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The standard that you walk past…

Income management isn’t new in Australia, what is new, is the current government’s ideological push to enforce neoliberal policies on an unsuspecting Australia. In 2007, Professor Helen Hughes, wrote ‘Lands of Shame: Aboriginal and Torres Strait “homelands” in Transition.’ A few months before it was published, Hughes gave it to the Office of Indigenous Policy Coordination (OIPC), the department responsible for indigenous policies. The Minister for Indigenous Affairs was Mal Brough.

The book was published by conservative think tank, the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS). It’s final chapter, reads like a blueprint for what occurs in the Northern Territory (NT) in June 2007. It calls for the closure of indigenous communities in the Northern Territory (NT); a health audit of all children; the appointment of administrators; private home ownership; and the abolition of communal title customary law; the permit system and Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP). The book was also highly critical of policies relating to self-determination and land rights, branding them failed socialist experiments.   

The use of a book, research or reports produced by a think tank, or a foundation, for government policies isn’t a new tactic. The Ronald Reagan policies from 1980’s, were mostly from the Heritage Foundation, which has been heavily financed for years by the conservative elite, and the likes of the Koch brothers.      

Before we go any further, I need to provide some background, and a timeline of events. The Howard government, received many detailed reports about the escalating violence in indigenous communities, but they were never actioned. With thanks to Chris Graham (current owner of New Matilda), Crikey and Michael Brull, for their succinct research over the last decade relating to the Intervention.

So many reports, not enough action

Indigenous academic, Boni Robertson, completed many detailed reports throughout the nineties. Robertson also led an inquiry in 1999, that actually involved indigenous Australians, with fifty-senior women representing their communities in Queensland (QLD). In 1999, a shocking report about indigenous violence, was released by Doctor Paul Memmott. The report was suppressed from the media and the public by the Justice Minister, Amanda Vanstone for eighteen months. By the time that the media got wind of it, it was old news and nobody really cared.

All of these reports and inquiries, warned of the numerous problems in indigenous communities. The causes of family violence stem from a failure of government to provide adequate services, education and housing infrastructure. It’s also a failure from both sides of the political spectrum to acknowledge indigenous culture and their relationship with the land. Neo-colonialism is still a problem in Australia, despite the fact that Indigenous Australians are the oldest known civilisation on earth.  They’ve hundreds of languages and their map of Australia is made up of many nations, not a handful of states. Wanting them to assimilate into a monolingual, mono-cultural society is one thing, the reality is another.       

In 2002, the Central Aboriginal Congress prepared a paper showing how the number of indigenous women being treated for domestic assault had more than doubled since 1999. A year later Howard staged a ‘roundtable summit’ of indigenous leaders to address family violence. This achieved nothing.

An election was approaching in 2006, and for the government and the media, indigenous violence was a popular topic. At one point, ABC Lateline had filed seventeen stories about it in just eight nights. Crown Prosecutor Nanette Rogers, was on the show in May that year and spoke of her experience with violence against children, including sexual violence in remote communities. What Rogers spoke about was exactly what Dr Memmott had detailed in his suppressed report, seven years earlier.

The media heats up

Minister Brough appeared on Lateline the next day and told the host, Tony Jones that: “Everybody in those communities knows who runs the pedophile rings.”

Jones: “You just said something that astonishes me. You said pedophile rings. What evidence is there of that?”

Brough said that there was “considerable evidence” but provided none. Claire Martin, the NT’s Labor Chief Minister, called on him to provide evidence of the allegation, he said nothing. Five weeks later on June the 21st 2006, Lateline had an anonymous male, former youth worker on their program. He backed up what Brough said:

“It’s true. I’ve been told by a number of people of men getting young girls and keeping them as sex slaves.”

The youth worker, claimed that he was once based in Mutitjulu, working in a joint community project for the NT and federal governments. The Mutitjulu community are the legal custodians of Uluru, or Ayers Rock.

His identity was hidden with his face shadowed and a digitised voice, and he cried as he detailed how he’d made repeated statements and reports to police about sexual violence, in Mutitjulu. He said that he’d withdrawn the reports after being threatened by men in the community, and that he feared for his life. He also said that young indigenous children were being held against their will, and that other kids were being given petrol to sniff in exchange for sex with senior indigenous men.

The next day, Martin announced that her NT government would hold a major inquiry into violence against children in indigenous communities. Also on that day, Brough finally responded to calls for evidence of his accusations. He released a press statement, saying that information had been passed onto NT police, and that he’d been advised that “for legal and confidentiality reasons, I am unable to disclose detail.”

Questions asked too late, the damage is done

A few weeks later, the National Indigenous Times reported that the youth worker crying about his experience in Mutitjulu on Lateline wasn’t a youth worker at all. He was actually, Gregory Andrews an assistant secretary at the OIPC, and an adviser to Brough. He advised Brough about violence and sexual abuse in remote communities. Later it was revealed in parliament, that Andrews had never made a single report to police about women or children. He also misled a federal senate inquiry into petrol sniffing in 2006 and lied about living in Mutitjulu, he had never even set foot there.

All of Andrew’s allegations were thoroughly investigated and dismissed by the NT police. And the Australian Crime Commission, spent eighteen-months and millions of dollars, and also concluded that there was no organised paedophilia in indigenous communities. 

Martin’s inquiry reported back to her in August 2006. The inquiry’s final report: Little Children are Sacred, was handed to the NT government, in April 2007. It was impressive and was more than 300-pages-long, with ninety-one recommendations. The authors, Pat Anderson and Rex Wild, didn’t have an easy job, but they said that they were:

“impressed with the willingness of people to discuss the issue of child sexual abuse, even though it was acknowledged as a difficult subject to talk about. At many meetings, both men and women expressed a desire to continue discussions about this issue and what they could do in their community about it. It was a frequent comment that up until now, nobody had come to sit down and talk with them about these types of issues. It would seem both timely and appropriate to build on this good will, enthusiasm and energy by a continued engagement in dialogue and assisting communities to develop their own child safety and protection plans.”

