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Shorten’s performance on the car industry  in the first day of Parliament seems likely to further downgrade his polling and, if continued, should restore the Coalition’s two party preference lead. The editorial in the AFR sums it up well:

“Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has instead remained opportunistically mired in the past, seriously suggesting that we should continue to add to the staggering $30 billion of consumer and taxpayer subsidies which the Productivity Commission estimates we have poured into the industry since 1997. That is a road to nowhere.”

The editorial is also encouraging in supporting the removal of “subsidies, handouts and inefficiencies”. And, although The Age editorial says (wrongly) a Royal Cn is not necessary “because law enforcement authorities have all the powers they need”, it admits that “the deplorable actions of union officials who pressure employers to contribute”, should be fully exposed “in the best interests of Australian workers”.

I note that the Fairfax press seems to continue to support exposure of union corruption, although its ally – the ABC – has gone cold. The announcement of the RC, for instance, did not get a mention on ABC TV 7.00 pm news until 7.20pm and that was just a brief one. 

It may be going too far to suggest that, with the RC and his response to Shorten, Abbott has now locked himself into a policy of removing “subsidies, handouts and inefficiencies”. In an AFR article (not included here) former chair of the Industries Assistance Commission, Bill Carmichael, expresses some scepticism given expenditure commitments made by Abbott (and one might add the attitude of some of his ministers). But it will now be more difficult to make handouts. The next test will be the May budget.


Car closures ‘won’t crash economy’

Article by Adam Creighton and Sid Maher published in The Australian, February 12, 2014

The damage caused by the demise of car manufacturing has been overstated, economists believe, with Victoria and South Australia expected to avoid recession, and the benefits of cheaper cars and fewer subsidies outweighing short-term costs.

As Tony Abbott and Victorian Premier Denis Napthine begin talks on a major infrastructure package aimed at offsetting the closure of Toyota’s Victorian manufacturing operations in 2017, economists pointed to Australia’s continued prosperity in the wake of the decline of the textile, clothing and footwear industry caused by the lifting of tariff walls.

The sector’s workforce reduced from 250,000 in the early 1970s to about 40,000 in November. “We used to make household white goods, too,” said Melbourne University professor of economics John Freebairn.

The car industry represents about 5 per cent of manufacturing, including the component manufacturers, with the Productivity Commission estimating the number of workers in the sector to be 44,000.

“The (Toyota) closure will barely be noticed in Melbourne,” said Mark Wooden, an economics fellow at the Melbourne Institute, noting how the automotive sector was a small share of employment even in areas where it dominated.

“Adelaide is slightly more exposed, but the idea suddenly 45,000 workers will be permanently unemployed is ridiculous, given they can adapt their operations to supply other sectors in Australia or try to export to Asian manufacturers.”

Professor Freebairn dismissed the possibility that the southern states could stumble into recession.

“The economy can generate more jobs in a single month than these losses, let alone over a period of three years,” he said.

The Prime Minister, who declared the loss of Toyota devastating, yesterday maintained his opposition to corporate welfare as he addressed the Coalition party room for the first time this year, arguing that chasing companies down the road with cheques did more harm than good.

Late yesterday, Mr Abbott, Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss, Joe Hockey and Foreign Minister Julia Bishop met Mr Napthine and his deputy, Peter Ryan, to receive a request from the Victorian government for fast-tracked infrastructure and defence projects.

Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane is expected to bring an expanded economic restructuring plan for Victoria and South Australia back to the government by late this month in the wake of the Toyota decision.

Bill Shorten blamed the government for the loss of Toyota and Holden, which will also quit Australian manufacturing in 2017, and accused Mr Abbott of “wilful neglect” when it came to the car industry.

“The shockwaves of this economic tsunami are unprecedented in terms of employment,” Mr Shorten said, arguing that in five months in office the Coalition had lost Australia’s 66-year-old car industry.

“Mr Abbott, stop sending the jobs overseas and start fighting for Australian jobs. That’s what Labor would do.”

His industry spokesman, Kim Carr, said if Labor had won the election, Holden and Toyota would still be in Australia.

However, Mr Abbott, who met in Canberra with senior Toyota executives on Monday night, said he had been told there was nothing the government could do to stop the closure. He said the government needed to get the fundamentals right.

Toyota on Monday became the last of Australian car manufacturers to announce it would cease making cars locally in 2017, in effect drawing a curtain on 66 years of car making in Australia.

