Friday, March 07, 2014
Stupid abusive boong
"Boong" is an old Australian Aboriginal word for an Aborigine but tends to be derogatory when used by whites. I use it deliberately to express my contempt for the unwarranted abuse of my ancestors by a stupid and offensive black racist -- JR
Footballer Adam Goodes on the right above
The Swans captain this week denounced "our very dark past, a brutal history of dispossession, theft and slaughter". "Europeans, and the governments that have run our country, have raped, killed and stolen," he wrote in Fairfax newspapers.
Goodes attacked Australians who resisted this lurid characterisation of our past: "The people who benefited most from those rapes, those killings and that theft ... turn away in disgust when someone seeks to expose it."
A word to Goodes, who identifies as a "proud Adnyamathanha man" — an Aboriginal from a Flinders Ranges tribe:
Adam, my grandparents committed no thefts, rapes or murders. My ancestors were all in Europe when, you claim, our governments were raping and slaughtering Aborigines.
Adam, you yourself have European ancestors. I trust you can vouch they, too, committed no rapes and slaughters. So why are you on one side of your racial division and I on the guilty other?
And when you attack "the people who benefited most from those rapes, those killings and that theft", do you include yourself?
After all, you’ve benefited more than most from the society built, you claim, by "the people in whose name the oppression was done".
Before British settlement, Aboriginal deaths in tribal warfare rivalled European losses, per capita, in World War I, says historian Geoffrey Blainey in Triumph of the Nomads.
Life for many Aborigines then was brutishly harsh and often included appalling rates of violence against women, as established by paleopathology expert Stephen Webb from the evidence of fractured skulls.
But Goodes now is rich and famous, despite the racism he suffered when young. He has freedom, the best healthcare and a life of luxury unimaginable to his distant ancestors.
"Adam, my grandparents committed no thefts, rapes or murders. My ancestors were all in Europe when, you claim, our governments were raping and slaughtering Aborigines."
So why didn’t he praise the good as well as acknowledge the bad of our past — a bad that he seems to have grossly exaggerated? Why didn’t Goodes say that to divide us by "race" is a nonsense now, with our tangled genealogies?
But I am not surprised by the divisive rhetoric. After all, a 13-year-old girl was subjected to national humiliation after she shouted "ape" at the bearded footballer from the sidelines of a tense game.
She was removed from the stands and made to wait two hours after she’d been interviewed by police while it was decided what to do with her. She was then called the "face" of racism. The girl was named and film of her shown around the country, although she insisted she had not meant "ape" as a racial slur and was sorry.
There was only one way Goodes, a powerful adult, could be seen as the victim in this contest with a schoolgirl.
It reduced these two individuals to the crudest of racial stereotypes — black victim and white oppressor. It was to twist the facts to suit the fiction of a country rived by racism.
For instance, he said his mother, raised by an English family, was "a member of the stolen generations". But whether the stolen generations exist is a highly contested issue.
She came from South Australia, which the state’s Supreme Court found in 2007 never had a policy of removing children just because they were Aboriginal.
Brian Bennett worked for the Aborigines Department when Goodes’s mother was a girl, and told the court: "I don’t believe that I, at any time during my career as a welfare officer, had the power to remove an Aboriginal child from its parents."
The judge also cited a letter written in 1958 by the Secretary of the Aborigines Protection Board: "Our legislation does not provide that neglected children can be removed from their parents, except by transfer to the Children’s Welfare and Public Relief Board who in any case, will not accept them."
In South Australia, Aboriginal children could only be adopted "with the authority of the parents" but too few got that chance — as Goodes’s mother apparently did.
"Unfortunately, there is a considerable amount of undernourishment, malnutrition and neglect," the secretary mourned.
Our history is not as simple as Goodes claims. Nor is our guilt.
Australia’s top universities still well up in Times Higher Education rankings
3 out of 4 of the universities I have been associated with are in the top 100 worldwide so I think I can live with that
World reputation rankings released this morning by Times Higher Education show Australia’s top five — University of Melbourne, Australian National University, University of Sydney, University of Queensland and University of New South Wales — all dropped down the rankings table in 2014.
The University of Queensland fell from position 71-80 in 2013 to 81-90 in 2014, while the country’s top higher education institution — the University of Melbourne — fell from place 39 to 43. This leaves no Australian institution in the top 40 universities worldwide.
Monash University in Victoria dropped out of the top 100 list entirely between 2013 and 2014.
Times Higher Education world reputation rankings editor Phil Baty said the public debate about higher education cuts in 2013 could have played a part in the fall.
The former Government announced last year that it would use $2.3 billion in savings from the higher education sector to fund the Gonski school reforms. The current Government has indicated it will retain this savings measure.
"It is perhaps significant that major funding cuts were announced by the previous Australian Government in the middle of the survey,’’ Mr Baty said.
"This could have had a negative impact on how academics around the world perceive the Australian higher education sector.’’
The world reputation rankings are based on a survey of more than 10,000 academics in 133 countries, who are asked to nominate the best 15 institutions in their field of expertise.
University of Queensland Vice-Chancellor Professor Peter Hoj was dismissive of the results, saying the rankings were "subjective’’ and involved a diminishing number of academics.
"It is not easy to reconcile the result with the facts that UQ is one of 32 universities in the edX consortium and that our researchers publish and are cited more than ever,’’ he said.
REPUTATION OF AUSTRALIAN UNIVERSITIES
UNIVERSITY; 2013 RANKING; 2014 RANKING
* UNIVERSITY OF MELBOURNE; 39; 43 (drop)
* AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL UNIVERSITY; 42; 61-70 (drop)
* UNIVERSITY OF SYDNEY; 49; 61-70 (drop)
* UNIVERSITY OF QUEENSLAND; 71-80; 81-90 (drop)
* UNIVERSITY OF NSW; 81-90; 91-100 (drop)
Sharks do what Greenies would like to do: Reduce the human population. Greenies are would-be super sharks so no wonder they like sharks
SEA Shepherd has failed to secure a court injunction to force the suspension of the West Australian government's shark culling program, with its lawyer saying the "heart" has been ripped from the case.
The marine activists launched the fast-tracked legal challenge on Wednesday last week, seeking to have dozens of baited drumlines off Perth and the South West region removed.
Their argument questioned the validity of an exemption under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, granted by federal environment minister Greg Hunt, which allowed the state government to kill any protected great white, tiger or bull shark bigger than three metres caught in certain zones.
The exemption runs until the end of the trial program on April 30, but Sea Shepherd wanted it stopped immediately.
Their lawyers argued the exemption was not valid as it was not published in an official government gazette.
But on Wednesday, Judge James Edelman disagreed and decided against granting the injunction.
Patrick Pearlman, principal solicitor for WA's Environmental Defender's Office, who led the action for Sea Shepherd, said hopes of a judicial review had been extinguished.
"In ruling on the preliminary question of whether the exemption is valid, he has in essence taken the heart out of the case," Mr Pearlman told reporters. "We're obviously disappointed. We thought we had a very good argument. It's a very legal, technical argument."
Mr Pearlman maintained the exemption should have been gazetted so parliamentarians had the chance to examine, debate and vote upon it. "Then, I think, every member of parliament would be able to be on the record and say whether they think this program is a good idea."
He said an appeal would be considered.
There was still a chance the state government could be forced to remove the drumlines before the trial ended, Mr Pearlman said, with the WA Environmental Protection Authority still considering whether to assess the program.
With the WA government's lawyers now seeking to slug Sea Shepherd with court costs, the activist group faces a bill of up to $19,000. But it was worth it, Mr Hansen said. "We had to have a shot at this," he said. "We will continue no matter what because we have right on our side."
Government transport provider launches Facebook page and probably regrets it already
SOUTHEAST Queensland public transport agency TransLink has launched its own Facebook page this week — with disastrous results.
Commuters wasted no time jumping on the page to bag public transport in southeast Queensland, unleashing venomous rants against fares and the reliability and standard of service.
The flood of negative comments even had some Facebook users questioning if the page was a joke.
"This page will be gone after a week or so due to the torrents of abuse it’s about to receive from every unimpressed user of Queensland public transport — that is all users," wrote Ivan Anderson.
Another user "thanked" TransLink for helping her to get fit. "Your inadequate services and infuriating customer service have forced me to buy a pushbike and never again pay a bloody cent to you," said Mel Sinclar. "I find it deplorable that I have to pay $4.60 to ride three zones."
Others questioned the point of a page that posts service disruptions and delays after the event, alongside glossy marketing photographs and trivia questions about Translink’s history.
