New Caledonia: Beautifully expensive

pi-nou-anse-vata-beach-mustcaption-rf-noexp-allsites-940x300At the beginning of January, my fiancé and I travelled down to beautiful New Caledonia—a French haven in the Pacific Ocean. While there are similarities with Australia and it reminds me of Queensland in some ways, I observed that New Caledonia’s standards of living are similar to, but markedly lower than our own. Once I arrived back home, I started looking into why and the reason became clear: exorbitant tariffs that raise the price of foreign goods, as well as a government monopoly on telecommunications.

Prices for basic consumer goods, groceries and other essentials, as well as café food, are all about 50% more expensive, if not twice as expensive as our own depending on the good or service in question. This is no coincidence: New Caledonia imposes a range of tariffs on imported food and goods. There is a minimum 5% tariff on the value of all goods, a further “general tariff” on other goods which is usually about 21%, a port and airfreight tax of 1-3%, customs duties of 0% to 20% and a further “locally manufactured products tax” (TCPPL) designed to make imported pasta, yoghurts, chocolate and ice cream unaffordable. There are also consumption taxes levied on imported products and agricultural tax. It is not hard to see how taxes could raise the price of overseas goods by a third or more once compliance costs are added on top. Indeed, the Australian government openly points out that New Caledonia’s “high cost of living [is] partly owing to heavy market protection.”

Luckily, Australia’s tariffs are low compared to the rest of the world and our living standards are correspondingly high. Yet unions, the Greens and to a lesser extent both the ALP and the Liberals have refused to embrace free trade. We saw this for example with the CMFEU’s media campaign against freer trade with China.

New Caledonia’s monopolised telecommunications industry is a sterling example of poor government service provision. Equipping ourselves with a SIM card complete with mobile phone and data usage would have made getting around, contacting relatives overseas and seeing the sights a lot easier. But the island’s Post Office has a legal monopoly over the provision of internet, mobile phone and telecom services and its offices were literally the only places on the island where SIM cards were available. Its opening hours were restricted to office hours, it closed entirely for an hour’s lunch, and closed for the day at 4pm. Moreover, prepaid SIM cards in New Caledonia were remarkably expensive at $81 per card (6195 XPF), which is more than ten times the price of a prepaid SIM card in Australia. International calling cards, which would have reduced charges further, were entirely unavailable in Noumea thanks to the monopoly. The Office seems more interested in ensuring that its employees receive extraordinary benefits than in delivering services to New Caledonians, let alone tourists.

In Australia, by contrast, any tourist can arrive at the airport and buy a basic prepaid SIM card for $20 to $30 with a range of carriers, many of them with airport shops catering to new arrivals. They are sold in a range of shops, milk bars and other stores, meaning that it is possible to buy one and call a relative or friend 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The contrast with New Caledonia’s monopoly provider could not be greater.

In these circumstances it is a wonder that in Australia the ALP and the Liberals have looked at New Caledonia as a something of a model to espouse. Back in 2007, Kevin Rudd established a monopoly on fibre cable internet in this country via the NBN, which has proven a waste of time and money. While the Liberals initially campaigned against the introduction of the NBN, they refused to privatise it while in office, promising instead to deliver fewer services at a lower cost. Promises aside, under both parties the NBN rollout has been accompanied by years of ongoing delays, price controls that ban the NBN from raising prices to meet demand, and bans on competition from private sector high speed fibre cable providers. And as is typical of government projects, the NBN is likely to blow its original whopping $41 billion taxpayer-paid budget under both parties. It is projected to cost $73bn under Labor and between $46bn to $56bn under the Liberals. It is strange that the Australian government is is so committed to preventing Australian from accessing affordable, privately provided high-speed cable internet simply because it cannot abide the very thought that their pet project may suffer for it. At least the NBN’s monopoly is limited to high speed cable internet and did not extend to other telecom providers. Otherwise we would be left as badly off as the New Caledonians.

As for the holiday itself, it was quite enjoyable. My fiancé and I relaxed on the beach for a week, reading literature and generally lazing about like satisfied cats. It was a wonderful experience, but we may go somewhere a little less expensive and a little less quiet in future.

Vladimir Vinokurov is a solicitor and a deputy Victorian State director of the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance. The views expressed here are his own.

Vladimir “Zeev” Vinokurov is a solicitor and a deputy Victorian State director of the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance. The views expressed here are his own.

