NSW Liberals in dispute over Brookes and Oeuik election funding

NSW Liberals are embroiled in another dispute with the state electoral commission over political donations with the party facing the prospect of having to pay back close to $300,000.
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Two Liberal candidates spent more than $100,000 each funding their own campaigns at the 2015 state election.

Glenn Brookes spent $130,000 to fund his campaign to win the seat of East Hills for the Liberals.

Former Auburn mayor Ronney Oueik spent $150,000 of his own money in a failed attempt to beat Opposition Leader Luke Foley in the seat of Auburn.

Election funding laws state that a candidate may fund their own campaign, but the payments must be processed through an official campaign account operated by a separate “official agent” if more than $1000 is spent.

It is “unlawful” for an elected MP to make payments towards their re-election unless they are from the campaign account.

Mr Brookes told Fairfax Media last year that he paid for more than $130,000 worth of advertising, posters, balloons, water bottles and T-shirts from his personal bank account.

However, the Liberal Party insisted that all campaign funds “were put through a central campaign account under the control of the Party Agent [Simon McInnes], with separate accounting for every candidate”.

It is understood the same applied to Mr Oueik.

But the electoral commission has written to the NSW Liberal Party stating that because the funds were paid into its account they are treated as political donations.

This meant that the payments easily exceeded the legal cap of $2000 for candidates and $5000 for parties.

The Liberal Party disputes the commission’s decision. The matter was discussed during a meeting of its state executive on Thursday night, where it was resolved to pursue legal action.

Mr Brookes was referred to the electoral commission by Labor MLC Lynda Voltz.

Last year the party was forced to forgo more than $600,000 in public funding after political donations equal to that amount were deemed by the electoral commission to have been unlawful following an investigation into its fundraising before the 2011 election.

The decision followed the Independent Commission Against Corruption’s findings in Operation Spicer, its investigation of Liberal Party funding before the election that swept the Coalition to power in NSW.

The commission has since revealed that disgraced former Liberal MP Tim Owen has repaid $50,000 following an investigation by the NSW electoral commission.

Another disgraced former Liberal MP, Andrew Cornwell, was forced to repay $10,000 cash he received from property developer Jeff McCloy during the 2011 campaign.

Property developers have been prohibited from donating to NSW election campaigns since the end of 2010.

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Immigration presses on with digital transformation

The Immigration Department is pressing on with a slate of digital transformations changing how people travel as other agencies struggle to adopt new technologies.
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As it grows less visible to travellers using Australian airports, the department is coupling its adoption of digital programs with efforts to transform its business, its technology boss says.

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection’s Chief Information Officer Randall Brugeaud told Canberra’s Trans-Tasman Business Circle briefing on Thursday that agency bosses were driving its digital uptake.

Digital disruption and innovation needed to be driven by the executive to succeed, Mr Brugeaud said.

“Technology has actually been discussed at our executive table,” he said.

The Immigration Department, growing between 4-6 per cent yearly across its business, was moving staff away from duties that could be automated at customs as 80 per cent of departing travellers over the Christmas period were processed using automation.

Mr Brugeaud said in some cases, the department would become “virtually invisible” to travellers and businesses not breaking the law.

Immigration is shifting towards digital technology, involving changes to infrastructure as well as web-site building, as other agencies grapple with IT wrecks.

Centrelink is embroiled in the “robo-debt” debacle, which uses an automated system to match information held by the agency and the Australian Taxation Office to calculate overpayments.

The ATO is scrambling desperately to save this year’s tax return program from the fall-out of its disastrous pre-Christmas online meltdown, abandoning much of its IT program for this year.

Immigration’s massive technological shift brought cultural changes, but not all staff had adapted.

“Culturally, it’s a real challenge to get people to behave in a different way,” Mr Brugeaud said.

Staff who had long carried out one function may have been asked to become “multidisciplinary”.

“That’s a pretty tough thing to deal with,” he said, adding it was “not for everybody”.

The department used “evangelists” for the new technologies to help staff adapt to changes, Mr Brugeaud said.