In response to a post about what month the Go Card was launched, Charlie McCook wrote "excuse me TransLink but we don’t need trivia games from you". "We get enough of it with the "I wonder if my necessary transport to work/uni/school/important appointment will show up today?" game. Thanks though."
However a statement on the Transport and Main Roads site, noted the Facebook page had "already racked up 600 likes".
"TransLink uses social media to share information and to communicate with you when you’re on the go," said the statement.
"We post tweets and updates about service disruptions, travel information for special events, ticketing, fare and go card information, competitions and offers."
As of 10am Thursday the page had scored more than 800 likes.
Thursday, March 06, 2014
The tweet that cost $105,000
In the first Twitter defamation battle in Australia to proceed to a full trial, District Court judge Michael Elkaim ruled that former Orange High School student Andrew Farley should pay compensatory and aggravated damages for making false allegations about music teacher Christine Mickle.
Judge Elkaim said the comments had had a "devastating effect" on the popular teacher, who immediately took sick leave and only returned to work on a limited basis late last year.
"When defamatory publications are made on social media it is common knowledge that they spread," Judge Elkaim said in an unreported judgment in November.
"They are spread easily by the simple manipulation of mobile phones and computers. Their evil lies in the grapevine effect that stems from the use of this type of communication."
Mr Farley, who was 20 at the time of the judgment, is the son of the school's former head of music and arts, who was described as a "gentle man who had a number of health issues". Young Mr Farley graduated from high school in 2011 and had never been taught by Ms Mickle.
In November 2012, he posted a series of defamatory comments on Twitter and Facebook about Ms Mickle, who took over his father's job on an acting basis after the senior teacher left in 2008 for health reasons.
"For some reason it seems that the defendant bears a grudge against the plaintiff, apparently based on a belief that she had something to do with his father leaving the school," Judge Elkaim said.
"There is absolutely no evidence to substantiate that belief."
Judge Elkaim said his impression of Ms Mickle in the witness box was "of a very honest woman who had been terribly hurt both by the comments in general but perhaps more particularly by the suggestion that she may have been responsible for any harm, ill health or effect of any of her actions on the defendant's father."
There was evidence that, in the absence of the comments, the senior teacher would have continued teaching as she had before "until she reached the age of 65 which is in about seven years' time".
Judge Elkaim ordered Mr Farley to pay $85,000 in compensatory damages.
He also ruled that the young man's conduct in response to the case warranted an additional $20,000 in aggravated damages.
Mr Farley ignored a letter from Ms Mickle's lawyers in November 2012. He removed the comments and apologised "unreservedly" only after they wrote to him again in December.
Judge Elkaim said the apparent sincerity of the apology was contradicted by Mr Farley when he attempted to argue in his defence that the comments were true. He said the defence had "no substance" and was later struck out.
"The defence of truth when it is spurious is particularly hurtful to a person who has been the subject of such unsubstantiated allegations," Judge Elkaim said.
The judge added that Mr Farley appeared to have "abandoned his interest in the proceedings" and did not appear at the trial.
Tony Abbott should forge ahead with labour market reform
That backbench MPs raised labour market policy in the Coalition party room last week was remarkable in that it did not leak. But it did symbolise growing concern the government is not doing enough to tackle unemployment.
It was not the usual rebellion in which a backbencher just lobs a hand grenade, sends off an SMS with comments to a favoured journo and leaves it at that.
There might be a shift in sentiment about Prime Minister Tony Abbott within the ranks of his backbench. It should encourage Abbott to disabuse Martin Ferguson, who said Abbott's labour reforms were modest and timid.
The position taken by Abbott to reject corporate welfare has sent a strong, positive message to the backbench reformers. It seems Abbott can be drier than they thought. The result of his holding his nerve and not agreeing to send good money after bad is some of his less enthusiastic supporters are wondering if he might actually turn out to be a better leader as PM than he was an opposition leader.
One minister who has good instincts on economic management was heard to say that Abbott seems to be taking a special Thatcherite "dry pill". This is an unusual compliment for Abbott, who once took a bucket from Peter Costello for being too influenced by the Democratic Labour Party's collectivist and protectionist economic policy.
Treasurer Joe Hockey and Abbott have combined well on business welfare and produced a narrative the public understands. Although Abbott was not the reason for the car industry deciding to close down, it happened on Abbott's watch and he could have tried to save it despite the futility of continuing subsidies. In time, he will be entitled to be credited with taking the right approach.
Having publicly fought for zero tariffs in 1993 and having to endure the frustration of the cabinet negotiating more subsidies in 1996, I cannot help but note that the last bastion of protectionism has finally been breached and a burden on the economy will soon be lifted.
The Qantas decision is also important. Apart from the sensible argument that the Qantas Sale Act needs repealing, the other possible conditions for government support were never convincing. Hockey's fourth condition required Qantas to do the "heavy lifting on its own reform", but that is Qantas's job anyway. Labor's Fair Work legislation makes it difficult for any business to lift its game and hence that is an issue for government.
The labour market reforms that are needed are obvious. Reform is all about politics, especially Labor's domination by the unions.
The latest polling shows Labor ahead but, for now, that is irrelevant. The government's future will be judged at the next election on economic issues such as rising unemployment. Job losses at Toyota, Alcoa and others will ensure this issue will be paramount at the next election. And if the unemployment rate goes above Labor's predicted 6.25 per cent the public will not care who caused it, they will judge the parties by who is going to fix it.
Abbott needs workplace relations reform as soon as possible but has promised no big reforms until after the next election. He will keep his promise. But he could bring forward his process for labour market reform and keep his promise.
First, it is vital he appoint the right people to his Productivity Commission panel. There are few people with labour market policy experience and the necessary commitment to reform. The government should be talking to Judith Sloan, Peter Anderson, one or two lawyers from the bar, Herbert Smith Freehills or Ashurst lawyers or Professor Mark Wooden.
Second, the government should also be thinking about receiving the PC report well before the election and introducing the legislation before it. Priority must be given to this reform, so why not let the Senate have its committee hearings before the election? If the legislation is out before the election then the government's mandate is much stronger.
As opposition leader Abbott was disciplined and more than a match for his hapless opponents. But he also made some bad decisions in the cause of defeating Labor. He is saddled with his paid parental leave scheme, and various spending promises that Australia cannot afford. But I understand why he wants to keep his promises.
Abbott's rejection of business welfare has been good but regardless of how well you do one week, it is the next week that can bring you down. His approach on economic policy since Christmas has given his reformist supporters reason to think he can do better than some expected on economic policy, but he needs to push his reformist approach harder in the months ahead.
No more national parks as Tony Abbott pledges to support loggers as the 'ultimate conservationists'
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said he will not support the creation of any more national parks in a speech lauding timber workers as "the ultimate conservationists".
Mr Abbott also told a timber industry dinner on Tuesday night that he would create a new Forestry Advisory Council to support the industry.
The council will be co-chaired by Rob de Fegely, president of the Institute of Foresters Australia. Mr de Fegely is the former Liberal Party election candidate for the seat of Eden Monaro.
"We don't support, as a government and as a Coalition, further lockouts of our forests," Mr Abbott said. "We have quite enough National Parks, we have quite enough locked up forests already. In fact, in an important respect, we have too much locked up forest."
Mr Abbott said the federal government was pushing to delist a world heritage listing of 74,000 hectares of forest in Tasmania. Mr Abbott said the area – which was protected under Tasmania's forest peace deal – was not pristine forest and was too degraded to be considered a sanctuary.
Tasmanians go to the polls on March 15 with jobs and the forestry industry big issues as Labor struggles to hold on to government.
"I don't buy the Green ideology, which has done so much damage to our country over the last couple of decades and I'm pleased to see that there are some sensible Labor Party people who don't buy it either," Mr Abbott said.
"When I look out tonight at an audience of people who work with timber, who work in forests, I don't see people who are environmental bandits, I see people who are the ultimate conservationists.
"I salute you as people who love the natural world, as people who love what Mother Nature gives us and who want to husband it for the long-term best interests of humanity."
Mr Abbott said Canberra would now be "friendly country" rather than "hostile territory" for the forestry industry following the change of government.
Greens leader Christine Milne said: "Who in the 21st century would say the environment is meant for man and not just the other way around?
"There is no economic future for Australia in trashing our precious native forests and national parks ... In pandering to the forestry industry the Prime Minister's statements last night reveal he's not only anti-environment and anti-conservation, he's anti-jobs."
Australia's GDP figures beat expectations
Consumers spending more and saving less have helped the Australian economy grow by a stronger than expected rate in the last three months of the year.
The economy grew at a seasonally adjusted 0.8 per cent in the December quarter, taking the annual growth rate to 2.8 per cent. The quarterly figures were up from a 0.6 per cent expansion in the three months to September.
