Australian News Headlines, Auspol News Headlines Wednesday 14 March 2018

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NAB board aware of alleged fraud ring for months: commission told

The SMH reports that the National Australia Bank board was made aware of an alleged fraud ring operating within the bank in western Sydney months before the bank reported it to the corporate watchdog, the banking royal commission has heard. It is reported that the commission heard today that nearly 40 staff members were involved in the scheme to organise mortgages for people who would not otherwise have qualified for the loans, to pump up their sales figures. Of the 2000-plus suspect loans drawn up by the group, more than $50 million were deemed to be potentially unserviceable by the bank, the commission heard writes SMH. SMH reports that NAB's "introducer" referral program used members of the public, including a gymnasium owner and a tailor, to help push its loan products, the commission heard. The gym owner, the tailor and two other "introducers" were together responsible for $139 million in loans. They report that the alleged fraud ring included six branch managers and up to 33 other staff, the commission heard. NAB sacked about 20 staff members and took disciplinary action against many more in December 2015 after it emerged the group had drawn up thousands of loans that were underpinned by false information including fake IDs and payslips.

Australia's media companies join forces to fight 'chilling' security laws

The Guardian reports that Australia’s top media organisations have demanded a blanket public interest exemption for journalists in response to the Coalition’s amended foreign interference bill.
It is reported that in a joint submission from media companies, including Guardian Australia, Fairfax Media, AAP, the ABC, News Corporation, Bauer Media and the West Australian, the media industry said amendments to the security laws do not go far enough. Any journalist who positively reports about a foreign intelligence agency could still end up in jail, they warned the parliamentary committee examining the bill on Tuesday they write.

“We are concerned that any communication – online, in print or by broadcast – that positively reports about a foreign intelligence agency would breach these sections,” they said.

The proposed bill could have a “chilling effect” on public interest journalism and affect decisions media organisations make every day.

Breaking: Homelessness in Australia up 14% in five years, ABS says
For every 10,000 people, 50 are homeless, and more than 43,500 homeless people are under 25
The Guardian reports that Despite steady economic growth in Australia, homelessness increased by 14% between the 2011 and 2016 censuses, with 116,427 people now thought to have no permanent home. This means that for every 10,000 Australians, 50 are homeless. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), which released the data today, estimates that more than 43,500 homeless people are under 25. The Mission Australia chief executive, James Toomey, said the figures were an “international embarrassment” caused by a lack of serious political commitment nationally to building more social housing and affordable homes writes the Guardian.

“We cannot afford to ignore this situation any longer,” he said. “Safe and secure housing provides the platform for children to attend school, adults to work, people to be healthy and communities to thrive.”

It is reported that migrants were disproportionately affected. While 28.2% of Australians were born overseas, they comprise 46% of the homeless writes the Guardian. The elderly too are vulnerable. People aged between 65 and 74 experiencing homelessness increased to 27 people per 10,000 people in 2016, up from 25 per 10,000 people in 2011.

Breaking: The ATO has released a guidance paper in relation to cryptocurrency and bitcoin.
See https://www.ato.gov.au/General/Gen/Tax-treatment-of-crypto-currencies-in-Australia---specifically-bitcoin/

Australians used bitcoin to pay AU$50k-worth of fake ATO tax debts in 2017

It is reported that the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has issued a warning, asking the public to err on the side of caution when it comes to the elusive cryptocurrency space, after it revealed over AU$50,000 was paid via bitcoin to scammers last year claiming fake ATO tax debts.

"Cryptocurrency operates in a virtual world, and once the scammers receive payment, it's virtually impossible to get it back," Assistant Commissioner Kath Anderson said in a statement.
"Scammers are constantly adapting their methods to maximise their chances of picking your pocket. Unfortunately it was inevitable that scammers would target cryptocurrency given its current popularity and anonymity."