Has Victorian law just criminalised a google search?

The Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Amendment Bill 2015 (Vic) passed its second reading in Parliament recently and is set to become Victorian law soon. The Bill is an extraordinary attack on freedom of expression.

Sections 71E-F of the Act will, after the amendment prohibit Victorians from possessing or publishing “documents” that contain “instructions for the trafficking or cultivation of a drug of dependence.” Exceptions exist for persons legally authorised to sell (some) drugs, such as medical practitioners. The punishment is a fine or imprisonment for a period of up to 5 years for possession and 10 years for publication.

This may seem like small fry in the free speech debate for non drug-users like myself and most Australians, but the issue matters because it symbolises just how easily we are willing to censor in an attempt to get our way in this country. Abortion clinics have banned anti-abortion protesters within 150 metres of their premises; anti-gay marriage Catholics are being censored; drug users; Andrew Bolt; everyone and anyone is being censored these days. Censorship is not an outrage here: it’s commonplace and becoming more common.

It is both fascinating and repugnant that this Bill criminalises possession of a “document.” That word is defined very broadly. It includes text or symbols that appear anywhere, whether in print or not. Possession of a document undoubtedly extends to viewing material on a website. This means that any attempt to google the words “how to make a drug of dependence (substitute with an illicit drug here)” may now be, prima facie, criminal activity punishable by imprisonment. Any such search may reveal “instructions” to create a drug. The Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill notes that even partial, incomplete or inaccurate instructions could be enough to constitute “instructions.” Even an incomplete entry on a search website could suffice.

Persons with a “reasonable excuse” may view materials such as these but that term is not defined in the Act. It is worth asking whether this extends to–

  1. Discussions regarding the legalisation of drugs and drug policies. This is arguably covered, particularly owing to the implied right of political communication.
  2. Idle curiousity;
  3. Something else.

More fundamentally, there are issues about whether this Bill achieves its objectives. Why is the communication of information about drug-making itself now a crime, even if no illicit drugs are made as a result? Will banning such communication make illicit drugs more dangerous for users deprived of information about the safe use of drugs and if so, why is this policy being pursued?

Indeed, is there any evidence that this policy will reduce drug use? This seems to be just another thought bubble dreamed up by the Victorian government in the name of the war on drugs.

Vladimir Vinokurov is a solicitor and a deputy Victorian State director of the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance. The views expressed here are his own.

Vladimir Vinokurov is a solicitor and a deputy Victorian State director of the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance. The views expressed here are his own.


In Australia, the Debtor’s Prison Lives On

Miss Julieka Dhu died in custody after being arrested for unpaid traffic fines

You may not be aware of this, but Australian law allows police to imprison you for failing to pay a fine. That’s what happened to 22-year old Julieka Dhu, who died in custody of septicaemia and pneumonia after being arrested failing to pay a traffic fine. In other words, these laws expose ordinary people to an unwieldy law enforcement system designed to deal with serious criminals. It’s no wonder they get hurt along the way. And it’s no wonder they fail to pay: the fines can sometimes be extraordinarily high, and public officials have previously admitted that they are used as a means of raising revenue for the government. So it is not surprising that some Australians fail to pay them in time or at all and enter into a spiral of debt. Poorer Australians, and especially indigenous Australians, are susceptible to repeated arrests for failure to pay these fines and risk mistreatment or abuse in jail as a result.

Miss Dhu’s case was particularly egregious. She suffered from septicaemia and pneumonia and was delivered to hospital in the back of a police car without a stretcher. That day while in prison Mss Dhu had complained of pain and numbness in her legs and vomited. She had also fallen and hit her head on concrete flooring three times. There can be little doubt that a person in that position would seek immediate medical help on their own if they were at liberty. Being in custody impeded her ability to seek medical help.

Complaints of police brutality or negligence in this case may or may be justified, but they miss this simple point: Ms Dhu would not be in custody if police could not arrest her in the first place. Only the government can imprison you for failing to pay a fine. Private creditors can’t do that if you fail to pay your debts. Their only option is to bankrupt you and divide up your assets between themselves. This is a humane, cost-effective way of dealing with debtors. Arresting a person for failing to pay their debts is costly because it means we need to pay for their imprisonment. It also exposes them to harm, particularly to vulnerable members of our society. It exposes them to dangerous criminals in prison who could harm them or pose a negative influence that leads to them a life of crime. It also renders them unable to work during their imprisonment, disrupts their employment and makes them less likely to be able to pay off their debts. It creates situations in which innocent people suffer. Our toleration of debtor’s prisons for unpaid fines must come to an end.