The Japanese industrial giant, which had recently received $29 million in extra taxpayer “co-investment” on top of the billions already spent by state and federal governments on the sector, blamed a high dollar, excessive labour costs and inefficient market and production scale.

Union leaders, furious with the Abbott government for not acting sooner to prop the industry up, said 45,000 skilled jobs were at risk with parts of Melbourne and Adelaide, where car and component making are concentrated, facing economic devastation. Playford, in northern Adelaide, is the region most affected by impending closures but the Productivity Commission’s latest report into the viability of local carmaking, commissioned by Canberra, found 3.4 per cent of employed residents worked in the automotive sector in 2011.

Burchell Wilson, chief economist at the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the impending jobless were “entirely manageable”.

“Many of these workers are highly skilled and will be able to find alternative employment in high value-add ... roles.”

Its report last month, which recommended against further subsidies to the car industry as a whole or Toyota specifically, found almost one-third of the 1100 Mitsubishi workers laid off when the company quit Australian manufacturing in 2008 had full-time jobs within six months; after three years, 5.7 per cent were still unemployed. “Over time, there was a progressive increase in the proportion of former Mitsubishi employees who found employment and a decrease in the proportion unemployed,” it said.

Deutsche Bank’s chief economist, Adam Boyton, argued the early removal of subsidies would ultimately increase employment. “Short-run costs tend to be overstated in cases such as this, and long-run benefits largely ignored.”

He said NSW taxpayers had been subsiding workers in South Australia and Victoria “for decades and their only return is higher car prices”. Manufacturing has been a shrinking share of the economy for decades; more than 33,000 workers in the automotive supply chain have been retrenched since 2006.

The future must let go of the past

Editorial published in the Australian Financial Review, February 12, 2014

The end of car manufacturing in Australia is inevitably painful for those involved. In less than 10 months, an industry started 66 years ago as a flagship of Australia’s post-war industrial prowess and self-sufficiency has come to an unhappy end. But at a broader level, the close of this particular era of manufacturing also offers hope that Australia is genuinely facing up to the reality of what it will take to sustain our current prosperity. Finally, a federal government has accepted that our wealth does not hinge on clinging to what we have done in the past, propped up by handicapping enterprise elsewhere in the economy with higher costs to pay for industries that cannot make it on their own.

Instead, our prosperity will be supported by getting rid of subsidies, handouts and inefficiencies that hinder Australian businesses. By being prepared to let go of what has weighed us down, we are more likely to focus clearly on grasping opportunities, rather than on rewarding those who seek political favours to carry on doing what we’ve done in the past. That includes reforming workplace regulation, tax, red tape and getting infrastructure right.

The truth is that, for at least a generation, Australia has not been serious about developing a car industry that could genuinely compete in world markets. Australian-made cars plummeted to 10 per cent of total sales in 2013. Though few bought the cars, the government effectively rented the jobs in making them from the three auto manufacturers. The subsidies ended up amounting to just over $23,000 a year for each car and ­component worker.

The car companies kept seeking subsidies rather than confront the workplace culture foisted upon them. The unions did much the same, insisting to the very end on preserving all the workers’ rights they could squeeze out, even though this undermined their ultimate right – to a job. The politicians handed out the subsidies rather than end the shell game on their watch.

In the end, even the largesse made no difference. GM Holden and Toyota were not asking for more money when they announced their exit. Seen from the car makers’ headquarters in Detroit and Nagoya, in a world where future car demand is strongest in Asia, the Australian plants looked too marginal to continue: expensive and sub-scale when car plants need to produce 200,000 to 300,000 units a year to be viable. The Camry, which Toyota builds in Australia, is a global product. The company knows exactly how much they cost to build in Melbourne, Kentucky, or Asia – and Australian costs could not add up.

Toyota’s problems were compounded by the strong dollar. But the dollar is strong because of many of the new opportunities open to us, particularly in resource-poor Asia. On the day after Toyota marked the end of car making in Australia, it even rose above US90¢. This strong currency is reshaping the economy around mining, energy, agriculture and services. In the end, the dollar and problems in the global car industry took the politicians’ and the car companies’ decision for them.

Yet it has still fallen to Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey to finally let the car industry go and to ask Australians to focus on the new opportunities and jobs that will come from deflating our bloated cost structure and removing the handicaps to enterprise and productivity. It is part of a new age of realism that The Australian Financial Review has urged Australia to embrace, as the tapering of the mining boom and the budget crunch force us to recognise that entitlements to welfare, tax breaks and subsidised jobs are no longer the way of the future.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has instead remained opportunistically mired in the past, seriously suggesting that we should continue to add to the staggering $30 billion of consumer and taxpayer subsidies which the Productivity Commission estimates we have poured into the industry since 1997. That is a road to nowhere.