But before the Martin government could respond to the report and without any consultation with her, or even his own cabinet. Howard and Brough used the report as a catalyst to launch their Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER), or the Intervention.

The Intervention

The Intervention relied heavily on shock tactics. Naomi Klein has covered these extensively in her book about disaster capitalism. It favours a multi-pronged, speedy attack, this helps to create cover to introduce unsavoury or neoliberal policies. The Intervention ticks all of the boxes.

The NT and the Australian Federal Police, were sent into remote indigenous communities, and the army and business managers were installed into indigenous communities. Signs were put up declaring bans on pornography and alcohol in towns. It was framed as a “national emergency” and while everyone was distracted, and with a senate majority, the federal government was free to pursue its agenda. NTER (Northern Territory Emergency Response), was a $587 million package of measures, and laws regarding human rights, had to be changed or suspended, to get the new legislation through, these included:

Racial Discrimination Act 1975.

Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976.

Native Title Act 1993(Cth).

Northern Territory Self-Government Act and related legislation.

Social Security Act 1991.

IncomeTax Assessment Act 1993.

As a result of the new legislation, regulations were introduced to ban access to alcohol, tobacco, pornographic material, and gambling services. Land was compulsorily acquired by the government in seventy indigenous communities, this was to ensure that there were no interruptions by traditional owners. An income management scheme was introduced, the BasicsCard, which was actually born out of an indigenous innovation.

The FOODCard was introduced by the Arnhem Land Progress Aboriginal Corporation (ALPA) in 2004, the idea came about after community consultations. The main differences between the two cards are that one had community consultations, while the other did not. The terms and conditions for the FOODCard are available in Yolngu Matha and English for example, while the BasicsCard is in English only.

The other key difference is that the ALPA one is voluntary and you can set for yourself how much money to quarantine, whereas the government one is compulsory, and quarantines 50%-80% of income. The FOODCard was rolled out in 2007, but by then the BasicsCard had taken over.

Neoliberal ideology

The government waited a month until it introduced its last measure, abolishing a program called Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP). The CDEP was one of the programs that was working, it allowed communities to pool all of their unemployment benefits together. This was then paid out as a direct wage for local jobs within the community, or within the CDEP organisations.

Participants were counted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics as employed, even though the funds originated from unemployment benefits. A form of self-government, and a good solution for unemployment that empowered many communities, especially remote ones.

Communities were also sent pamphlets from Centrelink, explaining that they now had to do something in return for their Centrelink money. The pamphlet also said that they had to call them with their contact details, or their payments might be stopped.  

Dr David Scrimgeour, told the Public Health Association of Australia conference in September, that year that:

‘Most of the recommendations … have been implemented by the Commonwealth Government in the NT under the guise of protecting children, despite the fact that the recommendations are not based on evidence, but on neo-liberal ideology.’

He also said that the think-tank, CIS, that published Helen Hughes’ book, received ‘significant support from large corporations, particularly mining companies, and has close links with the Government and the media, particularly the Murdoch-owned newspaper The Australian.’

Reports ignored or used as political tools

So what does income management look like in the NT, ten years after the Intervention? The authors of the Little Children are Sacred report have both said that the report’s recommendations were ignored and that it was used as a political tool to push for an Intervention. Wild said this year that:

“One of the threshold items of the report is that community consultation is needed to be able to best implement the report and that clearly didn’t happen.”

Since the Intervention, report after report gets written about socio-economic disadvantage, and the negative aspects felt by those on income management, only to be ignored. They all have a common theme, that there is no evidence of value behind income management programs, and that they didn’t change behaviours. Is it the government’s place to modify human behaviour with financial measures?  

There is one report though that has been listened to, it was commissioned by the Abbott government and reviewed by mining billionaire, Andrew Forrest. It was released in 2014: Creating Parity – the Forrest Review. Forrest and his Minderoo Foundation, want a new card called the “Healthy Welfare Card” to replace the BasicsCard. It would apply to all working age Australians, around 2.5 million Australians, if you exempt pensioners and veterans. This is consistent with Abbott’s view in his book Battlelines.   

Following the BasicsCard money

The BasicsCard started out as store card’s from merchants such as Coles and Woolworths; by direct deduction of funds set up by a merchant; or by Centrelink making a credit card or cheque payment. This was too cumbersome, so in 2008 the federal government started the process of procurement for an open tender of the card. Five tender applications were received and the winner was Indue Ltd.

Indue started out as Creditlink, it changed its name in 2006 a year after Larry Anthony, former Liberal National Party MP became chairman of its board. Anthony was the chairman of Indue until 2013, and he’s been the Federal President of the National Party since 2015. Indue’s win was publically announced in December 2009, the original contract was worth just over $11 million for three-years, it ballooned out to over $25 million.

I’ve gone through the tenders and contracts relating to the card, there are thirteen in total to date. Out of those, seven of the contracts are limited, so none of the finer details are available for the public.

Open Tender, Contract Total:      

$31,138,574.50 million

Limited Tender, Contract Total:   

$29,064,436.16 million 

Total: $60,203,010.66  

Cashless welfare card cost, blow-out

The ‘cashless welfare card’ trials were originally slated to cost taxpayers $18.9 million. 

According to the government tender, the original contract for Indue was worth $7,859,509 million, (media reports round it up to $8 million), it’s now at $13,035,581.16 million.

That’s just the Indue part, if we add the remaining $10.9 million for the other contracts involved in the income management program, we get a total of $23,935,581.16.

There’s 1,850 participants in the trial which began last year, so the cost of the card works out to be $12,938.15 per person.

