AUSTRALIAN POLITICS ARCHIVE
Looking at Australian politics from a libertarian/conservative perspective...
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Two of my ancestors were convicts so my family has been in Australia for a long time. As well as that, all four of my grandparents were born in the State where I was born and still live: Queensland. And I am even a member of the world's second-most condemned minority: WASPs (the most condemned is of course the Jews -- which may be why I tend to like Jews). So I think I am as Australian as you can get. I certainly feel that way. I like all things that are iconically Australian: meat pies, Vegemite, Henry Lawson etc. I particularly pride myself on my familiarity with the great Australian slanguage. I draw the line at Iced Vo-Vos and betting on the neddies, however. So if I cannot comment insightfully on Australian affairs, who could?
30 November, 2013
GrainCorp decision: Joe Hockey caught between national and Nationals' interest
This whole affair is a heap of rubbish that ignores the elephant in the room. There is no version of economic rationality that requires the join-up of two monopolies -- and much against it. Graincorp and ADM are not strictly monopolies but they are near enough for the same reasoning to apply. The economically rational decision would have been to split up Graincorp's tentacles -- perhaps on a state-by-state basis -- and forbid any purchases of the resultant entities such that a monopoly or near monopoly was re-created
Just one letter and a tiny apostrophe were all that were missing from Joe Hockey's reasoning when he scotched the bid by the American giant, Archer-Daniels-Midland to swallow up Australia's top listed agri-business, GrainCorp (GNC).
Whereas the Treasurer explained the 100 per cent take-over was not in the “national” interest, the more pressing concern for the Coalition under threat of massive internal hemorrhaging over the issue, was that the acquisition was not in the Nationals' interests. And therefore not in the government's political interests.
It may have escaped the attention of many city voters in recent months, but the ADM move has been huge news in the bush. Tension within the Coalition has been extreme – a delicate situation for any Liberal-Nationals government, but particularly so for one as young and as chest-beatingly pro-business in its rhetoric.
But the decision before the economically rationalist Treasurer was fraught with danger.
Nationals leader, Warren Truss, and his likely successor, Barnaby Joyce had made no secret of their strong opposition to the take-over. Privately, the Nats were incandescent, threatening all kinds of mayhem if the sale was approved.
Truss of course is also Deputy Prime Minister, so his public indications carried a lot of influence. They also raised a few eyebrows because Hockey was being told in no uncertain terms that the junior Coalition partner would not support the approval of ADM's bid.
The American agricultural giant's $3.4 billion bid was generous and came with the promise of hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure upgrades.
But growers worried that at just 4 per cent of ADM's total worth, GrainCorp would lack the clout within the multinational to see their interests protected. And they worried that they would wind up paying for those upgrades anyway in higher handling fees and perhaps lower returns.
Weighing heavily on Hockey and the entire government though was the signal a rejection would transmit.
Just a day after floating the alternatives for Qantas of greater foreign ownership, or partial nationalisation, the ADM application sends a potentially confusing message to international investors.
Business attracted by Australia's stability, its triple-A credit ratings, and its pro-business rhetoric, will now have to weigh those symbolic aspects against the reality of a government that has just knocked back a solid bid for a company and a sector that is badly in need of capital investment.
Politically, Hockey has chosen the path of least resistance. That doesn't automatically make it wrong, but it lifts the onus on the new government to explain in a detailed way why this particular bit of foreign investment is against the national interest, when other foreign investment is not.
Government, as the Prime Minister has noted, is about making the tough decisions.
This one appears to have been taken on the easy side of the ledger.
The Nationals are happy because once again their particular brand of protected capitalism – sometimes called agrarian socialism – has prevailed.
Hockey said he would not be bullied by anyone in making his final call on the GrainCorp bid.
Many in the business community may now be wondering what happened and what it might say about the character of the Abbott Coalition government.
Former treasurer Wayne Swan tweeted: “No more sanctimonious Hockey lectures about Australia being open for business or strong economic management, weak populist decision”.
Inevitably Hockey was damned if he did and damned if he didn't.
When Aunty turned a blind eye
WHEN important and difficult stories break, you will hear about them on your ABC. We will not succumb to pressure to suppress or ignore legitimate stories to protect those in power. - Kate Torney,ABC director of news, on the Indonesian phone-tapping story.
THIS year, the ABC has studiously ignored every major development in the Victoria Police major fraud squad investigation into the Australian Workers Union scandal. Even the proceedings of Victoria's courts on the matter - the bread and butter of local journalism - have eluded the national broadcaster's local reporters.
Jonathan Holmes spoke at length on the ABC's Media Watch about legitimate reporting of the story back in August last year. The Australian's Hedley Thomas had just broken the news that one of Julia Gillard's former law firm partners claimed that Gillard had lost her job at Slater & Gordon as a direct result of legal advice she gave to help establish a slush fund for her then boyfriend and client, AWU state secretary Bruce Wilson. There were numerous revelations in leaked documents, including a transcript of her exit interview from the firm, and the subsequent disclosure by the firm's then head partner, Peter Gordon, that it was a very serious matter involving an alleged fraud.
Jon Faine, of 774 ABC Melbourne, said: "The conspiracy theorists are having a ball, the blogosphere's running amok, it's all completely out of control ... why is it on the front page of the paper?"
To his great credit, Holmes said of the Faine view: "Well, I think that's nonsense." He went on to say the story was news, and had been presented in a sober and meticulous fashion by The Australian and elsewhere online.
There was a flurry of reporting in November last year from the ABC. It carried all of Gillard's press conferences and a lengthy interview with Wilson and, separately, his union colleague Ralph Blewitt. Then nothing.
Since the parliament rose last year, it's as if the AWU scandal had ceased to be for the ABC. Yet substantial developments have taken place - although not the sort of developments that would sit well in an Anne Summers, ABC live, Gillard extravaganza.
In January, Thomas reported that Victoria police had travelled to Queensland and taken a lengthy statement from a former para-legal executive at Slater & Gordon, Olivia Palmer (nee Brosnahan). That interview marked a turning point in the police investigation, with a significant increase in the number of detectives assigned to the matter as a result of her evidence.
The ABC reported nothing.
On May 15 this year, Gillard was closing in on her third anniversary as prime minister. By 11am, she had introduced the National Disability Insurance Scheme legislation into the House of Representatives.
That same day, detectives from the major fraud squad visited the Melbourne Magistrates Court to give sworn evidence in an application for a warrant to search and seize documents from Slater & Gordon. Magistrate Lance Martin heard their evidence and duly issued the warrant.
The law does not provide for search warrants to seize documents for background information, or to provide leads for further investigation. Before Martin could issue the warrant, he - not police - had to believe on reasonable grounds that a serious crime had occurred and that the things he specified in the warrant would afford evidence of that crime.
We know Martin's warrant directed police to seize all documents held by Slater & Gordon relating to Wilson, Blewitt, Gillard, the AWU Workplace Reform Association (the slush fund) and a property at 1/85 Kerr Street, Fitzroy, bought with the slush fund's money by Wilson, who attended the auction with Gillard, and put in Blewitt's name.
The warrant described further evidence: Gillard's personnel files; her invoices/billings, time sheets and travel records; personnel files in the name of her former secretary; and any record of the exit interview conducted by Peter Gordon with Gillard on September 11, 1995 (redacted portions of that interview were published in The Australian in August and November last year).
Martin included documents pertaining to Gillard and the AWU, the conveyance and mortgage file relating to the $150,000 loan advanced to Blewitt for the purchase of 1/85 Kerr Street and deed registers involving the AWU.
By May 17, police had seized the documents set out in the warrant, leaving the Slater & Gordon premises with boxes of material.
Search warrants are a regular part of police work - the Slater & Gordon warrant was the 1536th issued by the magistrates court in the five months to May. After police execute a warrant and seize material, they are required to bring the material back to the court for further directions. When it's stolen property or drug material, it's routine: the court orders that the material be held by police pending production in evidence.
But with law firms it's different. A client of a law firm may claim "legal professional privilege" over documents containing legal advice. The "privilege" against production and use in evidence is the client's to claim, not the lawyer's. Blewitt waived privilege, releasing any and all documents concerning him into evidence.
As we enter December, Wilson is still considering his position - seven months down the track. Without that delay, the material seized from Slater & Gordon would likely have been given in to the custody of the police for production in evidence within weeks of the raid. That is, by June, while Gillard was still prime minister.
Our critics have employed a series of arguments, each one weaker than the last. The first argument was that there was no story.
- Torney, on the Indonesian phone-tapping story.
THE fraud squad was as tight as a drum with information about the raid. Nothing leaked. Slater & Gordon was similarly motivated to keep the police visit confidential. But with police contacting the clients of Slater & Gordon the story was bound to surface. On June 17 it was front-page news in The Australian. The next day, The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald followed up with a report noting that police expected to have the issues of client privilege finalised within two weeks.
On July 19, the ABC wrote to a listener in answer to a complaint about the ABC not covering the story, that: "The ABC was aware that an alleged raid had occurred. However, we were unable to confirm it had happened and therefore, we did not report it."
Even the most basic of journalistic skills - making a few phone calls - eluded the nation's largest employer of journalists.
That week, the ABC did publish extensive coverage of allegations about a prime minister and slush funds, but it was the Spanish Prime Minister. The ABC headline reported calls for "Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy to resign over ties to slush fund".
On August 26, the Supreme Court heard Slater & Gordon's application for the return of eight documents under a claim of privilege in favour of the law firm. There was much discussion in the courtroom, documents were published and The Australian and other media covered the event. The ABC reported nothing.
On September 2, Victorian Chief Magistrate Peter Lauritsen heard Detective Sergeant Ross Mitchell's application for the remaining 360 documents to be handed to the custody of police.
Wilson was represented at the hearing by legal counsel and he sought more time to consider his position in relation to privilege.
During the proceedings, Lauritsen granted The Australian's request for the release of Mitchell's written application. That document included the details of the search warrant clearly naming Gillard. It closes by saying that, should Wilson make a claim of privilege, police will argue the claim should be rejected because the documents seized from Gillard's former office "were made in the furtherance of fraud".
No lawyer wants to find themselves publicly accused by police of being associated with fraud. That sort of accusation about a suburban solicitor would generally rate a line or two in the news. But when the two lawyers concerned are a sitting prime minister and a Federal Court judge (Bernard Murphy) appointed by her government, the question of whether or not it's newsworthy is answered beyond a shadow of doubt.
The Chief Magistrate reinforced the public interest judgment by publicly releasing the police application. It was rightly front-page news in The Australian; The Australian Financial Review, The Daily Telegraph, other newspapers and radio stations carried the story. It was unquestionably newsworthy - a sitting prime minister was named in a search warrant that directed police to seize evidence of alleged crime connected to her former office.
News, that is, unless you listen to the ABC - whose audiences heard nothing.
Audiences must not be able to reasonably conclude that the ABC has taken an editorial stand on matters of contention and public debate.
- Mark Scott, ABC managing director, October 17, 2006.
ON September 16, with the court documents published online, Adam Doyle from ABC News wrote this email in answer to a listener complaint about the ABC's lack of coverage:
"Thank you for your email regarding investigations being conducted by Victoria Police.
"It is a matter of public record that some form of investigation is under way. We know this because the ABC extensively reported the fact that Ralph Blewitt and others took information to the police.
"Beyond this, there are few confirmed facts which would reach the threshold of ABC editorial standards for reporting. We accept that other media may operate to a different standard, but we do not intend to compromise our own.
"Reporting that the prime minister of the nation is under police investigation is an enormously significant call to make. It cannot be made on supposition, on rumour, or on hearsay.
"You have said that Vic Pol have confirmed this in writing, but we have not cited (sic) this media release or public communication.
"According to The Australian they've been collecting files but you would expect any police investigation to gather up this sort of primary documentation. That does not mean Ms Gillard is under investigation. For all we know, the investigation could be into Ralph Blewitt, or Bruce Wilson or Slater & Gordon or any number of other individuals and entities.
"Rather than mimicking other media reports, the ABC is following fine principles of reporting confirmed fact. When such facts become available, you can be sure the ABC will report them.
No questions, no follow-up, no investigative reports. The ABC would await a media release.
News is what someone somewhere doesn't want you to print; everything else is advertising.
- Torney, on the Indonesian phone-tapping story
TONY Abbott's alleged wall-punches from university 30 years ago met the ABC's standards. The Australian public interest in knowing about unsubstantiated allegations against the Prime Minister of Spain and a slush fund met the threshold.
What was so difficult about Gillard and her involvement in the AWU scandal?
The trigger for Victoria Police opening an investigation into the AWU scandal was Blewitt's statement about a power of attorney document Gillard says she witnessed properly. The police took Blewitt seriously enough to allocate scarce and expensive resources from the major fraud squad to the investigation.
The parliament took Blewitt's statement seriously too, with large sections of it read into Hansard.
But the ABC would hear none of it.
The ABC had decided: Gillard good, Blewitt bad. All of Gillard's defensive utterances were reported by the ABC.
The ABC reported Gillard's disgraceful personal slurs against Blewitt.
Perhaps the best insight into its group-think comes from its Canberra-based news editor John Mulhall, responding to (another) listener complaint about ABC failure to report on Blewitt's statements at the time.
"The ABC is aware of these statements but we do not at this stage believe it warrants the attention of our news coverage.
"To the extent that it may touch tangentially on a former role of the Prime Minister, we know The Australian newspaper maintains an abiding interest in events 17 years ago at the law firm Slater & Gordon, but the ABC is unaware of any allegation in the public domain which goes to the Prime Minister's integrity."
He closed his note by reassuring us that "if any allegation is ever raised which might go to the Prime Minister's integrity, the ABC would of course make inquiries into it and seek to report it".
We're still waiting.
Bogus asylum-seekers sent home from PNG
ABOUT 80 asylum-seekers sent to Papua New Guinea have already returned to their home countries after being found to be "economic migrants" rather than refugees.
PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill told The Weekend Australian that this "quite sizeable number" of people had left for Sri Lanka, Iran and other countries.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said there were plans to build a "removal centre" at the asylum-seeker processing centre on Manus Island to house those whose claims had failed and were due to be flown out.
Mr O'Neill said that so far, the process had been voluntary.
"Processing in Manus is slowly taking place, but we are finding a large number of them are economic migrants, and as such many of them are now willing to leave the centre and return to their country of origin," he said.
Last Friday, there were 1144 asylum-seekers at the centre. None has so far been found to be a refugee.
But if people were assessed as genuine refugees, Mr O'Neill said, "we would have to take our share, and Australia and other Pacific island countries would have to take theirs - something on which we are working with the Australian government and officials".
The PNG Prime Minister said that members of the Manus community felt "they haven't been given an adequate opportunity to participate in some of the developments" at the centre.
This included complaints about Australia bringing in a floating hotel to house staff, rather than putting them in local accommodation.
"We are establishing a permanent facility, and have always stressed that it's important to establish good relations with the community, with people and businesses there," Mr O'Neill said.
He said that although the rate of boat arrivals might slow down now, "it is likely to continue in the future from time to time, as people are displaced in their own countries and seek refuge elsewhere".
That, he said, was why "we are establishing a centre for the region in Manus, with permanent staff".
"So it's important to build continuing relations there, with people who are among the friendliest in the Pacific.
"In their eagerness to get the facility up and running, the Australians have been trying to get it going without much consultation with the local community."
The issues that have arisen over the construction and management of the centre, he said, hinged largely on cultural differences.
Mr O'Neill said that this would be discussed at the annual Joint Ministerial Forum between PNG and Australia, due to take place in Canberra on December 11.
He said that the PNG team there would also "be seeking from the Australian government a clear understanding that there will be no tapping of phones in our country without express authorisation from our courts".
The Prime Minister said Australian high commissioner Deborah Stokes had already been summoned to his Foreign Ministry for discussions on whether Canberra had been listening in to phone conversations in PNG.
Old Adolf is still causing a stir
A SYDNEY auction house has prompted fury in the Jewish community by selling Nazi war memorabilia including an SS dagger, swastika flags and Hitler Youth armbands.
Leading members of the Jewish community condemned the trade in Nazi memorabilia as "glorifying" the worst genocide in history.
Lawsons, which is based in Leichardt in Sydney's inner west, sold the Nazi relics at an auction on Thursday with the SS dagger fetching the top price of $4,250. The Hitler Youth dagger, armband and belt buckle sold for $800.
Other items included Luftwaffe caps, Iron Cross medals and a red Nazi drape flag with a black swastika, similar to those used at Hitler's rallies, which sold for $600.
NSW Jewish Board of Deputies chief executive officer Vic Alhadeff said: "It is always a matter of concern when memorabilia which evoke the Nazi era are promoted and traded.
"One hopes that those who acquired these items will be using them for educational and historical purposes and not to glorify what the Nazis stood for and the worst genocide in history."
Norman Seligman, CEO of the Sydney Jewish Museum, said: "I don't think they should be a trade in this and as a museum we would not be doing anything to support it.
"When you actively trade in this type of material you are glorifying what happened."
It is not illegal to sell Nazi relics in Australia but it is banned in Austria, France and Germany and online auction sites including eBay have developed polices to restrict trade.
NSW President for the Council of Civil Liberties, Stephen Blanks, said auction houses needed to take a clear moral position when selling this kind of memorabilia.
"Sale of these items has got to be handled in a way that does not glorify the Nazi regime," he said.
Auction houses needed to be clear on the motives of both the buyers and sellers and the history of the items for sale. "Auction houses which don't have these kind of policies risk alienating significant portions of the population," he said.
But Lawsons Managing Director Martin Farrah refused to explain if his company had a policy and hid behind a "no comment".
28 November, 2013
In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is disgusted that Malcom Turnbull is doing nothing to rein in the Leftist excesses of the ABC
Public broadcaster demands licence to be vile
I am not a fan of defamation proceedings, but I’m far less impressed by an ABC now so out of control that it vilifies conservative critics and spends taxpayers’ money defending its right to call them “dog f...ers”:
Lawyers for Chris Kenny, a journalist and commentator with The Australian and Sky News, have lodged a statement of claim in the NSW Supreme Court against the ABC, Chaser presenter Andrew Hansen and production company Giant Dwarf for images and words broadcast on September 11 that referred to Kenny as “a dog f . . ker"…
The statement of claim also alleges the imputation the plaintiff’s “attacks on the ABC were so dishonorable . . . that he deserved to be compared to . . . a person who has sexual intercourse with a dog”.
Kenny is claiming aggravated damages, a permanent restraint on any future publication of the same or similar material and interest, plus costs.
I have never known the ABC to be so stridently partisan and so abusive of conservative critics. It has betrayed its charter and abused the trust - and taxes - of taxpayers.
Former director of the ABC Board who appointed Mark Scott calls for his resignation
The seriousness of the ABC's decision to publish criminally obtained information that involved such profoundly damaging and entirely foreseeable risks also raises questions about the ABC board.
Did Scott raise the issue with the board, to whom he is responsible? If not, why not? What about ABC chairman Jim Spigelman? Was he included in the decision? If not, why not? If yes, did he consider the ramifications for the public interest?
What is Spigelman's view about Scott's response to questions in senate estimates last week that it was in the public interest to reveal information about Australian intelligence gathering in Indonesia even though he knew that it would "cause some difficulties with the Australian-Indonesian relationship in the short term". Or did Spigelman do what former ABC chairmen lacking spine have too often done - let the MD and therefore the staff - run the show without prudent board oversight?
So far, the only public comment Spigelman has made has been a letter to The Australian about the "considerable personal distress" this newspaper caused to his executive assistant by publishing an incorrect salary figure. Compared with the breach of national security perpetrated by the ABC, his focus on a matter of staff welfare is a disappointing demonstration of where the chairman's priorities lie. A responsible board must surely have concerns about Scott's stewardship of the ABC on this matter. Scott is appointed by and subject to removal by the board.
As section 13 of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act sets out, the managing director holds office subject to terms and conditions determined by the board. The reckless publication of criminally obtained information with the predictable and escalating consequences now unfolding make his position untenable. In short, the ABC board needs to look at its responsibilities here - and its culpability in this matter.
As a member of the ABC board for five years between 2005 and 2010, I can attest to the fact that it has a disappointing history of being ineffective. I can attest to the fact that information that ought to have been provided to the board was not.
And I can attest to the fact that, unlike commercial boards that work together, the ABC board is too often a numbers game. If you don't have the board numbers then the status quo at the ABC becomes untouchable. Moreover, if the chairman's main aim is to be loved by staff, then the MD is untouchable.
Instead of providing genuine oversight and counsel to management, the board gets bogged down drafting policies, codes of conduct and other fine-sounding documents. It's a management driven make-work gig for board members to make them feel important. It justifies them jumping on planes, travelling business class, checking into nice hotels and turning up for a fine lunch at Ultimo - all at taxpayer expense. Meanwhile the focus is taken off what really matters - the output of the ABC. The output this past week by the ABC has let taxpayers down. Badly.
The ABC still hasn’t said why their damage was worth it
There’s not much point in calling into question the judgment of the Prime Minister, and his chief pollster, without calling into question the judgment of the people who started this conflagration [with Indonesia], Katharine Viner, the editor The Guardian Australia, and Mark Scott, the managing director of the ABC.
They made their decision to publish in the ‘’public interest", in the full knowledge that it would poison the relationship between Indonesia and Australia, damage Australia’s intelligence gathering, humiliate Yudhoyono and his wife, reinvigorate the people-smuggling trade, goad Indonesian nationalists, give fodder to Islamist xenophobia, and compromise Australia’s trade with Indonesia…
The arguments in favour of publishing the spying leaks are obvious: that the truth will prevent government security agencies from excessive zeal, and the public has a right to know what is being done in its name. It is a strong argument, and I respect it.
But the public interest test can be rigorously contested in this case. The truth is something we all navigate every day, so as not to give offence or create enmity. Governments do the same. Yet neither Viner nor Scott has bothered to enunciate how, in the ‘’public interest", the positives outweigh the negatives. They have, with Abbott and the spooks, joint ownership of the toxins flowing through the relationship. And neither has come close to justifying their actions.
Daily Mail to set up an Australian tentacle
I read the DM daily and admire its courage so this could be good -- JR
IN a major shake-up of the Australian digital news market the world's biggest English-language news site Daily Mail Online has teamed with Nine Entertainment Co's digital arm Mi9 to launch a local edition early in the new year.
The deal, which was 3 1/2 months in the making, was unveiled in Sydney this morning by Mail Online publisher and editor-in-chief Martin Clarke and Mi9 boss Mark Britt, who predicted the new site would quickly become Australia's top digital news brand.
"It is our strategy to make Mail Online and Daily Mail a global news brand and this fits into our strategy," said Mr Clarke. "Our track record speaks for itself. We've succeeded in the UK, we've succeeded in the US, and I have no reason to believe we won't succeed here.
"It's an opportunity that has come along thanks to Ninemsn and we're delighted to be able to take advantage of it. "
Daily Mail Online is the second British news group to launch a major digital play in Australia following the launch of the Guardian Australia website six months ago.
Internationally the Mail is by far the bigger player with 57 million users internationally per month, about one million of them from Australia.
With about 2.6 million visitors a month, Mi9's Ninemsn was Australia's third-largest news site in November after News Corp's news.com.au (with 2.9 million) and Fairfax Media's smh.com.au (with 2.8 million).
"There's been this great ongoing battle for the last five years on who the national No.1 news site is in Australia ... between news.com.au and the Sydney Morning Herald and the Nine news site," said Mr Britt.
"All of us sit at around 2.7m to 3m unique visitors a month in an audience population of 17m and an audience population on news sites of 10m. So none of us in that context are actually reaching yet true mass market mainstream news."
In contrast to the strategies of leading local news providers News Corp (publisher of The Australian) and Fairfax Media, which have both started charging for their online content, Daily Mail Australia will be free.
"We've made the decision globally to keep Mail Online free. We are going very nakedly for a scale play," Mr Clarke said. "We expect this thing to be profitable pretty quickly. We see this as a very positive financial model."
Mr Britt said the migration of readers from print to digital consumption of news "has only just started" and was "probably going to accelerate". "As more user behaviour moves online . . . we're in a growing market for the online consumption of news," he said.
"We absolutely see a complementary space for Nine News, which is currently the leading video-based news service in Australia, and the Daily Mail, with their traditional text based format."
Mr Clarke said Daily Mail Australia would offer local readers the site's familiar mix of "hard news, soft news, general interest news, human interest news and obviously showbiz, focused on Australians".
"Also, we're not partisan. We don't have a dog in anyone's fight. I think people might find us refreshingly straight," he said.
"We don't edit with an agenda. It's not a question of positioning ourselves to the left or the right of anyone."
The Daily Mail Australia site will be integrated into the Ninemsn suite of sites and its newsroom will sit alongside but separate to the existing Nine team headed by Hal Crawford.
"On the commercial side the Daily Mail site will be sold by the Mi9 sales team and will continue to use all the data and the technology that we use for the monetisation of all the rest of the Mi9 network," said Mr Britt.
Editor candidates are currently being interviewed and the new site would go on to hire about 50 journalists.
"I would envisage producing the first original Australian content very soon in the new year and we will gradually ramp it up as fast as we can recruit journalists to produce it," Mr Clarke said.
"Once we have the content we will be launching an Australian-facing home page that will be the digital destination for Australian visitors to Mail Online. And we'll keep making it richer and richer and richer as we get more journalists coming online.
"I would expect our Australian team to break good Australian exclusives."
The site's existing audience in Britain and the US was "pretty upmarket, slightly more female-leaning than male, highly educated and usually a young demographic, in their 20s and 30s", he said.
26 November, 2013
Sydney conference hears Australian Muslims experience higher rates of racism
And that will continue while senior Muslim clerics preach hatred of Australian society -- JR
An international conference on what it means to be an Australian Muslim has heard that most Muslims experience much higher rates of racism than the average Australian.
The two day conference has been organised by Charles Sturt University's Centre for Islamic studies and Civilisation, along with the Islamic Sciences and Research Academy Australia.
The Centre's director, Mehmet Ozalp says the inaugural conference is needed to examine what it means to be an Australian Muslim in the 21st century.
He says there is a focus on young people, including the impact of the internet and radical forces.
"There is an identity crisis that always comes with being young but also being a young Muslim makes it even deeper and more profound", he said.
"There are people pulling in different directions but what we found in our research is that by and large Muslims want to integrate into Australia."
One of the speakers, Professor Kevin Dunn from the University of Western Sydney says while most Australian Muslims have the same issues as everyone else in Sydney about housing, jobs and education, there is one difference.
"In one important respect Muslims are extraordinary or the Muslim experience is extraordinary in Sydney and that is their rates of experience of racism," he said.
"So for instance we know from the "challenging racism" national surveys that about 17 per cent of people will have experienced racism in the workplace, but for Muslims our surveys are showing that's as high as 60 per cent."
He says it is important Australia's political, social and religious leaders acknowledge the damage such racism can do to social cohesion.
"It's why it's very important for our leaders, for our public documents and proclamations that this is a multicultural and multifaith nation."
Sarah El-Assaad, 24, who is a student of Islamic Studies and NSW lawyer, says she never questioned her identity as an Australian until comments were made to her, especially when she decided to wear the Muslim headscarf or hijab.
She said some of the comments involved a client, as well as colleagues.
"I've had a few confrontational moments in my life where it has sort of shocked me to feel that I wasn't a part of what I thought I was a part of," she said.
Mr Ozalp says while there a small minority of Australian Muslims become radicalised because of overseas events and other issues, generally such events actually bring the broader Muslim community together and help them find their place in Australia.
"It pushes other Muslims to define who they are as Australian Muslims - it has ironically a galvanising effect," he said.
Roy Morgan poll
Meanwhile, the anti-islamist group the Q Society has published the results of its commissioned survey done by Roy Morgan research.
The Q Society was responsible for bringing right wing anti-islamist Dutch MP Geert Wilders to Australia earlier this year.
The poll found 70 per cent of those questioned believe Australia is not a better place because of Islam.
The survey, completed in late October, found 50 per cent of those questioned also wanted full face coverings banned from public spaces.
A spokesman for the Q Society says around 600 people were questioned nationally in the poll.
The poll included questions asking participants' opinion about statements such as: "Australia is becoming a better place as a result of islam" to which 70 per cent responded "no".
Other questions included: "As you may be aware, some countries' governments have implemented bans on wearing clothing in public that fully covers the face, like the islamic burqa. In your opinion, should Australia introduce similar laws?"
53 per cent responded "yes".
Cops to use licence to disqualify anyone guilty of anything
TENS of thousands more Victorians each year stand to lose their drivers' licences under a new law police are vowing to exercise in court.
Sweeping legal changes which came into effect on September 30 allow courts to suspend or cancel the licence of any person convicted or found guilty of any offence - regardless of whether that offence has anything to do with driving.
Victoria Police has exclusively revealed to the Herald Sun that it will seek to use the new powers in up to 50,000 court cases each year.
It has already briefed its prosecutors on the law.
"If you're convicted or found guilty of any offence, a court may suspend or cancel and disqualify your licence," said Acting Senior Sergeant Richard Bowers, of the Victoria Police Prosecution Division.
"The legislation does not govern or put a limiting factor on which cases it applies to. It's any offence, and it's completely open to the magistrate as to whether or not they impose it.
"Unless a superior court gets hold of one of these cases and says 'Well, this is an inappropriate exercise of discretion,' it will remain open for use for a magistrate to use in any way they see fit."
But the move has angered civil libertarians.
"We are very disturbed at the lack of consultation, given this is such a sweeping and draconian measure," Jane Dixon, SC, the president of Liberty Victoria, said last night.
"To deprive someone of their driving licence can often also deprive them of their livelihood.
"We believe, for well-being, there should be a strong foundation between driving and the offending."
Victoria Police said it would advice its prosecutors to use the legislation in any case where the offending can be linked to using a vehicle, which it estimates at around 50,000 cases a year.
"We will raise the legislation in circumstances where driving had been part and parcel of the offending," Sen-Sgt Bowers said.
"It may be an offence where the accused used a car to commit the offences; for example, residential burglaries, using the car to get around."
In another change to the law, anyone disqualified from driving may be forced to fit an alcohol interlock device in their vehicle when the licence is reinstated, if the original crime can be linked in any way to alcohol or drugs.
First-time offenders, and those guilty of even the most minor offences, will not be exempt from the new law.
There are no set suspension or disqualification limits, giving magistrates free rein to cancel a licence for as long as they see fit.
Sen-Sgt Bowers also highlighted drug trafficking and family violence cases as likely ones for the exercise of the law.
"You have to look at each case on its merits and determine where is the best use of this legislation. We have left prosecutors with a fair bit of discretion," he said.
"It's a deterrent and a preventive measure. From our perspective, anything that has the potential to prevent further offending is a good thing," he said.
Education Minister Christopher Pyne refuses to meet Gonski panel on school funding
Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne has said he is too busy to meet the expert panel that devised the so-called Gonski school funding model to discuss how it works before he discards it.
In a move that has angered the nation’s two most populous states and concerned a member of the panel, Kathryn Greiner, Mr Pyne has declared the Gonski needs-based model a "shambles" and has promised to go "back to the drawing board" to create a new system.
Mr Pyne told ABC Radio on Tuesday the government would "stick with what we’ve got" for the 2014 school year but wanted to move to a "flatter, simpler, fairer structure" after that.
He said the Coalition was committed to the same quantum of funding as Labor over the next four years.
But despite saying before the election that the Coalition and Labor were on a "unity ticket" on school funding, Mr Pyne said the Abbott government was not committed to the escalation of funding Labor had promised over six years.
"Our election policy was that we would support a four-year agreement ... we won’t be honouring a six-year agreement," he said. "There’s no year five or year six in the Coalition’s funding agreement."