Vladimir Vinokurov is a solicitor and a deputy Victorian State director of the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance. The views expressed here are his own.

Vladimir Vinokurov is a solicitor and a deputy Victorian State director of the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance. The views expressed here are his own.

Why are lawyers so expensive?

Vladimir Vinokurov is a solicitor and a deputy Victorian State director of the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance. The views expressed here are his own.

Vladimir Vinokurov is a solicitor and a deputy Victorian State director of the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance. The views expressed here are his own.

Everyone complains about the cost of lawyers, but few look at the cause: occupational licensing laws. Occupational licensing requires anyone who intends to become lawyer to comply with a range of requirements to practice law. These including studying a law degree that is too long, formally applying for “admission” into the profession in an unnecessary ceremony, as well as meeting cumbersome training and supervision requirements that are sometimes unnecessary. These requirements cost law students years of time and tens of thousands of dollars to comply with. The more expensive it is to become a lawyer, the fewer lawyers there will be and the more they can charge. There can be no doubt that this partly explains why lawyers are expensive.

The sheer expense of hiring a lawyer undermines the individual right to obtain legal representation. It means that hiring a competent, effective lawyer can be unaffordable for poorer members of the public. Even wealthier people may find their resources drained by legal fees. The expense of becoming a lawyer also undermines the right to pursue a career of one’s choice, especially poorer students who lack the financial support to study full-time for years and comply with red tape. Lastly, these laws reduce the quality of legal services. The fact that competent would-be lawyers are being excluded from the profession means that existing lawyers have less incentive to operate competently because they have less competition.

The problem starts with the law degree, which must include 11 “core compulsory subjects” but takes three years of full-time study to complete as a result. The degree costs about $10,000 per annum with government subsidies and more without them. Many solicitors may never encounter some of those subjects in practice. Few lawyers practice in constitutional or administrative law. Some solicitors exclusively practice in criminal law or commercial law. Only some do both. It is simply not necessary to study them all in order to practice law. Students should have the choice of studying criminal law and procedure, commercial law subjects or both. Splitting up the degree will reduce costs and create new pathways to legal practice.

But the red tape doesn’t stop there. Graduates must undertake “practical legal training” before they can practice law. They must pay several thousands of dollars to learn what they otherwise should be learning as junior lawyers. If they are not, they can take the course. The problem is that everyone is forced to take it whether or not they have learnt the basics of legal practice. Even experienced overseas barristers have been forced to undertake this training. Forcing this requirement on everyone is unnecessary and wasteful.

Formal admission ceremonies further increase costs. As of 2015, Victorian admission ceremonies alone cost $926. This is a substantial hit to the savings of many graduates. The ceremonies take place monthly, but applicants must apply months in advance to become admitted—further delaying their careers. In the meantime they are simply expected to make ends in meet.

The restrictions pile on after admission. As of 2011, would-be barristers must pass a bar exam and undertake a 2 month readers course, costing thousands of dollars in total, to practice. The exam is unnecessary: barristers typically spend hours to prepare for specific cases, and thinking up answers on the spot will not get you far in the courtroom. Moreover, the exam covers material that graduates may have just covered at university. It’s no wonder practising barristers, even junior barristers, weren’t required to sit the exam: it has nothing to do with upholding standards.

Similarly, solicitors are required to practice for two years under the supervision of another lawyer before they can do so independently—unless they are overseas, or happened to open a practice before that rule was imposed. The inconsistencies in these requirements expose both their arbitrariness and their actual purpose: keeping people out of the profession.

Running a law firm is also unnecessarily cumbersome. By law, all practitioners must obtain “practising certificates” and insurance coverage from a single government-appointed insurer. A competitive insurance field would reduce costs. On top of that, barristers must buy robes and wigs. Costumes can cost thousands. Renting chambers (if practitioners choose to do so) and paying for practising certificates and insurance every year, taken together, costs thousands more.

While there is a great deal of concern about the supposed oversupply of law graduates, the simple fact of the matter is that they are legally forbidden from working without complying with these requirements. The expense of doing so means they cannot compete with established practitioners, which brings prices up.

