Debunking Dick Smith, Gillard's fundraiser, donations disclosure challenge, Transurban chair out, pokies, staffers and then some

August 16, 2010

Dear Mayne Report readers,

greetings from the only candidate in this Federal election campaign who believes Australia should sustain an annual immigration rate above 300,000 and has today made detailed disclosure of campaign donations.

The population debate has well and truly hotted up since our last missive on August 10 thanks to Dick Smith's extraordinary ABC documentary last night and the counter-balancing debate moderated by Tony Jones on a special edition of Q&A.

The whole exercise was a bit like May 2007 when the ABC screened Martin Durkin's polemic, The Great Global Warming Swindle, which would have been a disgrace for our national broadcaster but for the complete demolition exercise in the subsequent Tony Jones led debate broadcast immediately afterwards.

Despite having the three major political parties all advocating cuts to immigration on the Q&A panel, Dick Smith won't have enjoyed much of last night's debate when many of his arguments were dismantled and he was reduced to repeating his mantra that the world is over-populated and chewing through finite resources.

Indeed Dick, few people would disagree with that proposition which is an entirely different argument to your thesis that sparsely populated Australia should carry an even smaller proportion of this burden when we have less people to arable land than any other country on the planet, as was explained in this recent Crikey story.

Dick Smith appears completely genuine when stressing his commitment to a 75% immigration cut for the least populated first world country on earth should not be construed as racism. However, he should know better than to prosecute his campaign through Alan Jones, aka The Parrot, who was instrumental in inciting the 2005 Cronulla riots (listen to audio of question about this to the chairman of Macquarie Radio at the 2007 AGM) and provided endless comfort to Pauline Hanson over the past 15 years.

Maintaining public support for Australia's wonderfully multi-cultural population melting pot is not an easy thing to do and people like Dick Smith are inadvertently sewing the seeds for a potential race-based backlash. I hear it quite regularly, especially from older Australians who start by agreeing with Dick Smith's environmental arguments and then moments later are hopping into muslims, Africans or other ethnic or religious groups.

Time to let in thousands of live-in Bangladeshi nannies

It was fantastic to hear that eloquent Bangladeshi on Q&A debunk much of Dick Smith's emotive tripe. And rather than both sides of politics trumpeting their maintenance of Australia's foreign aid budget through the GFC, what about giving consideration to how Australia can help some of those poor Bangladeshis living cheek by jowl in poverty in our region. Dick Smith was bagging Australia for cherry picking skilled workers such as nurses from Bangladesh, but proposes no migration assistance to the poor and downtrodden citizens of one of the world's most over-populated countries.

One third of the Bangladesh economy is remittance payments from those who've been given the opportunity to live offshore, yet this vast nation of Australia barely gives them a look in.

If you want to talk seriously about coping with Australia's ageing population and labour shortages, then a policy of sponsoring live-in Bangladeshi nannies to help them cope with the pressure of being working families should be on the table. If they live where they work and don't own a car, how would this cause more congestion in the major cities? Much of the rest of Asia does this, so why can't we get over union-imposed strictures about the minimum wage and start simultaneously helping struggling Australian families and impoverished Bangladeshis?

Who will look after Australia's frail aged if we slash immigration?

I'm on the board of the biggest nursing home in the City of Manningham and we, like the entire aged care sector, are struggling to cope with staff shortages. We have dozens of workers on visas who are prepared to do the long grinding night shift work that others won't.

This is where the reality of slashing immigration really sets in. Sustainable Population minister Tony Burke is right to say there are industries which would collapse without skilled migration. It would be really good to hear Dick Smith's proposed solution for coping with the fact that the number of Australians aged over 70 is set to double to 4 million over the next decade as the baby boomers exit the workforce with massive expectations about the final 20 years of their lives. Who is going to look after them?

Nurses working in residential care facilities are already paid 25% less than their equivalents in major hospitals and the brutal truth is that we need more new migrants like Moira Gillard, who slaved away in this Adelaide nursing home kitchen for many years during the 1960s and 70s to support her daughter Julia.

Julia pockets more secret cash from greedy developers

It was Federal Labor backbencher Kelvin Thomson who let fly with a home truth about Australia's political system last night when he told Dick Smith strong immigration was driven by big donations to political parties by property developers.

Meanwhile, The Age reported the following yesterday:

Prime Minister Julia Gillard is diverting crucial time from campaigning to make a last-minute appeal for political donations at two exclusive Melbourne fund-raisers. Tomorrow night, she will be in a private room at the RACV Club, where some of Melbourne's business elite will pay $5000 each at a dinner understood to be organised with the help of Bill Shorten, one of the MPs who helped her topple Kevin Rudd.