Mr Pyne said there was no reason for schools to fear they would receive less funding over the next four years and he defended the Howard government’s socioeconomic status funding model – which remains in place – which he said was also needs-based.
Asked whether he was prepared to meet the Gonski panel, Mr Pyne said he was too busy. "No, I’ve studied the Gonski model closely and I have to get on with the job of being the education minister," he said.
"I think we’ve had a lot of talk, a lot of conferences, a lot of reports, a lot of analysis of those reports, we’ve had an election campaign, we’ve had election policies from both sides. It’s time for the government to be allowed to get on with the job and that’s exactly what I intend to do."
Gonski panel member Ms Greiner said she was disappointed that Mr Pyne would not meet the panel, and was concerned that the Coalition would not commit to six years of funding.
She contradicted Mr Pyne’s characterisation of the socioeconomic status model, which she described as "very broken". "It was opaque, it was not transparent, it was confusing. It was, in fact, a beggar’s muddle," she told ABC radio.
She said the "flatter, simpler, fairer" structure Mr Pyne said he wanted could not meet the individual needs of students. "It’s much more complicated than that," she said.
NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli rejected Mr Pyne’s criticism of the Gonski model, which he said was "fair and transparent". "It is a much fairer way of funding schools," he told ABC Radio on Tuesday.
"People have agreed to it and we don’t want to go through another three-year process of unravelling it all."
Mr Piccoli acknowledged the federal budget was under pressure but said NSW had committed to additional funding over six years in return for the Commonwealth’s promise of greater resources over the same period.
"We’re all under the same financial pressures," he said.
The Victorian government has also urged the Commonwealth to honour the schools funding deal it reached while federal Labor was in power.
A Victorian government spokeswoman insisted on Monday that a $12.2 billion deal had been reached guaranteeing "record levels of funding and an unprecedented six years of funding certainty" for schools in Victoria.
"Victoria made it clear that, along with Victorian schools and school communities, we expect the Commonwealth to honour this funding, which was agreed to on 4 August 2013," the spokeswoman said.
Meanwhile, Melbourne Catholic Education Office executive director Stephen Elder said he was still involved in "arduous" negotiations about funding for Catholic schools with the Victorian government.
"In addition, the Victorian government has foreshadowed another funding review on the back of two years of Gonski negotiations," he said.
Victorian Education Minister Martin Dixon said 2014 would be a year of "limited change". "The Victorian government, over many years, has worked with the non-government schools sectors to update local school funding arrangements and this long-standing process will continue," he said.
Anti-Vaccination body loses appeal against name change order
The Australian Vaccination Network has again been ordered to change its name, after losing an appeal against a ruling that its current name is misleading.
The New South Wales Administrative Decisions Tribunal has upheld a ruling by the state's Fair Trading department that the anti-vaccination group's current name could mislead the public.
The AVN can elect to make a further appeal against the ruling, but Fair Trading Minister Anthony Roberts has warned the organisation risks a hefty legal bill because the department will seek legal costs.
"The AVN must change its name now," Mr Roberts said. "We're awaiting advice from the AVN as to what they consider an appropriate name would be.
"We reserve the right to reject any names we consider inappropriate, but again my clear message to the Australian Vaccination Network is be open and up-front about what you stand for."
The Australian Medical Association was among those that complained to Fair Trading about the AVN's name. AMA NSW president Brian Owler says the AVN has a right to exist but not to mislead.
"The State Government should be commended on its efforts to improve the health of children through its support of vaccination and its stand against the anti-vaccination lobby," associate professor Owler said.
"The importance of vaccination cannot be understated in helping to keep children free from harm. "Ultimately, your family GP is your best source of advice about vaccination."
The AVN has also issued a statement about the decision.
"We believe that the Administrative Decision Tribunal, in finding against the AVN, exemplified the current climate of government-sanctioned abuse and hatred of anyone who steps away from mainstream medical dogma," the statement said.
The statement gives no indication whether the AVN will launch a further appeal against the decision.
The AVN currently has a disclaimer on its website informing visitors of the name change order.
25 November, 2013
Wonders of the North. A VISITOR'S VIEWS AND IMPRESSIONS
From the Hillston Spectator and Lachlan River Advertiser, Friday 16 October 1908
A former resident of Nowra writes: — I am still in the 'black north,' as some call it, I can hardly find words to express the pleasure I had in travelling in these regions.
My journey ended at the Barron Falls, where I made a turn for home. Such a pleasant Sunday, amongst old cannibals in the coffee plantation, climbing the cliffs at the Falls, pulling bananas and paw paws, and oranges — all this was a new life to me.
You know nothing of paw paws. Well they are a fruit as large as a rock melon and somewhat similar in flavor. You can eat them all day. The grenadillo [granadilla] (a fruit much nicer than passionfruit, but much after the same style, and as large as a small rock melon), is simply delicious. Then there are the mangoes and custard apples, pineapples and other fruit unknown to southern soils.
They get the heat here it is true, but they have many compensating advantages in tropical fruit. There is also the cotton (I am bringing some back in its native state) and cocoa, and indiarubber. All these are exceptionally interesting.
The creeks around here swarm with alligators but I am sorry I cannot afford time to go out. They are in the pools below the Barron Falls, and many a Chow has been swallowed holus bolus.
It is this way. The Chow goes down to the creek to wash his clothes. He goes down often. The 'gator, no doubt, saw him when he went down first. But he doesn't act then. He allows the Chow to come down often, and when the yellow-skin feels that everything is safe there at the particular spot the 'gator steals silently from the water, and there is one chow less in Redlynch — that is the name of the creek.
There is a great hullabaloo in Redlynch that night among the Chinamen. Next day, or the day after, or a week after, that alligator comes looking for more Chow, but instead of that he gets a dog! (poisoned with strychnine). Then the hilarious Chows shout with joy as the 'gator jumps frantically out of the water in the middle of the stream, in his endeavor to form the letter G. All is soon over. The 'gator is cut open, and a few brass buttons are found, but no bones to send home to China.
The alligator is now and again seen in the ocean, but very seldom, as the shark beats him every time. If a 'gator wants co go from one creek to another he crawls along the beach inside the surf so that the shark can't get at him. The 'gator as a rule, but not always, immediately feeds off his catch, and then buries it for a week or more. He will bury a dog for that time, and then go up and devour him.
He will drag a horse or a bullock into the water and hold him under till he is drowned. A favorite, method is to rush anything into the water with its tail, then all is Over. He doesn't always grab with his claws.
Hundreds of cattle and horses here show marks of struggles with alligators. If an alligator grabs a horse which is out of the water, the horse runs away with him, the 'gator holding till the horse's flesh gives way. You next find the horse with a great piece taken out of him, but he usually recovers.
Alligator shooting with a dog tied on the water's edge as a bait, is common sport, The 'gator likes a dog better than anything else, except a Chow. It is cruel sport, but as it is somebody else's dog, Queenslanders don't mind.
There is a black' mission station at Cairns, where the blacks print a newspaper, maintain a band, have water and gas works, and grow everything known to a tropical country. They marry and bring up children, and generally spend a useful life.
The Chinaman is everywhere. Whole streets, like Junction street, with every shop Chinese, are common. In Geraldton [Innisfail] they own the sugar and banana plantation. Their joss-houses face the street. Chinese women and their families are in the streets just like white people.
All the pictures you see of Chinese in China are reproduced here. The big-rimmed hat and the umbrella — they are common. In going to Cairns, we had a special carriage on for them. Even the railway stations and villages bear Chinese names.
I only heard of one Chinese publican who refused to employ a Chinese cook 'What do you chink?' he used to say, 'that chow wants me to give him a job as cook. No fear, me keepee white cook!
Nearly everybody in Geraldton carries a blue umbrella.- When I inquired the reason, they told me the white ants eat up all the black ones. Geraldton is the wettest place in Australia; if not the world. Tney measure the rain by yards,' said a prominent townsman ; 240 inches a year — that is a record— 20 feet. What do you think of it?' 150 inches have already fallen this year. lt was raining all. the time I was there...
Well, I am leaving the north with very great regret. Although I travelled right through inland Queensland— 400 and 500 miles from the coast, there is still much I would like to see. It is all so very, very interesting. I have never enjoyed a trip better.
And it was a revelation. There are cities up here and thousands of people, white, black, yellow, and copper. Every town of any size has its two daily papers. All is reported here in the telegrams in the daily papers of the northern towns.
Every place is a centre, depending on itself. They don't send to Brisbane if they want anything — at least not necessarily. Rockhampton, Townsville, Cairns, Maryborough, Buudaberg-they are all centres.
They think more of Sydney than any other place outside their own towns. . .. The fact that I am from Sydney helps me in business, because they know Sydney can beat Brisbane. Of course, Brisbane is necessarily their political centre hut but necessarily their trading centre.
I have met no one up here from Illawarra, but my word, if a man liked to brave the heat, this is the place. Cairns, has Atherton behind it, 3000ft up on the hills, a place like the scrub country of the Richmond River.
It is still in the primitive state, and likely to undergo a boom like the Richmond River. The climate is beautiful and land cheap. Atherton has railway communication and is about 60 miles from the sea. You mark my words; there will be a big rush as the land is thrown open There is plenty of timber on it and an inexhaustible supply — an Illawarra really in a tropical country.
I forgot to tell you the Barrier Reef is 30 miles from here and runs along the coast for over 1000 miles, consequently there are no breakers of any size along the shores. The water is nearly always smooth.
Picnic parties go out and camp on it for a week or a fortnight. Plenty of fishing, and thousands of turtles. The Japanese fish all along it for beche-de-mer — something that resembles a sausage in appearance, and is dried and eaten — by Chinamen principally
I have posted the old newspaper article above to show what the world was like before political correctness. You will see that minorities were identified by mildly derogatory nicknames but the attitude towards them was amused rather than hostile. What would now be identified as "hate speech" was in fact innocuous. The Anglos and the Chinese just lived their own lives and did so in peace. The area described is the Cairns/Innisfail area of Far North Queensland, where I was born.
As I was born only 35 years after the above was written, I can recognize the accuracy of most of what is written there. I even remember the Chinese joss-house that he describes in "Geraldton" (now known as Innisfail). When I was a little boy, I occasionally went in there and banged the drum. One day an old Chinese man who was a custodisan of the temple caught me doing it. Did he abuse me, chase me or attack me? No. He gave me a mango. Pretty relaxed race relations I think -- JR
A small revival
Over 90% of what appears on my blogs are words written by others that I find some merit in. But I also write a great deal myself. And I have been writing for a long time. So sometimes when I want to refer back to something in my previous writings, I can't find it. I have written too much to keep mental track of when and where I wrote it.
So in such circumstances I use good old Google to find my own writings. I add the term "John Ray" to a subject search and I can usually find what I want.
An odd thing I notice however is that my discontinued blog "A Western Heart" seems to be in some way preferred by Google. Quite often I have put up a post in more than one place and when that is so the post on Western Heart is the one that comes up first -- with the other sites not mentioned at all or being given way down in the list.
I don't know why that is but I think I should take advantage of it. So posts that I would not like to get "lost" I am going to put up on Western Heart occasionally -- JR.
Environment Protection Agency sidelined after warning of high risks at AGL coal seam gas project
The NSW government has sidelined the Environment Protection Authority in pushing ahead with a coal seam gas project despite advice it is high risk, threatening valuable agricultural land.
In a submission that has been confidential until now, the EPA warned the Department of Trade against approving the disposal of waste water at AGL's Gloucester project as it would lead to dangerously high salt levels and the potential destruction of farmland.
Fairfax Media has learnt the EPA has been excluded from the approvals process for irrigation trials at Gloucester, after effectively being sidelined by the newly created Office of Coal Seam Gas.
The EPA was asked by the Department of Trade to undertake a review of AGL's Gloucester coal seam gas project in February last year. It made its submission in April but the report has been confidential since then, even though the irrigation trials have begun.
In its report, the EPA says the project is high risk and is likely to produce dangerously high salt levels under the present AGL proposal to "irrigate", or spray. the water from its mining onto surrounding farmland. It also warns of the damaging effects on local wildlife.
The submission says the government needs to ask for more information from AGL and that it is not possible to evaluate the effects on soil and water unless "adequate" information is provided by AGL.
Should the project continue as planned, 2500 tonnes of salt a year will be sprayed over the surrounding farmland, an outcome that independent geo-technical engineer Professor Philip Pells said could be disastrous for the environment.
Professor Pells is not anti-CSG. He approves of the AGL operations at Camden but said the geology at Gloucester was more sensitive as the basin structure beneath the project means the underground aquifers are "intimately connected" with the surface water.
Further, he said, AGL had no proper procedures for disposal of the saline waste water.
For its part, AGL has said the disposal of waste water from its CSG mining will have a "neutral or beneficial effect on water quality".
It has also disputed the EPA's findings that the soil was "strongly sodic", saying that referred to the natural soil quality at the location, which was no longer relevant as the company had treated the soils.
"AGL has added many hundreds of tonnes of compost, lime (calcium carbonate), gypsum (calcium sulphate) and zeolite minerals (which enhances the water retention quality of soils) and therefore the soil characteristics of the upper soils are now very different to the natural soil quality. These amended soils are now much more suitable for irrigation activities."
An EPA spokeswoman said the authority was assessing the application from AGL for an environment protection licence for the total Gloucester coal seam gas project, but not the trial.
"The EPA will take water and soil impacts and other relevant environmental considerations into account as part of its assessment."
EPA chief environmental regulator Mark Gifford said the irrigation trial was approved and was being overseen by the NSW Office of Coal Seam Gas.
"The EPA is being ignored," Professor Pells said. "No one appears to be in control. "The trials were approved by the Department of Mineral Resources but now the process seems to have been taken over by the Office of Coal Seam Gas."
A spokeswoman for the Department of Industry said the water approved for irrigation was "two to five times less salty than water in the surrounding surface aquifers that also flow into the Avon River".
"It is the responsibility of AGL to conduct the trial within the approved guidelines," she said. "The risks are minimal and the monitoring and reporting is showing that the project is proceeding within the parameters of the approval."
Call to strip ABC of Australia Network
THE government has been urged to review the ABC's contract to provide the Australia Network international television service in the wake of the outrage sparked by its revelations of Australian phone tapping in Indonesia.
The Gillard government scrapped a competitive tender for the $223 million, 10-year contract for the right to provide the service, Australia's most important vehicle for soft diplomacy, in controversial circumstances and handed it to the ABC in a move later lashed by the Auditor-General.
The original request for tender documents issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade described the service as "enhancing the government's ability to pursue its broader foreign and trade policy objectives".
They went on to say "DFAT is responsible for advancing the interests of Australia and Australians internationally. This responsibility guides all DFAT's work".
As Australians were warned about travelling to Indonesia and a large group of protesters burnt replicas of the Australian flag in Jakarta, Liberal senator Cory Bernardi yesterday called on the government to review the Australia Network contract.
"Given the ABC's preparedness to publish stolen top-secret documents that impact upon our national security, one needs to question whether they are a suitable organisation to be operating an important diplomatic outreach," he told The Australian.
"The ABC were awarded the contract in what many refer to as dodgy circumstances and, based on their recent actions, there is a good case for the contract to be reviewed. The ABC now seem to be operating as a law unto themselves."
An ABC spokesman denied the phone-tapping story and its fallout undermined its responsibilities under the Australia Network contract.
"At the heart of the partnership with DFAT is the respect in the region for the ABC as a trusted independent news organisation," the spokesman said.
Former foreign affairs minister Alexander Downer threw his weight behind calls for a review of the contract.
And long-time ABC-watcher Gerard Henderson of the Sydney Institute questioned the original decision to hand responsibility for the Australia Network to the public broadcaster when all the evidence from the tender process indicated Sky News Australia, in which News Corp Australia (publisher of The Australian) has an indirect stake, had twice emerged as preferred bidder.
Dr Henderson said there were issues with the ABC's decision to air the report claiming Australian intelligence agencies tapped the phones of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his wife and senior colleagues.
"There are problems, particularly in the region, when to many people a government funded public broadcaster has a degree of government embedded in it even if, as we know in Australia, the government has no control over it whatsoever, people think it does," he said. "The view within the ABC management appears to be despite the fact that it's getting this special money to project Australia into the region is that it should behave like any other media institution that chooses to act in this way, that it should run stolen documents in the public sphere without any concern whatsoever of the consequences."
Dr Henderson said "anyone" in the media should have considered the "propriety" of publishing the leaked material.
"There's no great national interest in knowing that four years ago, allegedly, DSD interdicted the phones of the President and his wife," he said. "It doesn't tell us anything about the operation of our government.
"I can't think of a national interest, I can't think of a public interest, I can't think of anything at all of importance."
He added it was unclear who made the decision to proceed with the story, but said it should have gone to ABC managing director Mark Scott.
Former communications minister Stephen Conroy, who presided over the decision to hand the Australia Network contract to the ABC, did not respond to a request for comment.
Tony Abbott quietly shifts UN position to support Israeli settlements, upsetting Palestinians
The Abbott government has swung its support further behind Israel at the expense of Palestine, giving tacit approval to controversial activities including the expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories.
Acting on instructions from Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop, government representatives at the United Nations have withdrawn Australia's support for an order to stop "all Israeli settlement activities in all of the occupied territories".
While 158 countries supported the UN in calling for an end to Israeli settlements, Australia joined eight other countries, including South Sudan and Papua New Guinea, in abstaining from voting. Labor governments under Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard condemned the settlements.
Many within the international community regard the expansion of Israeli settlements as an act of hostility towards Palestinians, hampering the likelihood of peace.
The UN resolution calls for "prevention of all acts of violence, destruction, harassment and provocation by Israeli settlers, especially against Palestinian civilians and their properties".
The Abbott government has also indicated it no longer believes Israel, as an "occupying power", should be forced to comply with the 1949 Geneva Conventions.
At the UN meeting, 160 countries supported ordering Israel to "comply scrupulously" with the conventions. Australia was one of five countries to abstain. Six countries voted against the resolution, including Israel, the US and Canada.
A section of the Geneva Conventions, which Australia no longer supports in regard to Israel and Palestine, states "the occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies".
The UN votes have largely gone unnoticed during the past fortnight as the Australian media has fixated on the Indonesian spying crisis.
"A shame, in the deepest sense": Bob Carr comments on Australia's decision to vote against the resolution. Photo: Marco Del Grande
In keeping with the Abbott government's tight hold on information, there have been no news conferences about these changes in Middle East policy.
Nor did the Abbott government consult the Palestinian community before making the changes, according to the head of the General Delegation of Palestine to Australia, Izzat Abdulhadi.
"It is very regrettable," Dr Abdulhadi said. "There was no transparency in their approach."
Former foreign affairs minister Bob Carr described Australia's withdrawal of support for Palestine as "a shame, in the deepest sense".
The executive director of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, Colin Rubenstein, said he "emphatically [welcomed] the government's principled leadership in changing these votes, reverting to the Howard/Downer position".
Ms Bishop's spokeswoman said the minister was on a plane and could not respond to questions.
Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek said she was surprised to hear about the changes to Middle East policy through the media with no formal confirmation from the government.
"It's quite extraordinary that [the government] would make such a large change without reporting back to Australians," Ms Plibersek said on the ABC's Insiders program on Sunday.
24 November, 2013
In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is profoundly unimpressed by the Governor General's intervention into party politics
Review of Federal Australian hate speech law
Critical comments below by Mark Dreyfus. Mr Dreyfus is the federal opposition spokesman on legal affairs. He is Jewish.
His article below is a typical bit of Leftist cherrypicking. He quotes a couple of instances where the hate speech laws were arguably used to proper effect and completely ignores the Bolt case -- the case which has motivated the intended change in the law. And it was a Jewish judge who made the immoderate judgment that led to Andrew Bolt's conviction.
Judge Bromberg had plenty of room within the act to find Bolt not guilty but he chose to go for the jugular -- possibly because of his Jewishness. Jews have good historical reasons for a horror of defamation. Bromberg should really have recused himself from the case.
So Dreyfus would have been much more persuasive if he had deplored the misapplication of the law by Mordechai Bromberg but he totally ignores that. Is he endeavouring to add substance to the old accusations of Jewish "clannishness"? He is a disgrace. Even some Leftists found Bromberg's verdict "profoundly disturbing"
If Dreyfus had been arguing responsibly, he might have said that the provision of an appeals court to review judgments such as Bromberg's would be more appropriate than watering down the act. In the case of another Leftist-inspired kangaroo court -- the Fair Work tribunal -- the present government is doing exactly that.
But what Dreyfus will not admit is that there is just one man responsible for the review of the law being presently undertaken: Mordechai Bromberg. Bromberg's zeal to persecute any suspicion of defamation will soon be seen to have facilitated defamation
FOR almost 20 years, since the Racial Discrimination Act was enacted by the Keating government in 1994, section 18C has embodied Australia's condemnation of racial vilification, and protected our society from the poisonous effects of hate speech.
Labor strongly believes in the continued need for laws that prohibit racial hatred in Australia.
The new Attorney-General and his Prime Minister have made clear their intention to repeal section 18C in its current form, which makes it illegal to vilify people because of their race, colour or national or ethnic origin.
The Attorney-General claims that the prohibitions in section 18C are a threat to "intellectual freedom" and "freedom of speech" in Australia.
One can only assume that he has an extremely poor grasp of history, of the appropriate limits imposed on free speech in all Western democracies, and of the dangers of giving a green light to hate speech under the preposterous claim that racially vilifying individuals in public is necessary to support intellectual freedom in our nation.
Section 18C has functioned well for 18 years in our community, without being criticised as some kind of affront to freedom of speech.
Rather, the provision has been used to respond to egregious examples of hate speech, such as the publication of false statements by infamous Holocaust denier Fredrick Toben, who wrote, among other offensive lies, that there was serious doubt the Holocaust occurred and that Jewish people who were offended by the denial of the state-sponsored murder of their families and communities were of limited intelligence.
Using section 18C, the Federal Court ordered these deeply offensive public statements be removed from the relevant website.
The Coalition's policy would allow Toben to publish material of this kind, and would take away the power of our courts to stop such racist hate speech being disseminated.
In another infamous case, an indigenous woman used section 18C to defend herself against a neighbour who had waged a campaign of intimidation against her family by attacking them with offensive racist insults such as "nigger" and "black bastard".
It is disingenuous to attack section 18C as a threat to freedom of speech by presenting it in isolation from the linked provision, section 18D.
Following extensive public consultations at the time the provisions were crafted, the drafters were well aware of the need to appropriately protect freedom of speech.
That is why section 18D provides extensive protection for free speech and political communication in our society.
Section 18C is also entirely consistent with the objectives of the London Declaration on Combatting Anti-Semitism, which was signed on behalf of Australia by former prime minister Julia Gillard in April, and was subsequently signed by Coalition MPs including Tony Abbott and George Brandis.
In May this year, I wrote to Mr Abbott calling on the Coalition to respect the pledges in the London Declaration, and to reverse the Liberals' plan to repeal section 18C.
I pointed out that section 18C is precisely the kind of legislated protection against anti-Semitism and racial discrimination that the London Declaration calls on its signatories to enact, and that repealing it would unequivocally contradict the spirit and the terms of that important declaration.
In an interview two weeks ago, the Attorney-General made clear that he intends to persist with the repeal of section 18C regardless of deep community concerns.
However, in senate estimates this week, he at least withdrew from arguments earlier suggesting that the protections provided by section 18C were somehow covered by the Criminal Code Act.
Sections 80.2A and B of the Criminal Code Act create serious criminal offences for individuals that urge the use of force or violence against a group or a member of a group distinguished by race, religion, nationality, national or ethnic origin or political opinion.
These provisions prohibit criminal incitement to violence and do not operate to prohibit the civil wrong of racist hate speech as section 18C does.
In response to questions at senate estimates, Senator Brandis revealed that his "engaging in community consultations" would be limited to "private conversations" with "community leaders" to be selected by him.
He then refused to elaborate on which community leaders he was speaking to or the nature of those discussions.
There is an unpleasant irony in the spectacle of an Attorney-General who claims to champion free speech refusing to answer questions regarding secret consultations he is conducting in a bid to remove legislative protections of great importance to communities across our nation.
It is essential that the communities affected by any potential change in this area of the law have the opportunity to put their views to Senator Brandis, not just the private group of unidentified individuals that he deigns to have a conversation with.
Public discussions regarding proposed legislative changes on matters of concern to the community such as this are essential for any government that claims to value freedom of speech.
This is a further example of how, in the short time since the election, this government is prepared to shamelessly hide their actions from the scrutiny of both the people who elected them and from the media.
Mr Abbott and Senator Brandis have refused to back down on their proposed watering down of hate speech laws in our nation, reflecting their ignorance of history and the dangers of permitting racially motivated hate speech.
In contrast, Labor is committed to supporting the rights of all Australians to dignity and protection from racially motivated hate speech ahead of enabling bigots and extremists to say in public whatever they want.
Where's this photo been hiding?
You probably won't remember a Melbourne Late Show and Victorian Premier - Joan Kirner's rendition of Joan Jett's - "I Love Rock and Roll". But look closely at the leather mini-skirt clad go-go dancer girl ogling her, star struck!
What's more scary? Joan Kirner in a leather jacket or Julia Gillard in a leather mini-skirt?
Leftist church gets one thing right
It's only a pretend church. If it were a real Christian church, it would heed the Bible -- Romans chapter 1 on homosexuality, for instance
GOSFORD might be an unlikely location for Australia's most politically-minded and forward-thinking Church, but the NSW Central Coast community's Anglican congregation is the talk of the town. Oh, and the internet.
After its often comedic messages began making the rounds on social media, the Church has scored fans and followers from all walks of life, and lifestyles.
The Church has taken a stand on various hot topics of modern society, including marriage equality, asylum seekers and women's rights.
"From a theological perspective, Jesus was on about one thing and one thing only, and that's what he called the Kingdom of God," said Father Rod Bower, the man responsible for all things sign-related.
"This Kingdom of God manifests itself in compassion and justice and true humility and there are lots of things going on in our society at the moment that aren't about those things, like the way we treat gay people by not allowing them to be married, the way we treat our planet and the way we treat asylum seekers.
"These are the things Christians should be seeking - justice and compassion. We contribute to that."
The Industry Department's new secretary gives warning to climate change employees: Labelled 'unusual'
Whether it's unusual or not, it's certainly realistic. The bureaucracy seems mostly to be comprised of people with heavily Green/Left views
Hundreds of public servants from the Industry and Climate Change departments have been told to quit their jobs if they do not want to implement the Abbott government's policies.
The warning was issued just days after the former Climate Change chief and Industry boss were sacked by the Coalition government on its first day in office and the opposition says the "extraordinary" comments were part of a concerted effort to "intimidate" the public service.
The Industry Department's new secretary, Glenys Beauchamp, gathered about 1500 of her workers in Canberra on September 20 for a briefing and told them to reconsider their positions if they were not prepared to serve the government of the day.
The tough talk to the workers, many of whom had been moved from the abolished Climate Change Department, was leaked to former industry minister Kim Carr, leading to a grilling of Ms Beauchamp at an estimates committee hearing on Thursday in Canberra.
Under the questioning, Ms Beauchamp told the senator she had responded to a question from a worker about how they would administer climate change policy, with a reminder of their duties as public servants.
"I said a range of things, what a secretary of a new portfolio would be expected to say, there were questions from the floor," Ms Beauchamp told Senator Carr.
"There was a question around what I thought of some of the arrangements around the formation of the new portfolio and I responded in the way a professional public servant does, as in 'we are here to serve the government of the day and public servants, like any other employees have choices whether they would like to abide by code of conduct and APS values and continue the journey'."
Senator Carr said he was surprised the secretary had felt the need to make those remarks to a group of professional public servants.
"Whatever the secretary's intention, these were unusual comments to be making," Senator Carr said.
Cut waste by cutting departments
The federal government has expanded significantly over the past half century, taking on more roles and responsibilities, and adding new departments and agencies. While some of these may be needed, many are not. Some simply duplicate functions already designated for the states.
The Agriculture portfolio is a prime example. An approximate $2 billion is spent by the taxpayer on the department annually, with over 5,000 public servants employed.
Each state and the Northern Territory has their own agricultural portfolio tasked with industry regulation and assistance. So there is no need for the federal government to get involved. But that is exactly what they do.
Duplication across state and federal governments adds more regulation on to industry, creates inefficiency, and raises costs for taxpayers. It also removes workers who would otherwise be more productively employed in the private sector, and consigns them to needless tasks for the government.
The federal Department of Agriculture has six agencies doling out subsidies for 'research and development.' There's one each for cotton, fisheries, grains, grape and wine, rural industries, and sugar.
Government funding for research and development is often a front for corporate welfare. It's easy to extract funds from the government if you can claim that you are contributing to innovation and keeping the industry ahead of your global competitors.
But much of the R&D funding is directed to projects in which companies would invest anyway if government wasn't involved. If companies can reasonably expect to make a profit from investing in new technology, there is a clear incentive for them to do so.
But even if you assume the R&D projects are not profitable or too risky, and that government should be funding them, there's no need for both the state and federal governments to be involved.
There is no justification for an Australian wine marketing body which is tasked with the development and promotion of Australia's winemakers to be subsidised by the taxpayer.
The Department of Agriculture contains two important regulatory agencies that need to be preserved - the Australian Fisheries Management Authority and the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority - but these two agencies could easily be transferred to the Department of Industry.
The Agriculture portfolio could then be abolished, along with the taxes and fees they collect from the industry, at a saving of approximately $1.3 billion every year.
22 November, 2013
Plan to raise retirement age to 70
While one understands the beancounting in this, it seems rather harsh. Something like a half of males die before they are 70 so would have had zero years of retirement before they died. Since many people in routine employment rely on the prospect of a pleasant retirement to keep going, that could be pretty destructive. It takes away the reward for keeping on
AUSTRALIANS would be forced to work until they turn 70, under a radical late-retirement plan from the government's top policy agency. Pensioners would also have to hand the taxman a slice of the family home to help pay for aged care.
The Productivity Commission will today propose lifting the pension age from 65 to 70, to save taxpayers $150 billion in welfare and health spending as the baby boom generation hits retirement.
The PC calculates that taxes would need to rise 21 per cent to pay for the extra health and aged care costs of a population that will have more 100-year-olds than babies by the turn of the century.
Children born today will live well into their 90s, it says, and the number of Australians older than 75 will increase by 4 million - roughly the population of Sydney or Melbourne - over the next 50 years.
However the most provocative suggestion contained in the report is to raise the retirement age to 70 - saving taxpayers $78,000 in pension payments to every retiree. The pension age is already on track to increase to 67 years by 2023, while the "preservation age" for accessing superannuation will jump from 55 to 60 years by 2024.
Taxpayers spent $36 billion last financial year on pensions for the nation's 2.4 million retirees, who receive $376 a week for singles or $567 a week for couples. Two out of three Australians aged 65 or older rely on the aged pension.
The report says the GFC wiped out a third of Australians' superannuation savings - pushing more people onto the old age pension.
It also reveals that generation Y stands to inherit a massive $400 billion worth of housing over the next 15 years - even though one in three baby boomers will leave nothing to the kids. A third of baby boomers expect to spend all their money and assets before they die.
The report also proposes tapping into pensioners' greatest asset - the family home - by making them hand the government half the yearly increase in their home's value.
A pensioner with a home worth $500,000, for example, could expect to see its value rise by $10,000 a year.
Once a pensioner needed assistance at home - or if their partner had to enter an aged care home - then half that capital gain, or $5000 a year, would be earmarked for the government.
The money would be paid to the government once the house was sold.
