Cheques and balances

Cheques and balances

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ZALI STEGGALL DEFENDS DONATION

Independent MP Zali Steggall admitted she made a mistake over a $100,000 donation from coal millionaire John Kinghorn in an interview with The Project last night. Steggall, who campaigned on integrity and climate, says her team righted the wrong with the AEC as soon as they realised and added that the amendment had been on public record since last February.

So what’s the deal? Well, at the time, any donations that were more than $13,800 had to be declared under AEC rules (now the threshold is $14,500). So Kinghorn split his $100k donation into $12,500 bite-sized pieces — but, and this is the kicker, it was paid in a single cheque in an “accounting” error, as SMH reports. It added insult to injury that the donor was Kinghorn, an 80-year-old former investor and director of Cascade Coal and Felix Resources which was sold to China’s Yanzhou Coal in 2009, as Reuters reported at the time. It’s not great optics for Steggall who is somewhat of a climate crusader, but she said Kinghorn’s sale to Yanzhou was precisely why she kept the money — “I welcome people who come to their senses,” she told the program last night.

It’s again thrown the spotlight on our political donations rule falling woefully short of a transparent democratic process — indeed last year it was revealed $1 billion of “dark money” was funnelled into the major parties over the last 20 years, as Guardian Australia reported. So lower the threshold, I hear you say. Labor wants to — but Michelle Grattan writes for The Conversation that they’ve so far failed to put their money where their mouth is. If crossbenchers end up with the balance of power following the election, however, we could see big pressure on the big parties to bring down that donation disclosure ceiling.

PLOT TWISTS

According to Victorian Labor senator Kimberley Kitching, Chinese-Australian businessman Chau Chak Wing is supposedly a suspected “puppeteer” behind a foreign interference plot. Kitching used parliamentary privilege to ask ASIO’s boss about it. He declined to comment, as ABC reports, saying it was unfair to ask. It’s not the first time Chau’s name has come up — Liberal MP Andrew Hastie used privilege in 2018 to allege Chau “co-conspired to bribe” a UN official, as 9News reports, something Chau denied. Outside of Parliament, Chau won over half a million dollars when he successfully sued ABC for defamation in 2021.

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The plot was reportedly in NSW and aimed at the Labor Party, as SMH writes, but the country of origin is not publicly known. Last Wednesday, ASIO warned spies use social media and dating apps to reach Australians who have access to classified information, news.com.au reports. Senator James Paterson warned singles: “If you‘re a six and they’re a 10 — it might not be your looks that they’ve been charmed by, it might be your access to classified information”.

And it’s not just foreign interference that could pose a threat to our elections — the Australian Federal Police (AFP) boss told Senate estimates last night that disinformation campaigns are a threat to the integrity of institutions and elections, The Australian ($) says. Commissioner Reece Kershaw says when disinformation reaches a criminal level, the AFP would come down with “full force”, revealing the AFP charged a person for their role in an “offensive spam email campaign” during two byelections (2019 Wentworth and 2020 Eden-Monaro).

RUSSIA V UKRAINE

Russia could invade Ukraine at any moment, according to the UK’s foreign minister, meaning Europe is the closest it’s been to war in 70 years, The Guardian reports. Liz Truss tweeted yesterday that the UK urges the Kremlin to de-escalate — but Russia has so far rejected an urgent meeting request from Ukraine to discuss the troops assembling on the border, ABC reports. Politico continues that Russia might actually fake an attack on their home soil to justify kicking off the invasion. Meanwhile, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky says the country still wants to join NATO — despite the optics of Ukraine moving closer to the West being one of the central reasons for Russia’s antagonism, Al Jazeera reports. You can follow The Guardian’s live blog for updates.

What would it mean for Australians, the AFR asks? Well, oil prices would surge to over US$120 a barrel, causing a supply shock that could drive inflation higher. Oil actually hit a seven year high yesterday, after the national average petrol price rose to a record 176.9 cents a litre. Food prices could surge, as the SMH reports, and energy prices could soar worldwide (Russia supplies 85% of Europe’s gas through a pipeline across Ukraine). It could even sway our election — Nine Newspapers’ Peter Hartcher says if Prime Minister Scott Morrison wins in May, it’ll be thanks to the Ukraine invasion creating “a new atmosphere of anxiety and uncertainty”. Both Morrison and Labor Leader Anthony Albanese backed Ukraine in Parliament yesterday, but where Albanese expressed solidarity and empathy with Ukrainians, Morrison condemned China for not speaking up against Russia.

ON A LIGHTER NOTE

It’s been a wet summer, with La Niña bringing more than a few extra overcast drizzly days than one might usually want in the hottest months of the year. So when a 2016 video of US reporter Kevin Killeen reading what can only be described as the world’s most existential weather report went viral, it rang true. Killeen, from St Louis, says February is an “honest month” because it “doesn’t hold up life any better than it really is”, and waving his hand vaguely at the buildings behind him, says “something great happened here but it’s over with, and that’s the way February is”.

