Clerk of Senate should resign if she can’t be neutral: Palmer

“None of you need have any contact with the member in question if you feel at all threatened or intimidated by him”: Clerk of the Senate Rosemary Laing wrote in the internal email. Photo: Alex EllinghausenClive Palmer has called for the Clerk of the Senate to resign unless she is able to maintain impartiality, following a staff email she wrote implying Mr Palmer was a bully.
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A leaked internal email sent to Senate staff on Thursday, and obtained by Fairfax Media, reveals the Clerk of the Senate, Rosemary Laing, warning staff not to tolerate ”unacceptable behaviour” and makes reference to ”conduct of a Member of the House of Representatives”.

While the email does not name the MP, it was widely reported two weeks ago there was an altercation between Dr Laing and Mr Palmer, the Member for Fairfax, over amendments to the Carbon Tax repeal bill.

Mr Palmer, leader of the Palmer United Party, was annoyed that the clerk would not distribute amendments put up by one of his senators, Glenn Lazarus.

The clerk argued that the amendments were effectively a monetary bill and constitutionally could not originate in the Senate.

In her staff bulletin issued on Thursday, Dr Laing warned against what she described as workplace bullying.

”You all have the right to a safe workplace and that includes the right to step away from – and report – bullies, whatever their status,” she wrote. ”None of you need have any contact with the member in question if you feel at all threatened or intimidated by him.”

Mr Palmer said he did not raise his voice during the exchange, telling the clerk: ”If you do not circulate this amendment by Senator Lazarus I will challenge [your] position in the High Court.”

But on Thursday Mr Palmer took that position further: ”Australian democracy is far more important than this issue. The clerk is supposed to be impartial – if she is not up to the job, resign,” he said.

Fairfax Media approached Dr Laing’s office for comment but was told she was on leave. The Deputy Clerk of the Senate refused to comment on the matter.

In the email Dr Laing also took a swipe at press gallery behaviour during the past two weeks of parliamentary sitting, describing reporting of the carbon tax repeal negotiations as ”unethical”.

”In all of my years here, I do not believe I have seen anything so unethical from the press as this … [including a] disgraceful episode of press gallery members eavesdropping on private negotiations in the corridors over the carbon tax repeal legislation and writing stories on that basis,” she wrote.

Last week all the major parties and the crossbench in the Senate – except the Palmer United Party and Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party senator Ricky Muir – spoke in praise of the clerk.

The president of the Senate, Stephen Parry, said: ”I have full confidence in the Clerk of the Senate and her officers. All Senate staff serve the Senate in an entirely professional and impartial way and I reject any claims to the contrary.”

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Members of the family of former Labor Party kingpin Eddie Obeid hit with $9 million tax bill

Eddie and Judith Obeid leave an ICAC hearing. Photo: Nic Walker
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The Tax Office has hit the family of corrupt former Labor kingpin Eddie Obeid with a $9 million bill after it audited his tax affairs and family trusts spanning half a decade.

Documents filed by the Tax Commissioner in the Federal Court reveal that more than 30 members of the Obeid family, including family matriarch Judith, most of their children and dozens of grandchildren, have been drawn into a dispute over unpaid tax and penalties.

The Tax Office kicked off an audit of Mr Obeid and a complex web of family trusts and companies in February last year, according to the documents, covering the five years from July 2007 to June 2012.

It is targeting his family for a slice of a $30 million coal deal at the centre of a historic corruption inquiry, as well as a smaller deal involving a separate mining venture.

It was revealed last month that Mrs Obeid and most of the couple’s sons and their wives, along with two of their four daughters, had simultaneously launched court challenges to decisions of the Tax Commissioner on May 30.

The new documents, filed in reply by the Tax Office, reveal it sent bills for unpaid tax and penalties totalling $8.6 million to 11 members of the family and a corporate trustee in August last year.

The individual bills range from about $55,000 to $1.57 million. The corporate trustee, Calvin Holdings, is challenging its bill on behalf of 24 grandchildren who are aged under 18.

Mrs Obeid and the wives of four of the couple’s five sons – Damian, Paul, Gerard and Eddie junior – received the largest bills, totalling more than $1.5 million each in tax and penalties. The sons received smaller bills of about $55,000 each.

Daughters Rebecca Joumma and Gemma Vrana were hit with bills totalling $396,132 and $187,782 respectively.