Abbott, Shorten square for battle

Article by Dennis Shanahan, Political Editor for The Australian, February 12, 2014

TONY Abbott and Bill Shorten have squared off against each other with their chosen themes for the 2014 parliamentary and political year — economic management and jobs.

The Toyota closure announcement has created an immediate backdrop of job losses and recession fears, but for weeks all of the government’s legislative plans and political strategy have been combined and directed towards such a start for the real business of the Abbott government.

Labor’s attacks on the Prime Minister and the Coalition are likewise coloured by the ending of car manufacturing in Australia, but the intent of framing the Abbott government as uncaring and anti-worker has been clear for months.

Shorten told parliament yesterday the Coalition was “a North Sydney-based government” that had “never seen an Australian job worth fighting for”.

Shorten’s descriptions were full of a government that had surrendered, didn’t care, put up the white flag, wouldn’t fight for jobs, wouldn’t give assistance to keep manufacturing and blamed workers for factory closures.

“We have seen the death of the car industry and we hold you responsible,” the Opposition Leader told Abbott as he cranked up fears of “division” in society and job losses during Labor’s attempt on the year’s first parliamentary sitting day to censure the Prime Minister over company closures.

Shorten and Labor frontbenchers swamped the media and parliament, blaming the Abbott government for the end of the car industry and for destroying jobs by not offering assistance to firms.

Abbott’s response, legislatively and rhetorically, was to avoid blaming workers, express regret at the company closures and offer to do what could be done for Victoria and South Australia. But he turned the pressure on Labor to pass economic and budget measures through the Senate to help “get the economic fundamentals right”.

Abbott and his ministers drew the threads of Labor-Greens obstruction in the Senate over the carbon tax, the mining tax, the Australian Building and Construction Commission, the royal commission into union corruption and $20 billion in budget savings across the loom of parliament.

Abbott continues to try to impose a calm pace on government actions, concentrating on the longer term and harping on cutting the budget deficit, government spending and the “economic fundamentals”.

Abbott constantly repeated the lines on the Toyota closure that “it’s not going to happen tomorrow, it’s not going to happen next week, it’s not going to happen next month, it’s not even going to happen next year”. He sought to project calm and deflate a sense of immediate crisis.

In a policy sense he continued to hold the line on “corporate welfare”, refusing to borrow more money for handouts, but was more measured in his criticism of the SPC Ardmona management and labour practices.

“The job of government is not to offer false hope or miracle cures (but) to sit down and carefully and methodically and purposefully sort out what is best done in difficult situations,” Abbott said.

Nor did he or his ministers make inflated claims about workers’ pay or the impact of the carbon tax.

Politically, he did not hold back in putting pressure on Shorten to cut costs to business and households by repealing the carbon tax, to drop the mining tax, restore the “cop on the beat of the building industry” and support the royal commission into union corruption.

The Opposition Leader is accusing the Coalition of not fighting for workers and their jobs but the government response is that Shorten is more interested in protecting union officials than taking real decisions to ease costs on companies and consumers.

A lot of colourful accusations are flying around now but the heart of the political and policy argument for this year will remain a concentration on jobs and long-term economic management.

Government says Bill Shorten ‘too soft’ on unions

Article by David Crowe in The Australian, February 12, 2014

THE Coalition has escalated its personal attacks on Bill Shorten over the royal commission into union corruption by blaming his background in the labour movement as the source of his objections to the move.

As the Opposition Leader insisted a police inquiry would act more quickly on criminal behaviour, the government used an attack in parliament to accuse him of being too soft on the problem.

The political play came as Mr Shorten confirmed that he had recently received information about possible corruption -- said to involve the building industry -- and passed this on to police investigators.

Mr Shorten insisted yesterday that the Australian Crime Commission already had the powers needed to uncover corruption, labelling the government’s new inquiry a political stunt.

But the government challenged him to prove he wanted to act on problems by supporting a bill to revive the Australian Building and Construction Commission, set up by the Howard government to investigate illegality but then scrapped by Labor.

The Coalition’s agenda now includes the ABCC bill as well as a move to impose criminal penalties on union officials and employer group directors under the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2013.

