Accountability to be focus of response to ‘appalling’ behaviour in Afghanistan war crimes report, Defence Minister says


The Government has declared it will pursue those responsible for the “appalling” behaviour of Australian special forces soldiers in Afghanistan that included the murder of civilians.

Defence Minster Linda Reynolds said “accountability will be the cornerstone of Defence’s response” to the report which found evidence of 39 civilians being murdered and recommended 19 soldiers be investigated by police.

“This is crucial to maintaining the highest standards Australians expect of our military, reassuring confidence and trust, and learning from grave failings,” she said in a statement.

The Government announced last week it had established an Office of the Special Investigator which will prosecute allegations of Australian war crimes.

The conduct investigated by the inquiry spanned both Labor and Liberal governments.

Labor’s defence spokesperson Richard Marles and shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said today they supported the creation of the office.

“Findings in the report that credible information exists in relation to some members of Australia’s special forces having engaged in unlawful killings and cruel treatment while deployed in Afghanistan are appalling,” their statement said.

“It is now appropriate that [the Office of the Special Investigator] is allowed to do its work free of any prejudice or political interference.”

Richard Marles wants investigators to be allowed to work free of political interference.(ABC News: Matt Roberts)

Defence response in focus

Last week the Government also established the Afghanistan Inquiry Implementation Oversight Panel to report to Senator Reynolds about how Defence is handling the response.

ADF Chief Angus Campbell said all options were on the table in response to the report, including disbanding special forces units.

“Individuals alleged of unlawful criminal conduct will be referred to the Office of the Special Investigator,” he said.

“Individuals alleged to be negligent in the performance of their duty, will be managed through administrative and disciplinary processes.”

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Lawyer for inquiry witnesses say leadership must be held to account

Glenn Kolomeitz, a lawyer for multiple witnesses from the special forces to the inquiry, said some of his clients welcomed the prospect of police prosecution, but some were “quite disturbed by it” given the proud record and reputation of these units.

“My concern is, how far up the chain of command do these adverse cultural findings go,” he said.

The oversight panel is led by the former inspector general of the Intelligence and Security, Dr Vivienne Thom, and Senator Reynolds said it “will provide further assurance to the Government and the Australian people of Defence accountability”.

The Government is also encouraging current and former Defence Force members and their familiar to seek help if they need it.

“I am profoundly conscious this process continues to be extremely challenging and distressing for many individuals and families impacted by the inquiry,” Senator Reynolds said.

The Government has created a website that promises to connect people with medical and mental health services, “and in some cases, legal support”.



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Survey finds voters want transparency and accountability over allowances after SA scandal


A significant majority of South Australians want public disclosure of each state MP’s salary and benefits, and penalties for those who overclaim, according to polling conducted by progressive think tank the Australia Institute.

The survey found 72 per cent of respondents supported having the full salary and benefits paid to each State MP listed publicly, while 88 per cent supported tougher penalties for MPs who were found to have incorrectly claimed benefits and received public money that they were not entitled to.

The margin of error for the weighted online poll of 510 South Australians was 4.3 per cent.

It was conducted by Dynata between July 23 and 27, in the immediate aftermath of the resignations of a series of government officeholders, including three ministers, amid a deepening perks scandal.

Two of those former ministers and a third Liberal MP have agreed to repay more than $70,000 in Country Members Accommodation Allowance after an ABC investigation prompted the public release of a decade’s worth of claims.

All have denied intentional wrongdoing.

The Independent Commissioner Against Corruption, Bruce Lander, is now reviewing all claims made by MPs for the Country Members Accommodation Allowance since 2010.

Tim Whetstone, Stephan Knoll and David Ridgway all handed in their resignations last month.(ABC News/Facebook: @DavidridgwayMLC)

Low trust in politicians

The Australia Institute’s survey found just 31 per cent of respondents trusted their MPs to act honestly and transparently when claiming their salary and benefits.

But the level of trust was much higher among conservative voters, with almost half (47 per cent) per cent who indicated a preference for the Liberal or National parties saying they trusted politicians, compared to 31 per cent of Labor voters and 11 per cent of Greens voters.

A black and white photo of a man
The Australia Institute’s South Australian director, Noah Schultz-Byard.(Supplied)

“The research suggests that there is a significant trust deficit amongst South Australian voters when it comes to the actions of their MPs,” the Australia’s institute’s state director, Noah Schultz-Byard, said.

“The research shows that there is a desire for the penalties that are put upon MPs who are found to have done the wrong thing in certain circumstances to be increased.

Transparency needed, institute says

In the wake of the expenses scandal, Premier Steven Marshall said his Government had committed to publishing monthly the previously secret claims for Country Members Accommodation Allowance.

But Mr Schulz-Byard said voters should have access to a centralised database to see all payments made to MPs.

