Month: October 2015

Hockey’s telling farewell reveals a shocking legacy of Coalition failure.

hockey and turnbull embrace

 

 

Love is in the Canberra air this week as a sort of truce breaks out for Joe Hockey’s farewell. Magically, the bear pit of parliament becomes a back-patting, ego-fondling, air-kissing mutual admiration society. All verbal jousting, crowing, carping, double-crossing and character assassinating is suspended. Stilettos are sheathed. Even Dorothy Dix is jilted for Big Joe’s farewell love-fest.

MPs normally consumed by enmity and mutual hatred, stop up their venom and gall. Suddenly the House is a love-in of unctuous fawning and praising, group hugging and the blowing of wet, sugary, good-bye kisses as one of their number is shown the non-revolving door.

Part of the performance art is simply unemployment insurance. An MP’s life is precarious; it is Joe we farewell today but who will it be tomorrow? Yet a valedictory is a many-faceted gem, shining even into the abyss between what is said and what is meant in the Kabuki theatre of parliamentary relationships.

Joe’s leave-taking is a ritual in which the lamb is lionised; the sparrow hawks at the eagle; the porcupine is smothered in lotus petals. Praise is piled so high as to completely bury the recipient. MPs project their own strengths and deficiencies. Or show off some fancy footwork to disguise their animus for the loved one.

‘It is a big day in the life of a big man’, the silver-tongued Turnbull, Hockey’s own Prime Remover uncontestably attests, ‘One of the giants of the Parliament is taking his leave.’ Turnbull, talks up Big Joe, the man he helped throw himself out of a window a month ago with a speech to national television skewering the hapless Treasurer for not knowing his onions; ‘not giving the country the economic leadership we need’.

In the hallowed tradition of the parliamentary farewell, the lowly are exalted, the ordinary become extraordinary and good words are found for the biggest plonker – even if they are words like ‘big’ and ‘giant’. On Wednesday, the apotheosis of Joe is not without the odd, delicious, irony.

…Joe’s wealth and life of privilege…

‘You are no ordinary Joe,’ fawns Shorten who repeatedly rubbished Joe’s elitism, who claimed Joe’s wealth and life of privilege robbed him of compassion and blinded him to the trials of ordinary Australians. One of a kind, Joe nods, as only Joe can nod, agreeably, however fulsome the florid praise, however patently undeserved. He’ll take what he can get at this stage.

MPs fall over each other to sing extraordinary Joe’s praises. Sweet, kind, big-hearted and generous to a fault, Hockey is said to be the biggest and best Joe we’ve ever had. Yet all deftly skirt the elephant in the room of his massive job underperformance. Clerks scurry to check the parliamentary Kool-Aid and sniff the breeze outside the smoker’s courtyard. It is revealed that all the special wine reserved for the PM’s guests is missing, yet this seems to have been drunk at Tony’s table-top dance send-off. Both sides, however, are as high as a kite in Kabul.

Only Deputy Liberal Leader, Julie Bishop, her Foreign Aid budget slashed to ribbons is absent from the Hockey love-in, having had to ‘Daesh’ out on important business with a visiting delegation of petty non-entities from what is left of Syria, Iraq and Kurdistan, a pathetic mob compelled to do the rounds of their Australian coalition allies and other opportunists as they seek to add to a worm-infested veneer of legitimacy to US bombing in Syria and Iraq.

Doubtless, Bishop renders her Joe-bituary, fittingly, in emoji, although three Liberal MPs are sufficiently outraged by her poor form as Deputy, to contact Fairfax’s James Massola, protesting at the calculated slight, despite Peter Dutton’s warning last month that Fairfax was colluding with the ABC in a conspiracy to destroy the Coalition.

If the earth doesn’t move for all of us, Joe-love, nevertheless, goes off the Richter scale in Parliament. Of course, Big Joe gets his canoe paddle in, too, topping the obsequies with a heart-felt paean or three of self-praise. After all, greatness is something Joe has not only always aspired to; it is something he believes he is more than entitled to. Always has. That’s one of the reasons he’s being farewelled.

…His party is gob-smacked…

Hockey’s valedictory provides further clues as to how he orchestrated his own demise through timidity and inertia. Big Joe rattles off a list of changes he would have liked to have made – if only he had been given a chance. Big of him to let them know. His party is gob-smacked by all the things Joe opposed that on his last day he must tell us he secretly stood for.

Joe says he would have changed negative gearing, brought in means testing of private health insurance, cut tax concessions on superannuation funds and reshaped the GST. He even now has a good word for Labor’s NBN unless it’s a dig at Malcolm’s ugly, over budget, overdue fibre to the node baby.

‘Tax concessions on superannuation should be carefully pared back,’ Hockey finally gets up the courage to say. Negative gearing ‘should be skewed towards new housing’. Gunner Joe is shocking his colleagues with stuff he never brought up when he could have done something about it.

For the rest of us Joe will be an historical footnote; the best treasurer, the Abbott government never had. Of course he gave it his all but all we got was his big, boofy, blokey, folksy Joe-persona masking the painful reality that his job was a size or two too large for him. Sometimes, the job is just too big for the man.

From the moment he took up office, Hockey let the PMO walk all over him, beginning with Abbott’s unprecedented recruitment from merchant banking of John Fraser. The Secretary to The Treasury nipped in the bud Hockey’s flirtations with Keynesian stimulus spending in favour of a dull budget repair mantra. Some say it was all over then for the no-mojo Joe, bar the pipe-dreams.

Too big, also, alas, were his aspirations: Joe got the jitters instead of nominating for leader in 2009, an indecisiveness which may have cost him the top job. Now, the going is getting tough he is getting out. And landing on his feet. Even a dud treasurer is entitled to a soft landing when the jig is up.

…a celebrity politician…

But Joe cannot go without a blow of his own trumpet: it’s what he does best. He’s the best politician to have ever appeared regularly with Rudd on Sunrise and in his own way, he’s a sultan of spin. Left to his own devices he could have become a celebrity politician, famous for just being famous if it were not for his stupendous talent with spin.

Right to the end, Joe can still tell it like it never was; spin statistics like no other. He loves his story of his massive $68 billion increase in GDP and his 300,000 new jobs since his government came to power.

All those new jobs run parallel to a rising total of unemployed and a growing population. Among the 630,000 new people in Australia over that period, 83,000 were jobless, an unemployment rate for ‘new Australians of 27%. Under Hockey,
Unemployment rose from 5.6% to 6.2%, while those discouraged from looking for work and those who want more hours of work, the ‘underutilisation rate’ grew from 13.5% to 14.3%.

His GDP boasts sound good until we know that net wealth per person has in fact declined by $283 per person per annum under his helm.