"There are some positive signs," federal Treasurer Joe Hockey said of the latest GDP figures.
"I remain positive about the outlook for the Australian economy and the trends revealed today [show] we are headed in the right direction.
"[But the] numbers highlight the growth challenge that the economy will face in the next couple of years as construction on a number of large mining projects comes to an end."
The Australian dollar jumped nearly half a cent on the back of the stronger-than-expected figures to trade as high as US89.97 cents.
The fourth-quarter growth was driven by a 0.6 per cent boost from net exports and a 0.5 per cent contribution from consumption. A 0.3 per cent fall in investment offset some of the gains.
Australia has not fallen into recession - measured as two quarters of negative growth - for more than two decades, despite the impact of the Asian and global financial crises on the world's economies.
Wednesday, March 05, 2014
Carbon tax costs Qantas over $100 million
The Prime Minister urged Labor to help axe the carbon tax, rejecting claims by the Shadow Transport Minister Anthony Albanese that the airline reportedly agreed to voluntarily pay the tax.
“This idea that Qantas somehow likes the carbon tax even though the carbon tax adds $106 million to its costs … is just crackers,” Mr Abbott said.
“Tell them they’re dreaming,” he added, directing the comment to Labor MPs.
Earlier Mr Abbott talked up the need to liberate Qantas during the Coalition joint party room meeting.
Channelling Ben Chifley’s “light on the hill’, Mr Abbott argued the government will be successful if it is principled.
“Our light is freedom, we are the freedom party,” he told colleagues.
Deputy PM Warren Truss conceded there is no guarantee their proposal to change the Sale Act will get through the Senate.
Mr Truss claimed both the Flying Kangaroo and Virgin are bleeding, but he warned if they were to back Qantas in a domestic war it would be unfair to its competitor.
Four colleagues are said to have congratulated Cabinet on its decision during the meeting
Why an ALP president pleaded guilty
Charges against the HSU National Secretary and former ALP President, Michael Williamson involved $20 million defrauded from the HSU (East) branch. But the fraudster pled guilty to an amount of only $1 million. Now why would that be?
Williamson, who has a cell phone super-glued to his ear, was gone anyway, and the penalty for stealing a sheep is not that dissimilar to stealing a lamb.
Prosecutors did a deal with Williamson’s counsel who bargained the amount down to a mere five percent of the amount stolen.
It was a win/win for Williamson and Labor as now there is no prosecution to unveil the depths of the filthy links between the two.
Williamson will serve time, he would have anyway, it was an open and shut case but now Labor and its union masters have been spared the public show of a prosecution process that would have unearthed the endemic fraud Labor has promoted and protected within its union base.
But the tactic will prove misplaced... at the time Williamson pled guilty there was no talk of a Royal Commission into unions, there is now!
Craig Thomson’s HSU hookers are small fish compared to Labor's numerous great white sharks.
Queensland’s hard line on bikie gangs and organised crime is getting results
AMID all the hyperbole and hand-wringing over the Queensland Government’s hard-line anti-bikie push, some tend to forget that the controversial Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment Bill of last year is having a real and positive impact.
In short, the legislation is doing what it is designed to do, and that is to disempower organised criminal gangs, cripple their ability to organise, and ensure that gang members who choose to adopt a misguided “code of silence’’ in relation to suspected criminal activity face the most punitive of punishments.
There is proof, as The Courier-Mail reported yesterday, that the laws have already prompted overseas bikies to abandon planned visits, while half the state’s 41 clubhouses which police say were safe houses for guns, drugs, cash, and criminal conspiracies, are now deserted.
The local Hells Angels chapter, down to two men while their president is overseas, can no longer even muster enough members to break the anti-association laws that have already netted Victorian members on holiday, and the state’s Crime and Misconduct Commission is starting to get the whistleblowers the laws were designed to flush out.
That’s a win.
Critics of the crackdown have contended the new laws are far too broad.
The danger, the laws’ detractors argued, was that the punitive powers contained in the legislation could be extended to cover other organisations that the government of the day considered undesirable. It was, they contended, a blunt weapon that allowed for considerable discretion more reminiscent of the darkest abuses of legislative power the state experienced during the Bjelke-Petersen era.
However the legislation was very deliberately, and necessarily, drafted to be wide ranging.
Outlaw organisations by their very nature tend to metamorphose and reinvent themselves to squeeze through holes in the law, using legal technicalities to escape prosecution.
A case in point here is the Government plan to use the VLAD laws to enable police to pursue paedophile rings. There is no sane argument that can be mounted against deploying what are laws designed to bust organised crime to smash carefully structured groups of pedophiles.
When it comes to what these groups inflict on children they tick every box when it comes to vicious and lawless.
They are criminal organisations operating in the nether regions of depravity who are every bit as deserving of the full force of the law as those motorcycle gangs who believe they have carte blanche to produce and distribute drugs, engage in extortion and rampage through our streets at will.
Like other criminal rings, pedophiles have evolved and become ever more cunning, with the lone predators of years gone by often giving way to sophisticated and clandestine online groups dedicated to targeting, exploiting and sharing their victims.
If Queensland’s VLAD laws can be used to help the already sterling work of anti-child exploitation groups like the Queensland Police Service’s Task Force Argos, then the move should be welcomed.
And in this respect, Opposition Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk needs to actually get a grip on where Queensland Labor stands on the push to rid Queensland of organised criminal gangs.
Hiding behind somewhat nebulous vows to have legislation reviewed by committee does not in any way constitute solid or credible policy.
This is especially true given that it was the Bligh Labor government in 2011 that introduced the precursor to the VLAD laws in the form of its own controversial anti-association legislation.
The laws are, as Premier Campbell Newman has vowed, both temporary and subject to review.
Given that commitment, and a community expectation that what is now on the statute books will not be applied in an overly zealous fashion, then the early successes of the drive to break criminal bike gangs and extend the push to paedophile rings is deserving of support.
Media vultures circling Immigration Minister Scott Morrison are blind to facts
How quickly vultures in politics gather around. Just a whiff of injury and in they come, hoping for a carcass on which they can feed.
So it was with Immigration Minister Scott Morrison's reporting on the recent riot at Manus Island and the death of a detainee. Morrison initially reported that the detainee who lost his life was outside the centre at the time of his injury.
Looking at the media generally, you could be forgiven for thinking that some time later Morrison found this information to be incorrect and simply waited until late on the following Saturday to correct the record.
This type of reporting is designed to convey an indifference by the minister to a death in detention. It is also designed to convey a trickiness on his part in the sense that releasing something at 9pm on a Saturday might limit the coverage the next day.
The trouble is that this type of reporting is a story looking, or hoping, for facts to back it up. Actually that might be a little generous to a few reporters because, for it to be true, they would need to have ignored the detail in Morrison's media briefings. Sadly, to be more precise, it is a story that ignores some important facts because they are inconvenient to a good "let's bash the Immigration Minister" story.
The media have tried to cast Morrison as the villain ever since
he decided to give weekly briefings on boat arrivals. It was a sensible decision to cut off day-to-day information from the people-smuggler networks. We are, of course, entitled to know what our government is doing. But we do not need to know every detail on a 24/7 basis. The media understandably want every little titbit of information to feed the voracious appetite of 24/7 reporting. But their annoyance at what they characterise as Morrison's decision to exclude them does not excuse sloppy or malevolent reporting.
Morrison immediately recognised that the riot at Manus Island with the death of a detainee was a different situation. Given the gravity of the circumstance, he properly decided that this should not wait for the normal weekly briefing. He held a media conference in Darwin. He also briefed the opposition. His initial advice was that the deceased person was not in the compound at the time of his injury. He told the media. Was he meant to keep it secret? It was the advice he had at the time.
It is true that he didn't preface the sentence about the detainee with the words "I am advised". But he did go on and say this: "What the government will be doing today and over the course of the days that follow is we'll be updating information as it becomes available to us and we can confirm that information."
He then held another media conference in Canberra later the same day. The issue of the location of the deceased person at the time he was injured was canvassed directly. Two comments of the minister stand out.
First: "In terms of the man who died, he had a head injury and at this stage it is not possible to give any further detail on that, including now, based on subsequent reports, where this may have taken place."
And then: "I am saying that there are conflicting reports and when I have a full picture on where the individual might have been, but that could be some time to determine because we anticipate that would be the subject of a police investigation."
Clearly on the same day he made a number of references to updating information and specifically clarified that there were now conflicting reports as to the location of the deceased at the time of his injury. Let me repeat, on the same day.