Mr Shorten yesterday confirmed he had had a role in helping at least one recent investigation, said to involve the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union. “I was provided some information which I immediately forwarded on to the police,” he told reporters. “The fact that I forwarded it onto the police as opposed to a committee shows that the way to handle these very serious issues in the building and construction industry is the police.

“The fact that I immediately handed on shows there is no tolerance at all for any lowlifes wearing a union badge, claiming to represent the legitimate interests of workers engaging in bribery or extortion or corruption, just as there is no place for any employer to do this . . . That is the right way to handle this.”

While he argued the Australian Crime Commission had “all the powers” of a royal commission, a High Court decision last June found the ACC could not force a person charged with an indictable offence to answer questions.

The Education Minister and government leader in the House of Representatives, Christopher Pyne, turned the attack on Mr Shorten yesterday by mocking his call in recent days for unions to bar anyone wearing bikie gang colours from entering work sites.

“They must be shaking in their boots,” Mr Pyne said. He challenged Mr Shorten to show he was “serious” by supporting the royal commission, the bill to restore the ABCC and the criminal penalties in the ROC bill.

“The problem with the Leader of the Opposition is that he can’t rise above his background,” Mr Pyne told parliament. “He is a union official supporting union officials. He is running a protection racket for a protection racket.”

Untangle the web of union corruption

Editorial published in The Age, February 12, 2014

Three decades ago, when Frank Costigan, QC, concluded his lengthy investigation into the affairs of the murderous Federated Painters' and Dockers' Union, Australia gleaned extraordinary insights into how corrupt unions and corrupt businesses fed from the same trough. Mr Costigan's royal commission probed beyond the violence and intimidation of the union and followed a trail that ultimately led to evidence of widespread corporate tax evasion, theft, drug trafficking and fraud.

Who knows what will emerge from the latest royal commission on the union movement? Following reports by The Age, which revealed allegations of bribery, corruption and standover tactics in the building and construction sector, the Abbott government has decided the best way to get to the bottom of it is through another commission of inquiry.

The Age has already said that a royal commission into the allegations concerning the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union was not necessary because law enforcement authorities have all the powers they need to investigate them. More resources and co-ordination from multiple regulators and police would get the job done.

Nevertheless, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has decided a royal commission is the way to go. Its brief will not be limited to the construction unions. Nor is it limited to the matters involving a so-called slush fund set up by the Australian Workers' Union 20 years ago.

Instead, the royal commission, which will be led by former High Court judge Dyson Heydon, has been sufficiently widely framed so that it can examine the financial management and governance of any entity set up by a union or its officials, and the adequacy of laws surrounding union-related finances. That will surely lead to some close scrutiny of the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act which, despite amendments in 2012, imposes penalties on errant union officers that fall well short of those levied against company directors and officers under the Corporations Act. As well, while people who commit criminal offences in their capacity as union officials may be charged and tried under state-based criminal laws, they are not subjected to the same breach-of-trust laws as company directors.

Five unions have been cited specifically in the terms of reference: the AWU and the CFMEU, plus the Electrical Trades Union, Health Services Union and Transport Workers Union. The commissioner, however, is free to examine credible allegations against ''any other person, association or organisation'' involving almost anything from bribes, secret commissions and procuring an advantage to conflicts of interest. Mr Abbott says the inquiry can probe ''wherever the evidence leads it''.

For years, The Age has reported the deplorable actions of union officials who pressure employers to contribute funds towards their union elections - sums that are sometimes redeployed into factional political stoushes. There is a patent conflict of interest in this, and the ACTU should have stamped this out years ago.

The union movement is on notice. The opaque movement of funds that have covertly enriched some union officials at the expense of union members, or helped influence their election or those in other unions, or which perhaps were elicited corruptly from businesses, must be exposed once and for all. It would be a travesty, though, if the commission became a political foil for attacking the union movement generally.

This is the opportunity for unions to stand up and defy corruption, and the best leaders of the labour movement will do more than mouth such sentiments. They will allow full exposure of union finances and commit to the highest standards of corporate governance for the future, as well as help rout wrongdoers because it is in the best interests of Australian workers to do so.

Lies, damn lies and car subsidy statistics

Article by Judith Sloane published in The Australian, February 12, 2014

BILL Shorten falls in to the camp of not letting facts get in the way of a good argument.

Commenting on Toyota’s exit from automotive manufacturing in 2017, the Opposition Leader yesterday made the following claim: “There are first-world countries that make cars. The industry support that we provided the car industry is far lower than what the Germans do, or the Americans do, but Mr Abbott thinks he’s smarter than every other first-world country.”