"Having individuals contribute even half the annual real increase in their home values towards aged care services could reduce government expenditures by around 30 per cent," the report says.
"An equity release scheme of this kind would still leave older households with an appreciating asset base and provide a means to increase the quality of services provided over the long term."
The report says Australia will have to spend an extra 6 per cent of national income to support an ageing population over the next 50 years.
It warns that governments will need to raise taxes or cut other spending to pay the bills.
W.A. cop threatens cyclist with rape -- but that's OK says Police commissioner
WESTERN Australia's top cop has backed the Perth policeman who has become an internet viral hit after being filmed swearing at a cyclist during a confrontation over a ticket.
Video footage of the confrontation posted on Facebook by John Martin attracted more than 21,300 likes in 24 hours, and was shared nearly 6000 times.
In the clip, the man argumentatively asks what crime he has committed and tells the officer to go "stop some f...ing criminals".
The policeman then walks close to the man and says: "If you swear one more f...ing time I will put you in the lock up for disorderly, just like last time".
"I will deny your bail and some big fella is going to play with your a....... during the night. "If that's what you want, say one more f...ing swear word."
The police revealed the officer had admitted to overreacting, and Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan said he would be counselled.
But an outpouring of public support for the officer also prompted the commissioner to back his man.
"He was under pressure from someone who is extremely cocky, had a very bad attitude ... the policeman was trying to do his job and he gets this tirade back. He lost his cool," the Commissioner told 6PR.
"This guy has accepted no blame for the escalation of the situation whatsoever. His total view of the world is it is somebody else's problem, they did the wrong thing and I was OK.
"The public have had enough of this general lack of respect for people in authority, and not just police."
The commissioner also said he would be asking investigators to inspect the Facebook page where the video was posted. "Maybe he wants to run home from work and pull it down before we see it," Mr O'Callaghan said.
The incident occurred on Fyfe St, Forrestfield at about 2.30pm on Tuesday afternoon.
Yesterday, Mr Martin, 24, told Nine News he was considering pressing charges against the officer. "It's unacceptable, police shouldn't be allowed to treat the public like that," he said. "You shouldn't threaten anyone with rape, especially if you're a police officer."
Yesterday police Inspector Dominic Wood said the officer had admitted he acted inappropriately, but that the snippet of footage does not show the whole event.
"We have thousands of interactions every day with police officers talking to members of the public. This is rare," Insp Wood said.
"It's a tough job and that officer has come across somebody that's obviously pushed his buttons and tried to get a reaction.
"The officer wouldn't have known he was being recorded under those circumstances."
Police union president George Tilbury said officers dealt with the public 24 hours a day and were often involved in "frustrating and stressful situations."
"As the full video has not been uploaded and the entirety of the circumstances are unknown, it is very difficult to comment on the actions of the officer," Mr Tilbury said.
"However, police officers should always do their utmost to portray a professional image, which can be difficult given that they are under more scrutiny than any other profession.
"Our members need to be aware that in this modern age of technology their actions and interactions with the public will be filmed, often without their knowledge or permission."
Police Minister Liza Harvey indicated to reporters that using foul language was inappropriate but she would leave the matter to police to investigate internally.
Zoe's Law passes in NSW Parliament lower house
Controversial foetal rights legislation known as Zoe's Law passes NSW Parliament's lower house on a conscience vote but won't be seen by the upper house until next year. Nine News.
The controversial foetal rights bill known as Zoe's Law has been passed in the lower house of the NSW Parliament despite opposition by some government ministers and MPs.
Prompted by the stillbirth of Brodie Donegan's daughter, Zoe, after Mrs Donegan was hit by a car while she was 36 weeks pregnant, the bill for the first time recognises a crime of grievous bodily harm against an unborn child as a person.
Brodie Donegan with her 2 year old son Lachlan Ball and her 5 yr old daughter Ashlee. Brodie was hit by a car when she was 8 months pregnant and lost the baby who she named Zoe.
The bill was put to a conscience vote and carried, 63 votes to 26.
Ministers who voted against the bill in the lower house on Thursday included Health Minister Jillian Skinner, Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian, Environment Minister Robyn Parker and the Minister for Women, Pru Goward.
MPs from both sides of politics who opposed the Crimes Amendment (Zoe's Law) Bill said its definition of a foetus at 20 weeks, or 400 grams, as an unborn child, taken to be a separate living person, was arbitrary.
Liberal MP for Hornsby Matt Kean was among government MPs who spoke against the bill, saying it would "open the door to unintended consequences".
"I strongly believe that the current laws adequately address and deal with criminal incidents involving the death of an unborn child," he said.
"Intentionally causing grievous bodily harm carries a penalty of up to 25 years, and recklessly doing the same carries a maximum penalty of 14 years.
"If the mother of the child is injured, and the foetus is destroyed, both harms can be taken into consideration as aggravating factors, as outlined in section 21A(g) Crimes (Sentencing and Procedure) Act."
The National Party MP for Bathurst, Paul Toole, supported the bill, saying the "eyes of the law" should recognise unborn children like Zoe.
Premier Barry O'Farrell spoke in support of the bill. "For me this is a simple question," he said. "If a woman is injured in some way, that woman is pregnant, there ought to be a recognition in the law of that fact." "Anybody who has met or has heard Brodie Donegan's story could not help but be moved."
Shadow Treasurer, Michael Daley, said he was pro-choice and would also support the bill.
"If I thought this was a bill that did pit the rights of an unborn child against the rights of the mother, I would not be supporting the bill," he said. "But rather, I see this as a bill that pits the rights of an unborn child against the actions of an alleged or potential wrongdoer."
The NSW Law Society has criticised the law as unnecessary, saying it will lead to unjust sentencing, with its definition of an unborn child likely to spill into murder and manslaughter cases.
Women's groups fear the legislation will interfere with a woman's right to have an abortion.
Zoe's Law seeks to define a 20-week-old foetus as a living person, so that charges of grievous bodily harm can be laid if a pregnant woman loses her unborn child in a motor vehicle accident or assault.
The law recognises grievous bodily harm to the mother, with a maximum penalty of 20 years' jail, if her foetus dies in these circumstances.
Chris Spence, the Liberal MP for The Entrance who introduced the bill on behalf of Ms Donegan, his constituent, said the death of Zoe had touched many people.
"This bill will ensure that the law recognises and acknowledges [an unborn child] in rare cases where the death of an unborn child comes about by the criminal actions of another," he said.
Mr Spence said the bill will not open the way to prosecutions in relation to lawful abortions and treatments.
However, the NSW Greens status of women spokeswoman, Mehreen Faruqi, said her party would fight against the legislation in the upper house.
"It is extremely disappointing that so many MPs from both Labor and the Coalition would vote to support a law that has been opposed by many legal and health bodies, such as the NSW Bar Association, the Australian Medical Association NSW, and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists," she said.
"The Greens, with many women's and community groups, have been campaigning to expose this law for what it is, an unnecessary and dangerous law that will restrict women's rights and access to reproductive health."
Sea Shepherd defeat highlights pointless regulator
The High Court of Australia has refused to hear an appeal from Sea Shepherd Australia, which had been suing the Australian Tax Office over its decision not to award the organisation deductible gift recipient (DGR) status under Commonwealth charity law. This marks the end of a long legal battle for the controversial marine conservation group, whose aggressive harassment of Japanese whaling ships was earlier this year condemned by a U.S. court as 'the very embodiment of piracy.'
Sea Shepherd had based its appeal on a clause in the Income Tax Assessment Act which says a charity qualifies for tax-deductible donations if its principal activity is 'providing short-term direct care to animals...that have been lost, mistreated, or are without owners.'
This clause is usually applied to shelters that find homes for unwanted pets, or rescue hospitals for pets and wild animals that have been hit by cars or injured in natural disasters.
Three years after the ATO ruled that Sea Shepherd's harrying of Japanese ships did not qualify it for this tax exemption, the courts have now conclusively affirmed that decision. Fortunately, this appeal will not cost the taxpayer anything, since Sea Shepherd has been ordered to pay the ATO's legal costs.
In late 2012, the Gillard government established the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission (with an annual budget of $15 million) as a new federal regulator for the not-for-profit sector. Its responsibilities include determining which organisations qualify for charitable status, a task formerly handled by the ATO.
During the last election campaign the Coalition pledged to abolish the ACNC as an unnecessary addition to the charity sector's regulatory burden, but abolition will require an act of Parliament. The ACNC's commissioner has been assuring the public that it will be 'business as usual' for the organisation until such an act is passed. Last month, the charity-watchers at the law firm Makinson d'Apice speculated that 'the ACNC is likely to survive due to the complexity in unwinding the legislation connected with it.'
The ATO's sound decision on Sea Shepherd's DGR status and its successful defence of this decision in the courts prove that it is perfectly ready to resume responsibility for determining which organisations should receive charity tax exemptions in the event the ACNC is abolished.
The Coalition should use the occasion of Sea Shepherd's legal defeat to trumpet the ATO's record as a responsible and conscientious adjudicator of charitable status, and press ahead with its plan to abolish the ACNC.
21 November, 2013
Freedom of religion preserved
A bill to overturn controversial laws that allow private schools to expel students for being gay or transgender has been shelved indefinitely after the NSW Coalition indicated it was unlikely to support the change.
But Sydney independent MP Alex Greenwich, who had been pushing for the change, said he was pleased by statements from Education Minister Adrian Piccoli highlighting the impact of discrimination and urging students to report private schools which did not look after their welfare to the Board of Studies.
Mr Greenwich had introduced a private member's bill to remove exemptions for private schools from parts of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act, which otherwise makes it unlawful to expel or discriminate against gay students.
Labor, the Greens, mental health advocacy groups including BeyondBlue and the Law Society of NSW have voiced support for the bill, but some faith-based schools argued it could threaten religious freedom.
Mr Greenwich withdrew the bill on Wednesday after indications that the government, whose support would be required to pass it, was unlikely to do so.
But he said he was heartened by comments from Mr Piccoli saying discriminatory language, vilification and bullying of any student had no place in schools.
Mr Piccoli told Parliament he was "moved and concerned" by stories of bullying and mistreatment highlighted by Mr Greenwich. He had asked the Board of Studies, which registers non-government schools, to advise him of what it could do to protect student welfare.
Mr Piccoli said providing a "safe and supportive" environment for students was a requirement of registration and the board would investigate complaints from students where schools had failed to do so.
"I urge anyone who has concerns about a school’s welfare policy to bring it to the attention of the Board where it will be investigated fully," he said.
Mr Greenwich said he was disappointed the government had not demonstrated support for his bill but was pleased by the comments.
"I will reintroduce my bill in parliament next year if the new Board of Studies process fails to protect vulnerable students from discrimination and I remain committed to anti-discrimination law reform and removing religious exemptions," he said.
Two groups working in the mental health sector - BeyondBlue and the Australian Clinical Psychology - had thrown their support behind Mr Greenwich’s bill, as had the Law Society of NSW.
"As private educational authorities are recipients of public funds, the standards that apply to public educational authorities in terms of the protection of students or prospective students against discrimination on protected attributes should also apply..." the Law Society wrote in a letter.
But groups representing private schools have argued there are few if indeed any known cases of students being expelled for being gay, and said their religious freedom was at stake.
"Removing exemptions wouldn't increase protections for the students at all, but what it would do is remove protection for the school to teach their ethos and values and expose them to litigation," Geoff Newcombe, the executive director of the Association of Independent Schools NSW, told Fairfax Media this year.
NSW minister calls for cap on teaching degrees
Education Minister Adrian Piccoli has called for a cap on the number of students allowed to enrol in teaching degrees to curb the state's oversupply of primary school teachers.
Fairfax Media revealed on Sunday more than 40,000 teachers are on a waiting list for permanent jobs in NSW and the oversupply of primary teachers is likely to last until the end of the decade even if resignations or retirements double.
Mr Piccoli says he has long held the view that university places should be limited in teaching to better align supply with need. He says Finland, which is often celebrated for its high educational standards, has a very tight cap on the number of students accepted into teacher training.
Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne says the government has no plans to cap placements but would review teacher training courses to ensure they produce the highest quality graduates. "We don't intend to pre-empt the outcome of that review, but it will be wide ranging and look at many aspects of teacher training," he said.
While the state government cannot implement a cap, Mr Piccoli says it can control who is accepted into teaching and that is why it is bringing in tougher entry requirements.
From 2015 school leavers must score at least a band five, or more than 80 per cent, in three HSC subjects, including English.
"What we want to do is to take out some of the lower achieving students who go into teaching by setting that high standard," he said. "We want students with an ATAR of at least 70 and higher."
A Fairfax Media analysis of the 2013 university entry cut-offs found the average ATAR needed to enter a degree to teach in primary schools was 71. The Australian Catholic University, the University of Newcastle and the University of Western Sydney offered at least one teaching course with an ATAR below 65. But universities say the issue is not the number of teachers they are training but how and where they are employed.
Australian Catholic University vice-chancellor Greg Craven says teachers are increasingly being hired in casual or temporary positions, which often amount to full-time work. "The reason that's happening is not because universities are producing too many teachers, it's because employers of teachers obviously find certain cost and flexibility advantages in hiring teachers in that way," he said.
The executive dean of Charles Sturt University's education faculty, Toni Downes, says it should not be up to the government to control how many people study teaching. "Graduates go to the non-government school system, the catholic school system, interstate, they go overseas, they use [their degrees] in educational settings that aren't schools and a range of human services using HR," she said.
English and History teacher Andrew Bigwood has been on the "casual roundabout" for 10 years and has no work lined up for next year. He supports two children and a wife who cannot work because she has multiple sclerosis. "There is this fantasy that you will walk out of uni into a job but it's simply not the case," he said.
Qld. Police to gain protection from being sued
This is deplorable. The courts are just about the only remedy for police misbehaviour
Premier Campbell Newman introduced the Public Service Amendment bill on Tuesday, announcing it was designed to protect "public service employees, police officers and other persons in particular circumstances relating to engaging in conduct in an official capacity" from civil action.
Mr Newman said he was following through on an election promise to review the laws. "Police perform a critical role in ensuring safe communities in Queensland," he said.
"In the often highly complex situations they respond to, and despite performing their roles professionally and in good faith, the nature of their business means there are occasional incidents that cause injury to people or damage to property."
The legislation amendments are designed to protect state employees who are working in an official capacity from civil liability.
Instead, that liability will be transferred to the state. But the legislation does include a clause which allows the government to recoup costs from state employees who "have engaged in conduct other than in good faith, and with gross negligence".
The Queensland Police Union had been calling for the change for several years, after a Brisbane constable was found guilty of an assault of a 65-year-old homeless man in 2006.
Bruce Rowe brought a private prosecution against Constable Benjamin Arndt following his own arrest. Mr Arndt was found guilty in 2011 and fined $1000 and ordered to pay court costs.
At the time, the police union decried the situation as an attack on how police did their job and demanded the law be changed.
On Tuesday, QPU president Ian Leavers called the legislation "a great start for police to achieve criminal and civil protections for police acting in good faith without gross negligence".
"...We are very pleased with the introduction of the bill as it now gives police greater peace of mind as they go about their job protecting Queensland," he said.
The bill has been referred to a parliamentary committee for review and is expected to be passed early next year.
Spy row: No sign of apology from Tony Abbott as Indonesia freezes cooperation with Australia
Prime Minister Tony Abbott is showing no sign he intends to apologise to Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono over the spying scandal.
Indonesia has now suspended cooperation with Australia on people smuggling, including combined military patrols, military training exercises and intelligence exchanges.
Two hours after Mr Yudhoyono announced he was freezing cooperation with Australia late yesterday, Mr Abbott rose in Parliament to reiterate his regret over the spying reports.
"I want to express here in this chamber my deep and sincere regret about the embarrassment to the president and to Indonesia that's been caused by recent media reporting," he said.
Mr Abbott said he would respond "swiftly, full and courteously" to a written request for an explanation, but there was no indication he had any plans to say sorry.
No doubt mindful of the fact the phone tapping program was in place during Labor's time in office, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten lent his support to the Government.
Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek supported the bipartisan approach when she fronted reporters this morning.
"We are absolutely committed to working with the Government to restoring good relations with Indonesia," she said. "[We are] absolutely willing to support any moves they make to restore the relationship to its normal footing."
Australia's longest serving foreign minister, Alexander Downer, has also supported Mr Abbott's position.
He told the ABC's Lateline program that Australia does not owe Indonesia a detailed explanation of its spying activities.
He says Mr Abbott's priority is to defend Australia's intelligence assets, adding that while Mr Yudhuyono had been "a great friend" to Australia, "he is not responsible for Australia's intelligence assets".
"I think the best way to handle these issues, stick with the time-worn formula that you never confirm or deny allegations in relation to intelligence, because the more you start to do that, the more - as time goes on - you'll get yourself into increasing trouble," Mr Downer said.
US secretary of state John Kerry has also supported the approach not to discuss intelligence matters.
Speaking at a press conference with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop in Washington this morning, they both refused to say whether they discussed the spying controversy - one that was sparked by the leaking of documents by former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.
"As I have said on numerous occasions and as the Prime Minister has said, we do not discuss intelligence matters, certainly not allegations," Ms Bishop said. "We do not discuss them publicly and we will not do so."
Mr Kerry said: "We just don’t talk about intelligence matters in public, and we’re not about to begin now."
He added that the US has a critical working relationship with Australia, "likewise we have great respect and affection for Indonesia".
20 November, 2013
In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is amused at the "spying on Indonesia" beatup by the Green/Left
Some sustained feminist arrogance
The sustained feminist diatribe by Clem Bastow below purports to review a piece of market reseach. What one looks for in such a review is at least a summary of what the research says. But we don't get that here. All we get is a few sentences held up here and there for ridicule. No attempt to bring evidence to bear on anything the author disagrees with is made. The proposition that men watch what they say in front of women is such a tradition that I would have thought it unquestionable but our femiminst writer simply dismisses it as absurd. That rather shows how little she knows about men -- not surprising, I guess. The article amounts to nothing much more than a torrent of sneering denigration of men. The degree of insecurity that makes such defensivenes necessary can only be imagined. The lady is sick with hate. Too much feminist writing is of that ilk and that does tend to explain why many capable women refuse to call themselves feminists
If you’ve spent much time online or in the public sphere - or, for that matter, simply existing in the world in general - you might have been under the impression that men don’t feel particularly hobbled when it comes to speaking their minds.
Not so, if the release of The Modern (Aussie) Man White Paper is any indication. It has been prepared by advertising/marketing behemoth M&C Saatchi Australia’s senior strategist Carolyn Managh, who apparently lives in an alternate universe, if her quotes in the press release are to be believed: "The White Paper steps around the female minefield that stops academics, politicians and everyday men from saying what they really think, this research says what every man is thinking.”
(At the risk of sounding like a Carry On film, I don’t think my female minefield has ever stopped everyday men from saying what they really think, at least if you take the comments section on any Daily Life piece as evidence.)
The paper - written after eight months of interviews with 140 Australian men aged 27 to 55, which is, despite the paper’s "unprecedented” and "landmark” claims, not really an immense sample group - trumpets that Australian men are "so conditioned to being told they’re wrong, they’ve developed gender issue laryngitis”.
The irony of the phrase "gender issue laryngitis” being raised at the 10th annual Men’s & Father’s Roundtable, on International Men’s Day (funny, I thought that was the other 364 days of the year aside from March 8th, a ho ho ho), is not lost on me. Nonetheless, I persevered and read The Modern (Aussie) Man White Paper.
By the time I reached the page - and all of them are impeccably designed - featuring a pull-quote from Richard Wilkins that bellows, in huge type, "Women fall in love with the way you are, then try to change you”, followed on the next page by an inexplicable photo of G.I. Joe dolls, I had a pretty good idea of what I was dealing with. To wit: absolute twaddle.
The Modern (Aussie) Man White Paper comes off like an effort from The Gruen Transfer’s ‘The Pitch’ segment, however unlike ads convincing Australians to invade New Zealand, it does not appear to be a joke.
I was not alone in this reaction. "I initially thought it might have been written by the Chaser team. Or Alan Jones,” Men’s Referral Service and No To Violence CEO Danny Blay told me. "It attempts to describe all men as a singular type, [but] ignores the impact of traditional masculinity on violence against women, violent crime, criminal activity, sexual harassment, sexual assault, porn, child protection notifications, the prison population, road trauma…”
Indeed, the terrible irony of tone-deaf stunts like The Modern (Aussie) Man White Paper - announced as it was with an email blast bearing the subject header "Not All Men Are Bastards” - is that they cloak what is essentially market research in a flimsy patina of social science, attempting to fool the reader into thinking they are dealing with a serious research paper and/or genuine concern about the emotional status of Australian men.
That seems to be what has happened to Julia Keady, who writes, inspired by the white paper, "What I won't stand for is the advancement of one gender at the sacrifice of another”, and it’s that misguided stance (to say nothing of "gender issue laryngitis”, a phrase that made me hoot with laughter) that has, presumably, fuelled the paper’s creation, or at least its cod-scientific tone.
Keady also reckons "men's wellbeing and safety is not part of this nation's gender conversation” (I guess the roaring success of Movember is just a blip on the gender conversation radar), a claim that might hold some weight in the context of the white paper were it not for the fact that the study’s "key findings” include pressing issues like "[Australian men are] traumatised about buying women presents”.
Makes you think of the old Margaret Atwood line about men being "afraid women will laugh at them [...] We're afraid of being killed”, doesn’t it? But, you know, NOT ALL MEN ARE BASTARDS!
"Complaining that not all men are bastards is a blatant attempt to tell women to shut up; ‘it’s not all bad, deal with it’,” Blay says. "The white paper makes no mention of the physical, historical or social context of men’s power over women (and children – see recent investigations of institutional sexual abuse of children – not a lot of women implicated there) and negates the reality of the inherent unequal power imbalance based solely on gender.”
The paper’s conclusion bleats (in a font size that Superman would struggle to leap in a single bound), "The results of The Modern (Aussie) Man study were ASTOUNDING [...] Men miss being treated like men. Real manly men.” Really? "Astounding”? You interviewed 140 men and collated their responses in a "paper” that is essentially a 61-page version of such storied bits of wisdom as "you have to eat meat to feed meat” and "I’m not a poof or nothing”?
When the presser includes gems like "The Modern (Aussie) Man White Paper goes where few have dared to go; opening the gender conversation from men’s perspective, at a deeply personal level”, I can only think about how great a slice of the last, say, two thousand years worth of conversation has been from men’s perspective.
Nobody is here to deny the very real trauma of male suicide rates, depression, rape within the prison system (not to mention the prison industrial complex), workplace safety, alcohol-fuelled violence or war - issues that all but the most radical throwback feminists would agree are pressing.
Suggesting that there’s a "female minefield” that prevents men from speaking their minds, on the other hand, makes me wonder if whoever prints the calendars accidentally switched International Men’s Day with April 1st for 2013.
The Modern (Aussie) Man crew have really saved the best ‘til last, however. Despite great fanfare accompanying the release of the white paper, there’s nothing remotely scientific about it. And that’s because (if the presence of M&C Saatchi didn’t clue you in from the very beginning) you have to read all 61 pages to get to the truth: the final line, "M&C Saatchi hopes this study is the first step to bringing brands and men closer together.”
Who knew? "Opening the gender conversation from men’s perspective, at a deeply personal level” was just another way to say "Buy more Lynx and sick V8s.”
Food fanaticism gets a response
The response is deplorable but so is the fanaticism that evoked it.
THE owner of a Townsville children's play centre was bashed after he refused to let a man bring cupcakes into the establishment due to health concerns.
Lollipop's Playland and Cafe director Dylan Gray (pictured) was kicked and choked during the frenzied attack, which happened in front of children outside the centre. Mr Gray said he was working on Monday morning when he noticed a customer had brought cupcakes for a birthday party.
When he told the man he wasn't allowed to bring the baked goods in due to allergy concerns, the man flipped.
Mr Gray, who took over the business at Domain Central about eight weeks ago, asked the man to hand over the cupcakes and when he refused, asked him to leave. "On the way out he commented we were going to hear from him so I followed him outside to try and rectify the situation," Mr Gray said.
"He grabbed me around the neck and lifted me up, he said, 'I'm not going to punch you, I'm going to strangle you'."
Mr Gray said his memory of the attack was blurry but he also remembered being slapped and kicked. "I'm fairly bruised and sore around the neck and jaw area and I'm really sore down my side," he said.
"Hindsight is a great thing and if I had that day over ... well they left in a huff, why did I follow them outside?
"It's not really something you want to go through and it will probably stay with me for a while."
Mr Gray said he would continue to uphold the centre's policy of refusing to let customers bring in food to keep children safe from a possible allergic reaction or life-threatening anaphylactic shock.
Customers who pre-book birthday parties can organise to bring cakes in if the ingredients can be confirmed prior to the party.
Aliens in our midst
Why are these people here?
HUNDREDS of Muslims attending a community meeting in western Sydney were warned yesterday that they should refuse to co-operate with Australian governments and their agencies, including ASIO and the federal police.
The annual conference of Hizb ut-Tahrir heard speakers say the federal government had a covert plan to marginalise and suppress activist and traditionalist Islam under the guise of engagement and fostering harmony with moderates in the community…
In an address entitled Forging an Independent Path for the Community, speaker Wassim Doureihi told the 600-strong audience gathered in a hall in Sydney’s western suburbs that many Muslims had been cowed by the federal government and its agencies into abandoning traditional and activist Islam. "Out of defeatism, they crawl to the doors of the government,” he said.
He added that those imams and other Muslim community leaders who co-operated with the government lent legitimacy to what Mr Doureihi claimed was Canberra’s campaign against Muslims at home and abroad. "They sit at the table with those who are waging war against Muslims,” he said.
19 November, 2013
Patrol boat diplomacy with Sri Lanka
The article below has the Leftist slant that one expects from the Sydney Morning Herald. The unfortunate people of Sri Lanka have only recently freed themselves from a grisly terrorist insurgency by Tamil communists but somehow that makes them the villains. For balance, below is what champion cricketer Muralitharan said recently about the Tamil North:Mr Cameron is in Colombo to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, and was also given a working over on politics by the sportsman.
Muralitharan suggested the Prime Minister had been 'misled' about the latest situation in the war-scarred north of the island.
Mr Cameron is pressing the Sri Lankan regime to do more to improve conditions for the minority Tamil population still suffering the effects of a 26-year civil war which ended in 2009.
But asked about the politician's calls for more action from the government of Mr Rajapaksa - which has been criticised internationally over human rights abuses - Muralitharan, a Tamil, said Mr Cameron was underestimating the improvements already made.
'I'm a sportsman and we don't think about politics,' he told reporters. 'My opinion is, there were problems in the last 30 years in those areas.
'Nobody could move there. In wartime I went with the UN, I saw the place, how it was. Now I regularly go and I see the place and it is about a 1,000 per cent improvement in facilities.
'Cricket is the main game to narrow the bridge between the people. But facilities-wise, schools are built, roads are built. Businesses are started. So many things have happened. It is improving.
'Thanks to the Sri Lankan army, they are putting a lot of effort there. This country is 20-odd million people. In the north there are only one million people. They are getting more attention than the south at the moment.'
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has defended giving military hardware to a country the United Nations has accused of war crimes, praising Sri Lanka as now freer and more prosperous.
His laudatory assessment of the nation's human rights progress since the end of its civil war was in stark contrast to that of British Prime Minister David Cameron, who infuriated the regime by visiting displaced families in the formerly war-affected north, and demanding an international inquiry into war crimes.
At a Colombo dock on Sunday, Mr Abbott announced Australia would give two Bay-class patrol boats, recently retired from surveillance service in Australia, to the Sri Lankan navy to capture asylum seeker boats before they leave Sri Lankan waters.
"People smuggling is a curse. It is an evil trade … the promises that people smugglers offer are promises of death, not life," he said.
Critics have condemned the gift, which will cost Australia about $2 million. Greens leader Christine Milne said: "The Prime Minister's silence on human rights abuses in Sri Lanka was inexcusable complicity but this is nothing less than collaboration and it is abhorrent.
"I am devastated and heartbroken at the thought of Australia assisting a disgraced government to suppress and control its citizens."
Labor frontbencher Tony Burke said he wanted to see the detail of the agreement on the use of the ships at sea. Speaking on the ABC's Insiders he said: "I'm not sure how it works … because you are not dealing with a transit country. There may be some people who claim to be directly seeking asylum."
The details of the agreement, what materiel the ships could carry, and how they could be deployed, has not been made public, and on Monday, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison refused to say what, if any, limitations Australia had placed on the use of the boats.
"We'll work through those arrangements with the Sri Lanka government," he told ABC Radio. "That is the appropriate place to have those discussions.
"I make no apologies for the fact that we are endeavouring to work with the Sri Lankan Government to stop boats coming to Australia. That is the point."
Mr Morrison said on a visit to Sri Lanka in December last year, then foreign minister Bob Carr gifted surveillance equipment to the Sri Lankan government to monitor people smuggling activity. He said Senator Carr had discussed providing other assistance, including the kind of patrol boats the Abbott government was providing.
"I don’t recall any great hubbub about that at the time from the government and members of the Labor Party. We’re continuing that approach," he said.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said he was not "specifically aware" of the outcome of the former Labor government's discussions with Sri Lanka.
Responding to Greens criticism that the gift represents Australian collaboration in Sri Lankan human rights abuses, Mr Morrison said he would not take advice from the party.
"The Greens' approach was tried by the previous government. The softening of our borders and all of that, they tried it all and over 1100 people ended up dead. I am not going to repeat the mistake of the previous government in being led around by the Greens," he said.
Opposition immigration spokesman Richard Marles said on Monday that Labor supported co-operation with neighbours, but it was "deeply concerning" that there appeared to have been no limits placed on how Sri Lanka used the vessels.
While acknowledging "progress" on human rights in the country, Mr Marles said the boats must be used only to combat people smuggling. "There needs to be a clear understanding with the Sri Lankan government about the terms on which these vessels will be used," he said.
The chief of Sri Lanka's Navy, Vice-Admiral Jayanth Colombage, said the ships would improve its surveillance capabilities. "The ships will be put into good use to maintain the freedom of the Indian Ocean from any kind of maritime crime," he said.
Mr Abbott dismissed concerns that Sri Lanka could not be trusted as a partner in stopping people smuggling.
Four Sri Lankan sailors including a senior officer are under arrest on suspicion of being key players in the country's largest - and most profitable - smuggling racket. More are being investigated.
Sri Lanka, as host of the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting at the weekend, has faced intense scrutiny over its human rights record, particularly allegations of war crimes committed by government forces at the end of its civil war in 2009, and of continuing abuses, including abductions, torture and extrajudicial killings by state forces, land seizures and repression of political dissent.
A report by the United Nations found in the final months of fighting credible allegations of violations, "some of which would amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity", committed by Sri Lankan government forces and the rebel Tamil Tigers.
And Australia told Sri Lanka at the UN last year that it must "take action to reduce and eliminate all cases of abuse, torture or mistreatment by police and security forces … and eliminate abductions and disappearances".
But Mr Abbott said he had come to Sri Lanka "to praise as much as to judge" and that significant progress had been made since the conflict. "I welcome the opportunity that Sri Lanka has had to showcase itself to the world.
"Sri Lanka has come through many troubles but today there is more freedom and more prosperity. I'm here as a friend, I'm here as the representative of the country that wants to do the right thing by Sri Lanka."
By contrast, Mr Cameron criticised reconciliation efforts and continuing abuses, allegedly at the hands of state security forces. He infuriated President Mahinda Rajapakse by visiting the former war zone city of Jaffna, meeting the families of people who had disappeared, and those whose land the military had seized.