Using the maximum Newstart allowance of a single person as an example, which is $535.60 per fortnight; they would receive $13,925.60 for the year. Add the Indue layer and the total is $26,863.75 per person.

A lot of money provided by taxpayers for behaviour change, and of course a nice profit for Indue, especially if it rolls out to millions of Australians. The millions of dollars flying about without any oversight, and the political connections are a grave cause for concern.

Income management rolls out nationally

In 2012, the Gillard government extended income management nationally, and for another ten-years. In the House of Representatives during the debate about the ‘Stronger Futures Legislation’, Senator Nigel Scullion, Country Liberal Party member, said this:

There is a fundamental thread through most of the feedback we get when we talk about consultation. When we get to most communities any observer would say that Aboriginal people more generally hate the intervention. They do not like it, it invades their rights and they feel discriminated against.”

He still voted with the Gillard government. NTER was renamed, Stronger Futures. He went on to become the leader of the Nationals in the Senate, and Minister for Indigenous Affairs in 2013, and he still holds these positions.  

Since the Intervention, the model has expanded from remote communities in the NT to the Kimberley region and Perth in WA; Cape York; all of the NT and selected areas of ‘disadvantage’. The areas that are deemed as disadvantaged are: Logan in QLD, Bankstown in New South Wales (NSW), Shepparton in Victoria and Playford in SA.

Six different income management measures:

  1. Participation/Parenting – NT only, when the government deems you ‘at risk’ if you’ve been on a welfare for a certain amount of time.
  2. Vulnerable welfare – When you’re referred to income management by a Centrelink social worker.
  3. Child protection income management – NT and some parts of WA, a child protection officer refers you to income management.
  4. Cape York measure – People there are put on income management, if they engage in    dysfunctional behaviour.
  5. Place based income management – For people living in five targeted communities that have been referred for income management.
  6. Supporting people at risk – People are referred for income management by certain state and territory agencies.

As of 25th March 2016, there were 26,508 on income management programs, 20,941 of those were indigenous.

Trial sites, and another report

The three-part Orima Report is being used by the government, to not only extend draconian, income management measures, but also to quantify its success. Social and political researcher, Eva Cox sums up the report perfectly in a Facebook post, on The Say No Seven page :   

“The whole data set of interviews, quantitative and qualitative, are very poorly designed and not likely to be valid data collection instruments. I’d fail any of my research students that produced such dubious instruments.”   

The reports includes a lot of spin, asks respondents for their ‘perceptions’ at times, and includes retrospective responses, for questionnaires. The Say No Seven page, has been following all three of the reports closely, they crunched the numbers at the start of this month, when the final Orima report was released. An example cam be found on page forty-six:

“At Wave 2, as was the case in Wave 1, around four-in-ten non-participants (on average across the two Trial sites) perceived that there had been a reduction in drinking in their community since the CDCT commenced.”

This approach means that the reader focuses on the minority of responses, rather than the majority of responses. Six-in-ten not perceiving any reduction in drinking around town. It reads a lot differently than the latter.

Other places rumoured to be put on the card trial are Hervey Bay and Bundaberg in QLD. One peaceful rally against the card in Hervey Bay involved armed police, with protest organiser Kathryn Wilkes saying:

“There were eight of us women aged between 40 and 60 … We were very peaceful.

“They’re afraid of a bunch of sick women on the (disability support pension).

“If you pushed me over I’d end up in hospital. Most of us couldn’t fight our way out of a paper bag.”

This heavy-handed approach is all too familiar…

Star chambers and regrets

Which leads me to the anonymous, paid community panels that determine whether those put on income management should be able to access more cash from their bank accounts. Meddling in communities like this isn’t new, it’s been happening in indigenous ones for years. Turning communities against one another is surely not the role of the government. It also allows them to neatly deflect any accountability for the program.  

The BasicsCard can also make life harder for those already living in poverty, in that you’re restricted from buying second-hand items with cash, or something cheap online. It also means that things like how you pay your electricity bills for example, is decided by Centrelink, so no more payment plans. That’s what income management is, it’s not about just being put on a card as such.       

Two trial sites were chosen to trial the BasicsCard card for one-year in 2016, one in Ceduna South Australia, and one in WA’s Kimberley region. The trials were extended indefinitely this year, before the trials had even finished, and before the final Orima report was released just this month.

One of four indigenous leaders from WA that originally supported the scheme has since withdrawn his support for the card. Lawford Benning, chair of the MG Corporation, says he feels “used” by the Human Services minister, Alan Tudge. He met regularly with Tudge ahead of the cards introduction over a year ago, and helped drum up support for it. He said that services that were promised in return were not provided until seven-months later, and that what was finally offered was no good.

“I’m not running away from the fact that I was supporting this. But now I’m disappointed and I owe it to my people to speak up,” Benning said. “Every person I’ve spoken with said they don’t want this thing here.”

When Benning heard that the card was going to be permanent and about the roll out of the card at other sites:

“I said hang on, it sounds like you’re trying to get a rubber stamp on something already under way, in an attempt to legitimise something the community doesn’t support.”

“I said to him ‘your minister isn’t showing respect to us’. Prior to introducing the card Tudge was flying here every second weekend to meet with us. As soon as we signed up, we’ve never seen him again.”

Take a drug-test or no welfare for new recipients                        

The latest legislation currently before the parliament, involves a two-year drug-testing trial for 5,000 people in Bankstown (NSW), Logan (QLD), and Mandurah (WA). If it passes, new recipients of the Newstart and Youth allowance have to agree to be tested, in order to receive their allowances. If they refuse a random drug-test, their payments will be cancelled. If they test positively they will be placed on the BasicsCard program, with 20% of their allowance made available in cash. Twenty-five days later they get tested again and if they test positively again, they will be referred to a privately contracted medical professional.     