But is it true that the Germans and Americans subsidise their car industries to a greater extent than Australians? On the face of it, it seems an unlikely proposition given the billions of taxpayer dollars that have been handed over in the past decade to the automotive manufacturers operating in Australia.

Figures have been bandied around that suggest that the Australian automotive industry is receiving only $US17 per capita compared with $US265 per capita in the US.

Take it from me, these figures look wrong.

To find out the real situation, we have only to consult the Productivity Commission’s recently released position paper on automotive manufacturing. The comparison of assistance rates across countries is discussed in some detail.

And the bottom line is contained in the summary table.

In turns out the dodgy estimates are based on a number of faulty premises. First, a highly atypical year is selected — 2009, during the global financial crisis. Second, different types of government assistance — loan guarantees, cash handouts, general industry assistance measures — are simply lumped together and added up. Third, the figures are presented in per capita terms, an approach that makes no sense at all. The only sensible measure is in terms of per vehicle produced.

Reworking the figures, it turns out that Australia has subsidised the manufacturing of vehicles to an extraordinary extent -- $US1885 per vehicle, compared with Sweden ($US297), Germany ($US206) and the US ($US166). In other words, Australia has the highest rate of budgetary assistance of the seven first-world countries listed.

So this puts paid to this argument. The Australian government as well as state government have bent over backwards to bribe the foreign multinationals to continue to produce cars in this country. We now know that Toyota Australia has received nearly $500 million in the past four years. Given that there are some 2500 Toyota employees, this works out at $50,000 a worker a year.

The bottom line is that there was no realistic sum of taxpayer funds that would have kept Toyota in this country — indeed, Toyota didn’t even bother to ask. We therefore need to move on.

And while we can all agree with Shorten’s point that “it’s time to fight for Australian jobs”, this is not achieved by using government handouts to prop up uncompetitive industries.

Judith Sloan is The Australian’s Contributing economics editor

Inquiry must root out costly union corruption

Article by John Lloyd published in The Australian, February 12, 2014

THE wide-ranging Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption will thoroughly probe the conduct of union officials.

Item No 7 in the terms of reference will be of particular interest to the building and construction industry.

It authorises an inquiry into and report on “any bribes, secret commissions or other unlawful payments or benefits arising from contracts, arrangements or understandings between registered employee associations or their officers and any other party”.

Item No 9 calls for a report on the adequacy and effectiveness of existing systems of regulation and law enforcement in dealing with unlawful conduct.

I suspect the most lasting benefits of the royal commission will be the economic ones that flow from a more law-abiding building and construction industry.

Building and construction is estimated to account for about 8 per cent of gross domestic product and to employ more than a million people. It is accepted that an efficient construction industry is crucial to sustain a competitive economy. The reported penetration of corrupt conduct will inevitably cause distortions in economic performance and reduced efficiency.

Past studies provide proof of the benefits of combating unlawful conduct. I commissioned Econtech, an independent provider of economic modelling services, to analyse the economic benefits of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, particularly the effect on productivity. Two reports were produced in 2007 and 2008. The Master Builders Association continued the practice and received reports in 2009, 2010, 2012 and last year.

The reports found the ABCC made a significant impact on the industry’s productivity. The magnitude of gains was estimated to be 9.4 per cent. The 2013 report estimates 75 per cent of the gains achieved during the tenure of the ABCC are lost with its abolition and the return to past exploitative practices.

The ABCC gains translated into substantial benefits for the national economy. Econtech modelling estimated the benefit to be $7.5 billion for consumers of the industry’s services.

In looking behind the figures, it is not hard to see why a more law-abiding industry is more efficient.

Many contractors observed that the introduction of the ABCC backed by a national code that was enforced with rigour changed the dynamics on building sites. No longer was site management caught up in dealing with weekly or even daily industrial disputes. Cases of workers staying in the sheds or threatening bans and strikes basically disappeared.

Managements could devote more time to supervising a site’s construction procedures and getting the job done. Contractors reported a marked improvement in the number of projects completed on time and within budget.

At the same time the tender prices took account of the more stable workplace relations environment. It was reported that actuarial calculations behind large project bids reduced the allowance for industrial disruption from 10-15 per cent to 2-3 per cent of the tender price.

Other studies support these impacts. A study was tabled at the Cole royal commission comparing the costs of building the same distribution centre in Melbourne and Sydney. The client was a major food retailer. The Melbourne distribution centre was more than 20 per cent costlier than the Sydney project, with the higher labour costs and greater disruption encountered there.