It is also hard to argue that these regulations protect the public, given that so many current practitioners were exempt from them when they entered into the profession.

By contrast, deregulation will help society at large—especially the poor. Legal fees are just one factor at the margin that can lead to financial insecurity. Reducing costs will help those who are financially at risk.

Nor are regulations the only way to protect the public. Lawyers’ societies could still accept, reject or expel members on the basis of reputation, skill, honesty or competence just as the regulators do now. Ratings systems and online review websites  can also serve an important role in keeping the profession honest. These measures are informative and cost effective. Lastly, in serious cases incompetent lawyers can still be sued by clients for breach of contract, just as they are today.

Those concerned about upholding the standards of the profession forget that some legal work is already competently performed by non-lawyers with knowledge of the law. Tax agents and accountants, police prosecutors, patent attorneys, and industrial advocates all provide legal representation in their chosen fields right now. Indeed there are prosperous, stable nations with reliable justice systems like Sweden and Finland in which anyone can practise law without a licence. There is no reason why Australia cannot adopt a similar system for lawyers or other trades and professions, for that matter.

The case for deregulation is clear: it empowers the poor, the public as a whole and law students. Occupational licensing laws must be repealed. The law must recognise that for many lawyers, the years of study and tens of thousands of dollars spent obtaining a licence to practice is unnecessary.

Geert Wilders and the ALA do not stand for liberty–they undermine it

Geert Wilders

Geert Wilders, Dutch politician. Photo c/- wikimedia

Geert Wilders, a Dutch politician famed for his anti-immigration views, recently launched the Australian Liberty Alliance, a political party whose platform calls for banning Muslim migration to Australia. While there is no denying that radical Muslims exist in our community and overseas, Wilders and the ALA’s call to ban Muslim immigration amount to a call for tyranny of a different kind: a tyranny that denies individuals the right to live and migrate here merely because of their religious background. I do not dispute their right to express their views, but they are profoundly mistaken.

Those who argue that our laws should ban Muslim immigration overlook the profound impact on civil liberties these laws will have. Collective punishment undermines the presumption of innocence. Migration bans presume that all foreign Muslims are completely incapable of respecting our freedoms. They are found guilty of that charge without a trial. Abandoning the right to a fair trial and imposing an ideological test for migration is the antithesis of liberty.

The ALA and Wilders no doubt wish to trade liberty for security. But where does that stop? Should we lock up all of the Muslims here from fear that some of them might be extremists, as Roosevelt did to Japanese-American citizens? Deport them? What will come next? If we concede that individuals do not have the right to a fair trial merely because of their religion, anything seems possible. Those who think they can build and control anti-Muslim sentiment and abolish the right to a fair trial without any repercussions forget the lessons of the French and Russian revolutions, which led to waves of collective punishments for imagined crimes.  They may find themselves next in the firing line.

There are many secular and moderate religious Muslims in our community. They speak their minds openly and without fear of retribution. Nothing would do more to breed distrust, division and suspicion of Australia among them than establishing a religious test for immigration. Nothing would do more to breed extremism amongst Muslims than laws that ban perfectly innocent, law-abiding people from migrating here on account of their religion.

Contrary to Mr Wilders’ claims, Islam is not a fundamentally extremist creed. Islam is simply a set of religious texts. It is not fundamentally anything. All religious texts contain passages that condone religious war of some kind or another. Centuries ago, Muslim lands were ruled in a manner that was far more tolerant and accepting than their Christian European counterparts, which quashed all dissent. To claim that Islam is a fundamentally extremist creed is an obvious instance of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy.

While Muslim extremists do advocate violence against non-believers, their influence in Australia should not be overstated. The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of Australian Muslims are law-abiding. Terrorism remains exceedingly rare, and most attacks have been prevented by law-enforcement action, sometimes as a result of cooperation with the Muslim community. You are more likely to be hurt climbing a ladder.

Those who argue that Muslim refugees are more likely to be terrorists overlook that these refugees are fleeing a civil war wrought by extremists. These refugees are the people most likely not to adhere to extremist ideologies in the first place. They are also the most likely people to abandon those views once living in our flourishing and free society.

Far from banning Muslim migrants, we must embrace them together with migrants of all backgrounds. Migrants enrich our community and contribute valuable skills in a range of areas in the economy. For decades the bulk of them have integrated successfully into our liberal society. We should celebrate their presence and contribution.