“It’s a complex and confusing area to find out the specifics of how one person is accessing their benefits or their level of pay,” he said.

“There are a range of different benefits and entitlements available to politicians depending on which houses of parliament they’re in, which part of the state they live in and also their responsibilities — whether that’s in the Cabinet or a member of a committee.”

Sunrise at low tide at Encounter Bay at Victor Harbor, 2013.
MPs who live in Victor Harbor can claim the Country Members Accommodation Allowance.(Supplied: Chris Kirby)

Mr Schulz-Byard insisted the Australia Institute was not making a case against the provision of allowances to MPs.

“We have to be clear here that it’s not a case of every politician being in it for themselves or all of them are dodgy — we’re not suggesting that,” he said.

“Being an MP can be a very hard and demanding job and its only right that they’re adequately compensated.

“The good thing about a transparent and effective system of accountability is that it would help to protect the vast majority of MPs who behave responsibly and do the right thing.”



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Economic cracks widen, accountability vanishes – Alice Springs News


Just half a year into the Gunner Government’s four-year term, in May 2017, former Labor MLA and university law lecturer Ken Parish wrote: “The Gunner Government’s end of semester report card gives it a fairly miserable failing D grade in the subject accountability and transparency.” The government had significantly watered down very good recommendations by the Select Committee for Opening Parliament to the People. The most serious decision was to halve the available time for parliamentary scrutiny of the government’s Budget by the Estimates Committee from 60 hours to just 30. This is Part Three of an analysis by DON FULLER.

 

PICTURED is Treasurer Nicole Manison delivering the 2018 Budget: Cracks had begun to widen.

 

The two CLP MLAs, Lia Finocchiaro and Gary Higgins, were deemed to be the official “Opposition” and given the resources that accompany Opposition status, but the government reduced parliamentary oversight and scrutiny by allocating insufficient resources to other MLAs.

 

It rejected a key recommendation by the “opening Parliament” committee  that it give the Auditor-General the power to conduct performance audits on departments and agencies. This is a responsibility given to every other Auditor-General in Australia, except the NT. Territorians have no proper system at all for gauging departments’ efficiency or effectiveness in spending taxpayers’ money.

 

As departments and agencies are not legally required in the NT to report on their efficiency and effectiveness, most do not bother to do so.

 

In 2019-20 Commonwealth funding to the NT is estimated at $4,389 million. This is around 66% of the government sector revenue.

 

It is therefore surprising, as Mr Parish notes, that the Commonwealth has not required the Northern Territory to establish the appropriate standards of fiscal accountability that occur elsewhere in Australia.

 

Donghai Airlines promotion: Note the caption “Opening up Australia’s primitive secret exploration tour”.

 

In June 2018 it was reported that Donghai Airlines had begun operating flights between Darwin and Shenzhen.

 

The government claimed it was unaware that the owner had been named in court hearings over the alleged bribing of an official in Hong Kong.

 

The government was accused of failing to disclose the cost of the partnership to Territory taxpayers and for how long the agreement would run even though previous subsidy agreements between the NT government and private airlines involved “millions”.

 

This included the CLP Government giving Air North $700, 000 for the Darwin to Alice Springs link in 2015 and the previous Henderson Labor Government giving Jetstar $3m to establish an international hub in Darwin.

 

A further $2m was given to the airline in 2009 for marketing purposes. Jetstar cancelled the routes in 2013.

 

Mr Parish said he did not buy the Government’s line that the cost of the partnership is commercial in confidence information. These can be redacted: “We are entitled to information about how much of our money the NT Government is giving to it as an inducement to fly here.”

 

Further evidence of problems with accountability and transparency emerged in September 2018 when it was disclosed that a report by the Auditor-General found that the government had handed out billions of dollars in grants without proper record keeping and without a government-wide oversight procedure in place.

 

The audit found that while the government knew the oversight of the grant system was flawed, by 2018 an improved monitoring system had still not been implemented. It was still not clear what amounts were being paid and for what reason.

 

The Auditor-General stated that while she was unable to determine the total amount of money paid out since 2014 because of improper record keeping, it was expected to be in the billions of dollars!

 

The audit was conducted around the time that the Gunner Government was calling on the Commonwealth Government to provide more funding from GST revenue. At the same time, NT debt levels began to escalate to record levels.

 

The Auditor-General, Julie Crisp, reported: “Existing processes are prone to human error due to a lack of programmed [information technology] checks and oversight.

 

“Agencies experience difficulty reconciling grant activity with expenditure and there is an inability to generate meaningful reports on grants issued across the NT Government.”

 

Ms Crisp found the Department of Chief Minister — which administers a large portion of grant funding annually — did not have modern systems in place to monitor the grants.

 

This is a startling statement given the importance of government accountability and transparency involving taxpayer funding.