As befits ‘no ordinary Joe’, the great man and distinguished statesman takes advantage of his farewell to remind an adoring parliament and a grateful nation about his own outstanding contribution to Australia and the world. Not only did he fix Australia’s debt and deficit disaster, not only did he split the lifters from the leaners in our midst above all, he crowed, his ‘death of entitlement’ thesis reverberated all around the world. ‘Unprecedented impact’ are his words.

‘Entitlement is dead’, Joe maintains: the age of personal responsibility has begun. In his case, fortunately, entitlement was merely napping until he could be fixed up with a plum job in Washington, a perk of high office and no less than his due. He may have even proposed the post himself as price of his going. To use one of the few bits of jargon he is notorious for, that’s real disintermediation.

…lower-paid working Australians…

Did Joe by-pass the middleman in bargaining his ambassadorship? Could it be that Joe’s cushy new job is the exception that proves the rule? One thing alone is certain. The age of entitlement was only ever over for the ungrateful non-coalition voting, lower-paid working Australians whose destiny is to pay for the pretensions of the political class.

Our charity began at his home. Taxes from ordinary Australians subsidised the Hockey household more in one tax-deductible night’s rent of his wife’s home in Forrest, Canberra than a New Start job seeker gets in a week.

The Forrest house purchase illuminates ‘Hockey’s mercantile genius’ to Liberal Party’s Ross Cameron because he bought for a song. After Joe spotted the property in 1997, he sent his father, Dick, in to have a beer with the elderly owner who insisted he did not want estate agents or lawyers to handle the sale.

In his negotiations, Mr Hockey snr did not divulge that he was a real estate agent or that his son was a lawyer. He wangled a sale for land value only. For many non-Liberals, Cameron’s heroic tale of Joe’s business acumen sounds grubbily close to obtaining advantage by deception.

Like all of the hoo-ha and flim-flam with which we dress up our pretensions, moreover, the story speaks volumes about the values of those involved. A party that would praise such a deal could sell its own grandmother. Any treasurer that could connive at such deception will never command the people’s trust. Nor did his habit of socking the poor and failing to deliver on promises.

… a much softer budget than he wanted…

Hockey’s 2014-15 Budget broke promises, raised taxes and brought massive cuts to state school and hospital funding; deferred cuts which are conveniently scheduled to take effect beginning in 2017-18, less than a year into the next Parliament. Yet it was a much softer budget than he wanted, his recent biography reveals. He could have done the tough stuff if only he’d been able, he suggests, a claim which sits oddly with his record of big expenditure.

Hockey was a big spender. He managed to boost the accumulated budget deficit across the four years to 2017-18. It exploded from $60.2 billion in his first budget to $116.5bn in his second, and final, budget. He liked to talk about ‘growing the economy’ as if it were some farmer’s crop. Yet his real growth area was debt and deficit.

For all his finger-wagging, shouting, anti-Labor theatricality, Hockey proved a dab hand at splashing the cash himself. Joe got us more heavily into hock and much faster than any of his predecessors. This would be fine if it were invested in assets which paid real dividends such as fostering renewables. But seldom has so much been spent so soon with so little to show for it.

Joe’s valedictory allows him to show more of the same blowhard self-deceiving wind-baggery that cost him his job. It also allows him to be honest about his inability to stand up to his PM who caused policy to be cast aside in the constant search for conflict. Hockey was prepared, he says to consider increasing taxes for wealthy superannuants but was vetoed by his boss who wanted to pursue the political scare-tactic of sloganeering on the ‘theft on people’s savings’.

In the end, however, the party that gave us Joe Hockey is still in power. His windy departure should give us pause to reflect on the outfit which gave him a job he couldn’t do and saw to it that he failed comprehensively. The same precious recession encouraging nonsense about needing to cut expenditure to fix the budget deficit is continued by Scott Morrison whose credentials to be treasurer appear at least as challenged by reality as Joe Hockey’s ever were.

We are daily bathed in the same warm, soapy bubble-bath of expectations that budget repair can only be achieved by lowering welfare for the poor and needy while being softened up for some increase in a GST which will most hurt precisely those whose welfare assistance is being reduced.

…a reality denying, climate change denying government…

Above all, moreover, the extravagant hyperbole; the over-praising of one of the weakest performers of all time in the Federal Treasurer’s role reveals a Coalition with its feet firmly planted in the clouds, a reality denying, climate change denying government which far from being an agile 21st century government is over-burdened with conservative interest groups and threatened by change.

The coalition prefers the fiction of fiscal austerity, despite its manifest failure overseas. Let it parade its cargo cult mentality of free trade as the solution to everything. Let it mutter about penalty rates as the solution to productivity. Let it collude to raise the cost and lower the standard of living for all ordinary Australians.

As seen on Wednesday, it is a government whose ideology and practice are so shallow, so unworkable, so morally and intellectually bankrupt that even a Joe Hockey may be put on a pedestal. As Paul Keating said recently to Kerry O’Brien, ‘the bar is not raised real high.’

In the end the fulsome flattery of Hockey reveals only the defective vision of those who would praise him and their mutual fear that in time, they too, will be found out by events just too big for their pretensions. Above all, they will discover to their cost the price of their arrogance. It never pays to underestimate the intelligence of the Australian public.

A moral case for coal, Mr Frydenberg? Turnbull continues Abbott’s mad, bad fossil-fuel propaganda.

coal


Newly appointed Minister for Energy Resources and Northern Australia, Josh Frydenberg is Tony Abbott MK2 when it comes to preaching the gospel of coal. He is reading from the same Peabody bible. Ranting to Barrie Cassidy on ABC Insiders Sunday, Frydenberg recycles the absurd nonsense Abbott was full of. Frydenberg claims that Australia has a mission to export coal to lift Indians out of poverty. This is something the environmentalists don’t understand, he says smugly.

Even the Adani bastards can’t buy that. They donate solar street-lights to poor Indian villages which are never going to be connected to any national grid. They know that coal is the cause not the solution to energy poverty. India suffers 40 per cent transmission and distribution losses across its grid. Its mining and electricity generation industries are heavily nationalised. Consumer tariffs are on the rise as they are in Australia. Coal is not the answer but in fact the cause of 300 million Indians having no domestic electric power supply.

The Adani brothers know that coal-fired electricity can do nothing to lift villagers’ living standards. They know that the poor bear the brunt of our coal-fired nightmare. They know that the coal industry in places such as coal-dominated West Virginia, has created the lowest standard of living in the most depressed state in the USA. Coal aggravates poverty; it alleviates none of it.

As shameless or as delusional as his predecessor, ‘The New Mr Coal’ to use Andrew Bolt’s title for the Kooyong colt, sees ‘a strong moral case’ for coal. Doubtless this is because coal helps cause the dirty air which kills one in eight of us world-wide.  The moral case for coal is to leave it buried underground. Fossil fuel divestment is the only cause with any moral authority. Fossil fuels like coal are killing us.