Vladimir Vinokurov is a solicitor and a deputy Victorian State director of the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance. The views expressed here are his own.

Vladimir Vinokurov is a solicitor and a deputy Victorian State director of the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance. The views expressed here are his own.

The High Court has it wrong: banning political donations undermines free speech

Last week, the High Court wrongly decided that the NSW government could cap political donations at up to $5,000.00 for individuals and ban property developers, tobacco, liquor and gambling companies from making any political donations at all.[1] According to the Court, “unreasonable” and “disproportionate” restrictions on political discussions are unconstitutional,[2] but bans on political donations are “reasonable” and therefore permitted because they reduce political corruption. That reasoning is flawed, and overlooks the vital role political donations play in democratic society. What these laws really do is undermine freedom of expression. Far from reducing the power of special interests, the law empowers the political establishment.

The Court’s reasoning overlooks that there are probity issues inherent in any political decision. There were probity issues when the ALP enacted the Fair Work Act because it is reliant on unions. There were probity issues when the Liberals introduced Workchoices because it is reliant on small business. More often than not, political interests and special interests align–for good or for ill. Just because a special interest agrees with you, supports you and has convinced you to change your view doesn’t make you corrupt. I don’t deny that special interest politics can be corrupt, particularly when those groups start asking for handouts from the taxpayer. Indeed I emphasise that this is what special interest groups often do. But the reality is that any time a law is passed or repealed, whether you think it a good idea or not, there is a special interest behind it. Special interests are inseparable from our democracy, which requires politicians to cater to them to win elections.

If special interest groups are banned from making political donations, the public is denied the right to hear their arguments, at least to a degree. To that extent the public is left less informed than they would otherwise be. If the point of our electoral laws is to ensure that the public make an “informed choice” during the election campaign as the Court claims, then it is illogical to censor the information they receive.

Moreover, those who lack the capacity to argue their case have every right to donate to political candidates that do. We all have a right to freedom of expression, subject to limited exceptions.[3] Financial limits on how we express ourselves are arbitrary and unjustified. If we limit the amount of paint an artist can buy, we limit artistic expression. In the same way, if we limit the number of  political donations people can make, we limit political expression. If we deprive a person of access to a lawyer, we strip them of their legal rights indirectly. If we deprive a person of the right to donate to a politician, we strip them of their right to be represented by their candidate or representative. Because bans on political donations restrict our ability to influence politics and rely on our political representatives, they are a form of indirect censorship.

Banning political donations means that the politicians who make the rules will be the only special interest group with any say. They will decide how much taxpayer funding their election campaigns get. Taxpayers will foot the bill for their campaigns even if they disagree with their political platforms. It is absurd for Liberal taxpayers to pay for the Greens’ election campaigns and vice-versa. As Thomas Jefferson put it-

“To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.”

Additionally, candidates outside the major parties will stand less of a chance of raising enough money to compete. Bans on political donations undermine freedom of conscience and empower the political establishment at the expense of independents and minor parties.

Make no mistake: the special interests targeted by these laws are being silenced. They are being treated as guilty without being given the opportunity to put their case to the public during election season. Yet even this supposed rogues’ gallery of special interests can benefit us. The wealthy have lifted millions out of poverty: look to how the invention of cars has brought affordable transportation to billions of people. Property developers construct dwellings that increase housing affordability and reduce homelessness. As for the liquor, gaming and tobacco industries, they allow people to legally enjoy themselves. As long as they are legal, organised criminal gangs do not operate these industries. We are all safer for it. That’s not to suggest that special interests always benefit us–far from it. But they deserve the right to have their say.

What’s more, the fact that some people can make greater contributions to public life, whether financial or not, is no argument for restricting freedom of expression. We all have different skills and abilities. It is impossible for every individual to have an equal opportunity of contributing to the political discourse, and no law can change that or bring about a state of “perfect equality.” This is not to suggest that it would be desirable to do so. Calls for “equality” in politics strike me as a call for boring uniformity in the political arena.

Special interests will always run politics. The only question is which special interests should predominate. If everyone can donate freely, a wider array of competing special interests can hold politicians to account. If not, more power will be concentrated in the hands of politicians and bureaucrats–at our expense.

[1] See McLoy v New South Wales [2015] HCA 34; Election Funding and Expenditure Act 1981 (NSW), Division 2A, 4A and s96E.