 

The then Deputy leader of the Opposition, Mrs Finocchiaro (pictured), called the audit “deeply concerning … particularly given the perilous state of the Territory’s budget and burgeoning debt levels.

 

“Territorians would expect that awarded public monies would be appropriately acquitted, and that grants and subsequent spending is monitored and reviewed.

 

“This report poses a series of further questions in relation to the Gunner Labor Government’s so-called open and transparent rhetoric, particularly in relation to spending by the Department of Chief Minister,” Mrs Finocchiaro said.

 

Amid increasing concerns about Government accountability and transparency the Northern Territory Office of the Independent Commissioner against Corruption (ICAC) was established on November 30, 2018.

 

Within a relatively short time, this office itself was involved in accusations of bias and incorrect process.

 

The Commissioner Ken Fleming QC stepped down from his role overseeing the investigation into the police shooting death of Indigenous teenager Kumanjayi Walker.

 

 

Mr Fleming had faced criticism that he could not approach the investigation impartially after saying at a protest rally in Alice Springs: “One of the most important messages today is Black Lives Matter. Anybody who says contrary to that is guilty of corrupt behaviour.”

 

Many were left wondering why Mr Fleming had been allowed by the Chief Minister to accompany him to Alice Springs in response to the incident, and were left asking whether the Chief Minister had a sufficient understanding of the role required by an independent head of the NT ICAC.

 

In a relatively short time after this event ICAC reported that whistleblowers faced reprisals in NT Government workplaces.

 

As a result the Commissioner flagged new guidelines for NT Government agencies. There was also a call for government managers to be at the forefront of substantial change needed to improve accountability and transparency responsibilities.

 

This suggests little had been achieved by the Gunner government in building an ethical, professional, responsible culture within the departments and agencies they were responsible for.

 

Where there has been an apparent disdain and dislike of such responsibilities at the highest level of Government leadership it is not likely that more junior members of staff will take these matters seriously.

 

Many are worried that this has been, and continues to remain, a major problem for government in the Territory.

 

It has also been reported in this context that serious allegations of “real corruption” within the NT Public Service have been reported to ICAC.

 

Speaking to ABC Darwin the NT’s first ICAC Commissioner said he hoped to launch broad investigations into some of the “really concerning” allegations, made through the ICAC website, as early as possible.

 

Mr Fleming believed it would quickly become clear that his office was under-resourced.

 

However, Northern Territory Treasurer Nicole Manison would not commit to providing more resources for the new anti-corruption body.

 

[ED – Just this week a painstaking investigation by the ICAC, setting a high bar for conduct of politicians, led to the resignation of the Speaker.]

 

Meanwhile major problems of budget management inexorably progressed towards the current record deficit.

 

By end of November 2018 commentators were pointing to a “grim outlook” with the annual deficit expected to surpass $1.5 billion. It is now said to be $7 billion.

 

In delivering the Mid-Year Financial Report to Parliament the Treasurer pointed to large cost blow-outs of more than $350 million in un-budgeted spending and operational expenses.

 

Nicole Manison justified this by claiming it was necessary to keep people employed in the construction industry.

 

However, the Treasurer seemed unaware of the impact such a Budget was likely to have on wider business confidence and private investment in particular, already in steep decline.

 

While this was due to the completion of the Inpex project, it was also noteworthy that private investment was down a further 15% from earlier projections.

 

Rather than considering the need to reduce very high levels of expenditure, particularly in un-budgeted, unplanned areas, Ms Manison attempted to deflect the blame on to the Commonwealth: “No Government has ever experienced the unprecedented reductions in GST that we have seen in the last two years,” she said.

 

“You can see the changes we’ve had with the GST … is having a big impact.”

 

Something had to happen: Enter in November 2018 the Fiscal Strategy Panel, chaired by John Langoulant (pictured, Linkedin), whose string of top position in the world of economy includes being WA State Advisory Council president and director at the Committee for Economic Development of Australia.

 

The Gunner Ministry appeared to have a limited set of ideas on what should be done.

 

The panel’s interim report released on December 14, 2018, confirmed that the Territory faced serious financial challenges and was in the unsustainable position of borrowing to fund recurrent activities and interest costs.

 

While the report acknowledged a reduction in the Territory’s GST revenue was an important reason for the financial position, importantly the report also criticised the Gunner Government for maintaining a culture of persistently exceeding approved budget targets due to un-budgeted and unplanned expenditure.

 

 

 

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Accountability is missing from the Australian Government


Members of the LNP have been getting away with a series of scandals and illegal activities with the aid of the mainstream media, writes Grant Turner.

THE PALADIN CONTRACT, au pairs, Ruby Princess, his family’s childcare centres receiving government funds and the deaths of many asylum seekers under his watch are just a few reasons that Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton should be sacked.