Subsequently, I am told late on the following Saturday, Morrison was able to say that the detainee had in fact been inside the compound at the time of his injury. He released the information to the media. They now portray this as trying to avoid scrutiny. Would he have done better to wait until Sunday morning? No doubt if he had, the media would be screaming that he had kept a material fact from them unnecessarily.
On calm reflection, the media claim of trying to avoid scrutiny by releasing information late on a Saturday doesn't stack up well. The information was in the Sunday papers, albeit without much if any commentary due to time constraints. That is what annoyed them, that they couldn't add their commentary. They had all of Sunday and beyond to do that - and did.
It will be some time before we get the full story on what actually happened. Being among and dealing with a riot is not like catching the bus to work. Things move fast. People will have been in different positions at different times and accounts will vary. There will be reports from immigration staff, contractors, PNG authorities, detainees and maybe civilians. With a death involved, perhaps not everyone will feel it is in their interest to be fully frank. We will have to wait some time.
By all accounts Morrison has faced the media much, much sooner than previous Labor ministers after riots at detention facilities. Strange that comparison gets little coverage.
Perhaps some in the media just can't stand the fact that the government's policies are bearing fruit. Quite a few media commentators refused to accept that Labor's dismantling of the strong border protection policies of the Howard government opened the floodgates. Labor spun out the line that the increased boat arrivals were due to "push" factors. It was garbage. It was a cruel hoax. Now, with strong policies, a strong minister and a government with some gumption, everyone can see the truth.
How many journalists let Labor run that stupid, pathetic excuse? Do they now feel guilty, or at least complicit in one of the greatest hoaxes a government has ever tried on?
Tuesday, March 04, 2014
These elitist hate-speech laws erode democracy
Neil Brown, QC, a Liberal minister in the Fraser government, has counselled Tony Abbott not to repeal our section 18C hate speech laws.
He says doing so risks "giving the green light to racists". Instead, he suggests a convoluted compromise that basically leaves in place the "you can't offend me" legislation.
Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but Brown and all the proponents of hate speech laws that legislate against "offending", "insulting", "humiliating" or even "intimidating" are wrong. They're wrong on the facts. They're wrong when they look overseas. And they're wrong about what is needed in a healthy, well-functioning democracy.
Let's start by playing the man, rather than the ball. Our hate speech laws were enacted in 1995. Brown was a cabinet member in a government years before that. If he thought not having these laws amounted to a green light, why didn't the Fraser government enact these sort of illiberal laws?
First a few facts. In the US there are no hate speech laws of any kind. In France there are plenty. Where do you think Jews or Muslims are better integrated into society as equal citizens? I ask that question seriously, and can recast it using Germany and other countries with hate speech laws.
Do you do more for minority groups by encouraging a victim mentality or by asking them to grow a thick skin and, when insulted or offended or humiliated, to respond by saying why the speaker is wrong? The latter approach is recommended by every great liberal philosopher from John Stewart Mill onwards. And it was the basis on which the Fraser government did not legislate against hate speech.
Oh, then there is that bastion of political correctness, my native Canada, where the federal parliament last year repealed similar hate speech laws. Are Canada and the US places all hate speech law supporters will be avoiding because of all the green lights for racists?
Or are those green lights just plain bunk, because Brown doesn't understand that the best response to racists is to speak back and say why they're wrong, rather than turn them into martyrs?
Then there is the old canard - always pulled out of the cupboard when the rest of the argument sucks - of "let's all point to Nazi Germany".
Leave aside the fact it is insulting to Australians today to have any argument implicitly rest on the premise that we are somehow like Weimar Germany, and realise that, for more than a decade before Hitler came to power, the Weimar regime did have hate speech laws and did have prosecutions for anti-Semitic speech. Convictions, too. And that sort of "suppress, suppress, suppress" mindset worked out how, exactly?
You need to ask yourself what you expect hate-speech laws to accomplish if you support them. There are only three possibilities. One is that you want to hide from the victims of such nasty speech how the speakers honestly feel about them. It's a sort of "give them a false sense of security" goal.
Another is you hope to reform the speaker. You know, fine them and lock them up and maybe they'll see the errors of their ways.
But both those supposed good outcomes of hate speech laws are patent nonsense. So that leaves a third possibility, one I believe almost all proponents of these laws implicitly suppose justifies their illiberal position.The goal of hate speech laws is to stop listeners who hear nasty words from being convinced by such speech.
In other words, it is plain distrust of the abilities of one's fellow citizens to see through the rantings of neo-Nazis that requires us to have these laws. It works on a sort of latter-day aristocratic premise, that we may be able to trust the good sense of a sociology professor but God help us if a mere plumber or secretary should be exposed to a Holocaust denier or someone whose tone gets a bit out of hand.
If there was a polite way to express my disdain for that sort of elitist bull, I would use it. But there isn't. So I will just say it is wholly misconceived.
Australians are no more prone to being sucked in by offensive or hateful speech than North Americans or those with multiple degrees. And if you don't believe that, then you can't really be in favour of democracy, it seems to me.
I could go on to show how these sort of laws, always and everywhere, end up expanding to capture speakers not originally intended to be captured by them; or how the bureaucracies that administer them become havens of speech-restricting world views. Instead I simply say Australians need section 18C to be repealed in its entirety. That's what Abbott implicitly promised. So let's have it done now.
No wonder SPC are in trouble
Below is an announcement from 10 years ago -- still on the AWU website
I gather that some of these onerous provisions have subsequently wound back but the fact that they were put in place shows what a hostile union SPC has had to deal with. Keeping any business alive would be difficult in such circumstances
In the first time in two decades for the Goulburn Valley, workers at the SPC Ardmona fruit processing and canning plant in Shepparton have won a shorter working week following six days of industrial action.
The workers, who are members of the Australian Workers' Union along with the AMWU, CEPU-ETU and FEDFA, won an agreement from SPC Ardmona for a 13.5 per cent improvement in salary conditions including an extra 8 days of leisure time by the third year of the agreement.
AWU National Secretary Bill Shorten was in Shepparton this morning when the workers returned to work. He said that whilst the employees didn't want to take industrial action during the busy harvest period, they felt that their issues had been ignored by management and they were forced into the action they took.
"The SPC Ardmona maintenance workers have never taken strike action during harvest time before; these are the same workers who in 1990 took voluntary pay cuts to save the company. They are proud of their work and proud of their important place in the economy of the Goulburn Valley." Mr. Shorten said.
"There has been a lot of change at SPC Ardmona over the last few years, we think this dispute could have been avoided if SPC management realised that what makes the SPC brand so important and valuable is the people who have made SPC what it is today - that is the workforce at the original SPC factory in Shepparton."
"By taking legally protected industrial action for the last six days these workers have had a victory that will change the way they work at SPC forever. We are the AWU will be continuing our campaign to win greater leisure time for our members across the country."
Curriculum and teacher education review: a necessary evil
The federal department of education and, by extension, the federal minister do not have direct control over any schools, do not employ any teachers and do not provide any essential services to schools. The influence of the federal government on the operation and priorities of schools is largely limited to wielding the carrot and stick of funding. The previous federal government used this approach with a heavy hand.
Current Education Minister Christopher Pyne's strategy is quite different. On funding, he has given schools stability for the next four years while a new, hopefully more fiscally responsible, funding model is developed. He has withdrawn the cumbersome and pointless accountability requirements attached to this funding. The push for school autonomy via the Independent Public Schools policy seems aspirational rather than authoritarian.
While he may have strong ideas about what schools and school systems ought to be doing, Minister Pyne has chosen to focus on the areas where he is most likely to have some impact - curriculum and teacher education. Fortuitously, both are fundamental to education standards in the long term.
The curriculum review is a necessary evil. The ideal scenario would be to have no national curriculum at all, since such a beast will always be politicised and biased in some way, whether it be towards a conservative or a progressive agenda.
Given that we do have a national curriculum, however, it needs to be scrutinised. And, given that the national curriculum is already in use in many schools, and the reviewers' tight time-frame, the review can necessarily seek only to identify the most serious deficiencies in the short-term. Make no mistake, content is critical. What children learn is just as important as how they learn.
The same is true of the teacher education review. Despite dozens of reviews of teacher education and countless surveys over the last decade, which consistently find that new teachers are underprepared to teach after four years at university, little has changed in most education faculties.
When a primary teaching degree has courses with names like 'Supporting Students to Be Environmental Change Agents', you know something has gone very wrong somewhere. Reforming teacher education will be a tough task, but it's difficult to think of a more worthy one.