Frydenberg is eager to help coal do its job, even if it means fudging statistics. On Sunday he said two billion people in the world were still burning wood and dung for cooking and that 4.3 million people died early as a direct result. What he left out of his statement was coal. The statistics he misreported should read burning coal, wood and dung.

In 2012, WHO calculates,  7 million died just from breathing in muck. One million of these deaths, WHO estimates, are linked to coal. Four thousand Chinese die every day from air pollution. Mr Coal must believe we can’t know this. He can’t believe it doesn’t matter.

Coal is the enemy of humanity. It causes climate change which destroys global health. Climate change hurts our economy and our environment. Poor people are hurt disproportionately more, entrenching poverty. Poisoning us aside, the harm coal does humanity in climate change alone now; let alone in any future it may leave us, outweighs any benefit.

Frydenberg must be hoping we won’t know that four out of five poor people in India live in areas away from an electricity supply which it is uneconomic to extend according to Indian research. India’s former secretary of the Ministry of Power, EAS Sarma writes ‘Studies have shown that when a village is more than 5 km from the grid, the cost of supplying electricity from solar and other off-grid solutions is far below the costs of supplying from conventional sources such as coal … take it from us in India: the world needs renewables, not more Australian exported coal.’

Others more fortunate enjoy subsidised coal which is priced well below anything Adani mine could ever produce. But he’s full of all sorts of other facts and figures – the sort you get from coal industry propaganda, a pack of lies boosted by experts from tobacco advertising. Coal is singing from Big Tobacco’s hymn-sheet; following the same tactics.

Jessica Craven, media adviser to the Australian Climate Council and a former public health advocate, points to the way cigarette companies responded to early health concerns about their product by promoting filtered cigarettes.

“Now we have fossil-fuel companies talking about ‘clean coal,’ ” she says. “It’s very similar. And the whole coal/poverty argument that we now see being used a lot by the Minerals Council – that was developed by ex-tobacco people.”

The truth is that coal is a killer. And the Indian government and its coal-fired generators know this as well as anybody.

The Indian government has ordered state utility giant NTPC to sell more expensive solar generated electricity with cheaper coal power as a single unit in an effort to increase solar uptake. China’s GCL Group has announced a strategic partnership with Adani Enterprises that will focus on delivering complete solar PV operations in India, in addition to further collaborative efforts in wind and LNG energy. Unlike Australia, India is cutting back on its coal subsidies and boosting its growing renewable energy sector.

This year the Federal government will give the poor old coal industry a $4 billion subsidy. This tops up the miserable $3 billion each year given on average by state governments. And out comes Frydenberg, popping up on Insiders, blithely repeating the same brazen lies which got Tony Abbott into trouble. Given its record of as coal industry apologists, no-one could possibly take Frydenberg or the Abbott-Turnbull government seriously. Nor does any one of us have time to indulge his wilful and calculated deception. It is too late in the day to be enduring a re-run of his government’s coal-industry propaganda. A government in bed with coal is not an agile government, not a 21st century government remotely, Mr Turnbull, it is a criminally corrupt outfit which is content to sell out the nation to the highest bidder – the coal industry which will destroy us and our planet; an industry which is, the enemy of humanity.

Hunt’s hole caps Turnbull government costly achievements.

Turnbull demonstrating his wealth


National Anti-poverty week sees the richest PM in Australian history explaining his investments while his predecessor is stressing now that his salary has been cruelly slashed from $539,338 to just $200k. How will he ever meet the mortgage payments on his Forestville home? Retirement is out of the question; it would only bring him $307, 542 for life. Perhaps his mate Malcolm, lustily singing his praises as our deliverer to NSW Liberals and to the House only recently, could help out. PM number 29, aka that smartarse millionaire bastard, Turnbull, certainly has all the answers.

Turnbull defends his own use of Cayman Islands’ Ugland House, a five storeyed office building in George Town, Great Cayman, the registered address of several of his family investment trusts. Others do it, he says, even Shorten’s unions. 18,856 other businesses and funds, in fact, use the address. That’s enough to confuse any postie. Or, as Barack Obama said in 2008, ‘that must be one big building. Or one big scam’.

Of course, The Toff huffs loftily, it’s all legitimate. An honest to goodness, true-blue, Caymans fund, the PM assures the House, helps the Turnbulls to pay tax in Australia. He keeps a straight face while skewering Labor. It is sophistry they won’t hear from any other PM. Or want to. A civilised society works only if members who enjoy its benefits are also prepared to pay their share of the costs. It may help if you keep a few lawyers out of politics, too. Lower the bunkum level.

Rather than being a way of paying no or very little tax, their raison d’être and their irresistible appeal to vulture fund operators, the PM’s Cayman accounts help him pay tax. He says. A sceptical ATO, on the one hand, has previously pointed to US investors keeping money offshore indefinitely. Australian investors may do the same.

Turnbull does not divulge his rate of tax, be it zero, five, ten or twenty percent. Nor do we have any means of finding out, a situation which fuels speculation, perhaps none so bizarrely figurative as touring comedian Russell Brand who protests,

‘having your money in the Cayman Islands is like putting your dick into custard. We all want to do it, but there’s no rational reason to do it. If your dick’s in a bowl of custard you’re doing it for a reason.’

Caymans’ laws prevent even the ATO from finding out what tax whack Mal, who is also known as Tang Bao in China or ‘sweet custard bun’, is paying.’ Our own secrecy laws prohibit ATO officers divulging clients’ tax details. Quixotic Sam Dastyari and other ‘class envy party’ members risk looking impertinent, personal or just plain naff as they challenge Turnbull’s use of managed funds domiciled in a place called home by tax evaders, rock iguanas and red-footed boobies.

Dastyari knows that Cayman Island tax havens are legal but this does not prevent the PM or members of his media claque from repeating this irrelevance. Sam wants to know if their use is appropriate for a PM whose government promises to pursue companies ‘off-shoring’ or using tax havens to reduce their tax liabilities. Dastyari, alleges a conflict of interest at least if not the abuse of privilege and that by resorting to such elite services, Turnbull fails to lead by example.

Exclusive funds in the Turnbull portfolio such as the Zebedee Growth Fund, the Bowery Opportunity Fund and the 3G Natural Resources Offshore Fund are only for the well-heeled. Mum and Dad investors, don’t try this at home. They require a one million minimum investment from clients but can return them 20 per cent per annum.

Bowery, which targets distressed and bankrupt companies, boasts 21 per cent since 2009. The PM could invest $539,338 or just a year of his salary at this rate today and ten years later he would have roughly 3.5 million.

Turnbull personally has as much right as any other Australian to seek high returns, but as PM he should be leading the charge to unwind ‘off-shoring’. The PM is no ordinary investor. The Caymans are not ‘bog-standard’ investment houses, despite his protestations that even Aussie Super uses them. His deflects the Labor attack, however, like the barrister he was.