[2]  It should be noted that the implied right of political communication may not be a constitutional right as such. Unlike the American Constitution, our Constitution is largely silent on civil rights. For a good discussion of the historical context of the Australian Constitution, freely available online, see e.g. Chief Justice Robert French, Protecting Human Rights Without a Bill of Rights, 26 January 2010:

[3] For example, it is rightly illegal to verbally threaten other people with immediate acts of violence. Such threats constitute assault. See further Tuberville v Savage [1669] EWHC KB J25. A lay summary is available at


Vladimir Vinokurov is a solicitor and a deputy Victorian State director of the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance. The views expressed here are his own.

Vladimir Vinokurov is a solicitor and a deputy Victorian State director of the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance. The views expressed here are his own.

Government inquiry into the ABC demonstrates the case for privatisation

Zaky Mallah on the ABC's QnA

Zaky Mallah on the ABC’s QnA

As we know, the government has announced an inquiry into the decision to have Zaky Mallah on QnA.

A government review into the politics of a media organisation is never acceptable—and that is why we should not tolerate a taxpayer-funded broadcaster.

The controversy itself boils down to this: Mallah, reportedly an Islamist, appeared on the ABC’s “QnA” program to argue that he and others like him should not lose their citizenship merely by reason of a decision of a Minister. Liberal MP Steve Ciobo’s response was that Mallah should be stripped of his citizenship and the only reason he was not convicted of terrorism was that the anti-terrorism legislation was not retrospective. As it happens, Ciobo was wrong. Mallah was convicted of threatening ASIO officials but acquitted by a jury of certain terrorism offences. But in response, Mallah went further and claimed that the Minister’s ignorant comment “justified” support for ISIS amongst Muslims. Mallah is, by his own account, not a supporter of ISIS; he claims he only meant to say that the Minister’s comments were provocative. Perhaps the inaccuracy of Ciobo’s comments annoyed Mallah, but that is no excuse. And to make things worse, Mallah has been very rude about two journalists on his Twitter account. In fairness to the ABC, they weren’t aware of his rude remarks before the controversy over his appearance emerged.

As to the consequences of that mistake and the process of calling the ABC into account, I must say that what I fear far more than Mallah is the announcement of a government inquiry into QnA. Now, I freely concede that, in one sense, the ABC’s error has brought on this review. It is the government’s responsibility, after all, to ensure that the ABC operates in a balanced manner, in accordance with its statutory charter. But calling an inquiry, and effectively campaigning against QnA’s coverage of the debate, could well have a chilling effect on the reportage of the ABC. And if the government does attempt to “rebalance” the ABC by changing the ideological makeup of its board—as it likely will, given their current attitude—that will bring problems of its own.

Fundamentally, the problem with keeping the ABC accountable is that it is ultimately accountable to the government of the day. Within the context of the national security debate in particular, I fear what more “balanced” debate could bring with it. Should we hear more voices in favour of culling our liberties to implement a security state? How do we seriously propose to audit the ABC with a view to bringing about “balance”? How many pro-government voices should we have on the ABC? How many opposition voices? Half and half? Who gets to judge that figure and why? More to the point, how on earth can any person, let alone a journalist involved in current affairs reportage, be devoid of bias and opinion? Rebalancing the ABC to suit the needs of taxpayers is an impossibility.

Instead, the ABC should aim to please only one interest group: its viewers.  If the ABC were accountable to consumers, not politicians, a government inquiry into its conduct would be irrelevant—unless, of course, it would attempt to regulate what the media could say or do by force, as the former Labor government attempted to. Mallah’s appearance would then lead to a drop in ratings and profits for the ABC–or it might lead to more viewers, depending on the quality of the show and the tastes and opinions of the viewing public. That is as it should be. “Hands off our ABC” is right—the ABC should be accountable to the public, not politicians. That’s why it needs to be privatised.

Vladimir Vinokurov is a solicitor and a deputy Victorian State director of the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance. The views expressed here are his own.

Vladimir Vinokurov is a solicitor and a deputy Victorian State director of the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance. The views expressed here are his own.


Would you ever give your money to another person to live on when they have their own money already?  In fact they could have more money than you.  Taxpayers’ money is being paid in the billions every year across Australia to pay for people who can afford to fund themselves.

A couple has $1 million in assets and has 10 to 15 years to live.