There is no evidence that mandatory drug-testing will work on civilians despite what Social Services minister, Christian Porter says, this ABC fact-check puts that to rest.

‘Experts say that, rather than lots of evidence, there is no evidence, here or overseas, to show that mandatory testing will help unemployed drug addicts receive treatment and find jobs.’

The City of Mandurah has accused the Turnbull government of using dodgy data to justify being chosen for the drug-testing trial. City chief executive, Mark Newman wrote:

“One statistic used is that there has been an increase in people having temporary incapacity exemptions due to a drug dependency diagnosis rose by 300% from June 2015 to 2016.”

“The number of people concerned was a rise from 5 to 20 out of a total number of 4,199 people in Mandurah on either Newstart or Youth Allowance benefits as at March 2017.”

The standard that you walk past is the standard that you accept

To summarise, this is about neo-liberal paternalism, and human rights being exploited for financial gain, under the guise of philanthropy. The Intervention, and other recent punitive measures (including robo-debt) imposed on us, wouldn’t fly if we had a charter of human rights. We need one desperately. Indigenous Australians need a treaty, the right to self-determine, and a proper voice in politics, similar to what New Zealand has. Because if we don’t fight for our human rights, we won’t recognise this country in a few years time.

Statistics wise, indigenous incarceration is sky-high, indigenous youth suicide rates have risen by 500% since 2007-2011.

All that these measures are creating is a subclass of stigmatised Australians. At a time when many countries are talking about universal-basic-income or UBI, we’re still caught up in “dole-bludger” discussions. The reality is there is less paid work out there, and that this trend will continue.

Punishing our most vulnerable and those looking for work as though they’re criminals, with drug-testing, just isn’t Australian. We don’t need to follow America with a welfare system that’s littered with “food stamp” programs, and other neo-liberal ideologies. I believe the abolished CDEP is also a model worth looking at again and not just for indigenous employment. Work-for-the-dole is just labour exploitation, and most of it is pointless when there aren’t any jobs to be found, in the first place.           

And on a final note, remember the fake youth worker? He’s still been around as a public servant, and even landed a cushy job with the Abbott government in 2014 as the country’s first ‘Threatened Species Commissioner’.

Many thanks to all of the sourced researchers, publications and artists involved in this article.

 

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The NBN is on the wrong path…

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Image from smh.com.au

After the coalition won government in 2013, the then Communications Minister and now current Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Turnbull promised that every Australian would have access to the National Broadband Network (NBN) by the end of 2016. This clearly won’t be happening and it’s understandable with such a large piece of infrastructure to get your cost projections wrong (including old Australian Labor Party (ALP) figures). Tasmania was to be the first state to have the NBN rolled out by the end of 2015, this has now been pushed out to September 2018. The coalition’s NBN main points of difference with their plan compared to the ALP plan was to roll it out sooner, with faster download speeds and cheaper.

The original budget for the government’s version of the NBN, which is a mixture of technologies and favours FTTN (fibre to the node) over FTTH (fibre to the house) was $29.5 billion this has blown out to $56 billion and counting. Now news is coming out from the less than 15% of Australian’s that do have the NBN, that it’s providing speeds less than the days of dial up or their ADSL2+.

Mr Bell, of Belmont North near Lake Macquarie, New South Wales lays the blame squarely at the feet of Malcolm Turnbull. He says:“My children are becoming cynical about promises made by…the Prime Minister about the fast FTTN NBN roll out. Could you please make enquiries of the appropriate officers or Ministers, as to whether the FTTN NBN will provide a worse service compared to the ADSL+2 it is replacing? At the moment that seems to be the case.”

Mr Alderton also lives in Belmont and is suffering the same challenges, He says:“What a joke, peak times download speeds around 4 Mbps, that’s less than my old ADSL2.”

Mr Wallace of Valentine, near Newcastle, thinks that the problem might be widespread. He says:“There are serious problems with the rollout across Newcastle due to the Fibre to the Node model used here…thinking about switching back to ADSL2+.”

There has been much talk about the copper wire network and how much of it needs replacing to achieve Mr Turnbull’s MTM (multi-technology mix) version of the NBN instead of the ALP version with optic fibre cable. Let’s not forget either that the ALP government had already paid Telstra $11.2 billion to essentially decommission the copper and HFC (hybrid-fibre-coaxial) networks. A figure of $55 million was given by the Turnbull government to replace the copper however a leaked document from late last year suggests a 1000% blowout with the cost being more like $641 million. The figure is so large because it’s for 8.5 million metres of copper of which is enough to lay down between Perth and Pakistan and back again. There has also been Optus HFC network documents leak revealing that the government will need to replace it to achieve it’s MTM at a cost of up to $375 million.   

So far the government and Mr Turnbull have failed in their promises with their alternative NBN. One of the reasons that Mr Turnbull has used in the past for favouring FTTN, is that AT&T also favour it yet they now offer GigaPower which is a complete FTTH network. It previously offered FTTN but it also already had mainly fibre optic cables running for most of the network, with just the last mile or so with copper cables.

It’s pretty clear that a simple roll out of fibre optic cabling replacing the old copper and pay TV networks as you went, would be easier than not only resurrecting old technology but attempting to mix it together. Fair enough if it achieves higher speeds, a cheaper budget and is delivered in a timely manner but it hasn’t to date. It’s bleeding money, yet creating profit for the likes of Telstra and Optus while Australian’s that do have the NBN are now worse off than what they were to begin with. A truly connected Australia would surely inspire further innovation and instead of the focus being on the cost it’s about time that it was looked at as an investment. An investment in the future of the people of Australia.