Let’s dump Great Barrier Reef dredging myths
Mr Reichelt mentions it obliquely but it deserves pointing out WHY good landfill material is being dumped at sea. It is because Greenies won't let it be dumped on land! Dredged material used to be used to fill in swamps and mangroves. Most of the Cairns foreshore was built up that way. I watched the dredge TSS Trinity Bay discharging into polders there when I was a boy. But swamps are now "wetlands" so must not be touched
AUTHOR: Russell Reichelt, Chairman and Chief Executive of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s recent decision to allow 3 million cubic metres of dredge material to be disposed of 25 kilometres off Abbot Point in north Queensland has attracted passionate commentary around the world.
Millions of people from Australia and overseas have a fierce desire to protect one of the world’s most beautiful natural wonders. As the independent body managing the Great Barrier Reef for future generations, all of us at the Authority understand and share that desire: it’s what makes us want to come to work every day.
But the debate about Abbot Point has been marked by considerable misinformation, including claims about “toxic sludge”, dumping coal on the reef and even mining the reef. Late last week, it was confirmed that our decision to allow the dredge disposal will be challenged in court.
So what’s true, and what’s not? I hope with this article, I can clear up some of those misunderstandings on behalf of the Authority, particularly about our role, the nature and scale of the dredge disposal activity, and its likely environmental impacts.
If you still have questions at the end of this article, I and others from our team at the Authority will be reading your comments below and we’ll do our best to reply to further questions on The Conversation.
A sizeable challenge
At 344,400 square kilometres, the Marine Park is roughly the same area as Japan or Italy.
Of this vast and richly diverse expanse, one-third is highly protected; some places are near pristine, while others are feeling the effects of centuries of human uses.
But rather than locking the entire area away, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s (GBRMPA) role — as set out under Australian law — is to protect the region’s ecosystem, while also ensuring it remains a multiple-use marine park open to sustainable use. This includes tourism, commercial fishing, shipping and other operations.
While there are five major ports in the region, to this day only 1% of the World Heritage Area is set aside for ports. Most of the region’s 12 ports existed long before the Marine Park was created in 1975, and nearly all fall inside the World Heritage Area, but outside the park itself.
Responding to “toxic” claims
Among the many claims made about the Abbot Point decision is the assertion that the “Reef will be dredged” and that “toxic sludge” will be dumped in marine waters.
Both of those claims are simply wrong, as are suggestions that coal waste will be unloaded into the Reef, that this natural wonder is about to be mined, or that Abbot Point is a new coal port.
The reality is that disposal of dredge material of this type in the Marine Park is not new. It has occurred off nearly all major regional centres along the reef’s coastline before now.
It is a highly regulated activity and does not allow material to be placed on coral, seagrass or sensitive marine environments.
The material itself in Abbot Bay is about 60% sand and 40% silt and clay, which is similar to what you would see if you dug up the site where the material is to be relocated.
In addition, testing by accredited laboratories shows the material is not toxic, and is therefore suitable for ocean disposal.
Limiting new port development
As Queensland’s population has grown over the past 150 years, so too have the size and number of ports along the Great Barrier Reef coastline.
We recognise the potential environmental risks posed at a local level by this growth, which is why we have strongly advocated limiting port development to existing major ports — such as Abbot Point — as opposed to developing new sites.
This will produce a far better outcome than a proliferation of many, albeit smaller, ports along the coastline. And that’s not just our view: it’s a view shared by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, which oversees the Great Barrier Reef’s listing as one of Australia’s 19 World Heritage sites.
Given Abbot Point has been a major port for the past 30 years, our approval of the dredge disposal permit application from North Queensland Bulk Ports is entirely consistent with this position.
The added benefit of the port is its access to naturally deep waters, meaning it requires less capital dredging than other ports. It also has a much lower need for maintenance dredging.
What’s being done to protect the reef?
With this as our backdrop, we analysed the potential impacts and risks to the Great Barrier Reef from disposing dredge spoil off Abbot Point within the Marine Park.
In this case, we reached the conclusion that with 47 stringent conditions in place, it could be done in a way that makes us confident there will be no significant impact on the reef’s world heritage values.
These safeguards are designed specifically to ensure potential impacts are avoided, mitigated or offset, and to prevent harm to the environmental, cultural or heritage values associated with the nearby Holbourne Island fringing reef, Nares Rock, and the Catalina World War II wreck.
Our conditions are in addition to those already imposed by the federal government in prior approvals.
Again, just to clear up any confusion: the dredge material will not be “dumped on the reef”.
Instead, we are looking at an area within the Marine Park that is about 25 kilometres east-northeast of the port at Abbot Point, and about 40 kilometres from the nearest offshore reef.
When the dredge disposal occurs, the material will only be allowed to be placed in a defined 4 square kilometre site free of hard corals, seagrass beds and other sensitive habitats.
If oceanographic conditions such as tides, winds, waves and currents are likely to produce adverse impacts, the disposal will not be allowed to proceed.
As an added precaution, the activity can only happen between March and June, as this falls outside the coral spawning and seagrass growth periods. As the sand, silt and clay itself will be dredged in stages over three years, the annual disposal volume will be capped at 1.3 million cubic metres.
Compared with other sites in this region, it is much less than has been done in the past. For example, in 2006 there were 8.6 million cubic metres of similar sediments excavated and relocated in one year at Hay Point, near Mackay. Scientific monitoring showed no significant effects on the ecosystem.
The dredge disposal from Abbot Point will be a highly managed activity — and it will not, as some headlines have suggested, mean the Great Barrier Reef will become a sludge repository or that tonnes of mud will be dumped on coral reefs.
This is not Gladstone Harbour all over again
I have often heard during this debate that Abbot Point will become “another Gladstone”.
I can assure you that GBRMPA understands strongly the need to learn the lessons from past port developments, including ones like Gladstone that fall outside of the Marine Park. This is why the recommendations from an independent review into Gladstone Harbour have been factored into our conditions.
Much of the criticism of the development at Gladstone Harbour centred on monitoring and who was doing it. This is why one the most common questions we’ve heard at GBRMPA about Abbot Point is “Who is going to make sure this is all done properly?”
The answer is: there will be multiple layers of independent oversight. Indeed, past authors on The Conversation have used Townsville’s port as a good example of how local impacts can be managed safely through transparent, independent monitoring and reporting, and active on-site management.
This is why we will have a full-time staff member from GBRMPA located at the port to oversee and enforce compliance during dredge disposal operations. This supervisor has the power to stop, suspend or modify works to ensure conditions are met.
In addition, an independent technical advice panel and an independent management response group will be formed. Membership of both these bodies will need the approval of GBRMPA.
Importantly, the management response group will include expert scientists as well as representatives from the tourism and fishing industries, and conservation groups. Together, GBRMPA and those other independent scrutineers will be overseeing the disposal, and will have the final say — not North Queensland Bulk Ports, which operates Abbot Point, or the coal companies that use the port.
Water quality monitoring will take place in real-time to measure factors such as suspended solids, turbidity and light availability. This is in addition to a long-term water quality monitoring program that will run for five years — much longer than what is normally required.
It’s vital that there is utmost transparency and scrutiny of what happens. We believe that with our staff on the job, plus independent oversight that includes the community, it will be a highly transparent process.
What are limits of the Authority’s powers?
It is true to say that despite all these safeguards, placing dredge material on land rather than in the Marine Park remains our preferred choice, providing it does not mean transferring environmental impact to sensitive wetlands connected to the reef ecosystem.
Indeed, land-based disposal is an option that must always be examined under national dredging guidelines.
But we recognise onshore disposal is not always immediately practical. Some of the challenges include finding suitable land, the need for dredge settlement ponds and delivery pipelines, and potential impacts on surrounding environments.
Ultimately, what occurs on land is outside of GBRMPA’s jurisdiction. We do not make decisions about mines, railways and loading facilities, and have never had the power to compel a port authority to place dredged material onshore or to build an extension to existing jetties.
Nor do we have the ability to stop dredge disposal from occurring in port limits that fall inside the World Heritage Area, but outside of the Marine Park.
Our legislative powers simply enable us to approve or reject a permit application for an action in the Marine Park, or to approve it with conditions.
Based on the considerable scientific evidence before us, we approved the application for Abbot Point with conditions, on the basis that potential impacts from offshore disposal were manageable and that there would be no significant or lasting impacts on the reef’s world heritage values.
Monday, March 03, 2014
Brain-dead Perth meteorologist thinks that because his city is hot it must be hot everywhere
In parts of the USA there is record cold. So which place do we go by? It takes a Warmist to claim that local warming tells you about global warming. Warmists mostly now don't do that nonsense because they have found to their pain that skeptics can turn the tables on them just about every winter. So this guy is obviously just not bright
THE weather bureau says Perth’s record-smashing summer was “madness” and it has used temperature and rainfall data to lash out at climate change sceptics.