Do you:

  1. require the couple to draw down $50 to $70 thousand per year from their own assets to fund themselves; or
  2. require that the couple borrow $50 to $70 thousand per year from a Bank or loan provider and repay those funds at the end of their lives from the sale of the couples assets; or
  3. pay the couple from your own assets $35,000 per year effectively providing the couple an interest free, non refundable annual gift so the couple has income; or
  4. pay $20,000 per year from your own assets and require the couple to pay $20,000 per year towards their living expenses from their own funds.

Without seeking to insult your intelligence, the answer is clearly a) and the next best answer is b).  Would you ever give money to someone who already has adequate money to fund themselves or has assets which provide the potential to repay you funds that may have been loaned to them.

Unfortunately, incredibly, ridiculously and insultingly, the reality is that that pension system is operating exactly as shown at answers c) and d).

Under options C & D, you – the taxpayer are providing a couple who clearly has assets to cover their living expenses with an interest free, non refundable gift over 10 to 15 years of $200,000 to $525,000.  This amount will NEVER be repaid.]

The aged pension system is the most significant of the payments made within the Social Security and Welfare payments representing $50 billion of taxpayers’ funds and is projected to grow to $67 billion by 2018.

The pension was introduced in 1909 to support the elderly who were destitute who were over 65 when the life expectancy was 55.

Now over 100 years later the pension [or part pension] is paid to over 2.4 million people [85% of people over 65] and is described by the government as “basic income support for those Australians who are above retirement age but are not able to support themselves with their own means.”

It is no longer paid solely to the destitute but to the vast majority of elderly Australians.  It is no longer basic income support as pension payments are paid far in excess of the level best described as basic income.

The vast majority of pensioners own their own homes.   The median house price in Sydney is $900,000 and in Melbourne is $650,000.  This would suggest on the face of it that a significant percentage of people in those cities receiving the pension have assets exceeding the lifetime pension and yet they seek to rely on the pension as their primary source of income.  Despite their asset wealth they will never repay one cent of the pension received.  Whilst pensioners own house does not produce income, it is a store of value from which funds can and should be repaid on sale.

2 simple examples demonstrate this atrocious use of taxpayers’ funds


A couple own their own home worth $1 million.  They have no other assets.  They receive $33,500 per year for 17 years totalling $569,500 [A pension starts at age 67.  Life expectancy is 84 and increasing.  A pension can be expected to be paid of 17 years and will continue to lengthen as medicine and technology increase life expectancy]

On passing and sale of their assets, no funds are ever repaid to the taxpayers.


A couple own their own home worth $600,000 and have $300,000 in savings/superannuation.  They earn 6% per annum on their savings or $18,000 per year.

The government doesn’t worry about the actual income received by the couple in determining pension levels – they “deem” that the $300,000 generates $9,306 and ignore the actual income.

The government then decides that the $9,306 that this couple receives tax free from superannuation will only reduce the pension by $961 from $33,500 a year to $32,539 [The first $7,384 a pensioner couple earns does not reduce the pension level at all – and then it reduces by 50 cents for every dollar earnt].

Over 17 years this couple will take from taxpayers $553,163.  This couple has an after tax income of $50,000 per year which is higher than the median family income in Australia.

No funds are ever repaid.

You must find this incredible.  We collectively as taxpayers must be idiots for accepting this.

I am happy to open this paper to discussion, comment or criticism and would welcome you writing to me at  There must be something that can be done to correct this. Please do not say that you paid your taxes all your life so you are entitled to a pension.  Taxes are not paid for that purpose.

By Robert Hill

Xenophobia and fear of foreign property investment sparks anti-Chinese racism


Racist fliers being handed out by the so-called “Australian Freedom Party.”

Everyone nowadays seems convinced of the fallacy that foreign investment—particularly Chinese foreign investment—is driving housing prices up and squeezing Australians out of housing market.

The Liberals and the ALP have picked up on this sentiment and introduced new restrictions on foreign development, including fines for “illegally” purchased property and extra tax payable by foreigners on new developments.

Now the chickens are coming home to roost. In Sydney, the so-called “Australian Freedom Party” are distributing pamphlets that term foreign Chinese investment “ethnic cleansing” and “invasion.” It it is clear this dangerous racist nonsense has been caused by successive governmental intervention into the housing sector for political gain, both by increasing restrictions on development generally and blaming the resulting price increases on foreigners.