Turnbull accuses Labor of a personal smear campaign inspired by the politics of envy. On this front, he declares, wearily that his wealth is no secret. Nor is his ‘success’. Luck and virtuous hard work have made him a fortune. He bears it well.

‘The fact is that Lucy and I have been very fortunate in our lives. We have more wealth than most Australians, that is true. We’ve worked hard, we’ve paid our taxes, we’ve given back.’ The model taxpayer then dismisses out of hand all suggestion that he might disclose further tax details.

It is inconceivable, he implies, that his riches could ever cloud his judgement, impair his perspective or that his path to a Caymans account or three have been anything but virtuous even if those thousands of ordinary Australians who lost their savings in the collapse of HIH after it paid too much in its takeover of FAI might tell a different story. Of course he knows how ordinary Australians live. He uses public transport. Why, his friends include some … quite ordinary people.

In 1998,Turnbull, then chairman of Goldman Sachs Australia advised FAI Insurance on a $300 million takeover bid by HIH. The bank’s role and the advice it gave to FAI were key themes in a 2002 Royal Commission which failed to nail any wrong-doing although this did not prevent the HIH liquidator Tony McGrath, of McGrath Nicol & Partners from bringing his own legal action. In 2009, a confidential settlement by his former employer, spared Turnbull from appearing in court as a defendant in a private $450+ million lawsuit.

Nothing to see here, Turnbull reminds the House, he has no say in investment decisions made by his funds. Putting your wealth into blind trusts, where it may be invested in anything, anywhere, he makes appear responsible, ethical, the only proper course of action.

Turnbull’s example will doubtless inspire the 1 million to 1.5 million ordinary Australians who live in poverty, based on their access to necessary goods and services and social exclusion measures. The figure may be higher. The Australian Council of Social Service estimates that 2.55 million Australians live below the poverty line. These include 55 per cent of Newstart recipients.  Even the Business Council of Australia wants to raise Newstart. But not a peep from Bun’s government, however, just a steely resolve to serve the interests of the rich.

The Turnbull government marks anti-poverty week by repealing a Labor measure that required private firms with revenue over $100 million a year to disclose their tax details. ‘The changes will restore the long-held general principle of fundamental rights of taxpayers’ privacy, including for Australian-owned private companies,’ inquiry chair and Liberal senator Sean Edwards says in his report, while Josh Frydenberg sees it as protective, claiming business owners fear publication could increase the risk of them being kidnapped and held for ransom. Doubtless Ugland House fund operators applaud his logic and would use his case themselves if they could get away with it.

The euphonious Ugland House is also financial home to another endangered species, a tiny mob of investors, pure as the driven snow, who, like our PM, are ‘lucky’ enough to rank amongst the one per cent of the world which now owns fifty percent of its wealth as Credit Suisse reports recently.  And that one per cent may be declining. Surely, we must do all we can to protect this tiny minority. Certainly Greg Hunt, aka Hunt Greg for his recent backflip over renewables to suit his new boss, is helping us all to do our best.

Environment Minister Hunt is seen to press his lips to a violet-scented Turnbull ear-lobe before slipping out of question time under cover of Thursday’s fat-cat-calling. His government’s steamy, coal-seamy affair with Adani demands his personal attention. Minutes later, Hunt’s office announces Carmichael mine may go ahead.

It’s good news for cash-strapped international entrepreneurs, the Adani brothers, one of whom, at last count was down to his last 7 billion and whose shares are trading lower than the belly of an ornamental snake. Now, if only a bank will lend them some money, they will be able to go ahead with Australia’s biggest coal mine, and the coalition’s biggest economic and environmental disaster. If only one of the 14 major banks which have turned them down would ignore the inconvenient truth.

Our ‘agile’ 21st century government, naturally, prefers a different view. The Adani Carmichael mine, we are told, will produce only artisanal, hand-crafted ‘clean coal’, carried by reef-friendly, accident-proof ships with highly-paid, well-trained local Australian crews with the navigation system of a Mars landing. Nothing bad could possibly happen to the water table or the ecosystem of any living creature. Adani will bust a gut to pay loads of tax, as only a multi-national corporation can.

Unlike any other open-cut mine in history, Adani will be a big employer. Huge. Created will be at least one 21st century job for every Australian for life. All we need to do is help fund a proposed 16 billion coal-dedicated railway between Galilee Basin and Abbott Point’s expanded port facility, which is set to become the biggest coal terminal in the world, a nifty bit of engineering which Aussie battler Gina Rinehart and other ‘lifters’ diligently ‘growing the economy’ may also be able to use in a serendipitous stroke of pure good fortune on top of the billions of government subsidy we foist upon her.

But let’s not get too far down the track. Boyish Josh Frydenberg, Minister for resources, energy and Northern Australia and protecting corporate bosses from kidnap, is busting to take his new portfolio out for a spin, is a bit too quick off the blocks. Giving the rail an OK before Mal’s OK leads to a carpeting from his boss. Now Josh says – ‘just joshing – ‘it’s not a priority’, meaning we will pay for the rail when the fuss has died down a bit or the next Federal election is closer.

Dipping into the Northern Australia Infrastructure fund to turn may allow coalition fiscal wizards to misappropriate enough to enable the Adanis to build an unusable, ecologically irresponsible coal mine which no-one wants or needs and that neither the current market nor any future can bear in an industry which Goldman Sachs and others say is in structural decline.  At worst it will be moth-balled immediately.

‘Hunt’s hole’, as it will be known, will however, serve as his government’s most fitting monument.   A vast, useless pit, measuring 247,000 square kilometres and visible from space, it will warn even extra-terrestrials of the suicidal madness which seized the Neo-Cons of Oz, a maniacal abdication of reason more akin to nineteenth century Polynesian cargo cults than to any 21st century government with the very best available science and technology. If only our Easter Island leaders had taken heed. For those future politicians with macro-economic perspectives this is what a stranded asset looks like. For the rest of us a caution. Money talks. Unfortunately.  But when money is doing all the talking, woe betide the rest of us.

Turnbull relies on same old lies; encourages us to continue cruelty to asylum seekers.

peter dutton

‘Focusing only on border control and deterrence will not solve the problem. It is the duty of any government to ensure security and to manage immigration but these policies must be designed in a way that human lives do not end up becoming collateral damage … an exclusive focus on security and targeting criminal activity only risks making these journeys even more dangerous.’ Antonio Guterres UNHCR


‘We need advocacy, not slogans. We need to respect the intelligence of the Australian people.’ Malcolm Turnbull

Australia’s ‘tough’ border protection policy never ‘stopped the boats’, as Tony Abbott never tired of boasting or brazenly taking credit for. Arrivals did decline steeply, it is true, after 19 July 2013  when Kevin Rudd announced that under his PNG resettlement scheme, asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat would never be settled in Australia, a trend which has continued to the present day.