And the state’s top meteorologists are warning West Australians they face decades of rising temperatures – with hotter, drier and more extreme summers.
The 2011-12 summer was Perth’s hottest on record and this summer was the second hottest on record, tied with both the 2009-10 summer and the 2010-11 summer with an average maximum of 32C.
This summer was also the driest in five years for Perth, with just 2mm of rain, and the driest on record for Mandurah.
Perth had only three days where rain fell and not one drop fell last month – the first dry February since 2000.
It might have been the start of autumn but there was no respite yesterday, with temperatures nudging 37C in Perth.
The weather bureau is normally conservative, but Bureau of Meteorology climate expert Neil Bennett said the data was staring climate change sceptics “in the face”.
“It’s climate change. It’s warming. It’s staring you in the face,” he said. “This is crazy. This is madness, what’s going on now.
“The climate doesn’t change like this. This is really remarkable. The last four summers have all either been the hottest or second hottest on record. “It’s not just Perth – in Bunbury eight of the hottest summers have occurred since the turn of the century.
“What we are saying is when you look and see the trend is going up, it seems foolish to try to ignore that trend. “This is really, really unusual. It’s a sign that the temps across Australia are warming. There is no getting away from it.”
Mr Bennett said the climate models for “30, 40 and 50 years ahead” were also all “pointing upwards”.
Illegal immigrants get a rough ride
Some of the charmers whom Australia will now not need to feed and house
The bulbous orange lifeboat wallowing in the shallows off the coast of Central Java is an unlikely looking weapon - but it's proving highly effective in Australia's military campaign against asylum seekers.
To the people forced to travel in them, though, it is a vomitous and terrifying experience. "Inside the orange boat it was closed, hot and very dark," says Omar Ali, an Egyptian asylum seeker now in temporary detention in an old office building in Cilacap, Central Java.
"No light. Very hot. When the driver opens the door, the water comes inside. We're sick. Everybody sick; there was no air."
Earlier this week, Ali and 27 other young men from Iraq, Pakistan, Iran, Nepal, Bangladesh and Egypt, became the seventh group of asylum seekers "turned back" from Australian waters to Indonesia since December, and the third to have been returned in a $46,000 disposable lifeboat.
Their boat, like the other two, was steered by the Indonesian crew who had been in charge of the wooden vessel provided by the people smugglers that was intercepted near Christmas Island. Also like the others, Indonesian authorities have no idea what to do with the ugly orange vessel that has landed uninvited on their shore.
The experience of the latest group of lifeboat returnees suggests the Australian authorities are refining their technique. In the first return in mid-January, the asylum seekers said they were tricked and lied to, then at the last minute given written information about what was happening to them as they were pushed off.
On the second return in early February, one asylum seeker used a phone camera to film the experience of being towed in an orange lifeboat behind an Australian Customs boat, Triton.
In this latest incident, there was no such opportunity. The interaction was kept to a minimum and mobile phones were taken away.
After intercepting the wooden asylum boat in the water near Christmas Island at 1am on Friday, February 21, Australian crews wearing Customs and Border Protection blue uniforms initially tried to recommission the old wooden boat to return them to Indonesia. The engine would not start. After several hours and several mechanics had come to try, the Australian officers abandoned the task.
The asylum seekers were transferred to the Customs vessel - perhaps MV Triton, though they do not know the name. As they were loaded on board, officers were "pushing one by one with hands behind our back", Ali says, showing on his friend how their arms were bent into a painful position.
Any objections or requests for food and water were shouted down, no discussion entered into.
"He says: 'Don't speak. Shut up. F--- you'," Ali says, the others nodding. One man, Khazim Mohammad, from Iraq, was lying sick on the boat: "The [Australian officer] said, 'You're joking. Liar, liar' … and grabbed him and pulled him."
The Indonesian crew have told Central Java police that the wooden boat was then "blown up". They cannot say how this happened, but speculate on a bomb.
On board the large Customs ship, interaction between crew and asylum seekers was minimal. Once their details were taken and entered on a computer, the men were given wristbands with numbers on them.
For about three days, they say they were kept below decks.
"Inside the big ship, no sun, no air. We don't know if it's night or day. We can't sleep; loud noises," says Ali. They were fed once - cheese sandwiches - and given a cup and told to fill it up in the bathroom to drink. "For two days we went on hunger strike."
The Indonesian crew was kept in a separate part of the ship.
On the Customs patrol boat, Ashrof says someone searched their belongings, and all valuables - money, phone, SIM card - were taken. He does not know who took them. No phones means that, unlike on other ships, there is no video footage of their experience.
The next move, on Monday morning, was to the orange lifeboat. It was the first time they had seen it and the transfer was done in sight of land.
"The soldiers brought [us to] the orange boat … and closed the door and said to the driver of this boat … 'Go to that island'," Ali says.
Again the Australians would not answer questions. The Indonesians - who spoke almost no English - said it was Christmas Island. Ali did not believe them.
But there was no chance of turning back to the real Christmas Island. The crew, though experienced sailors, had never seen anything like the orange blob they now captained, and there was not enough fuel to go anywhere except to that island on the horizon. The island, it turned out, was Java.
The lifeboats are small and inside they feel smaller. They are dark and airless with only a couple of small, high windows. Having 28 on board would have felt crowded - not everyone could have a seat, though the nameplate says it is rated for 55 people.
"No air inside and no airconditioning for the orange boat. We are very sick. We have no oxygen. We are very sick," says Ali. "It's like animals. Animals [cannot be treated] like this."
There was water on board and muesli bars.
The journey lasted only about three hours before the boat ran aground in huge seas on a rugged bay near the village of Kebumen. They were 30 metres from the beach and the surf was high, but there was little choice but to jump.
"We jumped from the boat. We are at the beach, ocean high. We arrive and drift, arrive and drift. We think we will die. We think we will die. We can't swim," Ali says.
Finally on the beach the exhausted men were confronted with a steep, slippery slope to climb before a local farmer found them and called the police.
The crew is now in custody being questioned by police under people smuggling laws for taking people out of the country illegally and then, at the insistence of the Australian Customs and Border Protection, back into it. The asylum seekers are bound for detention, although they don't know where.
The fate of the big orange lifeboat is just as uncertain. The recent arrival of these odd-looking vessels has puzzled Indonesian officialdom. The first to land, near a remote beach called Ujung Genteng, in mid-January, is in the custody of the Indonesian navy. The second landed in a tourist spot, Pangandaran, in early February and is now being looked after by water police at Ciamis. "My commander has not told us what to do," a local officer says.
Tony Abbott's green army enlisting now
Tony Abbott's federally funded "green army" will enlist 15,000 young people in environmental work, striking young workers from official dole queue figures as youth unemployment soared in the year to January to 12.4 per cent.
But young people who fill the green army's ranks will be paid as little as half the minimum wage, earning between $608.40 and $987.40 a fortnight.
The scheme - the cornerstone of the government's environmental policies - is modelled on John Howard's Green Corps, and will be an alternative to work-for-the-dole programs.
Under the legislation introduced by Environment Minister Greg Hunt on Wednesday, green army participants - who will be aged 17-24 - will work up to 30 hours a week. They will be given the chance to undergo formal training as part of their duties, but will lose their Centrelink benefits for taking part in the scheme and fall off official joblessness figures.
The basic rate for a single person getting Newstart (the dole) is $501 a fortnight. But Mr Hunt said the scheme would pay young people "significantly" more than they would receive from Centrelink allowances, and he hoped the skills young people learnt on the job would encourage them to move into full-time work.
"It's giving every young person in Australia the chance to do something for the environment, and it's bizarre that anybody would oppose, at this time, a youth training program that helps the environment and increases, significantly, the youths' wages."
Mr Hunt's office stressed that the green army was "an environmental and training program, not an employment program", although the government has repeatedly described the army as Australia's largest ever "environmental workforce".
The government is aiming the scheme at indigenous Australians, people with disabilities, gap-year students, graduates and the unemployed. Enlistees will do manual labour, including clearing local creeks and waterways, fencing and tree planting.
Green army members will not be covered by Commonwealth workplace laws, including the Work, Health and Safety Act, the Fair Work Act and the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act.
Despite this, Mr Hunt said all green army members would be covered by workplace protections, including state and territory occupational health and safety laws, insurance provided by the government and by "service providers" paid by the government to recruit, establish and manage green army teams, and federal work, health and safety "compliance orders".
But ACTU president Ged Kearney said the workers should be covered by the appropriate federal workplace protections.
"This is about taking away well-paid, well-protected jobs from people and replacing them with low-paid, unsafe jobs," she said. "This is not about getting people on the margins of the workforce into work, this is about providing a low-paid workforce."