So at the precise time Thomson's claim was being broadcast to almost 1 million Australians, our Small Australia advocate Prime Minister was pursuing that debauched practice of "cash for access" with those very same developers.

Australia has one of the weakest systems of campaign finance disclosure in the world. We'll never be told all of the people who attended last night's $5000 a head dinner because each ticket cost less than the $11,000 disclosure threshold that will apply for the 2010-11 financial year and be belatedly disclosed on February 1, 2012.

This is an issue we have long pursued as you can see from this package of Crikey stories over the years:

Joe Ludwig's dad shows the real campaign finance agenda
Monday, 8 February 2010

Mayne digs some donations data dirt
Monday, 1 February 2010

Stars align for serious campaign finance reform
Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Political donations: Gems aplenty in the annual deluge
Friday, 1 February 2008

Media slack on political donations
Friday, 2 February, 2007

Preparing for a smaller deluge of political donations figures
Tuesday, 16 January, 2007

Tabcorp rolled over pay, fesses up to more political donations
Tuesday, 28 November, 2006

Australia worst on donations, gaming policies and bank cartel rip-offs
Tuesday, 11 April, 2006

Donations, The AFR and upcoming talks
Thursday, 2 February, 2006

Donations special edition
Wednesday, 1 February, 2006

Revealing our donations and challenging big parties to do likewise

As a challenge to the major parties, this particular independent candidate for the Senate in Victoria is prepared to disclose the donations received in this campaign so far. They are as follows:

August 9
Maurice: donated $50

August 8
donated $1000

August 4

Paul: donated $100
Stewart: donated $50
George: donated $1000

August 3
John: donated $50
David: donated $100

None of these seven individuals are well known or, to my knowledge, involved in commercial or political activities that I could assist in any way. However, if a property developer, gambling operator, political operative or any other person of note handed over some cash, I'd insist on only accepting it if they agreed to their full identity being made public.

Wouldn't it be nice if the question of which commercial interests are funding this extraordinary election campaign could make it into the media mainstream just once before election day.

The answer is better urban infrastructure planning

About a dozen mayors and councillors from metropolitan Melbourne gathered at the Municipal Association of Victoria officers for two hours yesterday on the housing reference panel.

We listened to Professor Ken Dovey from the Melbourne School of Design who has been commissioned by the Victorian Government and several councils to conduct exhaustive studies about planning, housing and population growth in Melbourne.

Prof Dovey explained that the sprawled city of Melbourne could handle the 40% population growth projected over the 20 years to 2026 without going higher than 5 levels and without creating any shadows over existing homes.

It's called sensible planning of development down transport corridors and around existing activity centres. He also pointed to the gross under-utilisation of so much public land in Melbourne. For instance, La Trobe University is a vast campus in Bundoora which has enormous car parking and bushland surrounds that should instead be playing host to many thousands of residents who work on campus. That would reduce congestion and help handle population growth.

At the City of Manningham we own 300 pieces of public open space which constitute 17% of the entire municipality. I challenge anyone to point out a council anywhere in the world with more than that. Yet when someone suggests selling off a couple of battle-axe sites which do little more than attract snakes, certain councillors trot out a fear campaign about selling off public parks.

And when the 48ha Eastern Golf Club site came up for sale, our response was to insist that a whacking 20% of this prime development site be retained as even more public open space in Manningham when this site is located half way between a giant shopping centre and a giant freeway.

Population growth should be manageable but we need much better planning around urban infrastructure and development. And as for all this congestion, a carbon tax would be a good start to try and get cars off the road and raise revenue to fund better public transport.

Why is no-one offering a price on the anti-pokies candidate?

Whenever you contest an election it is fun to try and get a bet on the outcome. Just goes to show, my position is nothing to do with opposing gambling per se and everything to do with opposing the presence of 20% of the world's pokies - and arguably the most lethally addictive pokies operating anywhere in the world - strewn throughout most Australian communities.

Anyway, we had a look at several betting agencies to see what the odds were for the senate tilt, but unfortunately no one seems to be offering odds for senators at the moment. We looked at Sportsbet, Sportsalive, TAB, Luxbet, IASbet, Betfair and Sporting Bet. They were all offering similar odds for every lower house seat around Australia, general results and party results, but zero for senators.

One agency needed to be corrected because of this offer:

Seat of Melbourne (VIC) - Any Other Party $1.67, Cath Bowtell (ALP) $2.13, Adam Bandt (Coalition) $21.00.

After inquiring, the payout would be only $1.67, not $21 for Adam Bandt - despite the typo. But they did offer a free $10 bet for pointing out their failings.

Former ABC Learning boss quits as chair of blokey Transurban board

Congratulations are in order for the Australian Shareholders' Association for helping force the resignation of Transurban chairman David Ryan yesterday.