The grandchildren, as beneficiaries of one of the Obeid family’s trusts, were hit with a combined bill of $53,500 in tax and penalties.

But Mr Obeid snr and his entrepreneurial middle son Moses are not involved in the court dispute, which covers the 2010-11 and 2011-12 income years.

In a report released in July last year, the Independent Commission Against Corruption found that the two men had corruptly agreed with former Labor mining minister Ian Macdonald to create a coal tenement over the family’s Bylong Valley farm.

The Obeids entered into a mining joint venture with private company Cascade Coal, which later agreed to pay the family $60 million to extract them from the venture.

The money started flowing into family coffers in late 2010 and to date $30 million has been paid.

At the conclusion of the inquiry, dubbed Operation Jasper, the ICAC referred information about the operation of the Obeid family trusts to the Tax Office ”for such action as it considers appropriate”.

At the heart of the dispute between the family and the Tax Commissioner is whether the $30 million was ordinary income – and taxed at the full tax rate – or was on capital account, which would entitle the family to a 50 per cent discount on their tax bill.

“This is a not uncommon question that arises when valuable properties are sold,” a tax lawyer said.

“In many cases the answer is clear one way or another but there are cases where the application of the law is more complex. The ATO has been very focused on this question in recent years when conducting audits and looking at property sales.”

The Obeids say in court documents that the money from the coal deals is not ”ordinary income”.

They also argue they are not liable to penalties for any shortfall on the amount of tax paid ”as there was no statement made to the [Tax Office] which was false or misleading in a material particular”.

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Expert says painting looked ‘odd’

Lauraine Diggins, an expert in the work of the late Albert Tucker, said she ‘”did not like” Faun and Parrot, an allegedly fake painting by the artist, when she saw it before an auction by Christie’s in May 2000 and had thought “there was something odd about it”.
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“Intuitively the look of the painting did not sit well with me,” Ms Diggins told the NSW Supreme Court on Thursday.

For the first time, the allegedly fake painting was unwrapped in court and shown to Justice Patricia Bergin, who is hearing the case brought by barrister Louise McBride against Christie’s, art dealer Alex Holland and her own art adviser, Vivienne Sharpe.

Ms Diggins, who dealt in Mr Tucker’s later works and was executor of his will, said when she viewed the painting before its sale to Ms McBride, she was immediately suspicious. But she did not raise her concerns with Christie’s until after the auction, even though she was present at the sale.

“You don’t go to Christie’s unless you have proof,” she said.

“I advised another auction house that a picture was not right around the same time, and they still sold it.”

Pressed by Justice Bergin, she said the auction house was Deutscher Menzies and that the matter was subject to litigation.

After the Christie’s auction, Ms Diggins was approached by Fiona Heywood of Christie’s, who said she was worried about paintings coming from a single source. Ms Diggins said these occurred soon after the May auction and before the August auction, when another suspect Tucker painting was sold.

A meeting was convened at the Ian Potter conservation centre in Melbourne. Experts including Ms Diggins and Tucker’s widow, Barbara, viewed five works; these included Ms McBride’s Faun and Parrot and another that was due to be auctioned by Christie’s in August. Ms McBride was not told of this meeting.

Christie’s has since recompensed the buyer of the Tucker at the August sale.

Ms Diggins said she made her views known to Ms Heywood after the meeting. “It was our view that both pictures were suspect,” Ms Diggins said. ”I made it clear that neither of the works were correct and were suspect.”

For Christie’s, Ed Muston said: ”You said the pictures could not be supported.”

”That says that they are suspect pictures,” Ms Diggins replied.

Mr Muston asked whether it was Ms Diggins’ opinion that dealers should check the provenance independently because it was unsafe to assume that auction houses had done so.

”Yes,” she said.

Ms Diggins also gave evidence that Ms McBride’s adviser, Ms Sharpe, should have done more to check the provenance of a Tucker bought after auction for $75,000. Ms Sharpe’s counsel asked her how Ms Sharpe could have suspected it was a forgery if Ms Diggins, an expert, was initially unsure.

❏ In Thursday’s report of the case, the Herald stated that Ms Sharpe had received $42,000 commission for the sale of a Jeffrey Smart painting owned by Ms McBride. She has not yet been paid the commission, which is being held in trust until the case now before the court is resolved.