Eighty million dollars of taxpayers money for non-existent water that went to a Cayman Island company he once directed, 40 hectares of land illegally cleared by a company he part-owns and forged documents to disparage Sydney’s lord mayor as his wife runs for that position are just a few of reasons that Energy Minister Angus Taylor should be sacked.  

Of course, we could mention Environment Minister Sussan Ley and her Gold Coast penthouse. We also have NDIS Minister Stuart Robert with his Rolex, internet bill, Robodebt and flat-out lies about Centrelink being hacked. Michaelia Cash and her lying to a senate committee five times about the AWU raids along with the properties she forgot she owned are reasons these politicians should be sacked.

Barnaby Joyce with his moral preaching about family values during the same-sex plebiscite all while he was securing lucrative jobs for his staffer while he was having an affair and a baby with her. Then there’s his oversized Gina Rinehart cheque — his list of rorts goes on and are just some of the reasons he should have been sacked.  

Going on a Hawaiian holiday while the country is on fire, people still living in tents after those fires, lies about Brian Houston and the White House invitation, Michael Towke’s assassination via mates at News Corp to get into parliament, the Ruby Princess debacle, lies told to parliament, having a declared mentor named by a royal commission as a paedophile protector and many other matters are reasons Prime Minister Scott Morrison should be sacked.

What is gobsmacking is that not one of the events mentioned has resulted in any repercussions of substance for any of the people involved.

My question is how did we get from a place in Australian politics where ministers once resigned over undeclared Paddington Bears or for declaring a colour TV as a black and white?

Instead, we’ve had journalists camped outside Sam Dastyari’s home over a $1,600 bill paid by a donor. We’ve had a royal commission called into a 26-year-old renovation of Julia Gillard’s kitchen and who could forget the AFP raiding Bill Shorten’s old AWU office in an effort to find a ten-year-old paperwork mistake with the media in tow?

It is hard to reconcile the vast differences in the media treatment and level of accountability applied to the ALP as opposed to the LNP.

This is the same media that on behalf of the LNP, crucified a sitting PM in Julia Gillard for a concocted lie regarding the carbon tax. Tony Abbott’s chief advisor Peta Credlin later admitted this was a lie by saying, “It wasn’t a carbon tax… we made it a carbon tax”. Our compliant and at times complicit media ran with it relentlessly, yet the myriad of rorts and lies currently being performed by our government go unchallenged.

It has become so ridiculous that the biggest budget blunder in Australia’s history is being shaped by our media as a great thing for Australia. No questions posed about the million-plus casual workers who had not worked a full year with a single employer that have all missed out on JobKeeper. This was not at all dissimilar to those in the arts field whose work goes from gig to gig or show to show, or those temporary visa holders brought over to fill the skills shortage that the LNP has created through their years of decimation of the TAFE system.

Then there are those who work in universities, the very people that play a big role in research and finding answers to things like the pandemic that we are now all enduring. All these people are just left to fend for themselves while the media parrots the extremely disingenuous “we’re all in this together” government line.

You only have to look at the illegal and cruel Robodebt scheme, which targeted some of the most vulnerable people in our society, to see how this government’s actions are allowed to pass with nothing more than token mentions by some in our media. The reality is, it should be front-page news daily — many that received these debt notices suffered untold pressure and anxiety and there are many examples of people being pushed so hard that ending their lives was a better option than dealing with this hideous government.

The media now are parroting the line that the ALP started the Robodebt system because they used ATO data matching to find discrepancies. But, of course, they fail to mention that they also used human oversight and lack of common sense. Yet again, the media step in and apply the overused “equivalency” argument.

Remember, the LNP called a royal commission into the sad deaths of four people from installing pink batts. The true number of deaths that are related to Robodebt will come out in years to come and I suspect it may shock many.

The reality is that we live in a country where most media consumed is dealt out by agendaed oligarchs. Australians are kept so busy keeping their families together and paying their bills that they have no time to seek out or keep an eye on our government that is using COVID-19 to remove our liberties. Same with our ability to speak out against actions taken by our government or indeed the inactions not taken on important issues.

I wrote this tweet recently:

I sadly believe this to be true, although reading responses to the tweet, I see many saying we are ahead of the U.S. these days as we don’t have Trump as our leader. I see “Scotty from Marketing” doing a very good job of supporting and indeed replicating his “just lie and blame everyone else” mantra as a means to not be held accountable for his and his government’s actions.

Accountability is the single biggest block that democracy is built on. Sadly, it is being stolen from us right before our eyes.

It’s time to wake up and stand up against the theft of our democracy.

In no way do I advocate violence, but I do advocate informing friends and acquaintances about the tainted, agendaed MSM and suggest the many independent news sites that are out there, like the one you’re reading right now.

Grant Turner has a strong interest in politics and fairness in society and believes in honest independent media. You can follow him on Twitter @gruntat.

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