 

 

Corporations want to profit from global health with TiSA and the TPP

I recently wrote about the TPP and now I think it’s time that we take a look at the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA). It’s a services-only free trade agreement (FTA) that began in 2012 with exploratory discussions between Australia, US and the European Union (EU) for a year and with formal discussions beginning in early 2013. Australia, US and the EU take it in turns to chair the negotiations in Geneva. The services sector accounts for around 70% of Australia’s economic activity and accounts for around 17% of Australia’s total exports. Current countries negotiating the TiSA are Australia, Canada, Chile, Chinese Taipei, Colombia, Costa Rica, The European Union (representing its 28 Member States), Hong Kong, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Liechtenstein, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Republic of Korea, Switzerland, Turkey and the United States. These countries also account for around 70% of global trade in services. China and Uruguay have expressed interest but have yet to be invited, it’s also worth mentioning that the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) bloc have not been invited.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) deals with the global rules of trade between nations and the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) came into effect in April 1994, and involves all WTO members. The TiSA’s aim is to be compatible with GATS yet, set a new standard in services trade that covers all service sectors including health and public services; financial services; ICT services (including telecommunications and e-commerce); professional services; maritime transport services; air transport services; competitive delivery services; energy services; temporary entry of business persons; government procurement; and new rules on domestic regulation to ensure regulatory settings do not operate as a barrier to trade in services. The discussions are held behind closed doors as per other trade agreements, Wikileaks managed to leak draft text from the April 2014 round of discussions involving further deregulation of global financial services markets, despite the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). The draft Financial Services Annex sets rules to assist the expansion of financial multi-nationals into other nations by preventing regulatory barriers. The leaked draft also shows that the US is particularly keen on boosting cross-border data flow, allowing the uninhibited exchange of personal and financial data.

The Australian government has a web page for it’s involvement in TiSA and in the sixth April/May round that Australia also chaired, more than 140 negotiators and sector-specific government experts attended. There were advanced discussions in all areas of the negotiations, including on new and enhanced disciplines (trade rules) for financial services, domestic regulation and transparency, e-commerce and telecommunications, and maritime transport. TiSA parties also agreed to move to a negotiating text for air transport and market access negotiations also continued. The Global Services Coalition or “Team TiSA” organised a substantial industry presence in the margins of the negotiations and as the name suggests is pro the TiSA for the US. Trading in services has grown at a faster pace than trading in goods since the 1980s. The United Nations Conference on Trade And Development (UNCTAD) estimates that in 2013 global services exports reached $4.7 trillion and grew at an annual rate of 5%.  Overall, the services trade has grown by 95% since 2000. World Bank research shows that the services sector has become the dominant driver of economic growth in developing countries, delivering both GDP growth and poverty reduction.  In 2011, the services sector accounted for a massive 49% of GDP in low income countries and 47% in least developed countries. Team TiSA has every right to be cheering for it as it would benefit the US greatly. The US is the world’s largest single-country exporter and importer of services and they generate more than 75% of their national economic output. In 2013 the US exported over $681bn in services, resulting in a $231 billion surplus. Services exports in 2013 grew by $31.8 bn and services imports in 2013 grew by $12.9bn.

Australia chaired the ninth round early last December and this time it was attended by more than 200 negotiators and sector-specific government experts. Good progress was made in advancing the enhanced disciplines (trade rules) for e-commerce and telecommunications, domestic regulation and transparency, financial services, temporary entry of business persons, professional services, maritime and air transport services and delivery services. There was also further discussion of proposals on government procurement, environmental and energy services, and the facilitation of patient mobility. Parties reported on progress in bilateral market access discussions held since the September round and committed to advance these further in 2015. Besides the vagueness and secretiveness above and what it all means for every day Australians, one thing leaps out and that is the facilitation of patient mobility. Luckily another leak was sprung, the proposal was titled ‘A concept paper on health care services within TISA Negotiations’ and it states there is ‘huge untapped potential for the globalisation of healthcare services’ mainly because ‘health care services is (sic) funded and provided by state or welfare organisations and is of virtually no interest for foreign competitors due to lack of market-orientated scope for activity’. It was allegedly a proposal put forward by Turkey, and was discussed by TiSA members in the September round of discussions. And there are justifiable fears that they want to commodify health services globally as well as to promote “medical tourism” for patients.

Experts, such as Dr Odile Frank of Public Services International (PSI) say, ‘The proposal would raise health care costs in developing countries and lower quality in developed countries in Europe, North America, Australia and elsewhere’. Rosa Pavanelli, PSI General Secretary, also commented that ‘Health is a human right and is not for sale or for trade. The health system exists to keep our families safe and healthy, not to ensure the profits of large corporations’. The proposal could see patients being treated in other TiSA countries for reasons such as long waiting times in their home country or a lack of expertise for specific medical problems. The patients’s costs would need to be reimbursed through their own countries social security system, private insurance coverage or other healthcare arrangements.

The beneficiaries of this are the large health corporations and insurance companies, the ones actually behind the negotiations, that would benefit from an approximate $USD 6 trillion business. Public services are designed to provide vital social and economic necessities such as health care and education affordably, universally and on the basis of need. They exist because markets can’t produce these outcomes. Furthermore, public services are fundamental to ensuring fair competition for business, and they provide effective regulation to avoid environmental, social and economic disasters, such as the GFC and global warming. Even the most die-hard supporters of FTA’s admit that there are winners and losers.

New South Wales (NSW) Australia, Nurses and Midwives’ Association organiser Michael Whaites said: “Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey have been saying that healthcare expenditure is unsustainable, but Trade Minister Andrew Robb is quietly engaged in negotiations that could potentially see scarce healthcare dollars going overseas,”. And that “You can ask whether the government is working in a co-ordinated manner, and indeed what is their real intention on the future of Medicare?” Professor Jane Kelsey, an expert on trade in services at the University of Auckland, warns that health-service-exporting countries such as Australia could find qualified staff being diverted to health export services “that often have better pay and facilities, eroding the personnel base for public facilities and perpetuating inequalities in the health care system”. Education and training investments could also be diverted “to benefit foreign healthcare users, rather than local citizens and taxpayers”.