Mr Cameron said Sri Lanka had enormous potential but the Commonwealth had a responsibility to speak frankly to its members.
Senator slams ABC's objectivity
A FEDERAL politician has taken a swipe at the objectivity of ABC journalists, questioning whether taxpayers should continue to fund the national broadcaster.
Queensland Liberal senator Ian Macdonald told the upper house on Thursday he faces an increasing number of queries from constituents about when the ABC will be privatised.
"Quite clearly the ABC ... its news broadcasts, its television broadcasts, are no longer in the way of dissemination of fact," Senator Macdonald said.
Presenters are offering their own opinions to viewers, he said.
"You've only got to look at any of their current affairs programs and it's always the Green-type agenda that comes up, or the ultra left-wing social agenda."
Senator Macdonald conceded same-sex marriage is an important issue but questioned why it dominates the broadcaster's news agenda. "The ABC seems fixated on it."
The Senate is considering the broadcaster's latest annual report ahead of an estimates hearing next week when ABC managing director Mark Scott will face the scrutiny of parliamentarians.
Senator Macdonald said people were asking why the public purse should pay for the ABC when it is doesn't appear to be a balanced provider of news.
"There are a lot of lovely people in the ABC and I'm sure very good at their work," he said, adding that regional ABC radio always gives everyone a say.
"But I'm sorry that I can't say the same for the capital city disseminators."
NSW: New laws will see babies taken from addicted or abused mothers who refuse to seek help
BABIES will be taken away at birth from drug-addicted or abused mothers who refuse to seek help, under new state laws that will kick in while the child is still in the womb.
Pregnant women who abuse drugs or alcohol will be made to sign a Parental Responsibility Contract ordering them to undergo treatment for the sake of their baby.
If they refuse or show no intention of complying, the government will be able to remove the child the moment it is born and use the broken PRC to immediately start formal proceedings to place the baby in the Minister's care.
The new legislation will also extend to pregnant woman who suffer domestic violence. In those cases, the women will be asked to sign a PRC ordering them to either leave their partner, move in with a relative or seek help through domestic violence counselling.
HOW THE NEW LAWS WILL WORK
While the PRC process has been operating for several years, current laws state they can only be applied to a parent after their child is born rather than while it is still in the womb. This means expectant mothers with a drug addiction can continue feeding their habit up until birth.
It is hoped that under the new scheme that will no longer happen and, in best case scenarios, the pregnant women will seek treatment and immediately cease their drug habit.
Babies born with a substance addictions cry in pain for hours, suffer tremors, respiratory problems and have low birth weight.
Family and Community Services Minister Pru Goward said the changes were designed to put the child first and provide the strongest possible incentive for troubled mothers to turn their lives around.
"I make no apologies for taking this bold new approach to child protection, which ensures we are putting the best interests of the child at the centre of every decision we make," Ms Goward said.
The new laws are awaiting final approval from Cabinet before they are submitted to parliament.
"Whether it is raising the stakes on early intervention or improving access to open adoption, these reforms are about providing families and caseworkers with the support and tools they need to ensure vulnerable children have a safe home for life," Ms Goward said.
While it will be a magistrate's decision on whether to place the child in the minister's care, the legislation will state that a broken contract should be viewed as a strong case for a child to be placed in foster care.
NSW Health does not record the number of babies born with drug addictions, however in the three years to 2011 John Hunter Hospital on the Central Coast recorded 238 babies born with an addiction to substances including heroin, cannabis and amphetamines.
Tony Abbott rejects Commonwealth climate change fund
Colombo, Sri Lanka: Prime Minister Tony Abbott has rejected a proposal from the 53-nation Commonwealth to establish a new fund to help poor and island countries to combat climate change.
As an extraordinary Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting concluded in Colombo, Mr Abbott joined with Canada in rejecting a decision by the summit to push for a Green Capital Fund to help vulnerable island states and poor African countries address the effects of rising sea levels, prolonged droughts, or catastrophic weather incidents, caused by climate change.
The proposal is for Commonwealth countries to work within the UN climate change network to build the fund for small and poor countries to access.
But the final agreement from the 53 members of the Anglosphere Commonwealth noted that "Australia and Canada… indicated they could not support a Green Capital Fund at this time”.
One of the key themes of the summit was the plight of low-lying, and poor states who are especially vulnerable to climate change, but don't have the money for adaptation.
Malta will host the 2015 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, offering to stage the event after Mauritius withdrew in protest over Sri Lanka hosting this year's forum.
Prime Minister of Mauritius Navin Ramgoolam did not attend the Colombo meeting in protest at Sri Lanka's human rights record, and said his country would not be prepared to present the next one.
The issue of human rights violations dominated the final day of CHOGM 2013. Under questioning from foreign journalists, and in response to spirited defences from local reporters, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse asked the international community to give his country time to reconcile after 30 years of civil war.
"This is not something you can do overnight. You must also respect our own views without trying to push us into a corner, so please be fair.”
Four years since the war's end, relations between Sri Lanka's Sinhalese, Tamil, and Muslim communities remain strained. But Mr Rajapakse said he felt responsible for the welfare of all citizens of the island nation.
"They are all my people, my citizens, I will look after them, it is my responsibility… I will do it.”
The chickens are coming home to roost
18 November, 2013
Labor told of $31bn NBN risk
A SECRET review of the NBN prepared for the Gillard government almost three years ago estimated it would leave taxpayers up to $31 billion worse off and warned of major risks in the plan, many of which were later realised.
The Weekend Australian has learned that the review by investment bank Lazard found the project would confront construction problems leading to cost increases for the building phase.
It also found that the project - once touted by the former Labor government as ideal for "mum and dad investors" - was so risky that no private investors would stump up the capital.
It is believed Lazard had raised concerns about Telstra's involvement under a multi-billion-dollar deal transferring many risks associated with the project from Telstra's books to NBN Co, while leaving Telstra with the option of competing against the NBN - yet still receiving funds from it - after 20 years.
Significantly, The Weekend Australian has learned that Lazard's calculations concluded that taxpayers would own an asset, NBN Co, with a negative net present value - the difference between the cash a project is expected to achieve and its costs - as high as $31bn.
Net present value calculations are done specifically to take the risks involved into account.
The advisers said the project had significantly underestimated the cost of its capital, and provided alternative figures, but in the end reasoned that this was a theoretical endeavour.
Citing the risk of the project and the long investment horizon, Lazard concluded that "no investor group other than the government" would provide equity finance to NBN Co while key planks of the business case were plagued by uncertainty.
The information clearly suggests that Lazard's views of the project were very different from those of NBN Co, which used Goldman Sachs as an adviser. The Goldman Sachs conclusions have never been made public.
The Coalition came to office promising it would build the NBN more quickly and at less cost to taxpayers by scaling back Labor's "Rolls-Royce" fibre-to-the-premises model and using Telstra's existing copper network for the final few hundred metres to many homes. The government has ordered a strategic review of the project that will report next month on the cost of the project, how long it will take to complete, and how savings can be made by changing the plan.
The Australian revealed in November 2010 that Lazard was due to deliver a review of the deal to the Gillard government.
The Lazard review was commissioned to examine the heads of agreement between Telstra and NBN Co and raised concerns about the agreement.
Its broader assessment of the project is understood to have been so damning that it would have raised alarm bells nationally if it had ever been made public. On the Telstra deal, it found inadequate allowance for the cost of the company being relieved of its universal service obligations as part of its involvement.
The Rudd and Gillard governments long refused to do a cost-benefit analysis of the project.
It is understood that Lazard likened the NBN to a venture-capital project, but one of a sheer magnitude that had never been attempted in Australia.
It warned that 30-year estimates of revenues and costs were inherently speculative and the projected customer take-up and average return per user were likely to be proven optimistic in such a competitive industry.
Lazard is understood to have warned about the competitive threat posed by wireless internet, which could limit take-up - a major driver of revenue needed to repay the government's equity contribution to the huge project. It pointed to anecdotal evidence that 20 per cent of premises could ultimately be wireless-only.
In doing so, it echoed Labor's corporate advisers, Greenhill Calliburn, which warned in 2011 that some consumers "may be willing to sacrifice higher-speed transmissions for the convenience of mobile platforms".
NBN Co has long argued that wireless services were "complementary" to fibre.
It emerged in 2011 that Telstra had agreed that it would not promote its wireless internet services as a substitute for fibre for 20 years.
Later that year, pressure from the competition watchdog, which warned that the agreement had the potential to undermine competition for wireless voice and broadband services, forced NBN Co to back down on its attempt to restrain Telstra from promoting its wireless internet services as a substitute.
On construction risks, Lazard raised warnings that the size of NBN Co's contingency fund could be insufficient. This year, NBN Co revealed that the contingency fund was worth roughly 10 per cent of the project's capital expenditure, or $3.6bn.
Federal Government has welfare rorts in sights as eligibility tightened
HANDOUTS will be slashed and eligibility tightened as the Abbott Government eyes off welfare wastelands draining the budget of billions of dollars.
Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews has given his strongest indication that a crackdown on welfare is coming - and in his crosshairs are the 822,000 Australians receiving the disability support pension.
Mr Andrews has begun a review of the system with government agencies and the not-for-profit sector in a bid to curb a welfare blowout. The review will help guide the extensive reforms, which could be rolled out as a matter of urgency.
Those on a disability pension - now one in 20 working-aged Australians - face being booted off the entitlement and moved on to Newstart, which is less money and requires people to more actively look for employment.
Some doctors could also be stripped of their ability to assess patients as concerns grow about some overworked or lazy medicos not properly scrutinising claims.
It comes as the Government and the Human Services Department have been tipped off about people claiming the disability pension while being involved in physical criminal activity.
Key details of the Government's 2013 disability support pension report, exclusively obtained by The Sunday Mail, shows that just in the past financial year alone, $15 billion was paid out to almost 821,738 recipients - a 22 per cent increase in 10 years (673,334).
One-third of the disability pensioners claim they cannot work full time because they severely depressed, anxious or a debilitating mental illness. While having a "bad back" was often cited as the reason for not being able to work, the greatest category of people now claim to have a psychological illness.
Fears are growing that too many recipients are getting too much money because they are on the wrong type welfare benefit because they have been able to game the system. A single disability pensioner gets a maximum of $751 plus a $61 supplement a fortnight. A single person on Newstart gets $500.
Mr Andrews told The Sunday Mail the safety net would be there for people who had a genuine a disability.
"The Coalition Government is committed to improving opportunities for Australians with a disability participate in work," Mr Andrews said.
"We are consulting with stakeholders including employers to seek their ideas on ways to improve opportunities for Australians with a disability to participate in work. "
It is likely reforms will go beyond disability payments and include a broadening of quarantined payments for areas outside indigenous Australia.
Australian Medical Association president Steve Hambleton said doctors knew their patients well. "Doctors have got no reason to second guess their patients," Dr Hambleton said. "Doctors aren't the policeman of the department; they are the advocate of the patient. "GPs don't have private investigators ."
About 270,000 people are on disability pension in NSW, 200,000 in Victoria, 163,000 in Queensland, 76,000 in South Australia and 64,000 in Western Australia.
Human Services Minister Marise Payne said the Coalition is serious about tackling welfare fraud, including people wrongly claiming the Disability Support Pension (DSP) or any other payment.
"My department has sophisticated data-matching and fraud-detection systems, so if you cheat the system, chances are we will catch you," Senator Payne said.
"The DSP is only available for people with a permanent, fully diagnosed medical condition likely to last more than two years."
The former Gillard government introduced policies to get more people on the disability pension to work more hours.
The Department of Human Services received more than 55,000 tip-offs through the Australian Government Services Fraud Tip-off Line in 2012-13.
Ms Payne urged anyone who was aware of others cheating the system to call the anonymous Australian Government Services Fraud Tip-off Line on 131 524. "This information helps to make the system fairer for everyone," she said.
Fast facts about DSP
* To be eligible for a DSP you must have a permanent, fully diagnosed, treated and stabilised medical condition likely to last more than two years without any significant improvement.
* You also must have participated in a Program of Support (unless exempt), where trained allied health professionals tailor a program to help you find and maintain work.
* Claimants must have a minimum score on the Impairment Tables. These tables are designed to assess impairment in relation to work. They consist of a set of tables that assign ratings in proportion to the severity or impact of the impairment on function as it relates to work performance.
Medical eligibility for DSP is assessed by experienced allied health professionals using clear guidelines to assess DSP claimants' work capacity.
* A doctor's certificate advising the medical condition of an applicant for Disability Support Pension is just one piece of evidence that is assessed by the Department of Human Services in regards to a person's eligibility for DSP.
Sri Lanka confirms people-smuggling deal
THE Sri Lankan government has confirmed an arrangement is being negotiated with Australia to tackle people-smuggling.
Sri Lankan Minister for Media, Keheliya Rambukwella, told journalists in Colombo on Saturday the deal was a memorandum of understanding between the two navies.
"There is an arrangement, an MOU to be signed between the two naval forces," the minister said.
"All the details have been discussed and once it is signed it will be made a public document."
Prime Minister Tony Abbott, in Colombo for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, will meet with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa later on Saturday with people-smuggling set to be on the agenda.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is understood to have discussed the new strategy with her Sri Lankan counterpart when she was attending a meeting of Commonwealth foreign ministers in Colombo this week.
The coalition took to the federal election a policy of intercepting all identified asylum seeker vessels travelling from Sri Lanka outside the Australian sea border and arranging for the immediate return of all passengers.
The key to the policy is ensuring what have been described as "safe transfer arrangements" involving the Sri Lankan government.
Mr Abbott told reporters in Colombo on Friday that Australia had "good and close co-operation" with the Sri Lankan government and navy.
"I'll be thanking the Sri Lankans for the co-operation which they have extended to us on this important issue and I will have more to say about this in the next day or so," Mr Abbott said.
How minority government built a legal wall to save Craig Thomson
FOR more than 15 years, former Health Services Union leader Michael Williamson had been gathering mates, favours, files and influence. Now, as he contemplates jail for defrauding the union of millions of dollars, Williamson must wonder whether it was all worth it.
By 2009 it had all come together for Williamson, who had focused on amassing power. Nothing captures his hubris like his words to the HSU 2010 national conference: "I am the president of the federal ALP, member of the ALP industrial committee, executive member of the ACTU, vice-president of Unions NSW, vice-president of the ALP NSW branch, trustee of First State Super, director UE Pty Ltd, director IPO Pty Ltd, member of the Australia Day Council and Unions NSW finance committee," Williamson told his disciples.
Craig Thomson, who is facing allegations he misused his HSU-issued credit card to hire prostitutes, was Williamson's protege, a valuable and useful investment, the first HSU member elected to federal parliament. In parliamentary terms Thomson was a nobody, yet he was rewarded with the coveted position of chairman of the economics committee from day one. As the credit card scandal broke, Williamson's network went into overdrive to keep their man secure.
Knowingly or not, Val Gostencnik was a key player in that network. Outside the industrial relations clique he's not especially well known. But to insiders he's a formidably connected lawyer - with distinctive competence in matters involving health unionists.
FOR a few months in 2009 it looked like Australia's industrial registrar Doug Williams might succeed in establishing an investigation into the Thomson allegations. July 1, 2009, was the deadline.
Previously confidential documents released under Freedom of Information this year and Williams's extensive on-the-record interview with me have filled in many blanks. What emerges is Fair Work Australia's seemingly conscious encouragement of delays and frustrations to the investigation of a relatively straightforward alleged swindle. It would likely be handled by a local detective rather than a multi-million-dollar government agency - that's if the alleged offender were a suburban accountant, not a unionist with connections.
Now retired, Williams says had his investigation plan been followed, the matter would have been "done and dusted, it would have been wrapped up during the passage of the following year (2010)". That Thomson seems to have been shielded from inquiry should disturb us all. Discovery of how that happened must be a priority for the government.
FWA's "summary of events" for the HSU investigation records this for April 8, 2009: "Industrial registrar advised deputy prime minister's chief of staff Ben Hubbard inquiries were under way into HSU and formal coercive investigation may ensue."
This week Williams told me Hubbard's call was "unusual" and memorable, coming in the dark of night on the rarely used Williams landline. Williams told me Hubbard had only one short, sharp question. "He asked had the name Thomson come up in my inquiry."
Williams was untroubled by the call from the deputy PM's chief of staff. Ministers, even the deputy PM, could not influence him in a role where his independence was protected in law. He told me: "I was a statutory officer accountable independently to the parliament, not to a minister." His replacement, the general manager of the new FWA, is not - they report to the FWA president and are subject to his or her directions.
By June 30, Williams had overseen weeks of preparatory work to set up a coercive investigation. "We had taken considerable care to determine that we had enough material to demonstrate an abject failure of governance in that organisation and that the move on to the investigative phase was warranted, which is why I took that decision before I left."
He told me about previously confidential legal advice from the Australian government solicitor that endorsed his plans. He sought specific guidance on any potential legal issues that might restrict him in reporting apparent crimes to police. "I recall advice from the Australian government solicitor that there was nothing circumscribing me or the organisation taking that kind of action" he says.
On June 30, Williams issued written instructions to his direct report, Terry Nassios, directing him to establish the investigation. He added this unmistakable provision: Nassios's plan should include "actions arising from the inquiries to date, including referrals to police, which can occur on the strength of discoveries which do not require further investigation".
This week he said, "An industrial registrar, a statutory officer, does not issue such an instruction lightly, and it's issued in the expectation that it will be fulfilled".
So why was his instruction ignored? Why did it take another year for FWA to start the investigation? "That is a mystery to me," Williams says.
That mystery may not be so perplexing for FWA commissioner and former law firm partner Gostencnik. He began his career as an industrial officer, or union official with the HSU (known at the time by a different name). After gaining law and economics degrees and a Corrs Chambers Westgarth partnership, Gostencnik worked with Julia Gillard on drafting the Fair Work laws. He gave legal advice to FWA as it investigated Thomson. He "settled" a letter to police in which FWA's GM Tim Lee "regrettably advised" detectives he was unable to assist - or even meet - them if the subject included anything to do with Thomson. It's worth looking at that letter in detail.
On behalf of HSU members, national secretary Kathy Jackson formally reported Thomson's alleged embezzlement of HSU members' money to NSW Police on August 24, 2011.
Forty-five minutes later email records show Superintendent John Watson of the fraud squad wrote to FWA's Lee seeking details about "Craig Thomson and transactions that have been charged against a health services union credit card".
The next day Watson wrote again. Soon after that second letter arrived, Lee chaired a meeting of the HSU strategy group with Nassios, FWA lawyer Ailsa Carruthers and AGS lawyer Craig Rawson.
Lee tabled Watson's letters along with Jackson's letter to Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione, in which she authorised police to contact FWA to retrieve HSU documents police might require in evidence. Jackson herself had lodged four boxes of credit card and other original records with FWA in 2009.
The minutes of that FWA meeting of record were quietly released after an FoI review this year. For the first time we now read this critical legal advice from the Australian government solicitor: "Craig Rawson advised that this letter (Jackson's to police, copied to FWA) would constitute authority for FWA to release HSU documents to police."
But documents were not released and that advice was not taken. Lee directed a vastly different course. The minutes record: "Tim Lee asked Craig Rawson to prepare a letter to the NSW fraud squad and to settle that letter with Val Gostencnik of Corrs Chambers Westgarthof Corrs Chambers Westgarth".
Here was a "senior executive lawyer" from the AGS being second-guessed on a legal question by a line manager.
The question in issue was serious, a request by police for access to potential evidence identified by police as of interest in a criminal investigation.
The target named by police was a former union official, Thomson. The direction not to act on the Australian government solicitor's legal advice came from a former union official, Lee. He enlisted a former union official, Gostencnik, to "settle" that advice in a letter to police.
Later when FWA wanted its investigation into the HSU independently reviewed, it turned to Gostencnik to recommend the reviewer. He suggested KPMG and FWA accepted his recommendation immediately and without tender. The effect was that Gostencnik chose the reviewer to report on the quality of work that had been guided by Gostencnick's own legal advice.
Pressure mounted for the release of the FWA report into Thomson week by week. By April 1 last year it was long overdue. The transmission of the report to a Senate committee (to engage parliamentary privilege for its public release) was still weeks away, but FWA sent Gostencnik the report and its appendices on April 3 last year. Just days later he began an action in the Federal Court on behalf of minister Bill Shorten, seeking orders that an administrator be appointed to the HSU. That action was said to have damaged the interests of Jackson, named in the then unreleased FWA report.
She could not know what was in the full report, but Gostencnik did and Shorten's application compounded its advantage by funding courtesy of the taxpayer. Gostencnik swore a detailed affidavit in those proceedings on behalf of Shorten, displaying exquisite knowledge of the HSU's affairs and its internal who's who.
ABC1's Lateline program reported on Shorten's court move on April 26 last year.
Shorten said on the program:: "I would hope that the warring Jackson-Williamson groups would actually recognise that an administrator is a good step forward."
HSU official Jackson told Lateline: "This (should) not be about putting an administrator in place that suits Bill Shorten ... he wants to make sure that he ends up in a position where he controls this union personally, not as the minister - personally, that's what I'm offended about.
Jackson is alluding to the Labor Party faction and national conference votes held by each union. It's through control of those voting blocks that political careers are made. It's hard to argue Shorten didn't have an advantage in those proceedings by selecting the learned Gostencnik, whose legal library boasted one of the few complete FWA reports into the HSU, information no one else had.
Then opposition leader Tony Abbott said, "What does the government know about the Health Services Union that it wants to put it into administration for? What misuse of money, what maladministration, what potentially criminal activity is the government aware of?"
While Gostencnik was giving legal advice to Shorten, FWA's report into Thomson remained tightly and confidentially held.
Affected parties were shown the elements of the report referring to them and were given time to respond. Until those processes were completed, the report would officially remain a tightly controlled secret.
Three days after Shorten applied for a court-appointed administrator to the HSU, prime minister Gillard fronted the cameras. "I do believe a line has been crossed here and because a line has been crossed, I have acted," she told a media conference, referring to Thomson (and separately to Speaker Peter Slipper).
Gillard had asked Thomson to quit the Labor Party. It had been her call alone and she volunteered that she had not consulted cabinet about the issue.
As The Australian reported at the time, "Mr Thomson's resignation from the party comes as two damning reports on the scandal-plagued HSU are due to be made public in the coming days and weeks. Fair Work Australia has promised to soon hand over its long-delayed report to the Senate's education, employment and workplace training committee."
FWA's general manager would not name Thomson or any other official in connection with the report. General manager Bernadette O'Neill was "not protected against defamation" claims. Her concern for herself would go down poorly in police stations, where every charge, arrest and decision to caution brings the same exposure.
Newspapers in Australia have two edition-free days - Good Friday and Christmas Day. This year, late on Easter Thursday, Shorten announced Gostencnik's appointment as a FWA commissioner. He promoted Gostencnik to director of Fair Work Building and Construction just three months later.
One of Gostencnik's last acts before his appointment to the bench was to draft and file the FWA statement of claim setting out the allegations against Thomson. That legal process is now headed to a mediated settlement by mutual agreement of Thomson and his investigators.
In April 2007, Gillard announced a Labor government would abolish the Industrial Relations Commission and set up a new IR umpire to be called Fair Work Australia. Who knew that Gillard's police force, prosecutor, judge and jury within the one-stop-shop would work so hard for one union official who's alleged to have ripped off thousands of union members.
It is the workers and their money that is at the heart of this, isn't it?
17 November, 2013
Climate tax, aid and fees off table as cabinet toughens stance
The federal cabinet has ruled that Australia will not sign up to any new contributions, taxes or charges at this week's global summit on climate change, in a significant toughening of its stance as it plans to move within days to repeal the carbon tax.
Cabinet ministers have decided to reject any measures of "socialism masquerading as environmentalism" after meeting last week to consider a submission on the position the government would take to the Warsaw conference.
A further document was produced after the meeting that outlines the government's position.
The Australian has seen part of the document and it declares that, while Australia will remain "a good international citizen" and remains "committed to achieving the 5 per cent reduction" by 2020 of the 2000 levels of emissions, it will not sign up to any new agreement that involves spending money or levying taxes.
This rules out Australia playing any role in a wealth transfer from rich countries to developing nations to pay them to decrease their carbon emissions.
The decision hardens the nation's approach to the UN's negotiations amid a renewed push from less-developed countries this week for $100 billion a year in finance to deal with climate change.
Cabinet decided that Australia would consider joining a new scheme after 2015, but only if all the major global economies did likewise.
Senior ministers believe there is absolutely no chance of that happening.
The Abbott government has explicitly decided that it will not agree to any payments or accept any liabilities as part of any carbon agreement.
The government's document also says that Australia "will not support any measures which are socialism masquerading as environmentalism".
The document's commitment that the government "will review its commitment in 2015 in light of the science and international developments" deliberately allows a range of policy outcomes.
In the unlikely event that all major economies move in a concerted way, Australia could join in. However, the language provides that if the science becomes more unclear, and if nations move away from their earlier enthusiasm for action, then Australia also could wind back its efforts.
This explicitly does not mean winding back on the 5 per cent reduction target for 2020, but does mean that after 2020 things are less clear.
The government's document also says Australia's efforts on greenhouse gases will be conditioned by "fiscal circumstances"....
Mr Abbott has been strongly critical of agreements in which Australian funds are used to buy permits that are meant to fund cuts to greenhouse gas reductions in other countries - a key mechanism in the global talks.
The Coalition based its criticism of Labor policy on official forecasts showing Australian emissions would rise over time and that the 5 per cent target was only reached by purchasing overseas permits at an eventual cost of $150bn a year in 2050.
"This is by far the biggest wealth transfer from Australians to foreigners that's ever been contemplated," Mr Abbott said of purchasing offshore carbon permits.
By formalising these concerns in official policy, federal cabinet is preparing to counter any move at the Warsaw talks to accelerate climate change financing deals meant to be worth $100bn a year.
On a per-capita basis, Australia's contribution to the $100bn in global climate change finance would be $2.4bn or more.
MPs warned off Armenia with Anzac threat
Turkey is still in denial. Just more disgusting Muslim denial
Gallipoli centenary commemoration in 2015. Photo: Mike Bowers
Turkey has warned Australia against any further formal recognition of the Armenian genocide to avoid undermining its relationship and the special centenary commemoration of Gallipoli in 2015.
And NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell has retaliated, saying it was "deplorable" for the 100-year anniversary of the Gallipoli landing to be used for political purposes.
Turkey has also made it clear that NSW MPs are not welcome to attend the ceremony because of bipartisan support for a motion moved in Parliament by Mr O'Farrell in May which recognises and condemns the Armenian genocide.
The warning from the Turkish speaker of the parliament, Cemil Cicek, has come on the eve of a public ballot for 8000 tickets reserved for Australians to attend the special ceremony in Gallipoli on April 25, 2015. The ballot opens at midnight on Friday and closes on January 31.
Speaking to The Sydney Morning Herald through an interpreter, Mr Cicek said: "One of only two things that could disrupt good relations between Turkey and Australia", he said, was for Australia "to support any claims about genocide without hearing the Turkish side ... this could cause huge rifts between the nations and even jeopardise commemorations around Gallipoli."
Mr Cicek called on the NSW Parliament to withdraw its resolution, saying reports of an Armenian genocide were "still inconclusive". "We have no problem with Armenian communities in Turkey," he said. "We have a problem with the Armenian diaspora who are still propagating this argument."
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has ruled that only four federal MPs including himself will receive VIP tickets, but they will not be offered to premiers or state MPs.
The NSW Premier said two similar resolutions had been moved in past years without any similar threats being made to disrupt the 100-year anniversary of the Anzac landing in Gallipolli.
"Bipartisan motions concerning the genocide were passed by the NSW Parliament in 1996 and 2012," Mr O'Farrell said. "It's deplorable anyone associated with the Turkish government would try and use next year's centenary of the Gallipoli landing for political purposes."
In opposition, Treasurer Joe Hockey called for formal recognition of the Armenian genocide in Federal Parliament, but is now reluctant to make any further comments that might jeopardise his dealings with Turkey in forums including the G20 which Australia will host next year. In May 2011, he said the Armenian genocide "is one of the least known, least understood and least respected human tragedies of the modern era".
Armenian National Committee of Australia executive director Vache Kahramanian said it was "extremely troubling" the Turkish government had threatened to ban NSW MPs who had recognised the Armenian genocide.
"For almost 100 years the Turkish state has continued to deny what is publicly and widely known as a historical reality."
A spokesman for the Turkish embassy said that while it could not respond to the comments, "it is highly inappropriate for foreign parliaments to politicise this matter and pass one-sided judgments on a controversial period of Turkish history".
Child porn suspects slip through net after Australian Federal Police bungle
CHILD sex predators from Queensland, including teachers, a lecturer, nurse and bank manager, were allowed to roam free for almost a year after an Australian Federal Police bungle.
The Courier-Mail can reveal the AFP sat on the names of suspected Australian pedophiles who had been identified as using a Canadian sex abuse website.
Despite trumpeting their success yesterday, the AFP had failed to pass on to state police a tip-off list from Canadian counterparts about Australian customers of the website.
A WA pastor and his former police officer son are among six WA people charged for being involved in an international child abuse ring.
Canadian police were shocked Queensland's crack Taskforce Argos investigators knew nothing of the operation until a chance conversation with a detective earlier this year.
"They hadn't even heard of it ... Once we had that conversation the game completely changed," lead Toronto detective Paul Krawczyk said.
Toronto's Project Spade investigation had found a website advertising "naturist films" was selling videos and photographs of naked boys to pedophiles worldwide.
Sixty-five Australians have been arrested as part of a global investigation into a child porn ring.
Canadian police then passed on customer information to countries including Australia, Spain, Mexico, South Africa, Hong Kong, Norway, Ireland and Greece
Detective Krawczyk said a goldmine of information about Australian customers - including names, addresses, computer numbers and banking details - was forwarded to the AFP in the middle of last year.
However Australia appeared only to act after he mentioned the list to Argos Detective Inspector Jon Rouse earlier this year.
"It just so happened that Jon and I were talking back earlier this year and I mentioned to him how the case was going and actually they hadn't even heard of it," he said.
Upon learning of the operation, Argos asked Toronto to send the list directly to Queensland and immediately launched its own investigation.
Four teachers, a lecturer, nurse, bank manager and tradies were among 33 men who have been arrested in Queensland since May as a result of the information.
Det Insp Rouse confirmed Argos only became aware of the list in February and immediately moved to arrest the men who had most access to children.
Sixty-five Australians have been arrested and 399 charges laid in an investigation into child exploitation.
There are also fears Australian pedophiles interstate may have slipped through the net entirely, with Queensland accounting for more than half of the 65 arrests nationwide.
The AFP said yesterday Canadian police provided information in June last year but refused to say how many names were on the list - leaving open the possibility that many have not been arrested.
AFP Superintendent Todd Hunter denied federal police were slow to act and said his unit received more than 3800 referrals from international counterparts last year. "In every case our priority is to focus on whether or not there is a child at risk," Supt Hunter said.
How Julia Gillard was ready to censor our free media
JULIA Gillard began to squeeze the trigger of a powerful weapon aimed directly at the media on August 29, 2011. The story she wanted dead and buried that day, and forever after, had the potential to be extremely damaging to her as the then prime minister. It revolved around a secret union fund she had quietly, without even the knowledge of her law firm partners, given advice about setting up for her former client and boyfriend, the allegedly corrupt Australian Workers Union boss Bruce Wilson, who would allegedly use what was later described as a "slush fund" in a serious fraud.