Why we should blame foreigners for having the audacity to choose to live here is simply beyond me. That is especially so when they choose to purchase property and clearly have the means to work and contribute to our society .Rather than decrying foreign investment, we should welcome the opportunity for more people of all backgrounds to spend their money on our shores. The more money foreigners spend here, the wealthier we become.

In reality, the cause of the housing affordability crisis is simple: restrictions on property development are preventing people from constructing the homes they want to develop, live in and sell.

Apartments in particular are a popular bugbear apt to prompt local residents into action and protest. In parts of residential, inner-city Melbourne, for example, it is almost impossible to build buildings over two storeys in size as a result of the introduction of so-called neighbourhood zoning laws. Yet the inner city suburbs are precisely where such apartments are most in demand. Accessible, close to the city and public transport, they are ideal for singles and couples. Similar restrictions on commercial and industrial developments also apply. And what holds true in Melbourne also broadly holds true throughout the rest of Australia. As Alan Moran points out, “Australia’s regulatory induced scarcity of land increases the cost of a fully serviced housing block complete with telecom, water, energy and road infrastructure from less than $100,000 to $300,000 or $400,000.”

The impact of more development on local housing prices is often complained of, but this overlooks the extraordinary benefits that come with more development: lower commercial and retail rent, lower retail and construction costs, and other savings that are passed on to consumers and intending homeowners. Simply put, life gets much cheaper if people live more closely together. That is, after all, why people congregate in cities and towns: for ready access to jobs and affordable accommodation.

With reportedly over 100,000 homeless people in Australia as result of dangerously overinflated land prices, relaxed zoning restrictions could not come any sooner. Nor should we be forgiving towards the politicians who have misled so many Australians into believing that our zoning restrictions are necessary, or that foreign property development is an evil to be decried.

Vladimir Vinokurov is a solicitor and a deputy Victorian State director of the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance. The views expressed here are his own.

Vladimir Vinokurov is a solicitor and a deputy Victorian State director of the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance. The views expressed here are his own.


Is Alabama about to resolve the marriage dispute?

By Damion Otto 

Alabama’s state Senate has passed a bill that will end the need for government sanctioned marriage licenses, leaving it to individuals and civil society to decide what marriage is. After July 1st—if the bill becomes law—couples will only be required to lodge a contract with the authorities to keep a legal record of the marriage.

Critics have accused Senator Greg Albritton, the bill’s sponsor, of trying to stifle the move towards marriage equality, an accusation he denies:

“When you invite the state into those matters of personal or religious import, it creates difficulties… Early [in the] twentieth century, if you go back and look and try to find marriage licenses for your grandparents or great grandparents, you won’t find it. What you will find instead is where people have come in and recorded when a marriage has occurred.”

Regardless of his motivations, Albritton makes a valid point.

When the state monopolises the right to define marriage and excludes certain citizens, political conflict is inevitable.

Proponents of same-sex marriage feel that same-sex couples are victims of state-mandated discrimination. Conversely, opponents believe that marriage is a sacred institution, primarily for the purpose of procreation, that cannot—or should not—be tinkered with to cater to people with a non-traditional lifestyle.

Government intervention in the institution of marriage is a relatively recent phenomenon. It has created friction in society and inevitably results in a zero-sum game: whoever wins the debate will force the other side to abide by their values. By invading the private lives of its citizens in this manner, the government facilitates a cultural clash that undermines social cohesion and creates political turmoil.

By abolishing the requirement for government approved marriage licenses, the Alabama Senate is moving to placate anxieties on both sides of the debate.

Ousting the government from the personal lives of its citizens means that same-sex couples will no longer feel marginalised by government, whilst opponents can maintain their traditional conception of marriage without fear of top-down changes to the definition.

The issue of same-sex marriage needn’t be a zero-sum game, nor does it need to be a political one. The Alabama Senate has recognised that if it uses its power to define marriage, the policy tug-of-war will be unending. Its solution to the acrimonious dispute is to deregulate the institution of marriage. This allows people the freedom to choose the type of marriage they want, leaving the decision to recognise it up to civil society.

Whether there is a right or wrong answer to the same-sex marriage debate is beside the point. The issue is about the legitimacy and social harm of allowing the government to enforce a particular view on society and invade our personal lives.

Damion Otto is a student at the University of Western Australia and a Liberal Party member.