Other new technologies were being tested, including Citizenship Exemplar, an appointment booking service used for 30 per cent of reschedulings, and eBorderforce, allowing department staff to target their attention better in examining cargo.

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Gong is King for Dr Karl

Spanning Space & Time: Dr Karl Kruszelnicki with his new book The Doctor: Picture: Greg Ellis.When five-year-old Karl Kruszelnicki arrived in Wollongong in the early 1950s it was a very different place to what we know today.
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But if it hadn’t been for a fever he would have grown up in America. The man now affectionately known across the nation as Dr Karlmoved toAustralia when he was two. The first three years were spent in a migrant camp in Bonegilla, Victoria. His family then relocatedtoWollongong when he was five.

In The Loop – People of Wollongong segment – extended interviewDr Karl recently recalled for In The Loop’s People of Wollongong some of the early challenges he faced and reflected on the journey that started in a Wollongong library. He is now so highly regarded in the country that gave him and his family a new start that he has beendescribed asaNational Living Treasureby theNational Trust of Australia, was honoured as aMember of the Order of Australia and consistently ranks in the top 10 list ofthe most trusted people in Australia by Reader’s Digest.

There have been many accolades bestowed on the man who introduced us to many scientific facts on Quantum and has since regularly graced our television screens, radio, newspapers and magazines.

There is only one Dr Karl and sitting with the Julius Sumner Miller Fellow in his office at theSchool of Physics atUniversity of Sydney memories flowed as he recalled his years spent growing up in and being schooled in Wollongong.

He took us on a journey through time and space sitting near his40th bookas an author. It is appropriately called The Doctor.

The former Edmund Rice College student said his family migrated to Australia within two years of him being born because the future waslooking fairly bad in Europe.

“Russia was threatening to invade into Finland. My father had already spent time in a Russian concentration camp…before he escaped,” he said.

“We were going to be heading for the United States when I had a fever in response to a Smallpox vaccine. My parents panicked and the ship sailed away. The next ship was coming to Australia so we went on with our cardboard suitcases … and ended up in a refugee camp on the border of NSW and Victoria.”

Dr Karl described the early years in Wollongong “as a totally different time”.

“If you were a woman and had a job but got married you had to resign. A married woman was not allowed to have a job. If you were an Aboriginal/indigenous person you didn’t exist. You didn’t get counted on the census and you couldn’t vote. But the good thing about Wollongong was not just the beautiful climate and environment and lots of jobs available..butfor me the Wollongong Library.”

Dr Karl started reading Fairytales of the World and his constant thirst for knowledge began.“I then got into science fiction and funny stuff like that. And the librarians looked after me”.

Gong is King for Dr Karl Dr Karl at image campaign launch with Hargrave inspired box kites. Picture: Ken Robertson.

Dr Karl Kruszelnicki revisits Edmund Rice College. Picture: Andy Zakeli

Dr Karl Kruszelnicki at a Wollongong Innovation Week community forum. Picture: Robert Peet.

TweetFacebookIn The Loop – Episode 16Dr Karl recalled watching the face of Mount Keira completely go up in flames in 15 minutes flat during the big bush-fireof 1968.He was standing on the campus ofwhat is now known as theUniversity of Wollongong. He said it had changed enormously since then.“It started off as a branch of the University of NSW and kept on growing. Now it has so many people doing world class work. I think it is a lovely university”.

Dr Karl said ProfessorGordon Wallace was one of about adozen researchersinWollongong recognised as world leaders in their fields. And they havea really nice environment to work in and live. After completing a Bachelor of Science majoring in Physics at UOW in 1968 Dr Karl’s first job as a physicist was at the Port Kembla Steelworks where he designed a machine that could be used to test steel.

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Catching growth express

TAKE OFF: Consolidated Land and Rail Australia chairman Nick Cleary addressed media about the high speed rail proposal last year. Photo supplied.High speed rail will be much more achievable in bite-size pieces, says federal Hume MP Angus Taylor.
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He has also reiterated his support forproponent, Consolidated Land and Rail Australia’s (CLARA) method of funding the infrastructure through value-capture.