This little-known scandal had been largely concealed since Gillard left her job as a salaried partner at Slater & Gordon lawyers in Melbourne in late 1995, when several of her colleagues discovered facts about her conduct. Her unceremonious departure from the firm would launch her career as a professional political adviser and, subsequently, as an ambitious Labor parliamentarian. But the facts about the slush fund were known to very few people in 2011. The sanitised, official version was misleadingly different.
How Gillard responded on that Monday morning, August 29, 2011, and subsequently, should be a salutary lesson about the lengths that powerful political figures will go to crush a damaging story, neutralise journalists, intimidate media outlets and even attempt to permanently alter the freedom of the media.
My then colleague at The Australian, Glenn Milne, had published in his column that morning a mere handful of paragraphs about his previous attempts to investigate the slush fund. Milne was essentially flagging a deeper story that was being prepared for imminent airing by a 2UE radio host, Michael Smith, a former police officer who had been digging among union scams after his recent success in cross-examining alleged Health Services Union fraudster and federal Labor member Craig Thomson.
Gillard already knew that Andrew Bolt, the conservative and widely read commentator for the Herald Sun (sister paper to The Australian), had flagged the revisiting of the slush fund scandal - he had written of a "tip on something that may force Gillard to resign". "On Monday, I'm tipping, a witness with a statutory declaration will come forward and implicate Julia Gillard directly in another scandal involving the misuse of union funds," Bolt wrote on his Herald Sun blog over that August weekend.
On the Monday morning, early, a furious Gillard called John Hartigan, the then head of News Limited in Australia. News, and Milne's column, were in her sights. "She said they were very damaging accusations," Hartigan told The Australian a few days later. "She wanted some action and she wanted it quickly."
Gillard demanded a public apology, the immediate expunging from the website of Milne's column, and undertakings that the allegations never be repeated again in The Australian. Leaving nothing to chance, the PM extended this demand to cover all News Limited newspapers and their websites. The Australian's editor-in-chief, Chris Mitchell, who was told to call Gillard that Monday morning, described her reaction at the time as "apoplectic". Paul Keating's rages were nothing compared with this one from Gillard, Mitchell noted.
Almost all of Gillard's demands were met. Seeing what was happening over at News Limited, Smith's bosses at the Fairfax-owned 2UE then lost their nerve and pulled his carefully researched story, too. Smith protested but lost his job over it. Bolt, appalled at the censorship and the cave-in, considered resigning. Milne lost his column and his place at The Australian.
But this ugly, self-serving assault by a prime minister on the Australian media was not over by a long shot. The Gillard government's announcement of a public media inquiry just a couple of weeks later, in September 2011, was the next blunt instrument to ensure we were more poodle than watchdog.
The slush fund story had been torched and reduced to ashes. But it could not be permitted to flare up again. The media inquiry, headed by former Federal Court judge Ray Finkelstein QC, was a precursor to the government's threats of unprecedented media regulation.
Gillard had said in 2011 that News Limited's journalists in Australia had "questions to answer", apparently arising from the unlawful hacking of telephone voicemails by journalists at the News of the World in Britain. There was never a skerrick of evidence of any hacking by any staff of Rupert Murdoch's newspapers in Australia.
As a government strategy, the crackdown in 2011 was ruthlessly effective.
My colleagues were intimidated by Gillard's and the government's extraordinary overreactions to Milne's and Smith's ill-fated attempts to report without fear or favour on the slush fund.
The media steered a wide berth around the ruins of the slush fund story - except to mock Milne and Smith for being foolish enough to think it ever was a story worth pursuing. This pusillanimous conduct continues today among the more naive and partisan commentators, despite numerous documents, witnesses and other evidence being subsequently produced and reported in The Australian, and by Mark Baker in The Age, in 2012 and this year.
And in the dying days of Gillard's government, earlier this year, draconian proposals for media regulation were warmed up again. Would this incredible attempted stifling, aimed squarely at News, have even been put back on the agenda if The Australian had not published revelations in leaked, and extremely damaging, slush fund-related documents in 2012? The seriousness of the disclosures made Gillard's disproportionate protests about a relatively innocuous column by Milne in 2011 appear confected and absurd. We may never know for certain, but the attempted regulation this year reeked of payback.
When leaders in journalism across the media landscape in Australia fight the good fight against attempted censorship and intimidation by politicians and other powerful figures, great and lofty arguments are rolled into the public arena about the vital importance of the fourth estate.
We know these arguments well: in a nutshell, inquisitive journalists who uncover the truth without fear or favour are a cornerstone of democracy, and their efforts must be defended at all costs, particularly from governments that deploy vast powers and taxpayer-funded resources in craven attempts to stymie media scrutiny.
Why, then, have so many media-freedom-loving leaders in the Australian journalistic community, and in academe, been silent and, worse, sneeringly critical of two journalists who have been censored, intimidated and seen their reputations trashed for disclosures in late August 2011, about Gillard's conduct?
Now, in the new light of hard, documentary evidence from exhaustive investigations during the past 11 months by Victoria Police fraud squad detectives, who will be back in court early next month, it is difficult to avoid one disturbing conclusion.
It is that Milne, Smith and their employers were subjected to a shameless, unprecedented, unfair and disproportionate counterattack by Gillard, who wanted their attempted reporting about her role in setting up the slush fund killed off for all time. A conga line of media critics (for whom party-political preference and ideology appeared to trump the principles of a free press) joined in to make sure the credibility of the two was shredded. Despite the rhetoric we often hear about the importance of repulsing overt intimidation of the media, Milne and Smith were cut down, and lampooned as conspiracy theorists. Attempted media regulation followed.
For those unsure of where things are at, the police interest remains high. The police are due to go back to court in a couple of weeks. A month ago, lawyers for Victoria Police explained to the Melbourne Magistrates Court why they have been taking the slush fund fraud investigation so seriously. The police, who have numerous incriminating statements, want to peruse more than 360 documents seized from Slater & Gordon relating to Gillard's former client and lover, Wilson. He is fighting to prevent the police from having access to this material.
Ron Gipp, for lead investigator Senior Sergeant Ross Mitchell, told the court last month that police were confident in their case so far. "The evidence is very strong," Gipp said. "What we are talking about here is not merely Mr Mitchell saying: 'Look, I've got a suspicion.' This is going way, way beyond just mere suspicion."
Earlier this year, police seized hundreds of documents under the warrant, which specifically sought files held by Slater & Gordon relating to Wilson and Gillard, including her personnel files, invoices, travel records and documents from the firm's partner meetings relating to Gillard and the AWU.
Perhaps those who still don't get it - who still lampoon The Australian, Milne, Smith, Baker and other journalists, including this one, who have been involved in exposing these issues - should explain to the fraud squad detectives and the police lawyers why they, too, are barking up the wrong tree.
15 November, 2013
In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is suspicious of Kevvy's motives for resigning
Health bureaucrats to be paid just for showing up to work
As the federal public service plans mass redundancies, one government department is preparing to pay hundreds of bureaucrats up to $130,000 a year "just for showing up".
Health Department insiders warn that its new "Business Services Centre" will be a place to park up to 200 Canberra-based officials who have lost their jobs.
They have been told their jobs are "unfunded," instructed not to use the word "excess" and that they will move to the new Business Services Centre from December 1 with no idea what their duties will be or even if there is work for them to do.
In internal documents, obtained by Fairfax Media, the departmental hierarchy says the BSC is meant to undertake tasks in the future for other divisions of the cash-strapped department, but could not point to one project assigned to the unit.
Many of the public servants, who find themselves still employed by the government but with no jobs to do, are executives earning up to $130,000 a year.
One departmental insider said the workers and managers would be parked in the new division applying for jobs in the Health Department and the broader public service while waiting for a project to work on.
The Health Department refused to answer questions about the new unit and departmental chief Jane Halton has declined to be interviewed on the job losses.
In response to questions, a departmental spokeswoman continued to deny there was a "spill and fill" process under way.
Several workers have described the process where some of the department's divisions forced staff on the pay scales between Australian Public Service 5 and Executive Level 2 to submit "expressions of interests" in keeping their jobs.
"If they are not successful, then they will be placed in a Business Services Centre," one public servant said. "Basically, it's a place for people to be sent, while waiting to be picked up for any vacancies within DoH or other APS agencies.
"While they are waiting here, whether they are assigned to a project or not, they continue to get paid their usual salary, just for showing up to work."
According to internal Health documents, the BSC might be called on to undertake jobs for other divisions that were "unfunded".
Fred Nile wins one: Same-sex marriage bill defeated in NSW upper house
I like Fred. He is very impressive when you meet him personally
The upper house of the NSW Parliament has narrowly voted down a bill to legalise same-sex marriage.
Despite initial hopes the upper house would pass the legislation, MPs voted against it by 21 votes to 19 in the Legislative Council on Thursday afternoon.
Independent MP Alex Greenwich, a member of the cross-party working group who devised the bill, said he took heart from the closeness of the vote.
Mr Greenwich, who is the member for Sydney in the lower house and therefore did not participate in the vote, said it was the first time Coalition MPs had voted in favour of a same sex marriage bill in Australia.
Liberals Catherine Cusack and Greg Pearce and Nationals Sarah Mitchell and Trevor Khan supported the bill.
"It's shown the effectiveness of cross-party co-operation," Mr Greenwich said.
However, Christian Democratic Party MP the Reverend Fred Nile, who campaigned against the legislation, said the outcome was "a great victory for marriage in the NSW upper house".
Mr Nile said he believed a decisive factor in the bill's defeat was Premier Barry O'Farrell's announcement that he would vote against the bill if it came before the lower house.
Mr O'Farrell revealed his support for same-sex marriage a day after New Zealand's parliament voted to change its national laws in April. But in a statement released the night before the bill's introduction to the upper house last month, Mr O'Farrell said that while he was a supporter of marriage equality, he would not support the NSW legislation.
He argued that "only change enacted by the Federal Parliament can deliver true equality in our marriage laws".
After Thursday's vote, Mr Nile revealed he had urged Mr O'Farrell to make the statement. "It certainly had an effect on some Coalition members and that was the reason I asked him to issue the statement," he said.
"It was important for the Premier to make a stand, indicate where he stood on this issue. He was a bit reluctant, but he finally agreed to make that public statement. And it did have the effect I was hoping it would have on some of the wavering members of the Coalition."
The Liberal MP for Coogee, Bruce Notley-Smith, another cross-party group member in the lower house, said a key consideration for many MPs was the prospect of change in the federal Parliament.
"Many members gave their reason for not voting in the upper house as [their belief] that marriage is a federal matter," he said.
"I think there's also a feeling among members that there will be movement at a federal level. They feel the tide is turning in their favour."
Abbott to the rescue
I thought Tony Abbott was supposed to be bad at diplomacy:A SECRET meeting in the Middle East between Tony Abbott and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, preceded this week’s stunning legal reversal of the bribery case against Australian businessmen Matthew Joyce and Marcus Lee.
The Australian can reveal that the Prime Minister met Sheik Mohammed, the Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, in Abu Dhabi on October 30 on the way back from Mr Abbott’s visit to Australian troops in Afghanistan. The meeting was not announced.
During their discussions Mr Abbott urged the UAE government to reconsider the high-profile case against the two Australians. Sheik Mohammed is understood to have told the Prime Minister he was aware that the case was of significant concern to Australia and that the UAE justice system was aware of the circumstances surrounding it.
Mr Abbott’s personal intervention follows comments he made as opposition leader in May when he said the sentence against Mr Joyce was harsh and that the then Labor government should be doing everything it could to help the two men…
A spokesman for the Prime Minister declined to comment.
Fairfax missed the Abbott angle in its own report on this "surprise” verdict.
Thomas Kelly death: NSW DPP to appeal 'manifestly inadequate' sentence handed to Kieran Loveridge
The Director of Public Prosecutions will appeal against the four-year sentence handed to the man responsible for the death of Sydney teenager Thomas Kelly.
In a statement, DPP Lloyd Babb, SC said the appeal was on the grounds that the sentence handed to Kieran Loveridge was manifestly inadequate.
The 19-year-old randomly punched Mr Kelly in the head in July last year as he walked with his girlfriend at Kings Cross. Mr Kelly, 18, was knocked to the ground unconscious and he died from head injuries in St Vincent's Hospital two days later.
Loveridge was last week jailed for at least four years for manslaughter, with a maximum of six years. He will be eligible for parole in November 2017. Manslaughter carries a maximum 25-year term in NSW and there was public outcry over the sentence.
Thomas Kelly's parents Ralph and Kathy were completely shocked when the sentence was handed down. "We have spent the last hour in court listening to the verdict, which supports the offender and leaves us as the victim's family completely cold, shocked, and just beyond belief that the sentence was just so lenient," Mr Kelly said outside court.
"It's time that this state, that (Premier) Barry O'Farrell, finally did something about alcohol-fuelled violence to make a difference, to make us all safe so that we don't have to see these situations continuously happening in the city."
The New South Wales Government has responded, confirming it will introduce so-called "one-punch" laws to cover situations where an unlawful assault causes death.
Attorney-General Greg Smith said he was drafting a bill based on similar legislation in Western Australia, which he hopes to introduce next year.
But he said the NSW legislation will double the maximum penalty available. "The laws I'm proposing for NSW will carry a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment," he said.
"The new offence and proposed penalty will send the strongest message to violent and drunken thugs that assaulting people is not a rite of passage on a boozy night."
14 November, 2013
Anti-civil liberties arms race
The thoughts below are reasonable in general but fail to take account of the infiltration of bikie gangs by Muslims, mostly Lebanese Muslims. This has led to an escalation in bikie crime and difficulty in prosecuting it -- with witness intimidation, codes of silence etc. The government had to try something
The last few weeks have seen polarised views on the passing of controversial anti-bikie legislation by the Newman government in Queensland.
A bikie gang member or office bearer convicted of a serious crime will receive a mandatory additional minimum sentence because of their gang membership on top of the original sentence for the crime. There are also anti-association laws which bar bikies from riding together in groups of three or more. Victorian police are seeking advice on implementing similar laws.
Anti-bikie legislation was passed in NSW last year and changes to the right to silence earlier this year, where juries can be instructed to draw negative inferences from a defendant's silence in police questioning. The changes were inspired by a spate of gang-related shootings in Sydney.
This week, there were three separate incidences of shootings in Sydney linked to the Brothers 4 Life gang. Experience tells us that civil liberties are the first casualty when horrific tragedies happen. The O'Farrell government has already legislated against the right to free association of bikie gangs, and there is reason to be concerned that the response will escalate. According to The Daily Telegraph, there are plans to introduce legislation for a mandatory minimum sentence of five years for gang members found to be in possession of a firearm.
The community's concerns about gang violence are valid, but reducing the freedom of all is not a solution. Shootings are crimes in their own right. Criminals deserve to be punished under the full force of the law, but it is antithetical for a free society to apply extra punishment simply on the basis of group membership. It contradicts equality before the law. A gang member should be punished for any crime in exactly the same way as you or I.
Any expansion of NSW's existing anti-association laws could come at a great cost. Aside from the fact that they are a violation of civil liberties, such laws have unintended consequences. Legal opinion suggests that the Queensland legislation could catch innocents in its wide net, and the existing anti-association legislation in NSW has already had that impact.
The Queensland and NSW examples show that no matter how draconian, no matter how profoundly illiberal and no matter how they may counteract centuries of established tradition, serious threats to civil liberties are never off the table if the government thinks that the situation is dire enough.
Feminist circus defunded in Qld.
Vulcana Women’s Circus has lost funding in the latest round of funding allocations for arts companies in Queensland. "We are shocked at the news,” said the arts company’s General Manager Kitty Carra today.
"We employ over twenty female trainers and support hundreds of women a year in their journey towards wellbeing, empowerment and arts employment. The news that the Government will not support us in 2014 is devastating.”
"Our funding priorities for 2014 include our Circus Anywhere Program, our ongoing work with disadvantaged youth, women in the deaf community and our ongoing Circus Dreaming program. This work is important and must continue.”
Vulcana Women’s Circus has been a part of the Queensland arts scene for over fifteen years moving from West End to New Farm when the Powerhouse opened. A place to train, learn, share and perfect skills, Vulcana has been a home and a haven to many of Queensland’s most well known female acts and circus performers.
"As anyone who has ever attended one of our classes, worked with any of our trainers or seen one of our shows knows, Vulcana is special, something rare and precious, something to be valued. Something to be nurtured.” said Ms Carra.
Celia White, artistic director of the circus, is calling on the community to step up to keep this incredible organisation going.
"Vulcana is like home. We need you all now. We need to your love, your ideas and your support. Women matter. Women’s spaces matter. And when women work together something extraordinary is created.”
Everything the Australian Green Party claims about this typhoon is wrong
The Greens are despicable. They are enemies of reason, and the question is whether their sin is ignorance or deceit. Here is deputy Greens leader Adam Bandt today:
"Well, I think if the Prime Minister is out there referring to the Leader of the Opposition as ‘Electricity’ Bill, then he can be expected to be referred to as Typhoon Tony himself. The head in the sand approach to global warming in the face of the leaders of the Philippines themselves saying this is what we are in store for unless we get global warming under control makes Australia an international pariah and shows that really at the end of the day Tony Abbott does not believe the science."
Here is Greens leader Christine Milne yesterday:
"In our region Typhoon Haiyan and 10,000 people if not more dead in the Phillipines from a storm with such intensity there is now debate whether it is the strongest typhoon ever. Prof Steffen, one our leading scientists, is out saying that it is the warming of the oceans off the eastern Philippines that has led to the intensity of the typhoon."
Almost everything both Greens have said is false, baseless or misleading. Fact check:
* Was this typhoon the strongest ever? No. Typhoon Reming, which struck the Philippines seven years ago, was stronger, says the Philippine Met Agency.
* Was this typhoon the deadliest ever? No. The death toll, now estimated by the Philippines president at 2000 to 2500, is dwarfed by death tolls of 300,000 or even more from past typhoons and cyclones. The deadliest 35 cyclones in history all killed more than 12,000 people.
* Does data show we’re getting more or worse cyclones? No, says the latest IPCC report.
* Did this typhoon pass over seas made warmer than usual, thanks to global warming? No. Sea temperatures in the typhoon’s path were at the 30 year average.
* Have more cyclones struck the Philippines over recent decades? No, say experts.
This was an incredibly strong typhoon, and it has caused a terrible loss of life. But there is no global warming signal here. Nor would anything Tony Abbott did - or failed to do - make cyclones more or less likely.
Adam Bandt has ignored all the science and all reason to slur Abbott. He shames himself. This is ignorance posing as virtue.
The Greens have censored almost every sceptical comment from their thread on this topic:
Off-topic and abusive posts have been removed. Please do not allow conversation to be derailed by those people refusing to confront the scientific reality of climate change. The debate has been had, the science is in. Links to conspiracy theorists, deniers and the blog of News Limited’s highest-paid internet troll will be removed.
Negative meaning of 'that's so gay' became popular in Australia because of South Park: educator
TEENAGERS fling the word 'gay' around as another word for 'bad' or 'stupid' -- "that's so gay" -- but what took the derogatory term mainstream may surprise you.
The word's meaning has been distorted so much it has even changed the definition overseas, it was revealed this week.
When a US high school student looked up 'gay' in her Apple MacBook's dictionary she found one of the three definitions was "stupid" and "foolish". "It was just insulting," Becca Gorman told ABC News America, who hopes Apple will retract the definition.
Just how the term developed its derogatory meaning is startling.
Daniel Witthaus, an anti-homophobia educator who visits schools across Australia, said the phrase's popularity can be traced back to the adult-themed cartoon South Park. Mr Witthaus noticed the phrase caught on after the TV show used the term in an ironic sense in the late 1990s.
"You can trace it back to South Park in the late 1990s," he said. "It exploded in terms overnight and certainly became part of the common language."
The term was sometimes used beforehand as a disparaging remark to people who did not fit, he said, but the TV show's producers made it even more popular. "They tapped into something that was already happening and made it even cooler. They were like a catalyst."
"It was used to some extent in the '80s and '90s but it didn't really catch fire to become a popular term, it kind of happened overnight.
While there has never been a better time to be a gay or lesbian child. Mr Witthaus said the use of 'gay' as another word for 'shit' or 'crap' was damaging for young people. He added that being called 'gay' or a 'faggot' is often the worst playground insult for young men.
13 November, 2013
Govt's tough message on carbon tax repeal
THE federal government has issued a blunt warning to Labor and the Australian Greens as it prepares to introduce its carbon tax repeal bills to parliament.
"Do not stand in the way of the will of the people," Environment Minister Greg Hunt told ABC radio on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott will deliver a long-held promise to abolish the carbon tax, introduced by Labor in 2012, when he presents his government's first major piece of legislation shortly after 9am (AEDT).
After that Mr Hunt and Treasurer Joe Hockey will introduce seven more bills repealing other aspects of Labor's clean energy laws.
While the government has the numbers to pass the legislation through parliament's lower house, Labor and the Greens have the numbers in the Senate to block the bills.
Mr Hunt would not be drawn on whether the government will pursue a double-dissolution election if its legislation is blocked by parliament.
The alternative is to wait until July 2014 for a likely more favourable Senate to repeal the tax.
An alliance of industry groups says any delay will achieve nothing for the environment and hurt businesses.
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Australian Industry Group, the Business Council of Australia and the Minerals Council of Australia is urging parliament to approve the repeal bills.
Labor is not backing away from its position to oppose the repeal of the carbon tax without its replacement by an emissions trading scheme.
"We're going to the parliament to do exactly what we told the Australian people what we'd do," frontbencher Tony Burke told ABC radio.
He dismissed as "simply untrue" business claims that delaying repeal of the tax would damage the economy.
A Senate vote on the repeal bills is unlikely before twin upper house inquiries into the legislation and the government's direct action plan to reduce carbon emissions.
"If Tony Abbott is committed to throwing out the baby with the bath water on climate change, it is reasonable for the parliament and the community to expect a reasonable level of detail about their alternative climate change policy," opposition climate change spokesman Mark Butler said.
Vegetation clearing rules to be eased in fire-prone parts of NSW
The NSW government plans to loosen planning rules to give residents in bushfire-prone regions more freedom to clear vegetation around their homes without a permit.
The new rules, to be introduced next year in the next session of Parliament, would allow homeowners in designated areas to fell trees within 10 metres of their homes and clear shrubs and other vegetation out to 50 metres on their own land without requiring planning permission.
The proposal comes weeks after early-season bushfires in the Blue Mountains and elsewhere destroyed more than 200 homes and damaged 120 more.
"Residents in designated bushfire prone areas will not need to seek permission to sensibly clear vegetation from around their property that is posing a fire risk," Premier Barry O'Farrell said in a statement.
"This will need to be done in an environmentally responsible manner."
Homeowners will be encouraged to "responsibly manage fire risks on their own properties", Mr O'Farrell said.
"Our changes will ensure the rules regarding hazard reduction are based on protecting lives and property – and not satisfying a narrow Green agenda that seeks to put trees before people."
While the clearing rules won't go before the Parliament this year, the government will this week introduce laws giving the Rural Fire Service Commissioner the power to carry out hazard reduction burning on private land without consent of the owner if "reasonable attempts to contact the landowner have failed", the statement said.
The RFS Commissioner will also have the power to direct a Bush Fire Management Committee to amend its Bush Fire Risk Management Plan if it is considered to be inadequate, the statement said.
"We need to ensure the community is as prepared as it possibly can be for future bushfires and that authorities have the powers they need to conduct essential hazard reduction work," Mr O'Farrell said.
Jennifer Anderson, mayor of Ku-ring-gai council on Sydney's northern fringe, welcomed the proposed changes.
"I place a high priority on the safety of our residents, and if it’s going to be improved through these initiatives, then I think they’re very worthwhile," Ms Anderson said.
At present, tree preservation orders require residents to apply for tree removal, which can be a lengthy procees. "If there are a lot of requests then it can take several months," she said. "If there’s an emergency imperative, that process can be too lengthy."
"I’d certainly support (permission to clear land around houses) in an emergency situation."
Care, though, must be taken where endangered species are involved, with state and federal laws protecting such areas, Ms Anderson said.
Research conducted for the previous Labor government by Risk Frontiers in 2010 found the distance of houses from the bushland boundary to be the most important factor in determining vulnerability to fire.
Based on major blazes in the past, houses within 200 metres of at least half a hectare of bush are at-risk properties, the research found.
By that gauge, about 37,893 addresses in the Blue Mountains local government area were vulnerable, the most exposed of any region in NSW, Risk Frontiers found.
The research group, based at Macquarie University, found that, in significant blazes in the past, the probability of loss in the first 50 metres of the bush was about 60 per cent.
In the 2009 Black Saturday fires in Victoria, "60 per cent of losses occurred within 10 metres of bushland".
Separate laws will also include two new offences for littering involving cigarettes and matches. Police and enforcement officers will be able to issue penalty notices for such littering on days when a total fire ban is in place.
Fines will be $330 and $660 for an aggravated offence, the government said.
Should union members’ super funds really be invested in yet another Left-wing news outfit?
It’s one thing for rich benefactors to subsidise loss-making on-line news services that push the Leftist line. Greens donor Graeme Wood is perfectly entitled to splash his cash on the struggling Global Mail. Britain’s Scott Trust can squander the last of its cash on a Guardian Australia site. And Fairfax is entitled to preach all day about the sins of Tony Abbott.
I’m less happy, of course, that taxpayers must also spend $1.1 billion a year for the ABC to run a virulently Left-wing news organisation, plus another $200 million for the Left-wing SBS. It is surely too much of a good thing that Labor made taxpayers also subsidise the Left-wing Conversation, now busily promoting an agenda very close to Labor’s own.
But has a line just been crossed? Surely this is a highly inappropriate use of the superannuation funds of union members, especially when the market for on-line Leftist journalism is now so very, very crowded:
"Some of Australia’s biggest industry superannuation outfits are using member funds to quietly bankroll a new online news venture guided by Crikey backer Eric Beecher, with plans to promote the venture to their millions of members.
The site, to be named The New Daily, is set to launch this week – the latest entrant to an increasingly crowded online news field in Australia.
The industry super funds ploughing $3 million into the venture include AustralianSuper, the country’s biggest superannuation fund, United Super, the trustee of construction industry fund Cbus, and Industry Super Holdings, a company that owns various industry fund entities.
Former Age editor Bruce Guthrie is understood to be the site’s editor-in-chief. Several Labor, union, media and industry fund identities – including industry funds stalwart Garry Weaven, former Victorian premier Steve Bracks – are believed to be, or have recently been, connected to the venture."
The directors include former ACTU official Garry Weaven and former Labor Premier Steve Bracks. Guthrie is, of course, of the Left, as is Beecher.
By the way, note one critical difference. Conservative journalism tends to survive on the support of its audience. Leftist journalism tends to survive on the support of taxpayers and rich benefactors.
Cut in minimum wage would boost job but hit the poor
CUTTING Australia's minimum wage would spark a jobs bonanza, giving a much-needed boost to some of the nation's biggest employers, but economists warn it would also widen the gap between Australia's rich and poor.
A call from the head of the Prime Minister's Business Advisory Council for a reduction in pay rises for the nation's lowest-paid workers has drawn a mixed reaction from economists.
AMP chief economist Shane Oliver said the nation's sluggish hospitality and retail industries would benefit most from a reduction in the $16.37 an hour minimum wage.
"It would create a lot of jobs in retail where low-skilled workers tend to work," Mr Oliver said.
"You would see an increase in demand for workers, labourers and shop workers. Flowing from that would be a more competitive retailing environment.
"Manufacturing has been at the pointy end of the loss of competitiveness in Australia. Relatively high wages and relative high US dollar; those factors have worked against manufacturers and that is why they are closing up shop and moving offshore."
About two out of five Australian workers are employed in manufacturing, retail or hospitality travel and tourism, Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show.
The youth unemployment rate in Australia for 15 to 24-year-olds hit 13 per cent last week, its highest rate since June 2002.
Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry's chief executive Peter Anderson said "a safety net minimum wage is generally supported by industry."
"Industry isn't pushing for a reduction in the minimum wage but restraint in the future is needed to help businesses reduce costs and employ people, especially young people, he said."
But Mr Oliver and Swinburne University housing expert Dr Wendy Stone believe a drop in the minimum wage would increase the already widening gap between rich and poor.
Australia's minimum wage workers earned 54 per cent of the median income wage in 2011. In 2001 it was 59 per cent.
Dr Stone believes there would be a worsening geographical divide between the haves and the have-nots.
"With a drop in the minimum wage we would see an exacerbation of the significant problems we find in the private rental sector, which would be insecure housing and higher housing stress (paying more than 30 per cent of their income on housing costs)," Dr Stone said.
"Home ownership is already so problematic for low-income people and low-waged people are having to buy further and further away from jobs and public transport.
"The costs associated with living a long way from those (well-serviced) places is having a crippling effect on households."
Wrong parking fine costs Melbourne City Council $2200
Melbourne City Council has apologised for issuing a fine to the wrong person after it was challenged in court.
The council fined Tony Tuohey $70, claiming he had parked in a bay between 12.05pm and 6.09pm on August 13, 2012.
Mr Tuohey said he presented the Melbourne Magistrates Court with his parking receipt that showed he parked his BMW at 5.07pm and the ticket was valid until the end of paid period at 6.30pm in Gisborne Street, East Melbourne.
"This was the result of officer error, not any issue with the parking technology," the council said in a statement.
"City of Melbourne now believe that Mr Tuohey’s vehicle was incorrectly identified by the officer and the infringement should have been issued to the car in the adjoining bay," it said.
"The charge was withdrawn yesterday by the City of Melbourne. We apologise for any inconvenience."
Mr Tuohey had been at the Park Hyatt for a business meeting.
The court awarded him $2200 in costs.
12 November, 2013
In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG commemorates armistice day, or whatever they call it these days
Greens protest killed my father, man says
GREEN protesters will be subject to workplace safety laws after a Forestry NSW worker was killed while standing guard between demonstrators and a logging site.
John Creighton, 59, who worked in forestry for 39 years, was hit by a falling log while overseeing the work on private land in Whian Whian in the state's north.
His son Russell said while he didn't want to lay blame he knew work practices on the day were changed as a result of the protesters on the site. "He was standing where he was because of that," he said. "He was called into these areas because of his experience - because he followed the letter of the law. That impacts us as a family."
Initial investigations revealed Mr Creighton was standing between a group of protesters and the logging site when he was hit in the head by the log on October 9. He died two days later in hospital.
As a result, Finance and Services Minister Andrew Constance said he and Primary Industries Minister Katrina Hodgkinson would move to make protesters subject to the workplace and safety laws of any site they enter.
"Enough is enough," Mr Constance said. "Forestry activists need to understand they are entering the worksites of one of the most risky industries that operate in NSW."
Mr Creighton Jr said, while his dad had spent the majority of his career in forestry, he understood the right of people to protest against it.
"He said the majority of people out there had good intentions - but then there's the radical element," he said.
He said he would support any law change that forced protesters to follow work safety rules: "If it was a union picket and blokes invaded a work site they would be hauled away by police and face fines."
Coffs Harbour MP Andrew Fraser last week blamed the protesters for Mr Creighton's death and called them "ratbags".
"Mr Creighton should not have been there. However, because of work health and safety concerns it was deemed necessary for Mr Creighton to be there," Mr Fraser said.
"A family has lost their father because greens failed to comply with health and safety regulations."
Australia snubs global climate talks, as Greg Hunt stays home to repeal carbon tax
AUSTRALIA will be represented by a diplomat rather than a senior minister at international climate talks in Poland next week aimed at securing an agreement to cut global carbon emissions.