Greens MP Adam Bandt said: "Only Tony Abbott could create a 'workforce' where the workers aren't legally workers and have no workplace rights. If a green army supervisor and a worker under their command get injured while wielding a pick or building a lookout, the supervisor will have the same safety and compensation protections as ordinary employees but the worker won't."
Unions holding back job growth
The economic stories hogging the headlines lately are of financial losses, plant closures and job-shedding - think Holden and Toyota, the closure of Alcoa's Point Henry aluminium smelter, and yesterday's announcement that Qantas will shed 5,000 jobs.
It's as if Australian businesses forgot the creative part of capitalism's creative destruction. Australia's economy needs new jobs, and there are impediments in our industrial relations system that are increasing costs and preventing new jobs from being created.
One of the unfortunate consequences of Work Choices was the degree to which the union movement was to use popular opposition within the community to drive their own agenda. Through Labor's Fair Work Act the union movement was able to gain monopoly status on new businesses/projects.
Under the Fair Work Act, Greenfields agreements - which set out wages and conditions for new business/projects and are organised before employees are hired - can only be negotiated with a union. Work Choices allowed for both union and non-union Greenfields agreements.
Unions have used their monopoly position to delay the commencement of new projects. Unions know the longer negotiations drag on, project costs increase and start dates are threatened. Eventually employers cave in and agree to exorbitant, and often unsustainable, conditions.
The Australian Mines and Metals Association found in 2012 that one third of resource industry employers had tried to negotiate a Greenfields agreement in the previous three years and of those, 19% had experienced unions refusing to make an agreement with them.
This problem was also raised in Labor's in-house review of the Fair Work Act in 2012, yet the government made no changes. Providing new businesses with a choice would mean that unions cannot stall projects and run up costs.
Still haunted by the ghosts of Work Choices, the Coalition are weary of bringing back anything remotely resembling elements of Howard's reforms. Instead they've suggested that these long-running disputes on new projects be determined by the industrial umpire. Such a solution simply entrenches adversarial relationships.
In an economy where only 18% of all workers are union members (13% in the private
sector) having a non-union option should be a no-brainer.
The Coalition should be bold. There was never broad community opposition to non-union Greenfields agreements. Community opposition was based on the lower safety net and unfair dismissal exemptions for small- and medium-sized businesses.
The Coalition should make it easier for businesses to get started and create jobs by bringing back non-union Greenfields agreements.
Sunday, March 02, 2014
17 "refugees" seek to return home in latest week
Illegals killing illegals is not good but it is effective at getting the rest to rethink. And such a rethink shows that they were not refugees in the first place
JUST days after Iranian man Reza Berati was killed in the Manus Island detention centre, 11 other Iranian asylum-seekers have opted to go home.
Immigration and Border Protection Minister Scott Morrison said the 11 Iranians were among 17 asylum-seekers who volunteered to return to their home countries in the week up to 9am yesterday. They included three people who went back to Iraq, and three to India.
Mr Morrison said one detainee was sent home involuntarily to Sri Lanka. In his weekly update on Operation Sovereign Borders, Mr Morrison said 171 asylum-seekers had gone home voluntarily since the Coalition won government in September. He said no people-smuggling boats had made it to Australia in the past 71 days.
His statement did not reveal how many boats were turned or towed back towards Indonesia.
An investigation is continuing into the Manus Island violence in which 23-year-old Mr Berati was killed and more than 50 other asylum-seekers injured.
“The last people-smuggling venture that made it to Australia and had all passengers handed over to Australian immigration authorities was on December 19 last year,” Mr Morrison said.
“This means there have been 71 days in total without a successful people-smuggling venture.”
Mr Morrison said that was a result of the Abbott government’s resolve and full suite of policies, including operations at sea by the navy and Customs service patrol vessels of Border Protection Command.
There were 1325 asylum-seekers in the centre on Manus Island and 1107 on Nauru.
Refugee supporters in Sydney yesterday staged another protest demanding Mr Morrison resign over Mr Berati’s death.
The activists clashed with police in a peak-hour march through inner Sydney. Riot police were called in as hundreds rallied along George Street yesterday evening chanting “Free, free the refugees”.
At times the throng spilled on to city roads, disrupting traffic and prompting physical confrontations with police.
Asked why they had not taken to the streets when about 1200 asylum-seekers died at sea while attempting to seek asylum during the term of the Labor government, Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul said the two instances could not be compared.
“There’s no comparison between people who lose their life in an attempt to gain their freedom and atrocity on Manus Island where asylum-seekers were killed and bashed by the people who were meant to be protecting them,” Mr Rintoul told The Weekend Australian.
He said Australia’s navy should be ordered to taxi refugees from Indonesia to Australia instead, with a hotline established for asylum-seekers to call and be retrieved. “If people could notify the navy when they left Indonesia they could be escorted,” he said. “It may increase numbers (of asylum-seekers) coming by boat, but Australia can just treble its increase of refugee intake.”
He said asylum-seekers should be released into the community while authorities conducted security assessments on them - “the same way as they did in 1992 before mandatory detention”.
Former union boss Ferguson blasts MUA
FORMER Labor Resources minister and union boss Martin Ferguson has blamed "rogue" unions for delaying Australia's biggest gas project and backed the coalition's industrial relations reform agenda.
Mr Ferguson, now an advocate for the oil and gas industry, singled out the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) for delays and blowouts to the massive Gorgon project in Western Australia, and urged the Abbott government to consider further industrial relations reforms.
Mr Ferguson said the government's proposed changes to the Fair Work Act were a step in the right direction, but still quite modest.
"I would urge the government to keep an open mind on the need for further reform in this area," Mr Ferguson told the Committee for Economic Development (CEDA) at a lunch in Perth on Friday.
His comments have been labelled treacherous by the WA branch of the Maritime Union, and cheered by the coalition.
Mr Ferguson, who chairs the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA), said there was potential to reach an agreement to give project developers more long-term confidence about their workforce costs and operate efficiently so they could attract large investments.
But he said high wages claims by the MUA's West Australian branch and restrictive work practices had contributed to a recent $2 billion budget blowout for Gorgon, and delays of several months.
"There are activities at Henderson which have delayed movement of equipment to Gorgon, which has had a huge impact on the productivity of the whole workforce on Gorgon which has led to a considerable increase in costs to the whole project," Mr Ferguson told ABC Radio.
Major investors had gone from being very positive about Australia to saying it had lost its competitive edge, he said.
Despite those issues, Chevron vice-chairman George Kirkland recently said the project's economics remained attractive.
Still, Mr Ferguson argued that wages paid to Australian maritime workers compared to overseas competitors were "out of kilter".
Christy Cain from MUA's WA branch said Mr Ferguson had sold out to oil and gas companies.
"He should be expelled from the ALP and he is a traitor to the working class people of this country," Mr Cain said.
Federal employment minister Eric Abetz said it was good to see a former president of the ACTU acknowledging that the coalition is sticking its election promise.
Evil and deeply untrue Leftist claims about Israel
WE are living in a time of infamous lies against the state of Israel and the Jewish people. We are witnessing, even in Australia, a recrudescence of some of the oldest types of anti-Semitism. One of the worst recent examples of anti-Israel propaganda that led directly to anti-Semitic outbursts was the Four Corners episode Stone Cold Justice, purporting to be about treatment of Palestinian children in the West Bank.
The program featured as a guest reporter John Lyons, of this newspaper. I have the greatest respect for John. He has produced some outstanding journalism in his time. In the aerolite he wrote for this newspaper on February 8, he made some of the same allegations that were made on Four Corners. I found the allegations at best unproved and generally unconvincing.
However, the Four Corners program was a disgrace, a crude piece of anti-Israel propaganda that revived some of the oldest anti-Semitic tropes. In the year 2014, are we really going to allege again, on the basis of the flimsiest non-evidence you could imagine, that Jewish soldiers systematically physically crucify innocent children? Is there a school of anti-Semitism 101 operating out there? Do you not think that before you would air an allegation like that, if you had any real sense of editorial responsibility, you would be 100 per cent sure that it was true; you would track down the people alleged to have done it and get their testimony? The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council has produced exhaustive rebuttals of virtually all the allegations in this program and I recommend readers visit the AIJAC website. The whole program was full of uncorroborated and intensely unlikely allegations.
You could make the same kind of film about Australia if you didn’t find it necessary to prove any of your facts. In the Four Corners program, the only Jewish settler interviewed was a religious extremist who said Palestinians must never have a state of their own and that God gave all the land to the Jews and that was it.