Yet that decline is nothing to be proud of. If fewer boats were to arrive in Australia, there has been no decline in numbers desperately putting to sea, even if we have become very practised in concealing the truth; putting the suffering and torment of others out of sight and out of mind.

The myth of stopping the boats entails a wilful denial of the facts as well as a collective self-deception. The pernicious fiction also involves us in shabby behaviour. The boat narrative entails the conscious abrogation of our moral and legal responsibility as a civilised nation to provide refuge to others in distress. It is a perverse suppression of what makes us human; a denial of our better instincts that is as harmful to ourselves as it is to others.

We shun our humanity and thumb our nose at international refugee conventions. We perpetrate the cruel hoax of intercepting boatloads of needy and suffering fellow human beings only to return them to almost certain persecution. Some we send back with limited fuel in a vessel which is barely sea-worthy. Others we decant into orange, fibreglass, purpose-built ‘boomerang lifeboats’, consigning crew and cargo to the mercy of the open sea. Who knows how many ‘turn-backs’ have ended in disaster? What can be certain is that we never better the lives of those we turn away. Nor we do anything but diminish ourselves.

We incarcerate men, women and children in poorly-run gulags called detention centres which it suits us to pretend are run by nations we have paid to do our dirty work, nations, in the case of Nauru which struggle with the rule of law or the administration of justice. Sexual favours are traded for hot showers. Women are raped.

Iranian Reza Barati, who at 23 should have had his whole adult life ahead of him, was bashed to death by a guard who has not yet been brought to justice. 24 year old Hamid Khazaei, died because medical aid was delayed because our bureaucratic hell-hole decreed that a visa application be completed before he could be taken to hospital in Brisbane. Children become chronically depressed to the point where RCH staff in Melbourne refuse to return them to further torment. It is not a record that anyone in his right mind would want to claim credit for. Yet Abbott and his crew have bragged about stopping boats and saving lives at sea so often that these two lies have entered folklore; become accepted as fact.

If Abbott is to be credited for his true contribution it should be for raising the number of boat arrivals. His opposition to the Malaysian arrangement in 2011 led to thousands of new arrivals in the following two years.

Yet facts have never stopped boasts. The Coalition, under Turnbull, is pleased to continue with its bragging, repeating the same slogans with better elocution. It is even prepared to repeat the lie that our policies have saved lives.

Our heartless yet enthusiastic prejudice, (let’s not dignify it with the word policy) towards men, women and children who are driven by desperate necessity to flee their homes and to put to sea in unsafe vessels has done nothing but cause harm to refugees and to Australia’s reputation for fairness and humanity.  It is to our national shame and regret that we turn away from the poor, the needy, the wretched of the earth, who reach out to us for help in their time of crisis. Instead, from those who have already lost everything, we take their freedom, their dignity, their future happiness.

Regardless of what Malcolm Turnbull wants to pretend in public, our ‘tough border protection’ has not prevented refugees from drowning or perishing in other dreadful ways. There is no evidence whatsoever for claiming that news of Australia’s ‘tough policies’ are any form of deterrent. Growing numbers of displaced persons are desperately putting to sea in our region to seek refuge. According to the UNHCR, more people boarded boats after former PM Abbott introduced punitive ‘deterrence’ policies, not fewer.

At least 54,000 people boarded boats in South East Asia, our region according to the Foreign Minister, in Jan-Nov 2014, an increase of 15%  over the same period a year earlier. Around 540 people died trying to get here in 2014.

They starved to death. They perished from a lack of drinking water. Some were beaten to a death by crew members and thrown overboard. Many drowned when their unseaworthy vessel sank. Hundreds more died in camps in Thailand.

Yet our government is in complete denial. Despite promising respect on seizing power Malcolm Turnbull insults our intelligence less than a month later in parliament by defending coalition immigration policy. It is a despicable act of duplicity from a politician who is more interested in courting support from his right wing ‘boat-stopping’ party bigots than in facing the truth.

So much for his promise of being a Prime Minister who respects truth or who respects the nation. Instead, Turnbull contemptuously recycles Tony Abbott’s tired old lies; repeats the same disgraceful untruths rationalising our capture and imprisonment of asylum seekers. The cruel hoax perpetrated on Australian people is that our shameful behaviour is some sort of necessary evil which deters others driven to flee their homeland from attempting to reach safety by sea.

The deterrence argument is an outrageous, guilt-assuaging rationalisation of the government’s cruelly, inhumane behaviour towards some of the most desperate and needy people in the world. Not only is it totally spurious, it is condemned by the UNHCR and by other bodies that monitor international human rights abuses. Yet the coalition has made it their mantra for two years.  It is a shocking breach of good faith by a PM who promised advocacy and respect.

Yesterday, Greens MP Adam Bandt asks when the government will stop holding children and babies in ‘mental illness factories’. Turnbull is unable to make any coherent, sensible reply except to sloganeer. Nor does he give any sense he knows a proper response is needed. He repeats the shamefully false claim that immigration policies such as the Greens’ lead to people dying at sea in the attempt to reach Australia.

Ignored is the logical conclusion of his argument. If we do save people from drowning, it is only to send them to the hell of indefinite detention, a perpetual torment of deprivation and uncertainty, a nightmare which more have escaped through dying than through successful resettlement.

Adding insult to injury, the PM chooses words which draw attention to his flagrant lie. He describes his utterly unfounded assertion as ‘the melancholy truth’. ‘That’s not a question of theory,’ Turnbull continues as he proceeds to dig himself in further, pointing to changes tried by Labor.

A new sitting of parliament presents a chance for Turnbull to show that he is any more trustworthy than the promise-breaking, prevaricating dishonest junkyard dog who was his predecessor. He is on his second and final chance to prove himself after his failure to last more than a year as Liberal leader in 2009 when having alienated his colleagues by his imperious and superior personal style, he split the party over his support for a carbon reduction scheme.

Tellingly, Turnbull fails to rise to the occasion. Disappointed as many hopeful voters may be by the new PM’s failure to rise to our expectations, we should, perhaps not be surprised. A soufflé cannot rise twice, as Keating said of Andrew Peacock’s second attempt to become Liberal leader in 1994 .

Far from achieving any form of elevation Turnbull lowers himself by using an old propaganda technique: repeat a lie often enough and people will believe it. It is a base form of deception which history will not forgive. It is an abdication of real leadership at a time when the nation is crying out for a humane and enlightened politics.

In offering more of the same denial and dereliction of duty towards others that is our immigration policy, Turnbull does a lot of harm. Rather than deliver much needed, much overdue real reform, Turnbull has betrayed his promise; dashed the hopes of those who supported his coup.