Rumblings about Ryan have been afoot ever since ABC Learning collapsed after he'd chaired the audit committee for five straight years. The dreadful handling of takeover bids and capital raisings at Transurban this year made matters worse and it was only a matter of time before he departed.

However, despite attracting a record 34% against vote at the 2008 AGM and two successive big protests against the Transurban remuneration report, Ryan thought he could hang on until the end of his three year term in October 2012.

That all changed when the ASA decided to start canvassing for the necessary 100 signatures to put up a resolution to have Ryan removed at this year's AGM in October.

It would almost certainly have succeeded with institutional support so rather than face this ignominy, Ryan instead handed over to Lindsay Maxstead whose first priority will be to appoint a female director to end Transurban's embarrassing status as an all blokes board at a time when unprecedented gains are being made on gender diversity.

We're looking forward to discussing all these issues at the forthcoming Transurban AGM.

The Australian had some of the best coverage today on Ryan's departure, including his farewell shot at the proxy advisory firms like Risk Metrics for recommending against his re-election in 2008 based on his ABC Learning record.

If Ryan and other directors really believe you can blow billions on one board and continue on merrily elsewhere as if it never happened, they've got another thing coming.

If that's true, why have the vast majority of Babcock, Allco, ABC Learning, City Pacific and MFS directors disappeared from the public company space? It's called accountability and it's amazing that Ryan thought he could just rise above it all. And the Transurban resignation doesn't end the story because Ryan remains a director of Lend Lease courtesy of the protection provided by chairman David Ryan, an old mate from their days clearning up John Spalvins' Adsteam empire together.

I'm thinking seriously about an anti-Ryan tilt at the Lend Lease board in October. Better still, what if the ASA shifts its signature gathering campaign to Lend Lease? Here's hoping folks, because it worked a treat at Transurban.

Finally, here are some links to our coverage of the past couple of Transurban AGMs:

2009 AGM
Write-up of meeting

Audio highlight: Explain the ABC Learning baggage, Mr Chairman

Read transcript

2008 AGM

See Mayne Report package on record protest vote against chairman Ryan.

SP Ausnet answers the gender diversity challenge

Who are the most powerful women in the Australian professional directors' club? Here is a stab at what we reckon is the top 100, and click here for our top 100 male directors. Below are some of the more recent appointments:

Jennifer Tait:
appointed non executive director of Alesco Corporation on August 3, 2010. She is also a non-executive director of the not for profit organisation Blue Mountains World Heritage Institute.

Vanessa Wallace: appointed non executive director of Wesfarmers on July 6, 2010. Ms Wallace is also on the Chairman's Council of the Australian Chamber Orchestra.

Tina McMeckan: appointed non executive director of SP AusNet on August 9, 2010. Tina is an interesting appointment considering our suggestion at the recent SP Ausnet AGM on July 14 for more female representation. Listen to audio or read the transcript below:

Stephen Mayne: I would simply like to make the point that SP Ausnet is in that unfortunate club - along with Oz Minerals, Transurban, Alumina and too many other companies that has an all male board, and that there is an unprecedented push on at the moment to get appropriate diversity on Australian boards.

I think that everybody recognises that 9% representation is outrageous in 2010, and that there is no way that 9% representation is anywhere near merit, in terms of what would be a more appropriate gender diversity on Australian public companies.

So I am strongly urging the board to look for a suitable candidate, and to look very favourably to try and address the gender imbalance, and recruit someone who is both talented and has the appropriate skill set, and I think you will find that there are plenty of suitable candidates out there, and hopefully at next year's AGM, you'll be out of that unfortunate club - which is the all boys board club, which this company remains in 2010, unfortunately a member of.

Chairman: Thank you very much Stephen, for your comments and views. As I mentioned earlier on, we are in the process of replacing Martin with another independent, non executive director, and as I have also mentioned, we will be seeking diversity for the board and we'll seek the best person for that role. So we hope to let shareholders know of the outcome as soon as possible. Thank you very much Stephen.

Bingo, the situation was fixed less than four weeks later.

A possible how to vote card

We're just finalising a print commitment for how to vote cards and are looking at something relatively low-cost and simple. The current version is as follows:

Please send any feedback to And if you feel like volunteering to hand some out on August 21, don't be shy in letting Paula know.

Donate to help fund our Senate campaign

We've been really fortunate to receive about $2500 worth of donations for the Senate campaign so far and anyone else who cares to contribute to the fight against the pokies can simply click on the image below:

Pokies getting a good run in regional media

Whilst the pokies issue has gone a bit quiet in the mainstream media this week, there has been some regional media coverage as follows:

Game's up for pokies, says Manningham Council
Manningham Leader

Brimbank is state's biggest gambling loser
Brimbank Leader

Geelong's pokie cash cows: we waste $300000 a day
Geelong Advertiser

We're also expecting the local Murdoch paper in Dandenong, Victoria's fourth biggest pokies losses local government area with $134 million dropped in 2009-10, will give the issue a burst with some accompanying quotes next week.