In August 2014 the Australian Health Department called for expressions of interest from private players interested in taking over the payments of $29bn each year in health and pharmaceutical benefits currently being managed by the Human Services. Human Services Minister Marise Payne said much of the Department of Human Services (DHS) IT infrastructure for processing the payments was old and needed to be replaced and that the private sector might have cheaper solutions. The government claims it is merely testing the market with an initial expression of Interest process, not via cost analysis or efficiencies already provided. Australia Post stuck it’s hand up from the get go and other Australian corporations that are keen are – Eftpos and Stellar (Telstra) with overseas companies being Oracle, Fuji-Xerox, SAP, Accenture and Serco.

It’s hard not to feel that we are being attacked at from all angles with corporations eying off developing and developed countries public health services for profit. With an Australian government seemingly hell bent on dismantling it’s Medicare system with outsourcing payments while introducing co-payments, it’s looking clearer now as to what the current Australian government has planned. The rise of corporations and their lust for profits no matter what the cost is, has to stop. Our public services are not the latest money making scheme for corporates, whom no doubt once plundered and ruined will be nowhere to be found or at the very least held accountable for their actions. Governments must get out of bed with them and understand that they don’t know best and an even mix of private and government is required sometimes, but not all of the time. The people elect governments to govern and make decisions, we do not elect corporations. Take some advice from them but if you give them an inch they will take a mile as we have been seeing in recent years. Greed is worming it’s way in globally under the guise of competition and job creation. I find this very hard to believe for your average person, for the corporations yes, they keep getting richer and the equality gap wider. Low income countries delivering GDP growth and poverty reduction will be hardest hit and that’s not fair with many only just recovering from the GFC. The US has the most to benefit from this and all other FTA’s, this also needs to stop, they aren’t the biggest power anymore and even if they were why should they get all of the advantages? People over profits, after all you can’t make profits without us and there’s no need to ruin everyone globally once again for it.

We can not allow Free-Trade-Agreements without any transparency

Updated: 18/08/2016

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was conceived in 2003 as the Trans-Pacific Strategic Partnership Agreement TPSEP as a path to trade liberalisation in the Asia-Pacific. The original participating countries were Chile, New Zealand and Singapore with Brunei joining in 2005. In 2008 the United States of America (USA), Australia, Peru and Vietnam joined, followed on by Malaysia, Mexico, Canada and Japan. Free Trade Agreements (FTA) deal mostly with goods being imported at a certain price with certain environmental and labour standards met. What’s different about the TPP is that the treaty has 29 chapters, dealing with the whole scope of tariff and agricultural quota removal and market access on sensitive products, but in particular agricultural goods. It also includes provisions over non-tariff issues such as intellectual property rights, the environment, state-owned enterprises, and investment.

Japan was the last to join in 2013, as agriculture as well as the auto industry have long been a sticking point in Japanese trade liberalisation and had held up the TPP negotiations with the USA. However agricultural reforms made by Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, has tipped the power of balance back into the governments favour and away from Japan’s most powerful farm lobby, the Japan Agriculture Cooperative. Japan offered to import more rice from the USA while keeping existing tariffs in place, and the USA agreed to stop demanding that Japan ease its car safety standards. Progress was also made on issues such as state-owned enterprises, environmental protection, and investment. This not only paves the way for greater market liberalisation and deregulation in Japanese agriculture but was meant to enable Mr Obama’s plan to “fast track” push for Congress approval to conclude the TPP before the end of his Presidency.

What is of the most concern is the provisions over not only the aforementioned non-tariff issues of intellectual property rights, the environment, state-owned enterprises, and investment but the Investor State Dispute Settlements provisions (ISDS). ISDS allows multinational corporations to sue governments if they’re deemed not to be acting in their best “interests”. It can potentially place limits on governments being able to develop their domestic laws and policies in areas such as public health, patents on medicine, the environment, food labeling, Internet use and privacy and even local media content. Australia had a long-running investor-state dispute with Philip Morris Asia, due to the introduction of the ‘Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011′ in 2011. The laws were introduced by the former Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s Australian Labor Party (ALP) government as a health measure but Philip Morris Asia amongst the many breaches, believes that it infringes their intellectual property. Previous ALP and Liberal National Party governments had in the past only included ISDS in trade agreements with developing countries that didn’t have any investments in Australia and they were not included in the US-Australia FTA. American corporations are the most frequent users of ISDS and the safeguard clauses that countries employ to protect themselves in FTA’s can and have been re-interpreted and over-turned through the arbitration process. Philip Morris International Inc in an Australian case for example, challenged the tobacco plain packaging legislation under a 1993 Agreement between the Government of Australia and the Government of Hong Kong for the Promotion and Protection of Investments.

Even where corporations do lose they have dragged governments through lengthy and expensive legal processes with dispute settlement cases that are heard by tribunals of three private-sector lawyers. The tribunals tend to be more concerned with assessing potential damage to corporate investments rather than the protection of the government’s or public’s interest. In December 2015 Australia won its four year international legal battle with Phillip Morris Asia and there are now currently 608 ISDS cases globally. More than $3bn has been paid by out governments, or taxpayers, to corporations under existing US trade and investment agreements alone. African countries are increasingly becoming involved in ISDS cases with the majority of these in the gas, oil and mining sectors. According to the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), out of the ISDS cases registered with them until 2014, 26% were concentrated in the oil, gas and mining sectors. It was 35% for the year 2014 alone, compared to 2000 when there were only three pending cases. Investors have challenged many government measures such as: licenses that are revoked in mining, telecommunications and tourism; alleged breaches of investment contracts; the withdrawl of previously granted subsidies and changes to domestic regulatory frameworks in gas, nuclear energy, the marketing of gold and currency regulations.