Above all he has betrayed a nation who dared to hope for better; a leader who would not encourage us to further turn our backs but one brave and principled enough to help us to change our course; to do our best to reach out and help others in distress. It is the only way we will rediscover our own humanity; reclaim our self-respect.

Never a more exciting time to be an Australian? Exciting for whom, Mr Turnbull?

all at sea on china


‘There’s never been a more exciting time to be an Australian’, a hot and bothered

Malcolm Turnbull confides. Whatever he means to tell us, at least he reveals how he’s feeling. He’s picking up the good vibrations. We’re giving him the excitations. The PM is enjoying the longest political honeymoon since our love-fest with Kevin07. Malcolmania sweeps the nation.

Opinion polls rank him the most popular PM in more than five years. But can he do the job?

Besotted by our good-looking, sweet-talking new PM, nothing else seems to matter to us. Assad’s ally Russia fires 26 medium-range cruise missiles into Syria from ships nearly 1,000 miles away attacking anti-Assad insurgents and allowing ISIS to advance to 2km outside Aleppo. Twenty-two staff and patients, including women and children are killed in a US attack on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz while the West’s strategy in Afghanistan if not across central Asia is revealed to be a failure.

Nauru liberates all asylum seekers into ‘open detention’ with life-guards, saying it plans to process the lot in a week, a week in which the High Court hears legal challenges to offshore detention itself, only to withdraw its promise later. Doctors at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne refuse to release child patients back into detention. 400 sign a petition demanding the release of all children detained on Nauru and Manus Island, a stand backed by state Health Minister, Jill Hennessy, a move to which Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has no sensible response, although it is possible to make out the word ‘drowning’.

Australia is drowning by numbers. The IMF produces growth projections contradicting Hockey’s gonzo optimism and indicating steep economic challenges await us. A fifteen-year old shoots police employee Curtis Cheng, at Parramatta Police Station. None of this, however, puts comeback king Turnbull off his toe-tapping, show-stopping razzle-dazzle.

Oozing charisma and class, Turnbull is a born entertainer; an accomplished showman. He raps. He dances. He speaks in sentences. Can there be no end to his talents? The nation goes wild.

Mark Kenny is smitten. Oldies fall back in love with the coalition, swelling its primary vote by 7% mainly at the expense of The Greens in a series of recent opinion polls. Things look crook for Labor which announces a ‘concrete bank’, which is a new plan to finance public works such as Tasmania’s Midland Highway.  It is clever and is modelled on the CEFC but it is an ugly baby. It will be concrete boots for Shorten if the PM’s stocks continue to turn bullish.

Turnbull has a vision. He has seen the future and he is in it; ‘The Australia of the future has to be a nation that is agile … innovative … and … creative’, he raps. His all-female backing group, the Show Ponies led by Marise Payne and Kelly O’Dwyer, share his microphone: Innovation- e-Nation.-Job creation! E-lation!

There is no Coalition plan, however, to raise female pay rates, set quotas or targets to improve women’s participation in the workforce. Funding of measures to address a national epidemic of violence against women receives one hundred million back of a three million cut. It is a creative accountancy trick which fools no-one. The Turnbull cabinet may have a few more women in it but his government is as far away from gender equality as its predecessor.

In the crush of the national mosh-pit, moreover, Turnbull’s future clichés are mistaken for a type of benediction or prophecy rather than a warning based on our historical flat-footedness in responding to change.  Ever suggestible, unused to criticism, we readily mistake reproach for flattery. Most of us miss the irony in Donald Horne’s The Lucky Country. If we were an agile, creative, innovative nation, we would not still be beholden to dying extractive industries for our income.  We would understand that inequality is both morally wrong and economically counterproductive and address it. We would invest massively in renewables.

Luckily, our new PM has a silver tongue. Sweet Custard Bun, as our dragon-bone divinating PM is known in China, is delighted to woo us with his platitudes and beatitudes. He is happier than ever with himself. Betraying less small l Liberal than messiah complex, his mission is to reset the Australian zeitgeist from Nope to Hope, reinventing himself as a model of consensus and bearer of glad tidings. Bun is the one chosen to lead his people into a new dreamtime. He will save us from ourselves. Best of all, Bun is not Abbott.

We feel better already. ‘Relief’ is felt by twenty five thousand readers currently polled by The Age on their ‘reactions to Malcolm Turnbull becoming Prime Minister’. Relief is four times more powerful than ‘Hope’ which earns a respectable second ranking. There has never been a more exciting time not to be Tony Abbott. The possibilities are positively intoxicating.  Even the dinosaur of the Liberal party room appears eager to seize the day.

Mark Kenny detects an Oz-Glasnost as MPs rattle off new ideas and ‘think outside the box’, freed from the iron hand of Peta Kremlin’s PMO.   Fortress Abbott is under demolition. An invisible Liberal MP, David Coleman, has an idea. Business ‘start-ups’ could be encouraged by exempting their initial costs from capital gains tax liabilities they might otherwise incur. On Tuesday, moreover, Liberal backbenchers chorus for a review of weekend penalty rates.

This is heady stuff. Perestroika must surely follow. Yet a few bum notes mar the orchestration of the Turnbull New World Symphony.

Toadying to the NSW Liberal Party State Council in Sydney on Saturday, Turnbull is clearly rattled when his audience laughs at his claim that the Liberal party is not run by factions. Nor are we run by big business, he says with a straight face. Liberal circles continue to be in denial about their very real factions and Abbott’s dismissal still rankles, especially with the Liberal hard right. Turnbull ends up looking like a tosser. Despite his threats, however, Cory Bernardi has yet to found his own party.

Bernardi cannot find a new party which would have him as its founder. He bounces back like a dud cheque with ‘colourful’ international Islamophobe Geert Wilders in tow. Scott Morrison proposes to privatise hospitals and schools, a bad old idea whose time has come and gone.

Unclean! Unclean! The ubiquitous Kate Carnell rings another cracked bell with her delusion that leprous penalty rates will destroy all private enterprise as we know it.  Brian Loughnane, husband of Peta Credlin, the man the Liberals call Federal Director resigns with a parting shot at the PM’s crowd-pulling, crowd pleasing shtick.

‘We see Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in the US and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK and I don’t think Australia should think we’re immune to these trends,’ he says in a predictably petty swipe at Turnbull’s popularity.

All this is water off a toad’s back to the all-singing, all-dancing PM who belts out the retro Minder theme song. ‘I could be so good for you’ when rabid fellow admirer Victorian Liberal Director, ‘Dollar Sweetie’, Michael Kroger meets him Thursday. You could win us five Victorian seats, just by not being Tony Abbott, blowhard Kroger sucks up to his new idol.