Manningham's new gambling policy

We've now got the actual draft Manningham gambling policy and the introductory report by our officers available as discreet PDF documents. The Manningham councillors, bless their hearts, unanimously supported these going on public exhibition for six weeks at the last council meeting. It's much tougher than the previous gambling policy so do have a read:

Gambling Policy

Gambling Policy Review

Cornwall having fun with Abbott and Gillard

Cartoonist Mark Cornwall is having a fabulous time drawing our two federal political leaders. Check out this collection of his best Gillard and Abbott efforts.

John Anderson doubles up his entry on the SPP shame file

Companies which do cosy placements with big institutions but then fail to treat retail shareholders equitably through a follow-on share purchase plan deserve to be condemned.

We've maintained an SPP shame file since 2007 are were very disappointed to see Eastern Star Gas, which is chaired by former deputy prime minister John Anderson, become one of the most prominent entries.

Sadly, the man who came up with AWB's ridiculous two class voting gerrymander, is now a serial retail shareholder rip-off merchant. We've bagged the bloke before for doing an insiders institutional placement last year without a follow up share purchase plan for retail investors.

Lo and behold, he's done it again with a $100 million institutional placement at 84c this week and no sign of any SPP offer.

That board tilt at this year's Eastern Star Gas AGM is looking like a definite prospect if there's no sign of any movement over the coming weeks.

Tracking former federal government staffers: Rudd's chief of staff pops up

We're still tracking former political staffers in Canberra since Bob Hawke's election in 1983. Updates rely on emails to or use of the anonymous tips box and here's an example of some fresh information:

Alister Jordan: Rudd's former chief of staff landed a key strategic role at Wesfarmers Insurance serving as senior manager strategic projects. He is also an adjunct professor in public policy and governance at Griffith University.

There have been a few other updates so check out the three lists below and send through any corrections or feedback:

Tracking the former Hawke Keating staffers

Where Howard staffers finished up

Where Rudd government staffers went

The great political relationships list

When John Brumby came under fire from the Herald Sun earlier this year over having four family members on the public payroll, we updated this political relationships list which was first worked up on Crikey years ago. Listen to this interview on 3AW with Derryn Hinch at the time and send all corrections and additions to Meanwhile, here's the latest entry:

Peter Keogh: is a former CPSU SPSF assistant secretary, turned chief of staff for Victorian Socialist Left state housing minister Dick Wynne. His wife is Cath Bowtell - Labor's candidate to replace Lindsay Tanner in the seat of Melbourne.

Sign up for our Tweets

With almost 2000 followers on Twitter, we are regularly dropping out observations from the federal election campaign, including preference negotiation meetings, forthcoming media and other developments. Click on the image above to get the latest updates from all our activity and here are some recent examples:

10.10am August 12: David Ryan quits as Transurban chair so campaign to remove ex ABC Learning chair is won. (first tweet we've sent by text)

1.19pm August 11: Am outraged that some of the betting agencies are not offering a price on this particular anti-pokies candidate in the Victorian senate race.

3.29pm August 10: Women on ASX boards reaches record 9.8% after SP Ausnet appoints Tina McMeckan 3 weeks after sprayed all blokes board at AGM. Progress.

11.04am August 10: Sent out big election campaign update today Now off to give a speech to Lower Templestowe Probus Club.

9.11am August 10: Brief chat on RRR's The Party Show. Sen McGauran declined to bite when I mentioned his family's $12m pokies venue

9.57pm August 9: Latham giving live Gillard character critique about anti-US etc, whilst she's live on Q&A. Amazing to think how close they were in 2001-04.

9.17pm August 9: Latham on Sky a base example of media craving controversy and ratings. We're all watching, missing Media Watch, and gasping. Live is brave.

6.03pm August 9: Laurie Oakes was very negative on Coalition tonight in 6pm package, perhaps making up for perceived anti-Labor bias over past three weeks.

12.22pm August 9: Wayne Swan crowing about low federal debt at Press Club. Oz has biggest 2nd tier of govt in world. $200bn of state debt should be included.

12.17pm August 9: Check out new Cornwall toons + audio of Sunday's James O'Loughlin and Safran ABC radio chats on religion & media

12.13pm August 9: Just back from Slater & Gordon EGM approving world record $57m law firm acquisition. Chair Anna Booth took pic of me in "Julia Gillard" room.

That's all for now.

Do ya best, Stephen Mayne

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