Treasury considered dividend imputation policy reform before 2017 budget

The SMH reports that Treasury considered dividend imputation reform in the lead up to Treasurer Scott Morrison's last budget, creating a dossier entitled "Tax Policy - Dividend Imputation" more than a year before Labor announced it would target the tax refunds of more than one million Australians on Tuesday. It is reported that the confidential file itemised in a list required to be disclosed by departments as part of freedom of information requirements was opened by Treasury in the first-half of last year. Fairfax Media understands Treasury has been examining withholding dividend cheques from non-taxpaying shareholders ahead of this year's May budget.
It is reported that investigating potential savings needed to fund budget initiatives such as personal income tax cuts is normal practice in the pre-budget period. Under dividend imputation rules, Australians are given franking credits on the dividends they receive for the shares they own in order to avoid company profits being taxed twice they write. Because the company has already paid tax on its earnings, its dividend payments to shareholders come with credits that reduce the individual’s tax bill every year. SMH reports that most workers have incomes that are high enough to ensure they still pay tax after the dividend credits are counted. However, when the individual has little or no income other than dividends, he or she ends up being owed money by the Australian Tax Office and then receiving it as a cash refund.

Mr Morrison said on Tuesday the "government has never entertained" changes to the way it gives cash back to shareholders in response to a policy he described as a "cruel blow for retirees and pensioners," but his predecessor Joe Hockey first asked how dividend imputation could be improved - not replaced - three years ago. The SMH reports that a white discussion paper on tax reform commissioned by Mr Hockey and completed by Treasury in 2015 found "there are some revenue concerns with the refundability of imputation credits," indicating the department was receiving lower tax revenues than it expected.
"It provides a greater incentive for shareholders of closely held companies to delay distributions until a time when individual owners are subject to a relatively low tax rate, to receive a refund of tax paid by the company."

The list published by Treasury shows the department's work on dividend imputation policy continued after Mr Morrison became Treasurer in 2016 they write. When asked if Treasury had been considering something similar to Labor's reforms on Tuesday, Mr Morrison said "no," and the list does not give specific details on the policy options being examined.

We need to find a better way than Turnbull's corporate tax cuts

The Guardian report that the big problem with Malcolm Turnbull’s $65bn corporate tax cut is that it comes with absolutely no guarantees that the multinationals who receive it will increase investment in Australia, or even invest any of it onshore. In fact, the Guardian reported that Goldman Sachs, the investment bank once chaired by Turnbull himself, found that much of the benefit of the tax cuts would flow to offshore investors. It is reported that there are also no guarantees that businesses will put on more staff, or boost the wages of workers who are struggling to make ends meet. That’s because there’s nothing at all stopping the tax cuts from flowing into executive bonuses, increased dividends or share buybacks they write. The government’s insistence that their company tax cuts will trickle down to middle Australia relies on little more than ideology and crossed fingers.

'Staggering': $90 billion lost in resources tax

SMH reports that an Oxford University expert says Australia would be $90 billion better off if it adopted European-style resource tax policies and argues the Turnbull government has given up on collecting a meaningful amount of revenue from some of its most valuable resources. It is reported that in one of a suite of new submissions to a Senate inquiry, Oxford Institute for Energy Studies academic Juan Carlos Boué warned unless Australia "radically overhauled its fiscal regime" it would have the second lowest share of government revenue from oil and gas in the world.
Australia is on track to eclipse Qatar as the largest exporter of gas by 2020, but is expected to only earn $600 million in 2018 - the same amount of revenue the government earns in beer tax every year - compared to Qatar's $26.6 billion.

Contractor spending more than doubles in five years at largest APS agencies

The Canberra Times reports that Government agencies have more than doubled their spending on contracted labour in the last five years as the Coalition slashed the public service workforce. It is reported that since the change of government in 2013, annual expenditure on labour contractors for 18 of the largest workplaces has ballooned from $318 million to more than $730 million as the Coalition imposed staffing caps and shed public servants. CT reports that defence's spending on contractors hired through recruitment agencies last year was the highest among major agencies, growing to $155 million from $23 million in 2012-13 as its staff headcount fell by nearly 4000 to 18,400.

Dutton denies conflict with ABC Learning interest

The ABC reports that Federal Minister Peter Dutton has denied Labor's claims of a conflict of interest relating to his private childcare centre business. The Federal Opposition has accused him of profiting personally from policy decisions. However Mr Dutton to says his commercial lease agreement with ABC Learning Centres is above board and in no way linked to his role as Assistant Treasurer.

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