‘I know what Tony is going through, Michael,’ grins Turnbull, revealing dentition the envy of a Patagonian tooth-fish. He savours the budgie-smuggler’s suffering. PM Bun is engorged with a transcendent optimism. He is buoyed by the omnipotence and superiority known to every narcissist when a plum job falls at last into his lap.

Turnbull’s leadership plum is all the sweeter for having been so painfully surrendered by his detested nemesis, Tony Abbott darling of all right-wing nut-jobs everywhere and Rupert Murdoch’s stooge, the  man who beat him for leader five years ago by one vote. Even more satisfying, Abbott is a sore loser, suggesting he was taken by surprise. The Manly skeghead continues to give interviews which reveal his bewilderment, vitriol and a bit of surfer’s rash. He is suffering.  There has never been a better time to be Malcolm Turnbull.

A gifted orator and former Communications Minister, Sweet Custard Bun tells 3AW’s Neil Mitchell Tuesday that he has not spoken to Abbott since deposing him. Will he and Abbott ever make up? The Godfather Turnbull replies, ‘There’s nothing personal, just business.’ At a NSW Liberal function on Saturday, however, he gushes such patently insincere, fulsome praise of Abbott that not even Abbott could take him at face value.  It is their first public meeting together since the coup and from the body language argues against any rapprochement.

‘Tony Abbott has held firm to those Liberal values throughout his career and public life. He held true to them as an opposition leader, he held true to them as prime minister…He took us out of the wilderness of opposition and took us back into government and achieved great things, great reforms, great commitments.’

‘Seize the day’, is the best Liberal value our opportunistic PM cum National Cheer-leader can muster. He busts his promise not to sloganeer. Pundits puzzle the conundrum. A slogan is kosher when it is a Latin tag, or when it popularises privilege, elitism and fascism, as in Dead Poets Society? When it is his captain’s call? Keating’s young acolytes might have marched to the beat of a different drum in Dead Poet’s Society but it was Keating’s drum.

‘We need advocacy, not slogans. We need to respect the intelligence of the Australian people.’

 

‘Seize the day’ suggests we should not expect Bun to take too far the need to respect his audience’s intelligence. Or respect its interests. ‘Always back self-interest in the race of life’, Jack Lang said- ‘at least with self-interest, you know it is trying’.

Enthused by the excitement of his own ascendancy, Bun is happy to resort to spin to win over others. He embraces the newly signed TPP, describing it as a ‘giant foundation stone of our future prosperity’ when it is a mill-stone. The secret treaty cedes our sovereignty to US-based multinational corporations, allowing foreign firms to use ISDS to sue our government if we change our laws and diminish their profits.

Not only will the TPP undermine our environmental protection, it will restrict how we address climate change. Above all, for a nation which has to be agile and creative, the treaty crushes innovation by transforming intellectual property into a way of protecting big corporations’ investment in culture, advertising and medicine. There has never been a more exciting time to be a US-based multinational in Australia.

In essence the TPP is less about free trade than US power. Confronted by the rise of China the US has created a twelve-nation trading bloc to boost its waning international authority and to provide access for US-based multi-national corporations to raw materials at the lowest possible cost.

Given that even bilateral trade has seldom if ever been a success to both parties, the chances of a workable twelve-nation agreement are not high. Even if it were to sail through the US Congress, it is likely to prove an expensive source of frustration to its smaller members than any instant passport to prosperity. Our own Productivity Commission reports

‘The increase in national income from preferential agreements is likely to be modest. The Commission has received little evidence from business to indicate that bilateral agreements to date have provided substantial commercial benefits.’

A TPP which truly aimed at improving its members’ prosperity instead of US security would include China. Indeed, the exclusion of China puts the lie to the snake-oil salesmen who are promoting the deal as a way to promote growth, improve living standards or any other economic benefit. So far, however, Sweet Custard Bun has failed to live up to his promise to respect the nation’s intelligence.

If there is any advocacy being exercised by our PM in the TPP fiasco it is all on behalf of the multi-nationals and our great and powerful friend the US. Although the TPP was a good eight years in the making, a done deal when he came to power, Turnbull will be remembered as the PM who sold Australia into multi-national corporate servitude. Unless, of course, the US Congress fails to ratify the TPP. Or our Senate remembers that it is never a good plan to buy anything, not even a recycled, replacement, remade PM, sight unseen. Nor embrace one in too much of a hurry. Caveat Emptor not Carpe Diem, works better for our nation, regardless of what’s best for you, Mr Turnbull.

Malcolm Turnbull struck a positive note when he contacted Muslim leaders after the shooting in Parramatta. There is every reason to believe he understands complexity and respects other cultural perspectives. In style, he is a totally different performer to his abrasive, fear-mongering sloganeering predecessor. Yet beyond his superior performance values there is very little yet to suggest that the Sweet Custard Bun is any more nourishing or sustaining to a nation hungry for real leadership in a time of unprecedented international and domestic challenges than the budgie smuggler junkyard dog.

Australians Robbed of our rights in one-sided, secret TPP deal.

TPP pacific


The economy will grow gangbusters, trade will rocket ahead and immense benefits will be ours according to Australia’s Trade Minister, Andrew Robb this morning. Keen to promote a secret document even he cannot confirm a detailed knowledge of he was absurdly bullish about a treaty which cannot be revealed until it is all signed and sealed. If it all sounds too good to be true, that is because it is.   It does nothing to boost his own or his government’s stocks, however much the miracle deal is hyped and oversold.

Robb has been conned. His claims for the Trans-Pacific Partnership are spurious at best and confined to pollywaffle about increased trade. Less than one fifth of the treaty, in fact, deals with trade. Robb cannot point to one clear-cut advantage. Nor should we be buying a pig in a poke. No-one should accept his explanation that the secrecy is to ‘protect negotiations’. That’s nonsense.

The Australian people have a democratic right to know what you have just signed on our behalf, Mr Robb. Why is it that

600 plus corporate advisers have access to the treaty’s text? Are we suddenly trust giant firms such as Halliburton, Monsanto, Walmart, and Chevron? Unlike you and your government, many of us just don’t accept that an elite corporation knows what’s best for all of us.

At worst, Robb’s promises are outright lies.  As with all so-called ‘free trade agreements’, the TPP is not free. Nor it is not primarily about trade. As Joseph Stiglitz warns, the TPP is about the protection of corporate monopolies at the expense of everyone else. What suits corporations will cost ordinary people their rights.

 I’ve talked to the health negotiators around the world. I’ve talked to people who’ve been involved in the arbitration process as part of the investment agreements. Even people who are arbitrators say the whole system is corrupt, that it’s a very expensive system, that therefore creates an un-even playing field with big corporations with big, deep pockets can get access to have recourse, whereas smaller firms can’t… It’s not just a trade agreement, it’s a really major change in a legal structure.