An examples of an ISDS case against a government is one from Canada by Lone Pine Resources which filed a $250m lawsuit against the Canadian government when Quebec placed a moratorium on it and banned drilling and fracking processes for oil and gas underneath the St. Lawrence River for an environmental evaluation. “Based on the principle of precaution, the Quebec government’s response to the concerns of its population is appropriate and legitimate,” said Martine Châtelain, president of Eau secours! (The Quebec based Coalition for the responsible management of water). “No companies should be allowed to sue a State when it implements sovereign measures to protect water and the common goods for the sake of our ecosystems and the health of our peoples” Ms Châtelain added.

And there is the case of Eli Lilly and Company when an American global pharmaceutical company (and it’s fifth biggest), filed a $500m law suit against Canada. It was for allegedly violating its obligations to foreign investors under the North American FTA for allowing its domestic courts to invalidate patents for two of its drugs. Canadian courts had found that there was a lack of evidence supporting the drug’s alleged benefits.

According to Forbes in 2013 the biggest profit margins produced be USA corporations are in the pharmaceuticals. In 2013, US pharmaceutical Pfizer, the world’s largest drug company, made a 42% profit margin. As one industry veteran put it: “I wouldn’t be able to justify [those kinds of margins].” In the UK that year, there was widespread anger when the industry regulator predicted energy companies’ profit margins would grow from 4% to 8% for the year. In 2014, five pharmaceutical companies made a profit margin of 20% or more, these were – Pfizer, Hoffmann-La Roche, AbbVie, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Eli Lilly. And in 2015 Johnson & Johnson was named the world’s largest drug and biotech company, edging out Pfizer and Swiss company Novartis once again. In 2015 Johnson & Johnson made $16.3bn in profits, held $131bn in assets and it’s market value was $276bn.

The problem isn’t just with the massive amounts of profiteering but the fact that the drug companies spend far more on marketing drugs than on developing them. Johnson & Johnson’s total revenue for 2013 for example was $71.3bn with a profit of 13.8%, it spent 8.2% on research and development and 17.5% was spent on sales and marketing.  Drug patents in the US are usually awarded for 20 years, but 10-12 of those years are spent developing it at a cost of up to $2.5bn, leaving eight to ten years to make money before the formula can be taken up by generic drug companies. Once this happens, sales fall by over 90%. Joshua Owide, director of healthcare industry dynamics at research company GlobalData, explains, “Unlike other sectors, brand loyalty goes out the window when patents expire.” This is why pharmaceutical companies go to such extraordinary lengths to extend their patents, a process known as “evergreening”, employing “floors full of lawyers” for this express purpose, one industry insider has said. And with a drug raking in $3bn a quarter, even a one month extension can be worth a lot of money. Some drug companies, including the UK’s GSK, have been accused of more underhand tactics, such as paying generics to delay the release of their cheaper alternatives. This is a win for both industries, as it has been said that the loss of the big pharmaceuticals far outweighs the generic industries revenue.

The source of contention between Australia and the US to seal the TPP deal now in 2016, is the difference in the monopoly period (the time-frame that it can’t be taken up by generic companies) for medicines or biologics between the two countries. Biologics are “next generation” drugs and Australia’s time-frame to protect medical intellectual property is five years whereas the US had been bargaining for eight years. Meaning that no generic or cheaper drugs could come onto the market for nearly a decade. Last month TPP supporter, US Senator Orrin Hatch, accused Australia of trying to steal American medicine patents and said that he wants it to be changed to twelve years.

The former Abbott government and the current Turnbull government have an appetite for signing FTA’s with their eyes on more with India, Indonesia and an Asian trade deal to rival the TPP called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. The TPP has been many years in the making and has been fraught with difficult negotiations that could impact on us really hard in an already uncertain economic environment. The secrecy in our Australian political environment in particular around FTA’s and the public’s growing unease with them needs to be heeded. If the government won’t listen we need the opposition, independents and the senate to come together and put the countries future and needs first, no matter how big the opportunities are for for a few investors in this country. Can you imagine what could be in store for us if we allow multinational corporations and trade ministers to ultimately decide our economies, laws and policies? With the global spend on medicines projected to be worth up to $1.2 trillion for 2017, low global growth and profit hungry corporations, the stakes are too high.

Let’s talk about the Medicare Co-payment proposal…

The co-payment proposal was part of a paper (please refer to the first link at the bottom) prepared by the ACHR’s (Australian Centre for Health research) and Terry Barnes, the former adviser of Tony Abbott when he was the Health Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. The ACHR is a think tank funded by private health funds and private hospitals. It’s to be noted that Mr Barnes has also called for emergency department co-payments as well as GP co-payments.

Let’s recall some of the controversy when Mr Abbott was the Health Minister. There was the opposition of the abortion drug RU486 which lead to a parliamentary conscious vote to strip him of his power to regulate this area of policy. And his opposition to the anti-cervical drug Gardasil meant that he had to be ultimately over-ruled by John Howard. It has become very clear that this government is very much ruled by their ideology which has always been against universal healthcare. Instead seemingly content to attempt to convince us the 1.5% Medicare levy makes it free. The levy was raised to 2% in July 2014 by the ALP and with bipartisan support to cover the formerly known National Disability Scheme (NDIS), it’s not a hidden cost that many seem to think because of confusing messages and the three month narrative from our Government about their budget.