Environment Minister Greg Hunt won't attend annual United Nations climate change talks in Warsaw, saying he'll be busy repealing the carbon tax in the first fortnight of parliament.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop will also not attend. Neither her parliamentary secretary Brett Mason nor Mr Hunt's deputy, Simon Birmingham, have been delegated to attend.
Instead, Australia will be represented by Australia's Climate Change Ambassador Justin Lee, who is based in the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Mr Hunt said through a spokesman that he would be "fully engaged in repealing the carbon tax” while the conference was underway.
The Environment Minister, who'd been expected to attend the talks, yesterday cancelled scheduled briefings on the Warsaw talks with business representatives, lobby groups and foreign diplomats.
Asked about the decision, Mr Hunt's spokesman said the talks were a foreign affairs issue.
Australia's stance at the upcoming meeting was due to be considered by federal cabinet on Monday.
Lobby groups said other nations were anxious to see what role Australia would play in global climate change negotiations under a Coalition government.
Speaking to reporters this morning, Mr Hunt said Australian delegates to the UN climate summit in Poland will seek a "deep, strong international agreement”. "The first part of the delegation leaves today for Warsaw and I think there'll be plenty of engagement with business and community over the coming weeks,” he also told ABC radio.
But the government's move not to send a minister to Poland has raised eyebrows. "It's highly unusual,” the Climate Institute's John Connor said. "Australia's heft is significantly undermined by not having one of its senior elected representatives there.”
A government minister had attended the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) talks since Ian Campbell headed the delegation under John Howard's first government in 1997.
Labor sent climate change ministers Penny Wong and Greg Combet from 2007, except last year when the Gillard government's parliamentary secretary on climate change Mark Dreyfus stood in for Mr Combet.
Opposition climate spokesman Mark Butler said the move was unprecedented and sent a bad signal. "The political statement that's being made is all negative,” he told Sky News. "Other countries are going to read into it at best with confusion and at worst that the Abbott government is walking away from global action on climate change.”
While no major decisions will be made at Warsaw, it's expected the meeting will build momentum in the lead-up to major negotiations for a global agreement on cutting greenhouse gases in Paris in 2015.
Mr Connor said other countries were "nervous” about the direction the Australian government was heading on climate change, and they'd have to reinforce their commitment to global action.
Mr Hunt said Dr Lee's delegation would stand by Australia's target of at least a five per cent emissions cut by 2020 and seek a "deep, strong international agreement”.
"In my case, we've got parliament over the next two weeks and I'm dealing with the legislation for repeal of the carbon tax,” he told ABC radio.
A judge with no sense of the real world
Stephen Campbell is a judge of the NSW Supreme Court. I will dispense with the usual honorific "Justice" for reasons that will become obvious. Campbell might want to know what happened outside his court last Friday, in the real world, the day he brought the Supreme Court into controversy, earned the ire of the Premier, shattered an innocent family, mobilised the media and generally enraged the community.
On Friday, I spoke to a woman who was manhandled on King Street, outside the court, by one of the retinue who had come to support the convicted killer and serial assailant Kieran Loveridge. This woman was pushed aside by a member of Loveridge's group as he jostled a TV cameraman.
Campbell is a career compensation lawyer. In his first 18 months on the bench he has turned out to be a difficult proposition for the victims of crime and their families. At least Loveridge is in jail, for the time being. And what a hatful of surprises Campbell has delivered during his short time on the bench.
Thomas Kelly, bashed and killed by Loveridge in an unprovoked attack. Campbell sentenced Loveridge to seven years in prison, with a non-parole period of five years and two months. With time served, he will be eligible for parole in four years.
Matthew Serrao, hit by Loveridge in an unprovoked attack. Campbell imposed a penalty of four months in prison, but partly served concurrently.
Rhyse Saliba, punched by Loveridge in an unprovoked attack. Campbell imposed a penalty of four months in prison, but partly served concurrently.
Aden Gazi, punched by Loveridge after an exchange of words. Campbell imposed a penalty of four months in prison, but partly served concurrently.
Marco Compagnoni, punched by Loveridge in an unprovoked attack. Campbell imposed a penalty of six months in prison, but partly served concurrently, giving a total prison term for the five assaults of seven years and two months, with only five years of non-parole time.
There are other Campbell judgments worth considering but space and context preclude their inclusion.
The first sign that Thomas Kelly's grieving family might be smashed again came during the sentencing hearing, after Loveridge had pleaded guilty to manslaughter. Campbell ordered that all the defence's written submissions be read in court, including the statements by his mother and the psychologist who assessed him. The Herald's court reporter who covered this case, Paul Bibby, says he had never seen a judge do that before.
At that hearing, the victim's mother, Kathy Kelly, told the judge: "All of us have been robbed, not only us left behind but also Thomas. He didn't deserve to die, his brother and sister didn't deserve to lose their older brother, and Ralph and I didn't deserve the life sentence that we have been given." She added: "[The] justice system [is] crying out for sentences that make people accountable for what they've done."
That didn't seem to register. In his almost 8000-word judgment, Campbell paid lip service to the grief of the victims and the standards of society, then imposed a sentence that made a mockery of both.
At the time of Loveridge's deadly assault he was already on probation for gate-crashing a party in 2011 and punching the host, and his prior record also included assaulting a police officer, theft, malicious damage and affray. In considering this pattern of prior menace, Campbell made this extraordinarily forebearing observation: "These matters, taken together, lead me to infer that at least to some degree the offender has in the past exhibited an attitude of disregard for the law. He has not always responded to leniency and has required sentences of probation and control orders."
On Friday, Campbell sent a message to the community: "The total effective sentence should not be so large as to be crushing to a young offender, stifling his prospects of rehabilitation … I have borne in mind the offender's relative social disadvantage and the difficulties of his upbringing … I find that the combination of the offender's youth, remorse, prospects of rehabilitation and the need to structure sentences for multiple offences constitute special circumstances."
The message was received. The parents of Thomas Kelly described the sentence as a "joke", saying that, in effect, it was a second life sentence, in addition to having lost their innocent son at the age of 18. They said other lives would be broken by violence before judges came to their senses. The NSW Attorney-General, Greg Smith, immediately called for the Director of Public Prosecutions to consider an appeal against the leniency of the sentence. The NSW Police Association said the law regarding unprovoked assaults needed to be revised to prevent judges from trivialising the crime. Premier Barry O'Farrell condemned the message sent by the judge. Sydney's newspapers treated the judgment as so shocking as to be front page news. One headline summed up the general response in four words: "King hit to justice".
As I read Campbell's judgment, I looked for some sense that he knew what message he was sending to the community. The judgment can be accessed online here.
The legal industry will condemn the media for its populism and imperviousness to the complexities of the law but what we are left with from Injustice Campbell is this: life is cheap. There is a disconnect here, and the legal industry is not the solution to this problem, it is the problem blocking a solution.
Some multiculturalism in Australia
There is very little gun crime in Australia -- except among Lebanese Muslims
TWO men were blasted by shotguns and three men were arrested less than an hour later while a house was also shot up in Sydney's west this morning.
The two men were shot near their Holden Commodore in a drive by attack on West Terrace, Bankstown about 12.20am.
The offenders sped off before the victims suffering gunshot wounds drove themselves in their car riddled with bullet holes to nearby Bankstown Hospital minutes later.
Three men were then arrested in Parramatta about 1am on a night where police described the city's west as being "flooded with police" in response to the recent spate of gun crime.
"Police were alerted to about six gunshot sounds in the location of West Terrace at Bankstown and as a result of that police attended," he said.
"While police were attending here two males presented themselves at Bankstown Hospital with gunshot wounds.
"Police at West Terrace located a number of items and police attended the hospital.
"Further than that, three people were arrested in the Parramatta area and are currently assisting police at Merrylands Police Station."
Jason, 21, said one of the victims stripped off his blood-soaked shirt before fleeing.
"I heard six shots and looked outside and a car took off and a guy that had been shot took his shirt off that was covered in blood and threw it on the ground and took off running," he said.
Joel, 40, said he heard shotgun blasts with cartridges littering the roadside. "We heard six shots and my mate thought it was fire crackers and I said 'nuh mate, it's a shotgun'; I've got a licence so I know what guns sound like," he said.
"I went over and everybody was out on their balconies and two guys came out on the street and were looking at the shotgun shells. You could see one, two, three, four of them in the gutter.
"These guys are idiots carrying on with their guns. It's ridiculous, it's getting worse."
Police said it was too early to establish whether the shooting had any connections with Monday night's Brothers 4 Life related shotgun attack at Blacktown.
A crime scene was established on West Terrace with forensic officers scouring the road for evidence between the Euro Terraces and the Emporium Function Centre. The victim's blood-soaked blue shirt on the footpath and four shotgun cartridges in the gutter were photographed.
A crime scene was also established in the Bankstown Hospital car park where the men parked their car. The car was later towed for forensic examination.
One of the victims was transferred to Liverpool Hospital for further treatment.
Detectives are waiting to speak with the injured men once they are well enough to be questioned.
Less than an hour later a house was also shot up on Mandina Place, Bringelly about 1am.
The single-storey brick house was fired upon with police finding a number of bullet holes in the front of the house. Nobody was home at the time.
A crime scene was established with police canvassing the neighbourhood. Forensic officers seized a number of items for examination.
There have now been 294 shootings since Premier Barry O'Farrell took office in March 2011.
On Monday night a 13-year-old girl was blasted in the back with a shotgun by three men looking for her brother with alleged Brothers 4 Life links at a house on Sunnyholt Rd, Blacktown.
On the same night a woman's car was fired upon in a road rage attack at Iris St, Riverwood.
On Sunday night Brothers 4 Life gang member, Michael Odisho, 27, was shot in the thighs and arms at his Winston Hills home.
On the same night shots were fired into a three-storey townhouse on Blaxell St, Granville.
Early on Monday morning shots were also fired at a house on McGuirk Way, Rouse Hill about 4am.
Last week Mahmoud Hamzy, 25, a cousin of jailed killer Bassam Hamzy, was shot dead by three gunmen inside the garage of his home at Revesby Heights.
Later in the week Raymond Pasnin, 27, was killed after he was shot five times in the back as he walked towards his Subaru Impreza parked in the driveway of his mother's Pendle Hill home.
Police are appealing for anyone that may have seen or heard anything to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.
11 November, 2013
In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is amused at how hard the media are doing it now that the conservatives are in charge federally
Poll reveals Queenslanders want a return to corporal punishment to deal with bad behaviour in schools
BRING back the cane - that's the call from Queenslanders fed up with bad behaviour in our classrooms.
An exclusive Sunday Mail/Seven News poll reveals a majority of people want to see corporal punishment reintroduced to state schools after an 18-year ban.
The survey also found more than one in five respondents see misbehaviour and bullying as the major issue affecting children’s education.
While the teachers’ union remains firmly opposed, Queensland Association of State School Principals president Hilary Backus said the results reflected a feeling in society and there was an argument that individual schools should be allowed to decide whether to use the cane.
"We are seeing such a challenge in children entering schools who have been used to getting their own way and not able to follow instructions. Maybe society is realising we should put an end to it," she said.
"I don’t think I could say we would welcome it back. But should schools, with their communities, determine what is appropriate for their school setting? I don’t think I would have an argument with that."
But State Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek is adamant this is one issue where policy will not be led by public opinion, ruling out any return to the days when unruly students were given six-of-the-best.
"I think we’ve moved on from that," he said. "There is no science or data that it (corporal punishment) will make a difference. I don’t believe hitting them with a cane or a feather-duster is the answer."
Mr Langbroek said new laws passed last month enabling other disciplinary measures such as Saturday detentions would be more effective.
More than 61,000 suspensions were handed out to public school pupils in 2012 — a third of them for "physical misconduct" -- and 1,331 expulsions.
Documents obtained by The Courier-Mail under to Right To Information laws earlier this month revealed almost 100 incidents of violence or threats of violence including assaults on staff and the use of weapons including knives and a spear.
Queensland Secondary Principals’ Association president Norm Fuller said: "Certainly, we need strong discipline but there are other ways of doing that. I would not like to see us go back to the days of the cane — that’s not necessarily going to change behaviour."
And Queensland Teachers’ Union president Kevin Bates said they wanted the ban to stay. "Teachers and principals are not enamoured by the idea of belting kids. No professional would argue there’s any benefit."
Acting Commissioner for Children and Young People Barry Salmon, a former teacher, also opposed the return of the cane.
"There are more effective ways of managing a child’s behaviour which do not include the use of physical punishment, through setting clear boundaries, consistent expectations, appropriate penalties and positive encouragement, he said.
Dr John Reddington — founder of the "Concerned Psychologists" group which has been campaigning for 12 years to make smacking illegal — said the Newman Government’s tough recent stance on law and order could be influencing the turnaround in public opinion on corporal punishment.
"But violence produces violence," he said. "The majority (of people) simply don’t understand alternative methods."
P&Cs Qld spokesman Peter Levett said he was "not necessarily surprised" by the level of support for corporal punishment but declined to state any position on the issue.
Kevin Glancy, Queensland convener of conservative lobby group CANdo, said the use of corporal punishment had made previous generations "stronger and more disciplined".
"Australia would be a better place if young people came out of schools with a sense of discipline. The streets would be safer. "People are tired of the dysfunction," he said.
Although banned in state schools since 1995, corporal punishment is still allowed in Queensland non-state schools with at least two still using the discipline method — Central Queensland Christian College and Chinchilla Christian School.
Central Queensland Christian College principal Michael Appleton declined to comment this week, stating that it was not a central issue of school life for them and they have no interest in telling other schools whether they should or should not use it.
Two years ago, he told The Sunday-Mail his school had a culture of grace and love, with physical discipline only used after warnings and time-outs
"Normally this is never needed, but sometimes there are children who are looking for the boundaries in life and will push and push until they find them.
"When they have that "ouch” moment physically, they know they’re going the wrong way.
"When using physical discipline, we take time to express our care for the child and provide reassurance afterwards.”
At Chinchilla Christian School its parent handbook for Prep to Year 7 states discipline refers to the training of mind and character in an atmosphere of love and security. "Counselling goes hand in hand with discipline.”
A position statement released by The Royal Australasian College of Physicians this year warns physical punishment may be harmful in the long term.
"Research shows that a child who experiences physical punishment is more likely to develop aggressive behaviour and mental health problems as a child and as an adult,” it says.
Vote expert says WA Senate result comes down to just one vote
ABC election analyst Antony Green says the outcome of the Senate vote in Western Australia would have come down to a solitary vote.
The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) on Friday released the party-by-party tally of votes counted in the days after the election.
Earlier this week the AEC declared the results of the poll despite admitting that it had misplaced 1,375 ballot papers in the recount.
The tally sheets released on Friday include the lost votes.
Green says if the missing votes were to be included in the recount, the Palmer United Party (PUP) and Labor would have won the final two Senate spots and not the Greens and the Australian Sports Party.
"If these votes could be included in the count, then they would produce the closest Senate election result in Australian history with a gap of just a single vote determining the final two Senate seats," Green wrote in his election blog.
"On the first count, the Shooters and Fishers Party led the Australian Christians by a critical 14 votes, 23,515 to 23,501. This excluded the Australian Christians and resulted in the election of the PUP's Dio Wang and Labor's Louise Pratt to the final two seats.
"On the recount which was conducted minus the missing votes, the Australian Christians now lead at the crucial count by 12 votes ... and the last two seats being won by Wayne Dropulich of the Australian Sports Party and Scott Ludlam of the Greens."
Green says the missing votes are ticket votes, leaving no doubt where the preferences of each would go.
"So the Shooters and Fishers Party would lead by one vote, yes, just one vote out of 1.3 million," he said.
"This is so close that even if the votes were not missing, the result would go to the Court of Disputed Returns to adjudicate.
"With votes being missing and modelling indicating the result is so close, the chances of the court overturning the result and calling a fresh election are even higher than before.
"What an astonishing result."
AEC spokesman Phil Diak says the commission has released the information for the benefit of voters, candidates and parties.
"We've now entered a 40-day period for any petitions to the Court of Disputed Returns so this is further information for the community and candidates that contested the election, and the parties of course," he said.
Mr Diak says the commission is still deciding if it will ask the court to call for a new election.
Abbott promises respectful new parliament
A cessation of the "ad hominem" attacks would certainly be welcome
PRIME Minister Tony Abbott has promised a "respectful" new parliament when it assembles for the first time next week, promising the Labor years will soon fade like "a bad memory".
Addressing the West Australian Liberal branch at its annual conference on Saturday, Mr Abbott pledged a parliament that "discusses the issues, rather than abuses individuals".
The prime minister said the parliament wouldn't impugn the motives of opponents or trash their reputations.
If anyone tried to go over the top, new Speaker Bronwyn Bishop would sort them out.
"And I am confident that after just a few weeks of the new parliament - that parliament that diminished our policy and embarrassed our citizens over the last three years - will soon seem like just a bad memory," Mr Abbott said.
He said the Liberals had already restored "due process" to government, including the 10-day rule for cabinet decisions.
"Now you might think that's just a paperwork rule but if you don't get these things right ... you end up getting important details wrong.
"I want to say that we have made a good start, that the adults are back in charge and that strong, stable, methodical and purposeful government is once more the rule in our national capital."
Mr Abbott devoted much of his address to the Liberal's media strategy, which contrasted with Labor's "endless interviews, all about glorifying politicians".
"I think all of you will have noticed that there is a new tone and a new style in Canberra.
"Yes, we will speak when we need to speak. But we won't speak for the sake of speaking and we won't bang on things for the purposes of a PR gesture."
Judge rebellion put down in Qld.
Queensland's chief justice says the judiciary should welcome public commentary about their role, the day after a judge lost a legal battle with the government over new bikie laws.
Paul de Jersey says occasional robust public exchanges bolster the strength of the system rather than erode it.
On Friday, the Court of Appeal ruled Justice George Fryberg erred when he froze a government bid to revoke bail for alleged bikie Jarrod Kevin Anthony Brown because of reported comments by Premier Campbell Newman.
In a Brisbane Courier-Mail op-ed piece on Saturday, Justice de Jersey says Queensland has a robust legal system that is free from corruption.
"Judges should not be troubled by public commentary. They should welcome it," he wrote.
"It shows that people are interested in how this branch of government independently discharges its duty, and that citizens will exercise their right to question and call to account."
The op-ed was penned by the chief justice after he attended a meeting in October with more than 30 of his Asia-Pacific counterparts.
It is the first time that the chief justice has gone public during the row over Queensland's new clampdown on criminal motorcycle gangs.
The Newman government has passed legislation which means defendants must prove they are not bikies in order to be granted bail, rather than the prosecution proving their affiliation.
Justice Fryberg said a fortnight ago there was a risk the public could perceive any decision he made as having been been influenced by Mr Newman.
The premier was quoted in media reports urging judges to act within community expectations.
Court of Appeal justices ruled on Friday that the reported comments would not make the public think judges had been influenced in their decision-making.
10 November, 2013
In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is disgusted by the 4-year jail sentence given to a vicious killer
Wesfarmers chief Richard Goyder warns Canberra against intervention in supermarket prices
Wesfarmers chief Richard Goyder has sent a clear message to Canberra not to interfere with the nation's supermarket sector, warning that an attempt to cap the market share of Coles and Woolworths would lead to higher prices for shoppers.
Mounting a spirited defence before shareholders of the Perth-based conglomerate's ownership of the nation's No.2 supermarket chain, Coles, Mr Goyder also made a play to the new Abbott government's "hands-off" approach to the economy, saying shoppers were benefiting from lower prices thanks to strong competitive forces in the grocery sector.
"I keep reading and hearing from market interventionists that market shares should be capped at 20 per cent like in the US," Mr Goyder told shareholders at the annual meeting on Thursday.
"Firstly, that would be a sure-fire recipe for higher prices for Australian consumers, and secondly, there is no such law in the USA. It's simply untrue. Indeed, the ACCC debunked this myth in front of a Senate select committee in 2012."
Mr Goyder, who in 2007 led Wesfarmers' purchase of the struggling Coles, said competition regulator reports have estimated that grocery prices would be 17 per cent higher in towns where a major supermarket such as Coles did not operate.
Internally, Coles and its arch rival Woolworths are greatly concerned that a government could one day try to push through caps on market shares to placate opposition to the perceived power of the supermarket chains. Some critics claim they have a combined grocery market share of about 70 per cent.
This would give a dream run to newer entrants such as German discounter Aldi and warehouse store Costco, the market-heavyweight supermarkets believe, robbing them of customers and freezing any growth opportunities.
The ACCC has led much of the charge, promising investigations into Coles and Woolworths for alleged treatment of farmers and suppliers, as well as shopper-docket schemes for fuel discounts at supermarket-owned petrol stations.
But Mr Goyder pushed back against critics, making some of his strongest comments to date. He said it was simplistic to blame all of the farm and food sector's ills on the chains' interaction with suppliers.
"So I get a bit perplexed when Coles is blamed for many of the challenges in the farming/food sector today," he said. "The farming and food industries do have challenges today, as they have had for many years.
"They are not helped by our strong currency, as well as productivity issues and cumbersome regulations.
"But, it is just too easy, too simplistic, to blame the supermarkets for a lot of these difficulties."
He said all stakeholders - suppliers, shoppers, staff and investors - benefited from the resuscitation of Coles. "Since Wesfarmers took ownership, Coles is now selling an extra $4 billion of Australian food and over 200,000 tonnes more Australian fruit and vegetables, valued at almost $1.5 billion."
He said earnings for shareholders who "took the risk" on Wesfarmers' purchase of Coles have seen the supermarket's pre-tax earnings increase 84 per cent between 2009 and 2013. "We sometimes make mistakes - we are not perfect, and we are very conscious of the important role we play in Australia for all our stakeholders," he said.
The Abbott government has promised a full review of the nation's competition framework.
Learning the hard lessons of failed educational experimentation
DISMAYED by their children's indifferent literacy and numeracy skills and limited historical, geographical and scientific knowledge, many parents will not be surprised by today's revelation that a doubling of education funding over the past 20 years has not improved education standards. As national education correspondent Justine Ferrari writes, while school funding has doubled in real terms since 1995 to $40 billion a year, Australian students' results in international and national tests have flatlined or fallen. Yet, despite the failure of smaller class sizes, student laptops and better buildings to improve student achievement, educators and politicians continue investing in them year after year. Working with his state colleagues and the non-government sector, Education Minister Christopher Pyne has no alternative but to pursue a sharp break from current patterns.
For an insider's view of the malaise that has progressively sucked quality, rigour, purpose and discipline from many schools, readers will relate to the insights of Michael Hewitson, an experienced maths/science teacher and former principal from South Australia, whose book How Will our Children Learn? (Connor Court) is reported in Inquirer today by associate editor Chris Kenny. It speaks volumes that Trinity College, a low-fee school founded by Hewitson in 1985 at Gawler, a dusty, working-class community north of Adelaide, grew into one of Australia's largest and most in-demand schools, with 3500 students within 15 years. After it started with only the most basic facilities, much of its development occurred with just 65 per cent of the money, per child, of a state school.
The issues on which Mr Hewitson focuses in his book provide a useful guide for education reform. He covered the importance of parental choice in education, the advantages of state schools being allowed greater independence and reporting to local school boards or councils rather than government bureaucracies, school governance, student discipline, teacher quality and commitment, streaming of students according to ability in some subjects and the importance of making the core curriculum - English, spelling, grammar and writing, number skills and maths - a priority. Like other experienced educators, Mr Hewitson also advocated extending the school day to cater for cultural and sporting activities. Nor should the anecdotal evidence in the book about the value of phonics in teaching reading, even to the most disadvantaged students, be overlooked. Unfortunately, although the benefits of phonics, in tandem with vocabulary work, comprehension and storytelling, have been proven repeatedly in empirical studies, the "whole language" system of teaching reading still prevails in many schools and university teaching programs. Importantly for students from less affluent backgrounds, Mr Hewitson's experience in resolving difficult disciplinary issues, at Trinity and as a young teacher with classes of 45 students at Whyalla, reflected the findings of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development research reported last week. Like the OECD number crunchers who surveyed the impact of rowdy classrooms on student achievement around the world, Trinity College parents, students and teachers found well-managed classrooms raised students' opportunities by boosting their chances of gaining access to their preferred tertiary courses.
After the inherent wastage of the $16bn school building program and an upsurge of recurrent funding under the Howard, Rudd and Gillard governments to little avail, the national interest demands Mr Pyne, his state counterparts and universities in charge of teacher education move on from the flawed education theories that have shortchanged two generations of Australian students. Poor outcomes tend to hurt disadvantaged students more. But it is also a serious concern the achievements of the top 25 per cent of students appear to have stagnated, a trend pinpointed in a recent study of 37,000 students from all sectors in Victoria and in international testing.
Some states have already freed up many schools from centralised departmental control and allow principals autonomy in hiring and firing staff and setting their spending priorities. Injecting intellectual rigour and balance and removing postmodern and pop-cultural fads from the curriculum is also essential. As the Gonski funding process unfolds, however, the main challenge for the commonwealth and states is to lift the status and expertise of the teaching profession, starting with academic entry standards for school leavers aspiring to teach. Effective in-service programs for teachers to improve classroom practices and more effective leadership training for principals would also have a direct bearing on school performances. Teaching quality is the main focus of high-performing East Asian school systems, and its value was underlined by Mr Hewitson in his account of a band of dedicated teachers.
Parents know good schools or bad schools when they find them, regardless of sector, postcode, class sizes or facilities. Business as usual, with its prevailing mediocrity, is no longer acceptable. Until teachers' unions and some academics show a more mature understanding of the teaching profession and the needs of students, their continuing demands for smaller classes and more funding will render them irrelevant in one of Australia's most important social debates.
COAG 'reforms' fail to fix public hospitals
The COAG Reform Council this week released a report on the national reform agenda of the previous Labor government. The major finding was that the national partnership agreements struck between the commonwealth and the states have failed to significantly improve outcomes in health, education and Indigenous welfare.
The theory behind the agreements was that additional funding combined with stricter accountabilities would allow the Commonwealth to manage the states into lifting their games.
Yet even where the report shows improvements in performance with respect to public hospitals, the results are equivocal.
'Solid' progress is said to have been made in speeding up treatment in emergency departments due to the national roll out of the 'four hour rule.' Under the National Access Target for Emergency Departments, which is being progressively phased in over five years, 95% of all patients will have to be either discharged or admitted within four hours. States failing to meet the target will not qualify for federal bonus payments.
That the introduction of the four hour rule has had an impact is not surprising. Targets often work because what is measured tends to be done, especially when additional funding is up for grabs. Equally unsurprising, though, are the unintended - but predictable - consequences.
The Reform Council reports that despite the improvements in emergency waits, waiting times for elective surgery have increased.
Emergency and elective waiting are directly related, and ultimately come down to how hospitals decide to use their acute beds.
If there is a blitz on elective waiting lists, say, more bed are used to admit surgical patients, and emergency waiting times consequently increase. If cutting emergency waiting times is the priority, the reverse applies, and elective waiting times blow out.
The obvious answer is to increase the total number of beds to admit more elective and emergency patients at the same time. However, increasing bed numbers is very difficult in the highly bureaucratic and inefficient public hospital system in which funding increases struggle to make it through to the frontlines as extra services. As the Australian Medical Association's Hospital Report Card found, the number of public hospital beds in Australia has remained 'basically unchanged' in recent years despite substantial funding increases.
This shows how hard it is for governments to genuinely boost public hospital performance no matter what they spend or what targets they set. It also shows why a micro-economic reform agenda desperately needs to be implemented in the sector to raise productivity and generate a real increase in the overall level of taxpayer-funded hospital services provided to the community.
Utilities to share carbon cuts
THE bosses of two of Australia's biggest power companies have vowed to slash hundreds of dollars from family power bills the moment the carbon tax is removed.
Origin Energy's Frank Calabria last night told The Daily Telegraph: "To keep things simple, if the carbon price is removed as an input cost to energy bills, we will pass the benefit on to consumers."
At AGL, the nation's largest electricity provider, boss Michael Fraser said: "Once the repeal … legislation is effective, AGL would expect to apply this to bills accordingly.
"The savings on bills may be expected to vary by state and consumers should also be aware that any savings will depend on their individual circumstances."
But when contacted on whether they would make similar moves, NSW's other major energy providers Momentum Energy and EnergyAustralia did not comment.
The comments follow those of corporate watchdog chief Rod Sims, who described the carbon tax removal as "not a massively complicated process" and tipped prices to fall by as much as 9 per cent once the tax was repealed.
The Abbott government has said the repeal of the tax should lead to a 9 per cent fall in power bills and a 7?per cent fall in gas prices.
Over the past five years, the average household electricity bill has risen between 37 and 80 per cent.
Energy Supply Association chief executive Matthew Warren said the full carbon component of energy bills would be passed through.
"The impact of carbon on the energy supply chain is complex but it can be unravelled and the industry will continue to work with the Abbott government to deliver this," he said.
Recent NSW Audit Office figures have shown the state government's electricity companies boosted their combined profit to $1.54 billion in the year to June - up from $1.03 billion only a year earlier. The state government has sold the retail operations of NSW's main electricity companies, including EnergyAustralia, Integral and Country Energy.
The electricity companies' high profitability helped boost their overall contribution to the government's coffers to $2.2 billion from $1.82 billion a year earlier.
Mum-of-three Katie Davis said the tax had made day-to-day living close to unaffordable and she planned to spend the extra cash saved on power bills on minor luxuries such as family dinners out. "The power bill is up to about $1000 a quarter, it's ridiculous," she said. "When it comes in every time ... it seems like it's been going up and up and you wonder when it's going to stop."
8 November, 2013
Union gets paid back for its thuggery
Qantas maintenance workers wanted "more": More pay. When Qantas said no they embarked on a campaign of minor sabotage that had QANTAS planes frequently having to turn around in mid-air -- which was very damaging to the airline. When the QANTAS boss grounded the fleet, however, they saw the writing on the wall and all maintenance problems suddenly ceased. It was too late, however, QANTAS has now given the lot of them the boot. Their greed destroyed their jobs. Reminiscent of Scotland
HUNDREDS of specialised workers are "devastated" at Qantas' decision to close its heavy maintenance facility in Avalon next year. Qantas will look overseas to maintain its remaining fleet of Boeing 747s after announcing the closure of the facility at the end of March 2014.
The closure of the Avalon base will affect 53 Qantas employees and 246 contractors with Forstaff Aviation.
Domestic chief executive Lyell Strambi said there was not enough work to retain the Avalon base, and the airliner will look offshore to maintain the 14 soon-to-be-retired 747s. "As well as considering existing facilities, we will also examine specialist 747 maintenance providers including Germany, Singapore, Hong Kong, the UK and the US," he said.
"We will continue to do heavy maintenance on around 110 aircraft at our main base in Brisbane."
Qantas staff victims of 747 fade-out
Following an eight-week review, Mr Strambi said there would have been a 22-month gap with no scheduled maintenance over the next four years.
"Qantas is gradually retiring our fleet of Boeing 747 aircraft, which means there is not enough work to keep our Avalon base viable and productive," Mr Strambi said.
Mr Strambi said it was nonsense to say the closure was part of a long-term plan to shift operations to Asia. "We want to make Brisbane work for us," he said, referring to a $30 million upgrade of the Brisbane facility.
Avalon worker Peter Ryan said he was devastated by the news.
"I'll be moving out of Geelong. We'll all struggle to find work here now," Mr Ryan, 49, said. "I'm lucky I've worked in other industries but there are a lot of younger blokes who will find it tough. "It's not our fault, we've done nothing wrong."
After 15 years working at Avalon he said the news was not a surprise but it "still hurt." He believed work would now be sent offshore to Southeast Asia.