The TPP is firstly a US political strategy to boost its international authority. The waning superpower is attempting to counter the influence of a rising China. The TPP involves twelve countries whose trade and commerce add up to an impressive 40% of the world’s GDP even if it is it constructed to benefit the wealthy elite in the US and US-based and other global multinationals – whatever it may cost the rest of us.

Beyond this, the TPP permits hugely powerful multinational corporations to become more powerful.  For Australia, TPP weakens our intellectual property rights and attacks our sovereign law. Its ISDS clauses allow investors to sue us if our law conflicts with that investor’s capacity to make a profit, as is the case currently with Phillip Morris’ case against the Australian government over plain packaging for cigarettes.

The Philip Morris tobacco company is currently suing the Australian government using an obscure 1993 Hong Kong- Australia investment treaty. A US-based company, it could not sue under the US-Australia Free Trade Agreement: public opposition kept this clause out of the agreement. In order to sue, the company simply rearranged its assets to become a Hong Kong investor.

Philip Morris lobbied hard as did other Big tobacco and other powerful global corporations to include the right of foreign investors to sue governments in TPP negotiations among the US, Australia, New Zealand and six Asia-Pacific countries. And it’s not just tobacco packaging, the agreement contains provisions which limit the government’s ability to label food, even though this is in both consumers’ and government’s best interests to look after public health.

Medical costs will rise as the TPP will displace ‘generic’ medicines to protect the rights of Big pharma to make bigger profits. Other TPP proposals attack our PBS, the Australian government’s ability to keep drug prices affordable. Wholesale prices of the same medicines in the US are three to ten times higher than in Australia and retail is even higher. If you are a pensioner in Australia, your bill is no greater than $6.10. the TPP contains provisions which threaten to raise prices to governments which would then have to pass the increases on to consumers.

Internet service in Australia has never been cheap when contrasted with other countries. Expect to have to pay more under the TPPA. Last year, an international coalition representing over 100 web companies and Internet user groups protested that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would force ISPs and web providers to police the Internet. This would be passed on to the consumer.

Australians deserve to hear less spin about benefits to trade and have a right to know about loss of our sovereign rights and our rights as consumers. Skip the Turn-bullshit and tell the nation the truth about the TPP, Mr Prime Minister. We had a gutful of secrecy, evasion and deception from your predecessor. Act now to avoid joining him.

Goodbye clever country: TPP agreement spells disaster for Australia’s patent system.

TPP lineup

This article is written by Adjunct Associate Professor Hazel Moir, ANU and was originally published in The Conversation. It is reproduced here by Creative Commons licence agreement.

How trade agreements are locking in a broken patent system

Hazel Moir, Australian National University

Ten years on from the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement, Australia is entering another round of negotiations towards the new and controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership. In this Free Trade Scorecard series, we review Australian trade policy over the years and where we stand today on the brink of a number of significant new trade deals.


Australia has long had low requirements for obtaining patents. Some of these low standards were “locked in” in the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement. This made reform to the system difficult but not impossible.

The same cannot be said of the proposals in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). If implemented, they will ensure no future Australian government can improve the patent system without violating the TPPA obligations. They also reinforce the current problems within Australia’s patent system.

It is so easy to get a patent

Patents are no longer just for scientists and engineers doing leading-edge research. They are not limited to technology or science. They don’t even have to be inventive – at least in the ordinary meaning of the word.

Australia’s patent standards are incredibly low. In 2003, we even granted a patent for a method of teaching children about finance by having them work for their pocket money. The “invention” had lots of different parts such as learning about credit cards by getting next week’s pocket money early. This is actually the best way to get a patent in Australia – combine two known things or processes and as long as no one has written them down together, you can get a patent on it. If it has been written down, all that is needed is a third known process!

The gradual watering down of patent standards over recent decades has led to an explosion in the number of patents being granted in Australia. In 1984 the number awarded was 7,044, in 2013 this had grown to 17,112.

This has significant implications for pharmaceuticals and it has led to higher costs for consumers and taxpayers. For example, if a known medicinal compound is combined with a known method of release (such as extended release) then an extra patent is granted. A patent for extended release venlafaxine (brand name Efexor®) kept generic competition off the market for two and a half years, costing taxpayers over A$200m.

The TPPA also reinforces the current flawed approach to granting patents. Hidden in footnote 54 to draft article QQ.E.1, it says patents should be granted when “the claimed invention would have been obvious to a person skilled or having ordinary skill in the art having regard to the prior art”. This means that it is inventive enough for a patent unless it is obvious to an unimaginative person working in a very narrowly circumscribed field.

However there is a big difference between being inventive and not being obvious – just like there is a big difference between being beautiful and not being ugly.

What else does the TPPA do to our patent system?

As well as cementing this extraordinarily low standard for granting patents, the TPPA plans to broaden the extensive privileges already granted to patent owners.

Existing privileges prevent Australian-based companies from making and exporting a drug to a country where it is out-of-patent if the patent is still valid in Australia. This is silly and costs Australia significant export earnings.

The TPPA plans to go further by limiting the grounds on which patents can be revoked or cancelled. Pharmaceutical patents will be longer in some countries. Data exclusivity provisions will be wider and stronger, and may reinforce the market exclusivity of some drugs.

What are the penalties for getting the patent system wrong?

There are very few for patent owners. If your patent is challenged and revoked, then only the profits made since the legal challenge need to be repaid.

Yet those who infringe a patent may be fined and may have to exit a particular line of business or develop less efficient means of production.

The TPPA will make it more difficult to challenge a patent. It proposes a presumption of patent validity (Article QQ.H.2.3), which directly contradicts Australia’s current laws. Many scholars in the United States consider this presumption as one of the worst features of the increasingly broken US patent system.

Why should we care about the TPPA?

First, it is undemocratic for one government to tie the hands of all future elected governments. The IP chapter of the TPPA is heavy-handed regulation. It specifies in detail many aspects of patent policy which are currently subject only to parliamentary control. It will make domestic reform hard if not impossible.

Second, cementing low standards for patent requirements will mean we can do little to control the cost of health care. Australian taxpayers will continue to pay a lot more for pharmaceuticals.

Third, there is some – albeit tenuous – link between patents and innovation. All court cases on patent infringement involve an innovating company being sued. So only our innovating companies pay for our broken patent system. As only 25% of Australian innovating firms take out patents, it is the other 75% who pay the price of a bad system. Innovation is too important for our future to get it wrong.

And for what? Just how much extra milk or beef exports will we get in the TPPA? Adopting the TPPA is rather short-sighted when we consider the future economic strength of Australia lies in the knowledge industries.


This article draws on research prepared for the 2014 Workshop “Ten Years since the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement: Where to for Australia’s Trade Policy?” Sponsored by the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia and Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, UNSW Australia.

The Conversation

Hazel Moir, Adjunct Associate Professor; economics of patents, copyright and other “IP”, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.