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Melody Pool and Marlon Williams: No country for old folk and blues

Name that tune: Melody Pool and Marlon Williams are forging their own sound. Photo: Nick MoirSee, there’s this thing happening in Australia. It’s a genre producing consistently good music, strong songwriters and the kind of characters all too often neutered as they are scrubbed down in pop, buffed up in rock and glammed up in country.
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It’s a genre which can’t get on mainstream radio anywhere but has fervent support in not just the usual markets of the US and Britain, but also Germany, Spain, Scandinavia and France. What’s more it could be the next international springboard for a lot of young, and some not so young, locals, too, who are  appearing in regional centres, cities and even the suburbs.

Yet it is the genre which dare not speak its name.

This is essentially because it doesn’t have one. And as we know, these days if you can’t name it, it doesn’t really exist.

It may be that the best way to describe what the genre is about, is by telling you what it’s not. It’s not quite country, though many of its practitioners grew up playing it and retain a love for its storytelling and sense of open skies. It’s not quite folk, though the genre’s occasional looseness in melody, fondness for acoustic instrumentation and sense of history suggests connections there.

Nor is it rock (no one is trying to blast you out of your seat or solo you into heaven) or even strictly speaking country rock (though that crossover is a rich mine to source, from the Eagles and Jackson Browne to the Dingoes and Ryan Adams). And while there are tunes to be had and no fear of songs that you’re going to want to sing along with, you couldn’t really call it anything like pop.

In the US, where a sister style was once labelled alt.country, it might get called Americana; but there’s more to it than roots American music. Meanwhile, you can forget about the alternative of Australiana, which is both inaccurate and loaded with wince-inducing memories of lagerphones, comedy accents and bad damper.

Whatever the genre may be called, it’s out there. Take Melody Pool, a songwriter and singer from Kurri Kurri who sounds something like Laura Marling and something like Patty Griffin – folkish, countryish, something else-ish – and is already seen as one of the most exciting, young writers we have via her debut album, The Hurting Scene.

“When I was playing country music when I was younger, I loved the traditions of the music but when I was trying to write songs it never really came out,” says Pool, who likes open tunings and wordiness. “I had this thing in my head about how a song was meant to be and when I started writing without platform I found that I had no boundaries to what I could write. I felt more free. As long as they sound like they flow together, well I don’t try to think about it too much.”

She’s touring with another 23-year-old, Christchurch’s Marlon Williams, who grew up in rock and country rock bands, but now, with a debut album coming this year, is a traditionalist, right down to his neat, slicked back hair, boldly patterned body shirt and denim.

“I just think that the more normal you keep things, the more room there is for feeling and emotion,” says Williams, explaining why he likes to work within traditional structures. “You can’t eke tragedy out of chaos; you have to use these signposts to show where the standard is, where things are normally, to show the difference.

“Sometimes I’ll just write a song that’s not within the form, and it’s consciously so. But generally when I write a country song it uses the standard tropes and you chuck in bits of the unfamiliar to balance it out. And that becomes so much starker.”

If the duo are a strict formalist (Williams) and free-spirited (Pool) in the writing room, on stage they reverse roles.

“I’m a pretty organised performer and I don’t like change,” Pool admits, while Williams happily confesses that “I’m a pretty disorganised performer”.

“I like to throw a curve ball in. I almost think of songwriters and singers as different people and that is probably coming from the folk tradition, too,” he says. “It doesn’t [matter] where the song came from, you just have to be the vessel for it in this brief time.”

Which, when you think about it, is something from not just folk and blues but also country, successive performers and successive generations building on a well known story or characters and adapting it for each generation. It’s happening again, just without a name.

Melody Pool and Marlon Williams

Gig Saturday, August 2, 8pm, Newtown Social Club, Newtown

Tickets $10 plus booking fee, newtownsocialclub南京夜网

Live Both kinds of music, country and … not country

Best trackHenry (Melody Pool) and Trouble I’m In (Marlon Williams)

Melody Pool and Marlon Williams play

                               It’s not rock’n’roll but you’ll like it

Caitlin Harnett 

From the northern fringes of Sydney, a Jackson Browne devotee with a folk singer’s voice, a country singer’s heartaches and a songwriter’s talent. Debut album, The River Runs North, due in September.

Harry Hookey 

Out of country Victoria with some of Van Morrison and Bob Dylan, a bit of country rock and a slice of soul. The album, Misdiagnosed, is out now.