Victorian secretary of the Australian Workers' Union, Ben Davis said Qantas had "broken the hearts of workers". "This is devastating news in a part of Victoria that can't afford any more bad news," Mr Davis said. "This facility didn't have to close and Qantas should be ashamed of themselves.
Mr Strambi flagged further changes to the Qantas engineering operations, saying modern aircraft needed less maintenance.
"Our fleet is now the youngest it has been in two decades and more modern aircraft have up to half the maintenance needs of older ones," Mr Strambi said.
"This will mean ongoing changes to our engineering operations in order for Qantas to remain competitive."
The Avalon review follows 263 redundancies at the site announced a year ago and the closure of the Tullamarine heavy maintenance facility, which resulted in the loss of 422 jobs.
Razor taken to CSIRO
Global Warmists get the boot. Their completely unscientific support of global warming dogma has destroyed much of the respect the CSIRO once had
Almost a quarter of scientists, researchers and workers at Australia's premier science institution will lose their jobs under the federal government's present public service jobs freeze.
The blanket staff freeze across the public service threatens the jobs of 1400 "non-ongoing" workers at the CSIRO and could paralyse some of the organisation's premier research projects, with a ban on hiring, extending or renewing short-term contracts effective immediately.
The impact of the freeze on the CSIRO follows fears expressed in the scientific community about the Abbott government's failure to nominate a dedicated science minister out of his cabinet or ministerial team. The concerns have been heightened by subsequent decisions, including the closure of the global warming advisory body the Climate Change Commission, and revelations on Thursday that Australia will not be sending its Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, or any ministerial stand-in to international climate change negotiations starting on Monday in Warsaw.
The freeze is part of the Abbott government's plan to cut 12,000 jobs from the public service.
On Friday, the government will also announce the immediate dismantling of a raft of government advisory bodies, expert panels and national steering committees, covering diverse areas including ageing, legal affairs, ethics and animal welfare. Federal cabinet this week signed off on the changes, which will see a dozen "non-statutory" bodies axed altogether, and several more amalgamated with other bodies or absorbed into existing departmental functions.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott repeatedly promised before the election that a Coalition government would dramatically reduce the size of the bureaucracy and would do away with thousands of regulations said to be clogging the economy.
"There are currently more than 50,000 Acts and legislative instruments, many of which are a handbrake on Australia's ability to get things done," Mr Abbott said.
The bodies scrapped are: Australian Animals Welfare Advisory Committee; Commonwealth Firearms Advisory Committee; International Legal Services Advisory Committee; National Inter-country Adoption Advisory Council; National Steering Committee on Corporate Wrongdoing; Antarctic Animal Ethics Committee; Advisory Panel on the Marketing in Australia of Infant Formula; High Speed Rail Advisory Group; Maritime Workforce Development Forum; Advisory Panel on Positive Ageing; Insurance Reform Advisory Group; and the National Housing Supply Council.
On Friday, the head of the advisory panel on positive ageing, Everald Compton, said his group had only six months of important work to go - and was not expensive.
"A few hundred thousand dollars a year, a couple of hundred thousand I think it is," he told ABC Radio. "We run a lean, mean operation. We don't go anywhere that we don't have to. We're not causing a financial disturbance in the government."
Mr Compton said that the group was on brink of presenting government with a blueprint on the legislative and financial changes that were needed over the next 25 years to turn ageing "into an asset rather than a liability".
"I find it a little hard to understand why, when we're so close to finishing something that we've had some years of work in, that it's chopped off and that the Government does not appear to want a report on how ageing is going to hit Australia."
At the CSIRO, staff leaders fronted their bosses on Thursday, demanding answers on the fate of the workers on contracts, which can often last up to 24 months.
CSIRO has an unusually high proportion of "non-ongoings” with 990 "term” workers and about 440 casual staff among its 6500 headcount.
"It's going to be a huge problem," said one staff member, who wanted to remain anonymous.
Staff were told last week of the decision, which will hit the organisation's 11 research divisions and 11 national research flagships, as well as critical support for frontline scientists.
In an email to staff, CSIRO chief executive Megan Clarke said: "I announce an immediate recruitment freeze covering the following: External recruitment; and, entering into any new, or extending existing term or contract employment arrangements."
Catriona Jackson, the chief executive of Science and Technology Australia, the peak lobby for the nation's scientists, said she was "concerned that cuts to the public service may fall disproportionately on scientists".
West Australian federal Liberal Dennis Jensen, himself a former research scientist at CSIRO, said the suggestion that the government had an anti-science bias was incorrect.
But he admitted the failure to have a dedicated science minister worried him. "That does concern me," he said.
"If somebody wanted to raise a concern from one of the Cooperative Research Centres, often a bridge between academia and industry, then who would they write to? Do they write to the education minister or the industry minister, I think that is the major problem, that the focus and drive of a single minister is lost."
Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinos told Sky News on Friday that only 500-600 support staff could go at the CSIRO but argued the new government needed to be able to choose where it allocated and prioritised resources. "The new government has to have a capacity to do that," he said.
A CSIRO spokesman said the number of jobs under threat had been exaggerated by the staff association. The spokesman said that no more than 550 casual and "term” workers were facing contract renewals this financial year.
CSIRO's executive and senior staff have been frantically seeking explanations from government as to how the edict is to be interpreted.
Labor's spokesman for the environment, climate change and water, Mark Butler, said he wasn't surprised that scientists were being sacked by the government, say Mr Abbott does not respect scientists' work, particulary on climate change.
"And I don't think it's a coincidence that the experts being sacked by this government have previously pointed out the serious flaws in the Coalition's direct action con," Mr Butler said.
"If the government consulted independent scientists and researchers instead of Wikipedia, they would know their direct action policy will do nothing to tackle pollution and will end up costing households more.
"The government is sacking the experts and shutting out anyone who doesn't agree with them. It's a disgraceful act."
Federal government to repeal 'Bolt laws' restricting free speech
Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Attorney-General George Brandis will fulfil an election promise next week and introduce legislation to repeal a section of Racial Discrimination Act that conservative journalist Andrew Bolt was found guilty of breaching.
The repeal of the laws that make it unlawful to offend and insult people because of their race will be the first legislation Senator Brandis will introduce to Parliament, according to The Australian newspaper.
It will change the definition of racial vilification in what the government says is a move towards restoring free speech laws to their full power.
News Corp columnist Bolt was found to have breached the law in 2011 when he penned a column about a group of "light-skinned" indigenous Australians.
The column was found to be in breach of Section 18C, which makes it unlawful to publish material that offends or insults a person or group because "of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the person or of some or all of the people in the group" – the same section Senator Brandis intends to wind back.
Senator Brandis told The Australian that he was certain that the changes to the act would be viewed as the government condoning racial behaviour, but said he believed "you cannot have a situation in a liberal democracy in which the expression of an opinion is rendered unlawful because somebody else ... finds it offensive or insulting".
"The classic liberal democratic rights that in my view are fundamental human rights have been almost pushed to the edge of the debate," he said.
"It is a very important part of my agenda to re-centre that debate so that when people talk about rights, they talk about the great liberal democratic rights of freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom of worship and freedom of the press."
Before the federal election, then-attorney-general Mark Dreyfus called on Mr Abbott to back away from a pledge to repeal the laws, and wrote an open letter insisting the Coalition's stance on section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act was inconsistent with its support for the London Declaration on Combatting Anti-Semitism.
The London Declaration aims to draw international attention to the resurgence of anti-Semitism, and has been signed by politicians around the world, including UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard signed the declaration in April and Mr Abbott and every other federal Coalition MP also signed up.
A spokesman for Mr Abbott said the Coalition would repeal section 18C because "it enables the censorship of free speech".
ASIO report says there are great dangers from radical Islamists
ASIO's report to Parliament last week exploded some sweet lies we've been told about our immigration program. Here's one: immigration brings only good things, like falafel. Here's another: there's still only a "tiny, unrepresentative minority" of Muslim extremists here. A "handful".
Handful? Check the ASIO report: "This year ASIO .?.?. investigated several hundred mostly Australia-based individuals who are advocates of a violent Islamist ideology."
In fact, we already have 20 Muslims jailed for terrorism-related offences and ASIO fears more may come: "There has been an increase in Australians travelling overseas to participate in terrorist training or engage in foreign disputes - Syria is the primary destination.
"The concern is .?.?. the likelihood of radicalised Australians returning home with an increased commitment and capability to pursue violent acts on our shores."
Indeed, the Syrian civil war has already "created domestic tensions .?.?. partly because of deep familial ties to Lebanon that exist here", with "sporadic incidents of small-scale communal violence in Australia".
Nor is the danger just from the 80 or so Australian Muslims fighting in Syria, or others who've trained or fought in Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen. There are also the ticking bombs at home, fired up by messages pumped into their homes over the internet.
"The threat of homegrown terrorism is of significant concern," says ASIO, citing the Boston Marathon bombings and the London jihadists who slaughtered a British soldier. "In Australia, there are individuals and small groups who believe an attack here is justified."
"Issues such as Australia's military deployments over the last decade, the Syrian conflict, or a belief that the ideals of Australia are in direct conflict with their extreme interpretation of Islam, fuel the radical views of this cohort."
We are thankfully past the low point when Muslim groups elected as Grand Mufti of Australia the extremist Taj el-Din al-Hilali, who hailed the September 11 attacks as "God's work against oppressors".
ASIO says more moderate leaders have helped keep down tensions, especially over Syria. But Sheik Hilali still preaches at Lakemba Mosque - our biggest - and young radical preachers now whip up potentially lethal resentments, particularly when Australian soldiers are fighting jihadists overseas, or when police arrest them at home.
When five Muslims were jailed in Sydney for a terrorist plot, 30 Muslim "community leaders" and imams signed a statement at the Lakemba Mosque, claiming "the reason for the arrests and convictions is that these young men expressed or hold opinions that contradict Australia's foreign policy towards majority Muslim countries".
Hizb ut-Tahrir, which gets some 500 people to its conferences, later damned even Anzac Day as the celebration of "a disbelieving people, of events involving wars against the legitimate Muslim authority of the time".
ASIO's report didn't cover other evidence that a significant minority of some Muslim groups have struggled to integrate. For instance, those of Lebanese descent have high rates of unemployment, welfare dependency and imprisonment, and high rates of bikie gang membership.
Add also this danger sign: Of the 18 terrorist groups banned in Australia, 17 are Islamist. Even the exception, the Stalinist PKK, is from the Middle East.
Given all that, our immigration policies have been incredibly reckless, thanks to politicians more concerned with seeming good than achieving security.
We have been bringing in more than 10,000 refugees a year from Muslim lands - especially ones in which jihadism is worst. Many have little English and few skills. Not surprisingly, just 9?per cent of Afghan adults find work here even five years after arriving. Yet just last month, the Abbott Government said it would accept another 500 refugees from Syria's war between jihadists and the Assad regime.
Few would be any better equipped to integrate than were the refugees we took in from Lebanon's civil war and who formed a community which now makes up a quarter of our Muslim population - but which has produced nearly two thirds of those charged with terrorism offences.
Then there was Labor's astonishing decision in 2008 to scrap our tough border laws in a fit of "compassion", thus luring in 50,000 boat people, mostly Muslims. Already ASIO has deemed 58 a security risk.
Yes, the Abbott Government has now slashed the refugee intake from Labor's 20,000 a year to 13,500 and has sharply slowed the boats, but Prime Minister Tony Abbott is still too coy to publicly discuss the problem ASIO has labelled.
I asked him about the difficulty we had of integrating some migrants.
Abbott's response? To avoid even any mention of the word "Muslim".
Abbott: One of the great things about Australia is that we encourage people, indeed we expect people, who come to this country to leave their ethnic animosities behind them.
Bolt: But they are failing to in some cases.
Abbott: We encouraged the English and the Irish to leave their sectarian and other animosities behind them .?.?.
Bolt: But they didn't have suicide bombers.
Abbott: ... and we largely succeeded.
When I pointed out that Muslims alone had been jailed here for terrorism-related offences - 20 so far - Abbott explained why he wouldn't say more. "Yeah, but it would be a big mistake for anyone in authority in Australia to suggest that people might be citizens second and adherents of a particular faith first, because nothing could be more guaranteed to hinder the integration and ultimately the assimilation of such people."
Abbott is right to a point. Even writing this threatens to do more harm than good. It could simply license racists and make our very many law-abiding Muslims here feel threatened and insulted.
But for years journalists kept diplomatically quiet about these problems and that didn't help either
PM brings diggers home with honour
AUSTRALIANS troops are preparing to bring home their battle flags from Afghanistan, a withdrawal with honour after an engagement that became our longest war.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott captured the mixed sentiment in his sensitive address to the troops at Tarin Kot in Uruzgan province when he said: "This is a bittersweet moment for Australia.
"Sweet, because hundreds of soldiers will be home by Christmas.
"Bitter, because not all Australian families have had their sons, fathers and partners return.
"Sweet, because our soldiers have given a magnificent account of themselves.
"Bitter, because Afghanistan remains a dangerous place despite all that has been done.”
The emotion captured in his words was heartfelt.
Twelve long years ago, on October 7, almost a month to the day after the murderous September 11 aerial terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre Towers and the Pentagon, former Prime Minister John Howard committed Australia to assist in the global hunt for Osama bin Laden and to purging the al Qaeda from its strongholds in Afghanistan in a multination force engaged in Operation Enduring Freedom.
The mission mutated over the years but the goals were always based on the values that enlighten the free world - freedom, education, the rule of law.
There is no doubt that al Qaeda in Afghanistan was crippled but there can also be little doubt that the hate-filled fundamentalists of the Taliban have regrouped and are waiting to descend once the multinational troops are finally withdrawn.
The Australian forces, while still hunting the murderers trying to enforce their medieval codes on men and women anxious to join the modern world, engaged in nation building exercises which they had earlier practised in East Timor, the Solomons and Iraq.
Our forces have trained and mentored Afghan troops as well as given support to programs aimed at educating girls - an advance particularly hated by the Islamists.
Abbott had visited Tarin Kot three times as Opposition leader, though he had to endure political harassment from the Labor government and its claque of media groupies when he did so.
On his fourth visit he was able to invite Opposition leader Bill Shorten to accompany him in a show of bipartisanship that placed the years of Labor provocation he had endured in their true shameful context.
"It seemed to me that it would be wrong to go too far into a Prime Ministership and not pay my respects to the men and women in uniform and out of uniform who have done so much for our country, have done so much for the people of Afghanistan and so much for the wider world,” he told the men and women at the Australian base.
"You have done good work here in Uruzgan. As the (Afghan) Interior Minister and the Governor pointed out, there is education, there is health; and it’s not just education and health for some people, as far as it can be in a rugged and difficult country, it’s education and health for everyone including the women of Uruzgan province.
"So you have done good work. You have done your work remarkably well with an extraordinary degree of professionalism and whether it’s the different elements of the army, whether it’s the police, the civilians, ASIS, all of the various Australian units that have come together to make this work, you have done it with extraordinary professionalism.
"We heard the Minister for the Interior say before the representatives of America, Holland, Britain, Singapore and others, that we were the best. That was a big call! Those of you who have worked with our American and British colleagues know that they are very good. Those of you who worked with the Dutch know that they did incredibly good work and whenever I ask about the Singaporean forces training in Australia, I am told we don’t want to get them unhappy because they pack a punch. So it’s great to know that the work that we have done here is respected and admired by our peers right around the world.”
And he told them their efforts had not been wasted.
"I want to say that it has been worth it. This has been a very difficult commitment. People have paid a high price. We’ve lost 40 of our best. We mourn them. We remember them. We honour them. We want to work with their families. We will never forget them. Some 260 have been wounded, many, very seriously. Then there are all of those who will carry mental and physical scars with them for the rest of their lives.
"Still, to be able to help our allies, to defend our interests and uphold our values is just about the best thing that any Australian can do and as I look around at all of you in uniform and out of uniform I am tremendously honoured to be in your presence. I am in awe of your professionalism. I respect what you have done and along with every other Australian, I honour you. I honour you and I pay tribute to you and I am confident that you will never be forgotten here in this part of Uruzgan.”
Canberra singer and diplomat Fred Smith’s haunting song Dust of Uruzgan is already the anthem for those who served in Afghanistan.
With its poignant lyrics, it encapsulates our engagement in that conflict as John Schumann captured the sentiments of many Australian troops toward Vietnam in his classic I Was Only 19.
Reprehensibly, some of those who returned from Vietnam were appallingly treated by some extremists opposed to that war and were let down by the bureaucracy.
Fortunately, we have matured as a nation. Those who have served deserve our gratitude and we should honour them as they return from Afghanistan as we honour those who came home from Iraq, and continue to honour those who defend with their lives the values we cherish and enjoy.
7 November, 2013
Climate change 'exaggerated', former PM says
FORMER PM John Howard thinks there'll never be a worldwide climate change agreement and admits he only backed emissions trading before the 2007 election because he faced a "perfect storm" on the issue.
Mr Howard delivered the Global Warming Policy Foundation's annual lecture in London on Tuesday night. The foundation was established by former Thatcher minister Nigel Lawson, who is sceptical about the impact of rising temperatures.
"I've always been agnostic about it (climate change)," Mr Howard told reporters in London before his address. "I don't completely dismiss the more dire warnings but I instinctively feel that some of the claims are exaggerated. "I don't accept all of the alarmist conclusions."
Mr Howard said he'd grown up being told ulcers were caused by stress but it was later revealed a virus was to blame. "You can never be absolutely certain that all the science is in."
Before the 2007 federal election then prime minister Howard pledged a re-elected conservative government would introduce an emissions trading scheme (ETS).
But he now says that was because by late 2006 his government hit a "perfect storm" with on-going drought, severe water restrictions, bushfires and the release of the Stern Review and Al Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth. "To put it bluntly, 'doing something' about global warming gathered strong political momentum in Australia," Mr Howard said in his written lecture.
Regardless, Labor won the 2007 poll. Mr Howard says that was partly because the party had even "more fashionable" views on climate change.
But six years on, Australia's second-longest serving prime minister insists the high tide of public support for "over-zealous action" on global warming has passed.
"I am very sceptical about the possibility of a global agreement ever being reached when you look at what happened in Copenhagen," he said, adding there was no real prospect of a deal between the major emitters Europe, the US and north Asia.
Mr Howard believes anti-global warming policies should never stand in the way of economic growth in developing countries.
Most economists believe current Prime Minister Tony Abbott's direct action approach to curbing carbon emissions will be more expensive than an ETS.
But Mr Howard on Tuesday refused to be drawn on his protegee's policy. "It's better for the government that's proposing the direct action plan to engage in the debate," he said.
The former Liberal leader was forced to defend his decision to read Lord Lawson's book An Appeal to Reason twice despite not having picked up any other book on global warming.
Asked if that was unbalanced, the ex-PM said he re-read the work as a courtesy after being invited by Lord Lawson to deliver the lecture.
Mr Howard said it was a "counterbalance" to advice previously received from government departments and stressed he'd read "numerous articles" on climate change.
The 74-year-old also used the lecture to argue nuclear power "must be part of the long term response" to global warming. "It is a very clean source of energy."
Mr Howard later criticised the ABC for being captured by climate change "alarmists". "The group-think at the ABC on this issue is quite clear," he said during the question and answer session after his lecture. "On this issue it's signed up - there's no doubt about that."
The former prime minister said the Murdoch press, particularly The Australian newspaper, was more sceptical.
"(But) talkback radio commentators in Australia have more political influence than they do in this country (and) they are ferociously sceptical.
"So we have had, for some time, a more balanced debate."
The establishment stikes back at cholesterol skepticism
Far be it from me to suggest that they might be in the pocket of the drug companies
THE ABC's leading health expert has accused its flagship science program of putting cholesterol patients at risk of death, in an embarrassing internal feud at the national broadcaster.
Dr Norman Swan has joined leading medicos in criticising a controversial episode of the Catalyst program aired last month that questioned the role of cholesterol in heart disease and could result in patients halting use of cholesterol-lowering drugs.
"People will die as a result of the Catalyst program unless people understand at heart what the issues are," Dr Norman Swan told ABC radio.
Australian Medical Association president Dr Steve Hambleton said medicos were under siege from patients questioning their statin medicines after watching the two-part program. "Every doctor is going through this," he said.
The cholesterol-lowering statins are the most prescribed medicines in the country and more than $1 billion is spent on them annually.
Dr Hambleton said if patients are prescribed the drugs according to national guidelines, they should stay on them because it will reduce their risk of death, a heart attack or stroke. But he admitted 70 per cent of people who take the drugs won't get any benefit.
Dr Lyn Weeks, the chief executive of the National Prescribing Service, said doctors would have to treat between 29 and 33 people with statins over five years to prevent one death from heart disease. But she said this was true of most medicines.
"People assume that all medicines work on everybody but they don't," she says. "The 30 per cent effect is good."
Critical of the Catalyst program's polarised view of cholesterol, she said it stifled an important debate on the grey areas of statin treatment.
There was strong evidence they prevented heart attacks, strokes and deaths in people who had already had a heart event, she said. She added, the evidence showed statins worked better at preventing deaths and heart attacks in men than in women.
There is not much evidence that it is beneficial to prescribe them to young people who have high cholesterol unless there was a family history of early death from heart disease.
And for people in their 80s who had few other heart disease risk factors, the side effects probably outweighed the benefits, she said.
About one in 10 patients who use the medicines suffer side effects, which can include crippling muscle pain.
A search of the database of the national medicines watchdog records reports that over 4000 patients suffered side effects to the three key statin drugs - atorvatstain, simvastatin and rosuvastatin.
The most common side effects were muscle pain and weakness and in 41 cases, death was reported as an outcome.
Last week, the chair of the Australian Advisory Committee on the Safety of Medicines, Professor Emily Banks asked the ABC to pull the follow-up program shown on Thursday.
The ABC ran a disclaimer at the start of Thursday's program saying: "The views expressed in this episode of Catalyst are not intended as medical advice. Please consult with your doctor regarding your medications."
Last rites for wealthy super tax
THE nation's wealthiest retirees will get a $300 million boost today when Joe Hockey dumps one of Labor's most hated tax hikes after two years of dispute over how to tax superannuation.
The Treasurer will formally jettison Wayne Swan's plan to tax the earnings of the richest super funds amid official concerns the changes were unworkable.
The move sharpens the political fight over super as the government offers relief to the rich while going ahead with a $1 billion hit to super benefits for 3.6 million workers on low incomes.
Mr Hockey and Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinos will also abandon Labor's plan to collect $1.5bn in tax from global companies and confirm their rejection of Labor's $1.8bn increase in fringe benefits taxes on cars.
The Australian can also reveal the Treasurer has won cabinet approval to drop Labor's plan to curtail tax deductions for education expenses. Mr Swan announced in May self-education expenses would be capped at $2000 a year to save more than $500m, but employees and universities hit back, saying it would drive people out of education.
The Australian understands that 550,000 people earning less than $80,000 a year will benefit from the Coalition's decision to reverse Mr Swan's plan.
The new positions heighten the challenge for the Coalition government in the coming budget update, expected in mid- December, because they sacrifice at least $2.5bn in revenue over four years.
Mr Hockey will unveil the changes today in his first response to a list of almost 100 tax changes announced but never legislated.
In a sign of the crowded agenda for parliament when it resumes next Tuesday, the government has set a target of legislating or dropping all of the outstanding tax measures by July.
Out of 92 unlegislated tax announcements, the government will proceed with 18 and adopt another three after "significant amendments" to improve them.
Senator Sinodinos is to consult on the remaining 64 with tax experts and community and business groups but the government's "disposition" is to drop them.
If the government abandons most of the tax measures it would mark the first major removal of regulation on businesses and taxpayers since Tony Abbott came to power with a vow to cut red tape.
The $1.5bn tax increase on multinationals, based on changes to "thin capitalisation" rules that set tax rates on debt, was fiercely opposed by big companies on the grounds it would discourage investment in Australia.
The $300m increase in tax on large super funds also sparked a fight as Labor struggled over how hard to cut the tax concessions available to retirement funds.
Mr Swan's plan was to increase the tax on earnings for about 16,000 of the nation's richest people who collect more than $100,000 a year in earnings on their super funds.
The finance sector is likely to welcome the Coalition decision when it is announced in Sydney this morning but objections are growing to a separate government decision that increases super taxes for low-income workers.
The government's mining tax repeal bill, to be put to parliament within weeks, terminates a scheme that refunds the 15 per cent tax paid on super contributions by 3.6m workers earning less than $37,000 a year.
Queensland Government has plan for schools to use funding for chaplains instead of education
SCHOOLS could use funding for chaplains instead of education programs or support staff under a controversial move being considered by the State Government.
The move would give Independent Public School principals the power to boost school chaplaincy hours at the expense of literacy and numeracy programs, or other staff including guidance counsellors and psychologists.
The Queensland Teachers Union and Australian Secular Lobby are against the plan, arguing that the mainly Christian chaplains have no place in state schools.
Most chaplains in state schools are employed by Scripture Union Queensland, which says its chaplains are trained to provide important social, emotional and spiritual support to all students - and not to evangelise kids.
A document obtained under Right to Information reveals the state's 80 Independent Public Schools could soon use discretionary funds - currently used for literacy and numeracy programs, support staff or professional development - to pay for chaplains instead.
"Currently the Chaplaincy Services in Queensland State Schools procedure states that school funds provided by the Queensland Government for educational purposes cannot be used for chaplaincy services," states a briefing note to Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek. "The flexible use of discretionary schools funds to support chaplaincy/student welfare services can be explored further as part of the review of the chaplaincy procedure."
Mr Langbroek confirmed the move was part of the review, which was expected to be finalised for 2014.
The State Government already provides up to $11,000 a year for school chaplains, while the Federal Government also provides funding.
Secular Lobby spokesman Hugh Wilson said state schools should be free from religion. Mr Wilson said the move would be "absolutely disgraceful".
Scripture Union Queensland CEO Peter James said chaplains were trained in youth work and pastoral care, which complemented psychologists and guidance counsellors.
ASL spokesman Hugh Wilson said state schools should be secular and warned the move to boost chaplaincy services with discretionary funding would be "absolutely disgraceful".
"There's little enough money given over for Education Queensland schools, that is why P & Cs raise money for motor mowers and janitor's utes and playground equipment," he said.
QTU president Kevin Bates said state education should be "free, public and secular" and student welfare services should be delivered through fully trained and accredited school counsellors, guidance officers, psychologists and social workers, not chaplains.
Scripture Union Qld CEO Peter James said they approached the State Government for increased funding for chaplains after the Bundaberg floods, because more students needed their help.
He said chaplains were trained in youth work and pastoral care, which complemented psychologists and guidance counsellors.
"A chaplain is in the playground and at the school gate," Mr James said. "There is a lot of time that is needed to just chat and unpack that stuff, that isn't necessarily counselling."
5 November, 2013
In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is celebrating Australia's biggest horserace of all
4 November, 2013
Tony Abbott to bring in new IR body
THE Abbott government is moving to impose an appeals body over the nation's workplace umpire, declaring concern at inconsistent decisions by the Fair Work Commission.
The new body, which follows employer claims that Labor had stacked the tribunal, would be headed by a Coalition appointee and would establish a new avenue for appeal against commission rulings.
In his first extended interview since being appointed, Employment Minister Eric Abetz revealed that he had written to employers and unions, giving notice of a December 13 deadline to state their position on the appeals body that he likened to the NSW Court of Appeal.
Outlining the government's workplace agenda, Senator Abetz told The Weekend Australian that the commission was close to finalising new rules and regulations that would result in bullying claims by workers being subject to a "filter" before they were decided on by the commission.
Under changes to the disclosure obligations of registered organisations, Senator Abetz also said unions and employer organisations would be required to name their top five highest-paid employees and their salaries.
He confirmed that a proposed new construction code on government projects to stamp out "sweetheart deals" in the building sector would be introduced next month through regulation, rather than legislation.
Justifying the proposed reinstatement of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, he said it had been "suggested to me" that organised crime elements, including bikie gangs, had infiltrated the construction sector. "It might all be quite innocent but what I am hearing from the sector is that it is anything but innocent," he said.
Prior to the election, Senator Abetz downplayed the prospect of setting up the appeals body in the Fair Work Commission, with the proposal comprising just one sentence in the Coalition's workplace policy.
"The idea has been put to us fairly strongly that it would be good to have (a body) like NSW has a Court of Appeal in the Supreme Court, and to basically have a similar body in relation to matters Fair Work, so you could get a robust consistency of decision-making within the Fair Work jurisdiction," Senator Abetz said yesterday. "If there has been one concern, it's been the inconsistency of decisions."
He denied the government was attempting to interfere in the operation of a tribunal by constructing a new appeals body.
"No one has asserted that the Court of Appeal in NSW is an interference in the operation of the NSW Supreme Court," Senator Abetz said.
"We believe it's an idea worth considering and that's as strongly as I have put it."
Senator Abetz said the government had been in discussions with the commission about introducing new rules designed to ensure the tribunal was "not clogged up" by the introduction of new ant-bullying laws.
"We said there should be a filter for the bullying claims and to the credit of the Fair Work Commission, they are putting in rules and systems that may well provide that filter," he said. "Now we are prepared to legislate (but) if the Fair Work Commission can achieve the same outcome by rules and procedures, I will just say well done to them and obviate the need for legislation."
Senator Abetz said the government would seek to implement further key elements of its workplace policy, including changes to the union right-of-entry laws and rules for greenfield projects, in the autumn session.
He said draft terms of reference for a Productivity Commission inquiry into the Fair Work Act are being finalised and will be released by March.
Senator Abetz confirmed that strengthened national construction a code to police conditions that apply to workers would be introduced through regulation rather than legislation in the first parliamentary sitting.
"We say to employers and businesses, if you want to contract with the commonwealth, and we are pretty big in the construction area, you will have to abide by certain conditions - that is no sweetheart deals with trade unions," he said.
"That will strengthen their hand because (they will say) we can't do this, it will breach the code and we will lose business."
Burnout is no cause for alarm
LAST week in this newspaper I pointed out that global warming is actually a net benefit for the world and for Australia, at least until 2050. This is because the benefits of agricultural CO2 fertilisation are much bigger than the costs of increased water stress, and because fewer cold deaths outweigh extra heat deaths.
This is documented in the latest and most comprehensive, peer-reviewed article, collecting all published estimates showing an overwhelming likelihood that global warming below 2C is beneficial.
This does not imply that global warming is not a long-run problem. Moreover, cost-effective solutions are still warranted for the adverse effects by the year 2100 and beyond.
But it shows we need less scaremongering in the climate debate.
To many, the information was genuinely new in a debate entirely focused on one-sided negatives. To others, the information was genuinely outrageous. Environment Victoria's campaign director suggested I was "shameless" for making my case while "NSW is burning". But while the bushfires are definitely detrimental, they simply do not cancel out everything else. Yet in the past weeks they have been used as the latest cudgel to showcase the dangers of global warming and argue for strong carbon cuts.
UN climate change chief Christiana Figueres told CNN that global warming and bushfires were "absolutely" connected, and former US vice-president Al Gore made it even clearer on the ABC: "When the temperature goes up and when the vegetation and soils dry out, then wildfires become more pervasive and more dangerous. That's not me saying it, that's what the scientific community says."
The problem is, that is simply not what the science says. The latest peer-reviewed study on global fire, run with a record 16 climate models, tells us that sometimes heat and dryness lead to more fire, but sometimes lead to less fire. This is because with less precipitation the biomass burns more easily, but with less precipitation there is also less growth and hence less biomass to burn.
For Mediterranean-type ecosystems, such as southwest and south Australia, it turns out that more than half the time, future drying means less fire. Gore's generalisation is simply wrong.