A study by the John Holland construction company found a 10 per cent productivity dividend following the introduction of the ABCC. Woodside Petroleum constructed two similar LNG trains, one before and the other after the ABCC. The first suffered a 2.3 per cent loss of hours due to industrial disruption while the second saw the figure reduced to 0.4 per cent.

Allen Consulting Group estimated the ABCC regime achieved a 2 per cent reduction in project labour costs.

The economic benefits of a lawful building and construction industry are tangible. Australia is embarking on major infrastructure development. The coming years will see many large construction projects as roads, rail, ports, airports, hospitals and schools are built and upgraded. Taxpayers expect governments to get value for money when undertaking these projects.

In the past that has not been the case as government projects have often attracted a disproportionate amount of unlawful activity.

Opponents of the ABCC and the royal commission will contest these findings. Dave Noonan, national secretary of the construction division of the CFMEU, said at the union’s national conference last October: “Their (the Coalition’s) economic case for the ABCC - that it improves productivity in the industry and is therefore in the national interest - is based on a lie.” I urge caution in accepting this argument. In the same speech he said: “There is simply no credible evidence of criminality by the union.”

The royal commission will now test the evidence. If effective measures are taken to combat corruption and strong regulatory controls are reintroduced the Australian economy and community will reap a significant benefit.

John Lloyd is a former ABCC commissioner.

Hezbollah website has local links

Article by Christian Kerr and Mark Schliebs published in The Australian, February 12, 2014

SUPPORTERS of Islamic militant group Hezbollah are operating a well-resourced English language website in Australia, sparking fears it is attempting to radicalise younger Arab-Australians.

Only the military wing of the Lebanon-based organisation is banned in Australia, but the site,, appears to blur the line between Hezbollah’s political and military activities, prompting a warning from Attorney-General George Brandis that incitement or facilitation of terrorism are both federal offences.

The sophisticated and professionally designed website, which appears to be the work of an individual in southwest Melbourne, contains “resistance” songs accompanied by military-themed videos with titles such as “Write Resistance with Blood”, “Hezbollah the Victorious”, “Woe O Occupier” and “Al-Quds (Jerusalem) is Ours”.

Another is entitled “Khaybar Will Return, O Jews”, an ominous reference to Mohammed’s seventh-century victory over the Jews of Medina — in modern day Saudi Arabia — that led to their expulsion from the region.

The site carries documentaries from Iranian and pro-Hezbollah Lebanese television praising the organisation’s military activities, along with a series “on the lives of individual martyrs” entitled “Alive with their Lord” and a series of filmed final messages from Hezbollah fighters killed in combat, “Testament of the Martyrs”.

The site is actively supported and promoted on social media through Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

Facebook’s own analytics say the page there has received the most “likes” from 18 to 24-year-olds in Sydney.

The Facebook page says: “We at Electronic Resistance are dedicated to bringing our viewers translated videos of the Islamic Resistance of Lebanon” -- an indication its target is younger Arab-Australians who do not speak Arabic — but throws its net out beyond the Lebanese community.

Recent posts include a promotion for a rally in Sydney this coming weekend to mark the 35th anniversary of the Islamic revolution in Iran.

Another carries a picture of the Syrian dictator with the caption, “Bashar Al-Assad is being targeted by the West because he is a staunch supporter of Palestine and a true enemy of Israel.”

Electronic Resistance follows Russia Today on Twitter, the news channel that has carried WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s program. Representatives from the WikiLeaks Party, including Assange’s father John Shipton, have recently visited Syria.

While data about the site is masked, its domain name is registered through a Sydney-based company and it appears to be hosted on Australian-based servers. Much of the development of its internet and social media presence appears to be the work of one individual working from Melbourne’s southwest.

The volume of material posted on the site and on Facebook indicates Australian and international collaboration.

Senator Brandis said the government did not comment on specific investigations.

“Australia is a free country and there is no legal limitation on comments on the merits of the Syrian civil war as long as the commentary does not involve incitement to terrorism,” he said.

But Senator Brandis warned ASIO and the AFP monitored the internet to identify websites that might be involved in the incitement or facilitation of terrorism, which are against the commonwealth criminal code.

Jeremy Jones from the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council described the site as “completely unacceptable within Australia”.

“The tolerance we have had in creating such a wonderful multicultural country should not extend to tolerating people who are using that freedom to incite not only ill-feeling but violence towards others,” he said.

“We know there are people (in Australia) open to manipulation by those who want other people to go and fight their wars for them.”

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