The video cuts to Killeen, microphone in one hand, dismally holding up a brightly-coloured umbrella that is broken and discarded in the bin. “A desperate flinging off of something that’s not true anymore,” Killen, in a monotone voice, declares. A shot of an average street on a rainy day prompts Killeen to declare that “this looks like a place where people who are being punished are sent”. The Guardian spoke to Killeen, who says the video was born in the post-Christmas glow and really speaks to that feeling where something’s bothering us, but we can’t work out what it is. Sometimes it just feels good to be cynical, even a bit grumpy, particularly when you’ve got The Smiths or some Billie Holiday crooning into your headphones. It sure can make the sunny days feel all the sweeter.

Hope the weather’s fine in your neighbourhood today.

SAY WHAT?

Sorry is not the hardest word to say. The hardest is, ‘I forgive you’. But I do know that such a path of forgiveness does lead to healing. It does open up a new opportunity. It does offer up release from the bondage of pain and suffering that no simple apology on its own can achieve.

Scott Morrison

The PM seemed to imply survivors of the Stolen Generations should forgive the government and the other institutions that were complicit in Indigenous pain and suffering if they want to “heal”. The First People’s Assembly of Victoria’s statement in response to Morrison’s words was four curt words: “Get in the bin”.

‘Transparent’ Steggall drives a highly principled truck through our dodgy donation laws

“The problem is, under our existing laws, the non-disclosure of the Kinghorn donation was almost, but for some paperwork, perfectly OK. The donation was notionally composed of $12,500 from each of eight donors.

“The disclosure threshold that year was $13,800, so no disclosure was required. But John Kinghorn sent Zali Steggall’s campaign a cheque for $100,000 — in effect bundling all the donations together. That pushed it over the threshold.”

Russia grows its Asian influence on the back of border conflict

“Russia has historical levers of power in Asia, including more than half of its territory in Asia. It also has long-standing ties with India, Vietnam and central Asia. With the collapse of communism in the early 1990s, many of these relationships weakened as Russia’s traditional orientation to Europe returned.

“But driven by progressively worsening relations with Europe and the United States, Russia’s power in Asia has been reviving over the past 20 years.”

READ ALL ABOUT IT

RSPCA urges leaders to cancel 2022 duck hunting and protect our native ducks (The Advocate)

Mauritius formally challenges Britain’s ownership of Chagos Islands (The Guardian)

Karzai: Biden order on frozen funds ‘atrocity against Afghans’ (Al Jazeera)

Camilla tests positive for coronavirus (BBC)

Record 981 cases — NZ moving to phase 2 of Omicron response (NZ Herald)

Israeli Prime Minister to visit Bahrain for first time amid regional security push (The Wall Street Journal)

Trudeau plans on invoking the Emergencies Act in response to protests: sources (CBC)

Iran says outcome of Vienna talks hinges on Western decisions (Al Jazeera)

Nicaragua seizes universities, inching toward dictatorship (The New York Times)

THE COMMENTARIAT

Treasurer knows his real contest is against the GreensAdam Bandt (The Australian) ($): “Josh Frydenberg’s seat of Kooyong is now a Liberal v Greens seat, and at the 2019 federal election the Liberal Party spent like a drunken sailor to hold it. The growing pressure on the Treasurer is clearly starting to show …

“This term, despite Frydenberg’s frantic claims, the Greens are not proposing new taxes on superannuation, death duties or lifting income tax rates for everyday people. Instead, our costed policy platform is based on taking on those that Liberals such as the Treasurer really care about: the billionaires and big corporations. The Greens will push a new billionaires tax. That’s the only wealth tax we’ll be pushing. A big, new 6% tax on billionaires’ wealth.”

I have experienced Australia’s detention policy first-hand — it’s time to end itElahe Zivardar (The Guardian): “It is a crushing blow to one’s confidence when held in such a position by forces beyond their control. You find you begin to question yourself. Am I really good enough? Do I deserve to have anything good? Am I a human being like everyone else?

“Even for those of us who have been resettled in the US, due to the infamous ‘deal’ between the Australian government and then US president Barack Obama in 2016, the psychological effects of years of prolonged uncertainty has stayed with every one of us. Even so, I could not imagine what I would be going through right now if I was still on Nauru. Yet this is the reality for the more than 200 still trapped in Australia’s offshore detention regime, those still detained in Australia, and the thousands more who are living in limbo in the community on short-term visas.”

HOLD THE FRONT PAGE

The Latest Headlines

WHAT’S ON TODAY

Online

  • The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) weather and hydrology experts will give their annual BOM report webinar on climate conditions in Australia.

  • Economist Richard Denniss will launch his new book, Big: The Role of the State in the Modern Economy.

Yuggera Country (also known as Brisbane)

  • Authors Cass Moriarty and Katherine Collette will discuss the latter’s new novel The Competition. You can also catch this one online.

Muwinina Country (also known as Hobart)

  • Elder Abuse Action Australia are holding their national conference on elder abuse. You can also catch this one online.

Eora Nation Country (also known as Sydney)

  • NSW public hospital nurses will strike over understaffing, pay, and conditions. The Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney is considering a full-day strike, while nurses at Westmead and Cumberland hospitals will likely strike for 12 hours.

Read More

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