Emma Swift 

Sydney and Nashville, country and sadcore, ballads and even slower songs. A beautiful voice already sounds like something from the old days. Self-titled EP out now.

Steve Smyth 

Originally from the south coast of NSW, he looks part biblical figure, part hobo and sounds part raw folk blues, part country folk. He also sounds part soul rock and part just raw and untamed. Debut album, Exits, due September.

Tracy McNeil 

Relocated from Canada to Melbourne – must have been for the footy – and brought along a punchy sound, strong on guitars and drums, and songs with elements of both west coast country rock and classy British pop rock.

Jenny Queen 

Used to be Ohio, now is Sydney. Used to be sad girl singing quietly, now can kick shins and rock harder. Even has a couple of songs not a million miles from pop. Third album, Small Town Misfits, out now.

Lachlan Bryan 

Melbourne’s more traditionally country gentleman is liked in conservative Tamworth but he’s better than being tarred with that brush. There are bits of bluegrass, some rock moves and a country/alt.country edge. Third album, Black Coffee, out now.

Ruby Boots 

In Perth she is Bex Chilcott, outside it she’s the band Ruby Boots, spicing up old style country with rock guitars, bringing some airiness to late night bar songs. Debut due in 2015, self-titled EP out now.

The Yearlings 

This Adelaide duo are as comfortable with Gillian Welch-like starkness and Band-like country lurch as relaxed country ballads. Been doing this for a while and are good at it. Fifth album, All The Wandering, out now.

Adam Eckersley 

He is from the same NSW town as the country music trio the McClymonts (Grafton) – and married to one of the sisters to boot – but where they are pop country, he is more Eagles, facial hair and Led Zeppelin posters in the film clips. Major label debut not yet scheduled.

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Jackson fades to fifth in triathlon

Full coverage: Commonwealth GamesMedal tallyDay-by-day schedule
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Australia’s Emma Jackson felt achingly short of claiming a medal on the opening event of the opening day of the Commonwealth Games.

The world under-23 champion finished fifth as Australia claimed three places in the top 10 of the triathlon.

Jackson was fifth, 38 seconds behind gold medallist Jodie Stimpson as England took a commanding gold and bronze on the opening event of the games. Emma Moffatt was seventh and Ashleigh Gentle ninth.

Stimpson won gold in 1 hour 58.56 minutes, ahead of Canada’s Kirsten Sweetland in second and England Vicky Holland picking up bronze.

Jackson was with the leaders until the last three kilometres of the run when the winning trio lifted the pace and she had nothing left to go with them. She said she was “wrecked” by the first swim leg when she gave everything to cling to the lead pack.

“That was such a tough day out there today. The swim was just so fast I was seriously trailing that group the whole swim. I just tried my hardest to keep up with the pack. That first lap of the bike seriously was the hardest first lap I have ever done so I was pretty wrecked from that or the rest of the race,” Jackson said. “I was very happy I was in the front back but it was some hard work.”

When the lead group of 10 climbed off the bike for the run Jackson and Moffatt were among the number. Jackson was unfairly criticised by on-course commentators for sitting at the back of the lead cycling group suggesting she was allowing others to do the bulk of the work.

When five runners pushed hard to break away Jackson, who came eighth at the London Olympics as a 20-year-old, was able to hang on while Moffatt slid slightly adrift into the next lead group.

Jackson found a rhythm to stay with that group for the first two of the three running leg laps and was fourth at the bell for the final lap, but was unable to stay with them when the eventual winning trio attacked.

“I just did not have that next gear to go with the girls so if it stayed that pace I would have liked it but the girls attacked and I could only hang on for fifth today. “I knew the pace would increase some time soon and I was hoping my legs could respond to it but it was not the case.”

Jackson said she now needed to work on her swim leg so that she does not expend as much energy next time to keep up with the main group and thus be able to push hard on her strongest running leg. “I definitely gave it my all. I seriously gave it everything,” she said.

Moffatt, a two time world champion, quickly peeled off the lead group once the run leg began.

Having spent last week washing cuts on her legs in egg white and rubbing her bruised ribs in onion she was unable to hang on for the run and finished seventh in 2:01.31 (2.35 minutes after the leader)

Gentle dropped off the main group through the cycling leg and was forced to do a lot of work in a small trio of cyclists, and battled hard through the run leg to still finish in the top 10 in ninth in 2:03.24 (+4.28mins).

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