We subsidise the private health industry on average by 30% and up to 45% for over 65 year old’s. A private health insurance premium rise was approved by Health Minister Peter Dutton with an industry average of 6.2% and a high of 7.99% with NIB in December last year. This was the highest increase since 2005 with all 34 providers applying for fee increases. HCF and Medibank private already offer subsidised GP services and Bupa offers quite a few no out-of-pocket expenses. Could the increase be to cover the ‘additional services’ they will offer competing with  Medicare? Private healthcare Australia chief executive Dr Armitage (former LNP South Australian health minister) has been quoted as saying that allowing insurers to cover GP services would provide a “marvellous boon for preventative health care”, incidentally he now lobbies on behalf of insurers. Below is part of his seemingly nervous statement on the Commission of Audit report (COA) –

“The Private Health Insurance Industry would be very keen to see the figures on which the Commission has based its conclusions about important matters (such as totally changing the health landscape for higher income Australians) before any meaningful analysis of the report’s recommendations can be made.”

“The Industry notes that the Commission has identified the Government’s commitment to restore the Private Health Insurance rebate.”

There is perhaps merit in trials being done with WA & Victorian Governments that Mr Armitage mentioned regarding registered nurses with GP support and helping people with complex health needs, stay out of hospital. But I can find very little detail on this. What I have noticed is the rise of pathology and diagnostic imaging services.

You also know there is money to be made when Woolworth’s gets in on the action, when ‘free health checks’ to be performed by pharmacy students, graduating pharmacists and nurses in the supermarket aisles, was reported in the media. They are already trialling it in six stores in NSW and QLD. Of course the Pharmacy Guild of Australia is not pleased at the attempt to enter the pharmacy market of which the Government has reconfirmed it’s commitment, to not allow the retail giants entry. Would you call that free marketing, favoured by the likes of Rupert Murdoch and the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA)?

This all leads me to the conclusion that the co-payment proposal is an attempt to let Australia’s health care system be taken over by insurers and their idea of free marketing which does not translate to health and medicine. We have seen the American health system in tatters over the very same attempts to equate health with profit.

And as for the much mooted by Joe Hockey Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF)? How does that work when there have been massive cuts to Science and Research or the fact that we don’t have a Minister for Science? How does it keep Medicare ‘sustainable’ as is being continually said by Mr Abbott, Dutton and Hockey via main stream media?

For some perspective, America gave it’s Medical Research $30bn in 2013, Europe collectively gave $28bn and Japan $9bn. Australia gave just over $850mil to National Health and Medical Research (NHMR) in 2012. It seems as though Mr Hockey would like to leave a legacy but may be best to come up with your own ideas instead of pinching from the UK in this example with their ‘Wellcome Trust’ which is for Research Funding and Charitable activists.

User-pay policies won’t work for health and medicine in the same way as it doesn’t for using fire-fighter/emergency services or getting into your MP’s ear. Most Aussies I know are happy for all us to share the cost and having that piece of mind that it won’t come down to ‘It’s your money or your life’ if something happens to you. That is the unpredictability of it, there are just too may variables. I would suggest stop wasting anymore time and put it to a referendum, ask us what we want our taxes to pay for and if we are willing to pay, as I think you would be surprised. I think a healthy nation will only be more productive especially with Mr Hockey’s global growth targets. All it might take is raising the Medicare levy until more comprehensive Health reform is achieved.

Links of interest for you…

GP Co-payment paper by Terry Barnes

Mr Armitage’s nervous statement on the COA

Murdoch on Abbott’s grasp of the free market

A Nation built on the Fair Go and something Special

 

Misinformation in the Information Age…

I have been experiencing more and more people questioning and trying to read between the lines of a bloated media industry obsessed with shock jockism.

When people take to the streets and become citizen journalists, you know something is up. All the signs are there if we read between the lines and cut out the main stream media white noise. Because that is all it is, break it down and think about why certain things are reported and are some are not?

For instance the young man killed in America yesterday, from all accounts so far he was shot 10 times and was unarmed and posed no threat. This is not unusual for the USA sadly. However what I have noted, is that there seems to be a groundswell of discontent emanating from our American brothers and sisters.

Social media is so important, quite simply our voices get to be heard. Whether they are wrong or right, they all are allowed to be heard in a democratic society. I think that’s what George Brandis was trying to get at with his infamous bigot comment.

Main stream media has no concept of public life because it hasn’t lived in our realm for quite some time. Leigh Sales meeting with Tony Abbott for dinner and Clive’s infamous banana split with Malcolm Turnbull and Martin Ferguson is not unusual. In fact it is their norm. Both major parties have done this for so long that it appears to be an entrenched world of old ideologies and forgotten philosophies.

And lets not forget the ultimate Big Brother Rupert Murdoch. Remember when the infamous ‘Bondi Punch up’ was headlining for a good couple of weeks? You have to ask why? Once we start doing that it gives us a chance to really know not whether you are Left or Right aligned but if you support their policies. Because it’s not about being a rusted on ALP voter, because that’s what mum and dad voted. It’s also not about the leader as such, it’s the whole party, he/she is just the front person for their core beliefs and policies. And that’s it. Take the jargon and bull shit away it’s just life….Being disengaged and misinformed is tragic to me in this day and age and has worked well as a business model in the USA but I really don’t think it will work here as much as Lord Monckton would like. It appears to be a game plan set in place a very long time ago by people such as Murdoch, Rhinehart and Monckton, that we the general public had no idea about. Please check the link provided to get context.

Elitism will never work here, mainly due to colonial history in my humble opinion. The ‘fair shake of the sauce bottle’ is born from that. We love sports because anyone can have a go, anyone! Perhaps that is why our current refugee situation is so beguiling. We have always been welcoming, just listen to our national anthem.

What changed? Fear, pure and simple which led to big business sharks generating self interest to fatten thy wallets? The lobbying needs to stop and the concept that we are not a society; because it’s bigger than that. We are global brothers and sisters that need to keep the conversation flowing.

Please check out the link below and make up your OWN mind.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DGmZ4wjaVzE