For now, the models give strongly contradictory results about climate impacts on future fire across the world, some finding more fire in the tropics and less in boreal areas, others the exact opposite. Even within a single fire model, the large discrepancies in precipitation from different climate models means we are unsure if there will be more or less fire on more than half the planet's surface. This is also why there is no established scientific link (a so-called climate attribution) between current fire frequency and climate change.
Even Figueres accepts that. "The World Meteorological Organisation has not established the direct link between this wildfire and climate change," she said, though she optimistically added a prophesying "yet" to her sentence. Instead she emphasised that we would see increasing heat waves (correct), and somehow looked satisfied, as if that were sufficient to link it to Australia's bushfires. However, it is likely that, in the long run, global warming will lead to more fire. Sixty per cent of the planet's surface will see a higher probability of fire by the end of the century, though more than one-fifth will see lower fire probability, including Mexico, most of South America, almost all of Africa below the Sahara, Southeast Asia, India and about half of Australia.
Moreover, global fire activity is estimated to have declined 10 per cent from its maximum around 1950. For the past 60 years we have seen less global fire activity, despite rising temperatures.
Even with global warming, the fire activity decline will likely continue until about 2025 and only then start going up.
It will still not reach current levels again before the second half of this century, and only later, possibly into the 22nd century, go above 1950s levels.
But Figueres argues that the Australian fires support the argument for substantial CO2 cuts. Somewhat undermining her argument with a "maybe", she insists that the pictures of bushfires are "an example of what we may be looking at unless we take actual vigorous action". Yet dramatic CO2 cuts would likely be one of the least effective ways to help fire. If we could get the entire rich world to cut emissions to the extent the EU has already promised for 2020, the cost would be at least $500 billion annually. Yet, towards the end of the century we would have spent more than $30 trillion, and reduced temperatures by only an immeasurable 0.1C. It would have virtually no impact on fire, even in 100 years.
Phil Cheney, a former head of CSIRO Bushfire Research, points out the main problem is the increasing fuel loads that dramatically increase fire danger. The obvious solution is "to increase the amount of prescribed burning and fuel management".
Such simple, smart and cost-effective solutions to bushfires don't negate the need to tackle global warming. But they underline how alarmist rhetoric often leads to bad policies. Bushfires are very poor arguments for climate policies, and strong, immediate carbon cuts are costly ways to achieve tiny temperature reductions.
Smart climate policies need to focus on the most cost-effective solutions because green policies will be sustainable only if they are economical. We need to focus on R&D to create innovations that will bring down the price of green energy so it can eventually outcompete fossil fuels.
It is not shameless to correctly point out that global warming will likely be a net benefit till after 2050. Hopefully that fact can cool the climate conversation, so we can choose the better solutions.
NSW bill is about marriage, just not equality
By Waleed Aly. Aly is a very bright boy so that helps explain why he often makes sense, despite being Left-leaning. He is pretty right below
Amid all the pyrotechnics surrounding same-sex marriage this week, it's important to remember that this is overwhelmingly a symbolic debate. That doesn't mean it's unimportant. Symbolism matters to us in a visceral way, sometimes even more than substance. That is why flag-burning is such a provocative act. But it's important to know when something is symbolic so we can assess what has or hasn't been achieved.
It's true there are real, substantive issues of discrimination at play. Same-sex couples don't have the same rights and entitlements as married heterosexual ones do on a range of things: workers' compensation death benefits, pensions for the partners of Defence Force veterans, access to carer's leave for example. It's true same-sex marriage would quickly remedy this. But it's also true that you could remove that discrimination by amending the way those entitlements work without even thinking about same-sex marriage. And if you did that, marriage equality activists would still want to change the definition of marriage, and their opponents would still resist them. In fact, their opponents would probably be happy to give same-sex couples all those rights if they'd just leave marriage alone.
That's why the ACT government found itself in court this week, defending its marriage equality legislation from the federal government's legal attack, why a same-sex marriage bill was debated in NSW Parliament on Thursday (though Premier Barry O'Farrell has indicated he will not support a state same-sex marriage bill, only a federal one), and why the Tasmanian upper house ultimately decided not to proceed with similar legislation of its own. None of these laws, which could operate only at state and territory levels, remedy same-sex discrimination in a stroke. They are political acts designed to make symbolic, political statements.
This is clearest in the case of the ACT legislation which, one way or another, is doomed to failure. Even if it wins in the High Court, the federal government can - and almost certainly will - override the legislation because it has the power to do that to a territory. The ACT will have opened the way for states, but territorians must surely know that every marriage they contract under this legislation will one day be annulled. The ACT government surely knows this, too. It isn't looking for a substantive result; it's trying to apply pressure to the federal government.
But something strange has arisen this week in the attempt to do that. So strong is the sense that marriage equality's moment is approaching, and so frenzied is the race to get there, that marriage equality advocates have begun, in a remarkable way, to argue against their own position.
The ACT's present fight with the federal government comes down to whether or not the Federal Marriage Act is intended to be a comprehensive statement on the definition of marriage, which precludes the states having anything to say on the matter. If so, the laws are inconsistent and the federal law prevails. This is for the High Court to decide, and while the ACT certainly has a chance of winning, there's no doubt it's vulnerable. At least, that is the view of Bret Walker, SC, one of the country's best constitutional lawyers, who has been advising Australian Marriage Equality. But, he says, the NSW bill and its (now defunct) Tasmanian counterpart are on stronger ground.
The key difference is that those bills don't attempt to redefine marriage. In fact, they avoid legislating on marriage at all. Instead they create a new species of legal relationship that happens to be called "same-sex marriage". Since this is not the same thing as "marriage" in the meaning of federal law, it can't be treading on federal toes.
It's a neat legal technique. It's a strong legal argument. The only problem for marriage equality activists is that it completely undermines the cause. This is not simply a small matter of language. It's about changing the whole concept of the legislation.
The very purpose of marriage equality is to extend the definition of marriage so it is blind to gender. That's what the ACT bill is attempting to do. And that's exactly what you don't do by sidestepping this process and creating an entirely new social construct that just happens to have "marriage" in its name. A "same-sex marriage" is just a civil union by a more political name.
Really, you can call it what you like - a "consolation marriage" might be most honest - you've done nothing to change the legal definition of marriage. A legally rigorous man still couldn't turn to his boyfriend and ask: "Will you marry me?" It would have to be: "Will you same-sex marry me?" In that way, the NSW bill might offer same-sex marriage, but it's not offering marriage equality. It's a bit like republicans finally replacing the monarch with a system of hereditary, foreign-born presidents.
As symbolic achievements go, that would be relatively anaemic. But now you have marriage equality activists, who are typically uninspired by the prospect of civil unions, pleading with the ACT government to enact precisely that, and reacting angrily when it refuses to do so.
Take independent NSW MP Alex Greenwich's warning that "it is not going to be Tony Abbott, it is not going to be the High Court that will be blamed for the invalidation of these marriages, it will be the ACT government that will be blamed". Perhaps. But the ACT's response would surely be that at least they had marriages to annul.
Meanwhile, opponents of marriage equality, who frequently offer civil unions as some kind of compromise, seem not to have seen the opportunity. They're delighting in their victory in Tasmania, but the onward march of same-sex marriage - which transcends traditional partisan or conservative/progressive lines - suggests that victory can only be pyrrhic.
Perhaps their best strategy would be to limit same-sex marriage to consolation, state-level status, especially if their opponents seem happy with that. One look at the NSW and Tasmanian bills and they should be should be leaping on them, screaming: "Deal! Are we done now?"
Abbott must stop those foreigners breeding
Labor’s deputy leader can’t stop pushing the anti-Catholic and anti-Abbott smears:
Labor is warning Tony Abbott not to let his social conservatism dictate foreign aid by stripping funding from services that provide abortions and birth control in poor countries.
In her first major speech as opposition spokeswoman on foreign affairs and international development, Tanya Plibersek will raise the spectre of Mr Abbott’s conservatism as part of an attack on plans to cut $4.5 billion in aid over four years.
"I will fight any effort by Tony Abbott to strip aid from family planning services in developing countries," she says...
3 November, 2013
Asylum seekers in Darwin sent to offshore detention after talking to media
Asylum seekers being held at one of Darwin's four immigration detention centres are now wary of talking to the media after two people who spoke to the ABC last week were sent to offshore detention.
More than 10 asylum seekers spoke on camera through the fence at the Darwin Airport Lodge last week, with some complaining of poor conditions and others saying they would prefer to stay in detention rather than face persecution or death in their country of origin.
They also complained that only two toilets were available for 500 people in one section of the Christmas Island detention facility.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison last week said those complaints were "unsubstantiated".
Messages sent by asylum seekers from inside the Darwin Airport Lodge to Darwin Asylum Seeker Support and Advocacy Network (DASSAN) members this week reveal that two women, who spoke to the ABC on October 24, have been sent to Christmas Island.
"A guy from Immigration started talking about media. He said if you tell your story to the media, like why you came to Australia, it may effect your [application] process," one asylum seeker said.
Another said: "The people who were transferred to [Christmas Island] are those who spoke to the media last week."
Mr Morrison said claims that detainees were transferred offshore for speaking to the media are "completely false, and add to the growing list of unsubstantiated claims being promoted by advocacy groups through the media".
Mr Morrison would not say whether asylum seekers had been warned against talking to the media.
But he said "it has been long-standing policy of both Coalition and Labor governments that media are not given access to detainees".
Fernanda Dahlstrom from DASSAN said last night's vigil was very different to the previous visits. "We've been holding these vigils for over a year and every single week there's been a crowd of people on the other side of the fence," she said.
"This is the first week that we've seen virtually no-one come out to the fence to engage with the community. And we believe that's because they have been intimidated out of doing so by SERCO and immigration."
Last week, more than 20 asylum seekers came up to the detention centre fence to talk to the advocates. The ABC recorded interviews with more than eight of them.
At last night's vigil, only four asylum seekers came up to the fence, three adults and a small boy. An Iranian couple wanted to tell their story but not on camera, out of fear of retribution against their families in Iran.
The woman said she had already been recognised in Iran from a photograph of her with her head in her hands after the Australian Navy picked up her and her husband on July 19.
She said it "put our family into trouble and they're bothering and teasing our family and I think it's not good that our picture will be shown in our media".
Her husband said they had arrived in Australia just hours after the new laws came into effect under the previous Labor government, ruling out the possibility that people arriving by boat would be considered for permanent residency in Australia.
He said they did not know the law had changed. "It's really not fair because we were on a boat [for three days]. We both are educated and we are just escaping from our country to make a better life," he said.
The couple said they cannot go back to Iran and they do not know what they will do when they are sent to Nauru or Manus Island.
The man said he suffers from epilepsy exacerbated by stress in detention. "It started again on Christmas Island because of stress and those things. I can't walk correctly," he said.
The Iranian woman said Immigration officials did not tell detainees directly about the rules regarding talking to the media.
"I think it's obvious that last week everyone just rush here and talk with the media but today no-one came," she said.
Sections of the medical community question Catalyst program about cholesterol and heart disease
The Australian public broadcaster has done some good for once, blowing the whistle on the cholesterol/statin myths
The ABC's medical science program Catalyst is under fire from some sections of the medical community for a two-part special that questions the scientific evidence linking cholesterol to heart disease.
Recently, Catalyst described the claim that saturated fats and cholesterol causes heart attacks as one of the biggest myths of medical history.
The most recent claim put forward by the program is that the anti-cholesterol medication called Statins is a massively over-prescribed drug and has no guarantee of reducing heart attack
The program goes further to say that the drug can, instead, do serious harm to the health of people taking them.
"All drugs have side effects and when you look at the clinical trials, it suggests that the side effect profiles are quite low," Catalyst presenter Dr Maryanne Demasi told ABC's PM program.
"But when you look at side effects in the general population, they’re a lot higher. And when you speak to doctors who are in clinical practice, they say that sometimes 20, 25, up to 30 per cent of their patients experience these side effects."
She says that if patients are not getting a benefit in having a longer lifespan from these drugs then patients need to question whether or not they expose themselves to the risks of these drugs.
Professor Emily Banks, the chair of the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Medicines, says the program may prompt people not to take necessary medicines.
But Dr Demasi says she has a responsibility to inform the public that people may using the drugs unnecessarily.
"I share her concern that patients will stop taking their medication unnecessarily but we also have a responsibility to tell people that the majority of people on these drugs may be on these drugs unnecessarily," she said.
"We have a duty of care to those people as well."
The National Heart Foundation of Australia maintains there is a clear link between saturated fat, cholesterol and heart disease, contrary to the Catalyst report.
The Heart Foundation said it has serious concerns about the conclusions presented in the ABC Catalyst program and is "shocked by the disregard for the extensive evidence upon which the Heart Foundation's recommendations are made".
"Australians need to be aware that the information presented by the ABC is not supported by the Heart Foundation," a statement said.
"There is international scientific consensus that replacing saturated fat with ‘good’ unsaturated fat, in particular polyunsaturated fat, reduces your risk of heart disease."
The Australian Medical Association supported the broadcast of the program, but added that it was important to have "balance" and "debate".
The program includes a warning advising viewers it is not intended as medical advice.
Beefed-up workplace cop is back
In an effort to boost productivity in the building and construction sector and tackle lawlessness, the Coalition government has revealed the finer details of the soon-to-be-reintroduced Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).
Since 2009, the construction industry has been besieged by large influxes of strike activity. Illegal strikes and intimidation are becoming more commonplace, such as the infamous Grocon blockade in August 2012, where unionists blocked entry to Melbourne's Myer Emporium construction site for over two weeks in breach of two Supreme Court injunctions.
As part of the ABCC's reintroduction, maximum penalties for breaches of workplace laws will be roughly double - up to $110,000 for companies and $22,000 for individuals. The ABCC will also acquire tougher coercive powers, while the government will introduce a national building and construction code for government-funded projects.
The reintroduction of these powers to the commission addresses the shortcomings that led some in the industry to label Labor's regulator as a 'toothless tiger.'
One of the changes to the building industry regulator which the Labor government implemented was a prohibition on investigations where the parties had come to an agreement. This meant unions could, and often did, inflict large losses on companies, and would bully and intimidate workers with the knowledge that so long as an agreement was eventually reached with the employer, an investigation would be avoided.
Smaller companies simply found it too expensive and time consuming to enter into their own legal battles, and had little choice but to agree to the union's costly demands. In instances where a successful case was brought against militant unions or against rogue companies, the penalties dished out were too small to act as an effective deterrent.
The Coalition government will scrap the prohibition which means the commission will now be able to pursue penalties against unions even after an employer and the union have come to an agreement.
There are, however, concerns by unions and workers over the commission's power to compel testimony from witnesses. Individuals ought to maintain their rights against self-incrimination, but a regulator may need these powers to gather evidence for its investigations. Bodies such as the Australian Securities and Investments Commission and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission have, and use, these powers.
With tougher powers granted to the ABCC, it is now up to the commission to use them effectively and responsibly.
Anthony Mundine joins homophobic bandwagon, 'our ancestors would have their head'
Mundine identifies as an Australian Aborigine so he is perfectly correct about his ancestors
This time, the boxer, former rugby league star and Islam convert caused a social media storm after angering the homosexual community and the Indigenous production company responsible for the ABC series, Redfern Now.
During Thursday night's season two opener, Mundine posted a comment on Facebook revolving around the show's gay Indigenous character, who was fighting for custody of his daughter following his partner's death.
"Watching redfern now & they promoting homosexuality! (Like it's ok in our culture) that ain't in our culture & our ancestors would have there head for it! Like my dad told me GOD made ADAM & EVE not Adam & Steve," he wrote.
1 November, 2013
Campbell Newman to axe secret public service bonuses struck by unions
CLEANERS are being paid extra to deal with dirty linen and plumbers paid a premium to pump "live" sewage under an array of sweetheart public servant deals secretly struck by the former Labor government and unions.
The Newman Government has vowed to cut down on the number of lucrative allowances being paid to public servants for doing their jobs, with the cost to Queensland taxpayers amounting to tens of millions of dollars each year.
Additional payments in the Government's crosshairs include extra money for staff who work in the rain, perform duties in "unpleasant" conditions or when they are required to wear a uniform.
Others include time-and-a-half rates for working at home, top-up payments when rostered hours fall short of contractual conditions and retention entitlements for not quitting.
"I think people would raise their eyebrows around things like a live sewage allowance or a dirty linen entitlement, which people would probably think should be included as a core part of what staff do," Health Minister Lawrence Springborg said.
The system's complexity is forcing some health districts and hospitals to resort to handing out smaller allowances, including the $1.56-a-day foul linen allowance, to all staff rather than spend extra on administration figuring out who is eligible each fortnight.
Other more lucrative allowances, such as quadruple pay when supervising staff while on overtime and call-back payments to doctors, are allowing some staff's income from allowances to exceed their base pay significantly.
The allowances, which extend to 4500 award variations and 22,000 pay combinations, are costing millions of dollars each year just to administer.
Hundreds of staff are employed to input data into Queensland Health's beleaguered payroll system manually.
The Courier-Mail can reveal the list of allowances, entitlements and seemingly endless other stipends available to staff in Queensland Health alone now exceeds 90 pages after they were quietly slipped into wage agreements for years.
"We have to simplify the various awards and entitlements and that doesn't necessarily mean people will be worse off," Mr Springborg said. "It just means that it will be easier for them to understand and simpler for us to administer."
However, unions have threatened widespread industrial action in response as they attempt to prevent a clawback of workers' conditions. The public servant union Together has insisted workers should not pay the price for the previous government's payroll debacle.
"These are matters that have been built up over 20 or 30 years, many for workers who have been very disadvantaged," Together state secretary Alex Scott said.
"The Government are going to use the debacle of the health payroll to strip away people's entitlements."
Australia's role is as a disruptive economy, Rupert Murdoch tells Lowy Institute
RUPERT Murdoch says Australia must become "the world's disruptive economy" if it wants to prosper as a global leader this century.
And with the pace of innovation increasing dramatically, the News Corp executive chairman says he believes Australia is well positioned to excel.
Mr Murdoch, whose company publishes The Australian, made the remarks in a speech to the Lowy Institute at Sydney Town Hall.
Besides the importance of strong democratic institutions and a diverse immigration program, he urged the nation to focus its energy on the revolutionary disruption wrought worldwide by new technology.
Citing Austrian American economist Joseph Schumpeter, who regarded "creative destruction" as essential to capitalism, Mr Murdoch said the modern word to capture this sense of creative chaos was "disruption".
"I guess some would say that I have been a disruptive influence at times," he said. "I will take that as a compliment, even if it wasn't intended that way.
"I have always been a firm believer in providing the public with choice and access to quality content - it was the driving force behind the launch of Sky, Fox News and, particularly, The Australian.
"But when I think of the newspaper industry today, and the transition that has taken place from Gutenberg to Google, I know the status quo is being disrupted yet again. This is the hard reality of ... a global economy."
Perhaps the most revolutionary disruption in the past decade, Mr Murdoch said, had been the stunning growth in mobile communications, which he welcomed as a "shot of adrenalin" for a company such as News Corp.
"Now, each and every one of us can have our news and information when and where we want it. For me, it's right here in my pocket, on my iPhone, where I can get my Australian, my Wall Street Journal, The Times of London and my personalised stock quotes, any time I want."
He said the media industry had made a huge leap after once relying on trucks and newsagents to deliver the news to readers.
"The same opportunity for global growth is there for Australia, if we can make ourselves more nimble," Mr Murdoch said.
"While the lack of a huge domestic market presents challenges, it also means we have fewer huge industries demanding the government protections common in large industrial nations and fatal for any society that hopes to advance in a disruptive world. And, it means we are always forced to think outside the box."
Giving a personal example of how innovation had improved his life, Mr Murdoch revealed he now wore a special bracelet that he jokingly referred to as a "Jawbone" - in keeping with his reputation as a man who occasionally liked to jawbone.
"This is a bracelet that keeps track of how I sleep, move and eat, transmitting that information to the cloud. It allows me to track and maintain my health much better.
"It allows my family and I to know more about one another's health too, which means it encourages more personal and social responsibility instead of just running to the doctor when we don't feel well."
The News chief predicted everyone would soon have similar watches and apps to keep track of heart rate, blood sugar and brain signals.
When this information was coupled with what was available on the internet, there would be the opportunity to diagnose and suggest treatments instantly.
"That will help us all live longer lives, definitely. But it will also change the health industry and the health dynamic. Not to mention opening many new areas for research and profit."
Mr Murdoch paid special tribute to the Lowy global policy group's founder, Frank Lowy, as the perfect example of what Australia needed - a Jewish Slovakian immigrant who created the global Westfield shopping empire after arriving with nothing but a suitcase.
Australia, he said, was on the cusp of becoming something rare and valuable in the new world: an egalitarian meritocracy, with more than a touch of libertarianism. To become more competitive, the nation needed to promote its democratic institutions and values, accept a diverse immigration population as a precious resource of talent, and thrive on "disruption" through trade, technology and free markets.
Mr Murdoch stressed that Australia's future as a competitive, egalitarian meritocracy could not be achieved if only some of its people had the opportunity for a good education.
"In a world as competitive as ours, the child who does not get a decent education is condemned to the fringes of society," he said.
"I think all Australians agree that this is intolerable. So we must demand as much of our schools as we do of our sports teams - and ensure that they keep the Australian dream alive for every child."
In an apparent swipe at the tactics of some such as former treasurer Wayne Swan, Mr Murdoch warned against the "faux class war that has been stirred by contemporary politicians grasping for an election theme".
With Australia having double the US's 12 per cent foreign-born population, the nation was on its way to becoming what might be the world's most diverse population, he said.
But Mr Murdoch also qualified his support for immigration, saying Australia should embrace openness to all comers provided they were "willing to abide by our way of life".
Watching Mr Murdoch's speech at the formal-attire Lowy Institute event was an audience that filled the town hall, including a who's who from the world of business, politics and the media.
Sperm donors in chronic short supply
Raise the subject of sperm donation and one is likely to face laughing and double entendres. But for people with fertility issues which prevent them from having a family without medical intervention, sperm donation is hardly a laughing matter.
in Adelaide, Flinders Fertility's clinical director Dr Michael McEvoy says the difficulties the childless confront are being compounded by a lack of donors.
"We have about six sperm donors at this point in time," he said. "When I started out in the field, about 20 or 30 years ago, we would have had 20 or 30 donors on a good year."
Not only Flinders Fertility is facing the problem. At Repromed, Dr Christine Kirby said sperm donation decline was a national issue. "I think the wider the choice you can have for an individual couple the better. It has been something that has changed steadily over a period of time," she said.
"Thirty years ago the whole recruitment of donors was different. There was confidentiality, donors believed that children would never have access to them. Medical students, university students frequently were donors."
Dr McEvoy believes that change on confidentiality has been major factor in the decline. Once they are an adult a donor-conceived child must, under Australian law, be able to discover the identity of their donor.
Counsellor Julie Potts thinks that requirement is feeding a long-held misconception that donors could be held financially responsible for the offspring years later.
But whatever the reasons for the decline in sperm donation, Ms Potts says it is not sustainable and something must change.
"Sometimes people cross the border to seek out a donor who is perhaps more suited to their family because we don't have a donor closely matched to them," she said.
Matching grows more complex
The matching of donors with future families is growing more complex as Australia becomes more culturally and ethnically diverse - put simply, people want kids who are like them.
Donors are assigned to 10 recipients and then no longer used.
Because of the shortage, Dr McEvoy has been overseas to source sperm from the European Sperm Bank's American offshoot in Seattle.
"They have a large number of donors, over 100 donors," he said. "They are able to provide our patients with much more choice in relation to physical characteristics and racial characteristics."
Those donors and sperm have to pass the same rigorous health and counselling checks required under Australian law. As well, the identity of the overseas donors must be available later to any offspring conceived using their genetic material.
The first batch of US sperm arrived at Flinders Fertility a few weeks ago, after six months in quarantine, and is expected to be used soon.
The task of introducing sperm and egg will fall to scientist Herman Fernandes, who still recalls the first time he performed the procedure.
"It's going back 20 years now, I do remember the first egg I brought in my hand and added sperm to it and the next day you see the two nuclei which tells you it is fertilised. It was the glorious, most happy day of my life," he said.
No doubt that joy also was shared by the recipient.
Barnaby Joyce correct on bird flu risk in free-range chicken farms
Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce has sounded a warning about free-range egg production leading to an increase in bird flu. Senator Joyce says a decision by supermarket giant Woolworths to phase out eggs from caged production poses a major threat to the industry.
His comments came after 400,000 chickens were destroyed at an egg farm in Young, central-west NSW, after becoming infected with the H7 strain of avian influenza. Ten days later the Department of Primary Industries announced a nearby farm had also become infected. It is believed the infection spread from free-range chickens on the first farm.
"I think a big point to remember from this, and this is one of the discussions I'll be having with some of the supermarkets, is this virus got into the caged-bird population from the free-range bird population," Senator Joyce told ABC radio last month.
"What we see is that you've got the avian flu in ducks, and when the ducks have contact with the birds outside in the free-range form, it brings the disease into the shed. And if we want to move to just free-range birds, this is going to be a problem that's going to reoccur and reoccur and reoccur."
ABC Fact Check asked Senator Joyce for the basis for his claim - that greater free-range egg production will lead to an increase in bird flu incidents. A spokeswoman said the Department of Agriculture would answer on his behalf, as it provides advice to the minister. The department said free-range birds will have exposure to wild birds and contaminated feed and water, which could lead to avian flu infections.
Fact Check examines whether Senator Joyce's fears are well-founded.
How avian influenza is spread
Avian influenza is a viral disease among birds which usually poses little risk to humans. The H7 strain, which is found in Australia, is not harmful to humans, while the H5N1 strain has caused several hundred deaths overseas. The disease can infect domestic poultry, wild birds and even pigs, tigers, leopards and domestic cats. Symptoms range from the mild to quickly fatal.
Wild birds, particularly ducks, are the primary carriers of avian influenza. They can spread the virus to chickens through direct contact or by contaminating their feed or water supplies with faeces or feathers.
Free-range chickens at greater risk
The two main types of poultry farms are caged and free-range. About 30 per cent of Australian chickens raised for egg production are free-range or barn laid.
Facilities vary, but most free-range farms let chickens roam paddocks throughout the day. During this time they are exposed to all the elements, in particular puddles and dams, which can contain avian influenza. Roaming free, the chickens are also more likely to come into direct contact with wild birds carrying the disease. The NSW Department of Primary Industries says because free-range chickens require access to the outdoors, bird-proofing their sheds is "practically impossible".
Dr Peter Scott, a poultry veterinarian and senior research fellow at the University of Melbourne, says not only are free-range farms at higher risk, there is also concern free-range chickens will infect caged chickens with avian influenza.
"I've spoken to poultry farmers who once saw the idea of a free-range farm as a lucrative side endeavour and are now shying away from the prospect because they're worried the free-range hens will infect the caged birds," Dr Scott said.
"And there's no way to commercially vaccinate against this when it happens. It's like vaccinating against all the strands of the common cold - too tricky and too expensive."
Dr Andrew Peters, an avian veterinarian and lecturer in veterinary pathology at Charles Sturt University, agrees. "Because of the nature of how the disease spreads, if free-range hens are more commonly in contact with water pools and dams that contain the influenza, it is safe to say they are in greater danger of being infected than caged hens".
The CSIRO's Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong, the national reference laboratory for avian influenza, said in a media release that "poultry, feed and water, if exposed to AI-infected wild birds, may be infected or contaminated". However it also noted that influenza carried by wild birds causes very few diseases in healthy domestic birds. It said the risk of infection could be "mitigated" if farmers put appropriate measures in place.
It is almost impossible to stop free-range chickens coming into contact with avian influenza when they leave the shed. Caged chickens are not exposed in such a way. If farmers do not tighten up the measures they put in place to stop free-range birds coming into contact with the disease, then it is likely avian influenza will continue to infect free-range populations.
Senator Joyce's claim that this is going to "reoccur and reoccur and reoccur" if the industry shifts to free-range is correct.
Postings from Brisbane, Australia by John Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.) -- former member of the Australia-Soviet Friendship Society, former anarcho-capitalist and former member of the British Conservative party.
Most academics are lockstep Leftists so readers do sometimes doubt that I have the qualifications mentioned above. Photocopies of my academic and military certificates are however all viewable here
For overseas readers: The "ALP" is the Australian Labor Party -- Australia's major Leftist party. The "Liberal" party is Australia's major conservative political party.
Again for overseas readers: Like the USA, Germany and India, Australia has State governments as well as the Federal government. So it may be useful to know the usual abbreviations for the Australian States: QLD (Queensland), NSW (New South Wales), WA (Western Australia), VIC (Victoria), TAS (Tasmania), SA (South Australia).
For American readers: A "pensioner" is a retired person living on Social Security
Two of my ancestors were convicts so my family has been in Australia for a long time. As well as that, all four of my grandparents were born in the State where I was born and still live: Queensland. And I am even a member of the world's second-most condemned minority: WASPs (the most condemned is of course the Jews -- which may be why I tend to like Jews). So I think I am as Australian as you can get. I certainly feel that way. I like all things that are iconically Australian: meat pies, Vegemite, Henry Lawson etc. I particularly pride myself on my familiarity with the great Australian slanguage. I draw the line at Iced Vo-Vos and betting on the neddies, however. So if I cannot comment insightfully on Australian affairs, who could?
On all my blogs, I express my view of what is important primarily by the readings that I select for posting. I do however on occasions add personal comments in italicized form at the beginning of an article.
I am rather pleased to report that I am a lifelong conservative. Out of intellectual curiosity, I did in my youth join organizations from right across the political spectrum so I am certainly not closed-minded and am very familiar with the full spectrum of political thinking. Nonetheless, I did not have to undergo the lurch from Left to Right that so many people undergo. At age 13 I used my pocket-money to subscribe to the "Reader's Digest" -- the main conservative organ available in small town Australia of the 1950s. I have learnt much since but am pleased and amused to note that history has since confirmed most of what I thought at that early age.
I imagine that the the RD is still sending mailouts to my 1950s address!
I am an army man. Although my service in the Australian army was chiefly noted for its un-notability, I DID join voluntarily in the Vietnam era, I DID reach the rank of Sergeant, and I DID volunteer for a posting in Vietnam. So I think I may be forgiven for saying something that most army men think but which most don't say because they think it is too obvious: The profession of arms is the noblest profession of all because it is the only profession where you offer to lay down your life in performing your duties. Our men fought so that people could say and think what they like but I myself always treat military men with great respect -- respect which in my view is simply their due.
The kneejerk response of the Green/Left to people who challenge them is to say that the challenger is in the pay of "Big Oil", "Big Business", "Big Pharma", "Exxon-Mobil", "The Pioneer Fund" or some other entity that they see, in their childish way, as a boogeyman. So I think it might be useful for me to point out that I have NEVER received one cent from anybody by way of support for what I write. As a retired person, I live entirely on my own investments. I do not work for anybody and I am not beholden to anybody. And I have NO investments in oil companies, mining companies or "Big Pharma"
UPDATE: Despite my (statistical) aversion to mining stocks, I have recently bought a few shares in BHP -- the world's biggest miner, I gather. I run the grave risk of becoming a speaker of famous last words for saying this but I suspect that BHP is now so big as to be largely immune from the risks that plague most mining companies. I also know of no issue affecting BHP where my writings would have any relevance. The Left seem to have a visceral hatred of miners. I have never quite figured out why.
Although I have been an atheist for all my adult life, I have no hesitation in saying that the single book which has influenced me most is the New Testament. And my Scripture blog will show that I know whereof I speak.
A delightful story about a great Australian conservative