guard patrols the lawns at Parliament House. Photo: Andrew Meares The lawns at Parliament House Photo: Andrew Meares

Australia’s most celebrated architect, Glenn Murcutt, has slammed forthcoming changes to Parliament House that will block public access to the building’s famed grassy slopes, labelling the security upgrade a knee-jerk reaction.

The Pritzker prize winner said the erection of a 2.6-metre fence around Parliament’s perimeter would betray the intentions of architect Romaldo Giurgola, whose design ensured the public could walk above their representatives.

“It’s really a knee-jerk reaction. We’re getting like a gated community: very American style. From an architectural point of view, I think it’s terrible. It should not even be considered as an option,” Mr Murcutt said.

“Romaldo Giurgola designed this building so that you had very good access to the people – so it expressed freedom, it didn’t in any way express exclusivity. Putting a fence around it is putting a noose around it.”

The proposal was endorsed by the Senate with the opposition’s support on Thursday and work was expected to begin over the summer. In addition to the new fence, existing fences further up the hill will be made taller and 38 extra CCTV cameras will be installed.

Blueprints were being kept under wraps, with MPs briefed face-to-face by the Presiding Officers but denied any documents that could be leaked.

Mr Giurgola died in May and his moral rights to the building are now held in part by architect Pamille Berg. She echoed Speaker Tony Smith’s assessment that “these security changes will obviously have a serious impact on the original design intent of Parliament House”.

But Ms Berg conceded security needs had changed and there was a “difficult ongoing balance” between security and accessibility.

Security experts expressed scepticism about the changes, particularly the fences that would prevent people from walking up the grassy slopes to the top of the building.

Neil Fergus, CEO of the firm Intelligent Risks, which has advised governments and event organisers around the world, said federal Parliament security had tended to suffer from being piecemeal rather than holistic and integrated.

“They shouldn’t be making knee-jerk decisions. They need to do a proper security risk assessment. Everything you do affects somewhere else. When you go out and do something that isn’t properly thought through … you can actually create more security gaps than fixes,” Mr Fergus said.

“I think it has been a problem since the new Parliament House opened. There have been fixes done on fixes incrementally over years.”

Nick O’Brien, a former British counter-terrorism policeman now at Charles Sturt University, said fencing off the slopes around Parliament seemed to be “more about stopping civil protests than terrorism”.

John Coyne, a former federal policeman now with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said fencing off the slopes was “a bit strange”. While stressing the Australian Federal Police and ASIO may have identified specific intelligence that warranted fences, he said it was “very difficult to see a clear cause and effect”.

“What would not allowing people on that grassy hill do? Putting someone on the side of a grassy hill is not going to give you any additional capability to attack someone.”

Other architects who spoke to Fairfax Media on Thursday were universally scathing about the details that had been released.

Canberra architect Rodney Moss said Parliament House was falling victim to “security bracket creep”. “To add layers and layers of security to the building will compromise the design intent that we all thought was so fantastic,” he said.

“It becomes fortress Australia, which is the complete opposite to the way the building was envisaged.” Mr Moss said other iconic buildings such as the Taj Mahal or the White House put perimeter security “a long way out from the buildings”.

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Pollution emission cap put on cruise ships in Sydney Harbour

Harbourfront suburbs will breathe easier after the Turnbull Government agreed to revive restrictions on the sulphur content of fuels used by cruise ships at dock in Sydney Harbour.

Balmain residents living close to the White Bay cruise ship terminal have long been concerned about harmful emissions from the 90,000-plus-tonne vessels that berth in the harbour.

The Baird Government had responded to the community campaign and enforced the use of low-sulphur fuel inside the harbour but a federal-state jurisdictional issue rendered the NSW law inoperative in June.

While the state had insisted on sulphur content of no more than 0.1 per cent of the tank, federal laws mandate a minimum content of 3.5 per cent.

On Thursday, federal Infrastructure and Transport Minister Darren Chester said he had instructed the Australian Maritime Safety Authority to direct a 0.1 per cent upper limit for fuel-oil sulphur content under the Navigation Act.

Some cruise-line companies have complained that low-sulphur fuel costs $250-a-tonne more than heavier fuels and would impact on business but Mr Chester said two major operators, Carnival Australia and Royal Caribbean, the two major users of White Bay, were already voluntarily complying.

In May, it was reported that Carnival had been hit with a $15,000 fine by the NSW Environment Protection Authority when its ship, the Pacific Jewel, was found to be in breach.

Mr Chester said: “Sydney Harbour is one of the world’s most recognised landscapes and hosts a large number of cruise ships every year. They bring thousands of tourists who enjoy our world-class harbour, spend money at local businesses and eat at our great restaurants during their stay.

“We welcome these valuable visitors, but we also need to regulate the presence of cruise ships to ensure we retain a healthy working harbour. I’ve heard the concerns of local residents living close to the White Bay cruise ship terminal.”

Shadow infrastructure and transport spokesman Anthony Albanese, whose redrawn seat of Grayndler includes affected Balmain residents, lobbied the government for the change.

“This order will achieve the precise protection the NSW Government had previously sought to enact for berthed ships,” he said.

Mr Albanese said he would now fight to force the state government to provide shore to ship power to preclude ships having to burn fuel in dock.

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