In a wide ranging interview, Mr Taylor said it was important to think of high speed rail as a regional development opportunity.

He pointed out that the federal government’s annual $5 billion to $10bn expenditure on transport infrastructure had hardly increased formany years.

“The last time a study was done on high speed rail we were told it would cost almost $120 billion. So that’s 20 years of federal funding and it’sjust not possible,” Mr Taylor said.

“So we need alternative sources of funding and that’s why I welcome the work CLARA and (MP) John Alexander’s committee are doing. I also encourage them to break it into small pieces and treat it as a regional development opportunity rather thanone big project because it’s just too large.”

Mr Taylor said CLARA had shifted its thinking this directionin the past six months. However chairman Nick Cleary told The Post last year that the project would be completed in stages with Melbourne to Greater Shepparton, valued at $13bn, as the first phase.

GUNNING FOR GROWTH: Federal Hume MP Angus Taylor argues high speed rail and regional development must be viewed in the same context to make it happen.

Mr Alexander heads up the government’sinfrastructure, transport and cities committee. The group recently endorsed value capture, or a profit margin reaped by developers along the route, as a way of funding high speed rail.

Mr Taylor argued it was essential to recapture the mindset that transport and regional development were linked; it was the way road and rail werefunded in the past and it was the way of the future given budgetary pressures and bigger demands on infrastructure.

He has been charged with putting together an infrastructure financing unitwithin the Prime Minister’s Department, which would consider proposals from third parties, both private and government, to build and fund projects. This could be through private money or a combination of private and government funding.

“That means we have potential to increase the investment going into big projects, which is what we want to do,” Mr Taylor said.

“These majorprojects take time but it means we have alternative sources of funding rather than the traditional model which was never going to spread far enough. We encourage groups like CLARA to work up their proposals.”

CLARA earlier this year announced it would lodge an unsolicited proposal for high speed rail to the federal government.

The company hadalso secured “35 to 50 per cent” of the land needed for eight smart cities along the route, including one near Goulburn, Mr Cleary said.

Its location is still top secret but it’s believed to be north of the city.Mr Taylor rejected suggestions the cities, focused on high quality IT,renewable energy and livability, would compete with established regional cities.

“If you have great transport, you’re not competing,” he said.

“There is a great opportunity to strengthen regional cities at the moment. Goulburn is in a wonderful position, independent of high speed rail. What’s important is the need to see growth.

“It would be great to see high speed rail but how that plays out, we’re yet to see. I do know there’s no other way of funding it and it will only work if communities embrace it.”

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Major break for ‘menace’

A MENACE who led police on a dangerous pursuit, narrowly missing a pedestrian, has had his sentence slashed so he can be at the birth of his baby.
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Allen Simmons, 25, yesterday appealed the nine month minimum prison sentence he was given in the Magistrates’ Court earlier this year after pleading guilty to reckless conduct endangering serious injury.

The County Court heard Simmons performed a burnout in a built-up street in Mildura before he was involved in a prolonged high speed police chase.

Simmons narrowly missed hitting a pedestrian who had to jump out of the way of the car.

Police abandoned the chase for safety reasons before Simmons tried to convince two women to hide his car by offering them cash.

Simmons then made a false police report claiming his car had been stolen to avoid responsibility for the incident, the court heard.

At the time of the chase, Simmons was on bail after appealing a prison sentence for other traffic offences.

He yesterday withdrew that appeal.

The court heard Simmons had five previous court appearance for driving while disqualified and one for dangerous driving while pursued by police.

Defence counsel Gavan Tellefson asked for Simmons’ sentence be reduced so he could be there to support his partner who is due to give birth in August.

Judge Micheal Bourke said while the offence warranted prison time, a slightly shorter sentence was more appropriate.

“He might behave like an adult when he gets out,” he said.

“He’s an A-grade menace.”

Judge Bourke reduced Simmons’ sentenced from 18 months’ prison with a non parole period of nine months, to 12 months’ prison with a non parole period of six months.

Simmons’ licence was disqualified for three years.

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