Friday, February 8, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

A frankingstein inquiry
The tainted hearings are designed to generate heat not light

It was near-death warmed up at this afternoon’s hearing of the Liberal-dominated Standing Committee on Economics, chaired by government backbencher Tim Wilson, which has turned into a circus. The upstairs auditorium of the Bondi Junction RSL was already hot – was the air conditioning actually on? – made worse by the 70-odd mainly self-funded retirees, hot under the collar about Labor’s policy to abolish cash-refundable franking credits. The day began with fresh revelations in the Nine newspapers that committee member Jason Falinski has been using the inquiry to raise funds for the Liberal Party. At this morning’s hearing in Chatswood, one man had to be ejected after repeatedly yelling “This process is a sham,” and “this process is a scam.” This afternoon’s hearing was less lively, but chaotic nonetheless, and clearly intended to generate more heat than light.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told RN Breakfast this morning that Wilson had complied with all the rules. But at a midday press conference, the deputy chair of the inquiry, Labor’s Matt Thistlethwaite, announced: “We definitely believe that he’s breached some of the standing orders in relation to disclosures. Tim Wilson never disclosed, before Wilson Asset Management appeared before our committee, that he was a shareholder in that particular company. Now we believe that that may be a breach of the parliamentary standing orders, and we now have evidence that Tim Wilson may have handed over people’s personal data to Wilson Asset Management, after they’d signed the website, in agreeing to provide a submission to the economics committee. That may be a breach of Australia’s electoral laws, and in that respect I’ve written to the AFP commissioner and asked him to investigate that.”

Opening the hearing this afternoon, Wilson tried to tackle the disclosure issue head-on, pointing out that his Wilson Asset Management holding was disclosed on the pecuniary interests register, and in any case he faced no conflict because he paid tax and therefore would not be impacted by Labor’s policy. “Go nuts,” he said.

There was only one formal witness listed – long-time finance professional Don Hamson, head of Plato Investment Management. Surprisingly, he started out saying, “Labor’s intention of limiting extreme franking credit refunds is admirable, but its execution is not.” Hamson argued that the least wealthy self-funded retirees would bear the most pain, while the wealthiest handful who got $2.5 million in cash refunds could afford the best advice, “and will likely find ways around the proposal”. Hamson told the hearing that industry super funds would benefit from the policy – because many SMSFs would shut down. At that point Falinski tried to turn the pressure back on Labor members of the committee, arguing that they should disclose they had received $60 million in donations from industry funds that stood to benefit from the abolition of franking credit cash refunds. Wilson responded that there had been a “sudden confection of a new standard that is being applied to me” and that he was “not going to hold other people to the same stupid standard”.

The rest of the witnesses were not listed, may or may not have made submissions, and gave rapid-fire statements that barely allowed time for questioning by the members of the inquiry. The effect was unsettling. Was this serious?

Most witnesses complained about the abolition of franking credits, but not all the evidence went the Liberals’ way. One younger witness argued that the revenue was needed to relieve inequality, with some elderly Australians, including her mother, still working because they could not afford to retire. Half of the benefit of cash-refundable franking credits went to SMSFs with balances over $2 million, she said: “$2 million! You could live on that for 60 years and still have more income than my mum. If the extra money raised by this policy can be used to fund schools and hospitals, and better care for pensioners, I’m all for it”. She was applauded.

The crowd groaned when Labor-linked economist Stephen Koukoulas criticised retirees’ buying up shares that generate high dividends – and therefore more franking credits – as “uneducated, lazy investing”. Wilson intervened, calling for Koukoulas to be heard in silence, and pointing out that he was “very hard-line on free speech”. Another elderly man took a crack at the committee: “I thought I might be attending a bipartisan hearing, but I think I’m getting a bit of subliminal political advice … I’ve nearly always voted Liberal, but not this time. Making a political football out of a black-and-white reform that currently benefits some self-funded retirees is not my cup of tea … I reckon I’ve heard a bit of fake news today and some facts that are just plain wrong.”

We are none the wiser.


“Inequality is at a 70-plus year high. The wealthiest 1 per cent of Australians owns more wealth than the bottom 70 per cent of all other Australians combined. But just like they do with climate change, the Morrison government rejects these truths … and just like climate change, there is a point where people’s own experience speaks far louder than any economic jargon, selective statistic or confected argument.” sally mcmanus

ACTU secretary Sally McManus, speaking about the government’s ability to deny many truths, including that climate change is a human-made catastrophe, at the Melbourne Press Club today.


“I am confident the Coalition will win the next election.”JULIE bishop

Former foreign minister Julie Bishop on Twitter, denying a claim that she said the opposite at a private dinner in New Zealand, and after confirming she will run again in Curtin.

The Number

The number of Liberal Party branch officeholders in Warringah covertly working against the re-election of Tony Abbott, according to an anonymous diner who overheard the former PM talking to The Australian’s Simon Benson, and who then passed the information on to the AFR’s Rear Window. READ on [$]

The Policy

“In short, an open cut coal mine in this part of the Gloucester valley would be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Wrong place because an open cut coal mine in this scenic and cultural landscape, proximate to many people’s homes and farms, will cause significant planning, amenity, visual and social impacts. Wrong time because the GHG emissions of the coal mine and its coal product will increase global total concentrations of GHGs at a time when what is now urgently needed, in order to meet generally agreed climate targets, is a rapid and deep decrease in GHG emissions. These dire consequences should be avoided. The Project should be refused.” NSW LAND AND ENVIRONMENT COURT

The list

“Lebanese director Nadine Labaki’s third feature, Capharnaüm, [is] a neorealist morality play in which the lost generation roaming Beirut’s slums literally puts the grown-up world on trial. ‘I thought, if this boy could talk, what would he say? What would he tell the world?’” the monthly


“We’re deep in the forest, which forms part of the proposed Great Forest National Park in Victoria, a park Lindenmayer has been working to establish. The proposed park stretches from Kinglake through to the Baw Baws and north-east to Eildon. Lindenmayer pauses to let a tiny tiger snake slither through the leaves ahead of us.” The saturday paper


“Watching women in daggy footy shorts run around during the inaugural season of the AFL women’s league required very little getting used to. In just a few months it’s become so normal that I’m embarrassed to explain to my daughters, aged 8 and 11, why the league hasn’t been around since, like, forever. But, because I am such an amazingly progressive, switched-on, feminist dad, I asked them what we should fix next.” the monthly


The Monthly invites readers to enter the draw for a chance to win one of 25 double passes to At Eternity’s Gate, starring Academy Award–nominated Willem Dafoe as Vincent van Gogh, and in cinemas February 14.

Tickets can be used at cinemas nationally, subject to Transmission Films’ terms and conditions.

Entries will close at 11.59pm AEDT on Saturday, February 9, and winners will be notified by Tuesday, February 12.


Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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“Death spiral”

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