Yet the overwhelming majority of the Israeli population favours a two state solution. If you had even one ounce of responsibility in the way you treated these issues, and given their explosive, emotive nature, don’t you think some of that context might have been relevant? Isn’t there an obligation to convey the reality of the diversity of Jewish settlers in the West Bank?
A week or two after the Four Corners program went to air, I attended a Catholic mass in a suburban church. The priest was preaching about forgiveness. Most examples he chose were taken from the news. One, he took from the Middle East. It concerned a heroic Palestinian whose family had been killed by Israel, but who still had the moral grandeur to forgive the Israelis. The priest said nothing else about the Middle East. So of all the malevolence and genuine evil in the Middle East, the only example the apiarist thought worth mentioning was a generic Israeli crime.
With 2000 years of Christian anti-Semitism behind him, the priest had no hesitation in presenting Israel as the killer of innocent families and the only question in the Middle East being one of the moral greatness of the Palestinians in forgiving the Israelis.
So this is what we’ve come to in 2014. The national broadcaster tells us that Jewish soldiers crucify innocent children and Christian clerics routinely portray Israel as the murderous oppressor of the Middle East. But these stereotypes are both evil, and deeply untrue. Over many trips to Israel, and many visits to neighbouring Middle East countries, I have come to the conclusion Israel has the best human rights and democratic institutions and civil society of any nation in the greater Middle East. More than that, I have tried hard to make my own investigations into two questions. Does the Israeli army routinely behave unreasonably? And what is the truth about the settlements?
Israel is not perfect. Like every nation it makes mistakes, including moral mistakes. Undoubtedly, some of its soldiers have engaged in abuses. But over the years I have interviewed dozens, perhaps hundreds, of Israeli soldiers and former soldiers, many active on the Left of Israeli politics and harshly critical of their government. I have also interviewed many Palestinians. My net judgment is Israel’s army behaves with as much consideration for human rights and due process as any modern Western army - US, Australian or European - would do in similar circumstances.
Then there is the question of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Israel took control of the West Bank because it was attacked by Jordan in a war Israel fought for its very existence. Almost no one internationally had recognised Jordanian sovereignty over the West Bank and the land there is to be negotiated. The overwhelming consensus in Israel is that the vast majority of the West Bank, perhaps 95 per cent, will go to a Palestinian state with compensating land swaps from Israel proper. A few clusters of Jewish settlements will be retained by Israel.
Bob Carr, who I think was a very good foreign minister, recently argued all the settlements are illegal. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop disagrees. On this, Bishop is right and Carr wrong. The problem with discussion of the settlements is that it is so unsophisticated and typically lumps so many different communities together. If all settlements are illegal, that means the Jewish presence at the Wailing Wall in the old city of Jerusalem, access to which was denied to Jews when it was under Arab control, is illegal. It means that the historic Jewish quarter of the old city is also illegal. It means that every Jewish household anywhere in East Jerusalem is illegal.
It is worth noting, by the way, that Palestinians who live in East Jerusalem qualify for Israeli identity cards that allow them to live anywhere in Israel. Increasing numbers are buying apartments in West Jerusalem. But if all settlements are illegal then it is apparently illegal for Israelis, be they Jewish, Muslim or Christian, to buy in East Jerusalem.
I have spent many days visiting the settlements to try to find out what the people who live there are like. As foreign minister, Kevin Rudd told me the settlements occupied about 3 per cent of the West Bank. Since 2004, settlements have not been allowed to expand beyond existing borders. Very, very few settlers are like the sole woman interviewed on Four Corners. There are a lot of very orthodox Jews who live in settlements, but the ultra-orthodox do not serve in the Israeli army and are often not very nationalist at all. They live in settlements because it is cheap and they want to have their own neighbourhoods with very orthodox schools, cooking facilities, etc.
But most of the people I met in big, mainstream settlements like Gush Etzion and Maale Audumin, which are very close to Israel proper, were moderate, national religious types. The Jewish connection to the land historically certainly meant something to them, but they tended to vote for mainstream centre-right parties and live peaceably enough with their Palestinian neighbours. (Indeed, some 25,000 Palestinians work on settlements.) These settlers don’t make for very exciting TV interviews because they are so reasonable and unremarkable.
An Israeli friend put it to me that perhaps 50 per cent of settlers are basically non-ideological, and lived in settlements because they can get a house much more cheaply than in Israel proper. Maybe 30 per cent to 40 per cent are moderate orthodox or national religious, mainstream, attached to the land, patriotic, pretty pragmatic. Perhaps 10 per cent (of settlers, not of Israelis overall) are intensely ideological and believe all the land should stay with the Jews. And perhaps 1 per cent or less are genuinely extremist and some of them genuinely violent. That certainly accords with what I have observed over years of visits.
There are also outposts or settlements in the West Bank that are illegal under Israeli law. All serious Israeli negotiations involve the principle of repatriating a significant number of settlers back to Israel proper or to settlements Israel is definitely going to keep. Typically, the number of such postulated returns varies from 50,000 to 90,000.
Aspects of Israel’s settlement policy have been very ill-advised. But I know that settlements are not the main obstacle to peace. The main obstacle to peace is that most of the Arab world will not accept the idea that Israel as a Jewish state has a right to exist and live in peace and security. The Four Corners program did nothing to enlighten the debate and led to a shocking outburst of rank anti-Semitism on ABC websites.
I really thought we were beyond that.
Ban bargaining and Qantas may have a chance
QANTAS has a massive, fundamental, industrial relations problem and it won’t be fixed until it changes its industrial relations practices.
The people who have dug Qantas into its industrial relations hole do not have the bargaining skill to dig it back out. If the airline’s chief executive Alan Joyce cannot bring himself to remove them, then he must at least issue them with a simple order: stop enterprise bargaining, completely. No more EBAs for at least five years.
Last year, the HR Nicholls Society honoured Qantas chairman Leigh Clifford, perhaps because in 2011 he stood up to the unions. Yet Qantas is no model for clever industrial relations. Grounding the airline was a cataclysmic public event, which was followed by no real reform. When recent events are compared with events in 2011, we can see a pattern emerging.
Prior to the grounding in 2011, Joyce made a great public show of his union bargaining troubles. He appeared to think the Gillard government should and would assist. No one in their right mind would think Julia Gillard was ever in a position to rein in unions, even if she wanted to. This begs the question, was Joyce naive or was he just making a public show of asking?
After the 2011 grounding, wage freezes should have been mandated, bargaining processes should have been shut down and real reform should have been undertaken. None of this happened.
In 2009, legislation changed fundamentally to make companies bargain directly with workers, but Qantas, like so many of our corporates, didn’t change with it. It kept on bargaining directly with unions and making the same mistakes it has made forever.
Now, just as in 2011, we have had months of public Qantas angst, with appeals to the government to help, followed by a shocking announcement. Will any real industrial relations reform happen this time? Only if a complete ban on bargaining is issued. This is what the big investors must demand.
The company must not start bargaining with unions to get agreement to wage freezes: this would be idiotic. The company must simply inform the other parties that there can be no more bargaining whatsoever.
If Joyce ceases bargaining and sticks around for the long term, then this wage-freeze plan may assist Qantas in addressing its costs and culture. If the company has the gumption, it will let every single EBA expire and steadfastly refuse to replace any of them.
When there is a return to profit, Qantas can establish a practice of giving individuals pay increases as it sees fit. This would change the culture enormously, drive productivity and eliminate the IR costs.
For Qantas, this option is the most realistic, sensible and practical option. Call me a cynic, but I doubt it will happen.
The unions are profoundly motivated to punish Joyce and Clifford for grounding the airline in 2011. They want them both sacked. Qantas had a win against the unions then, if only a symbolic one. Within the Australian unions are some of the best haters on the planet and they hate it intensely when employers win.
An idea has been planted in the public’s mind; Qantas will be saved if only Joyce is sacked. It is clear from the way the unions behaved yesterday that they can smell Joyce’s blood in the water. Getting rid of Joyce may enable them to reverse the wages freeze and lessen job cuts. More importantly, Joyce’s dismissal would see the unions retain their control over the corporate sector.
If they claim Joyce’s scalp, it will send a strong message to other executives: don’t take on the unions, it is not worth the risk and the damage to your career trajectory. In a country where our biggest union problems are due to weakness and collusion by big business, this is a significant problem.
Tony Abbott should be uneasy. If he gives Qantas a debt guarantee, it is going to look like a reward for sacking people. Labor will say a business only gets help when it performs a sack-a-thon for the Prime Minister. It is a message that may resonate. Workers who voted for Abbott gave implicit consent to be “cut to the bone”, but voting for budget cuts isn’t the same as voting for pay cuts or job cuts.
Meanwhile, Bill Shorten and Labor are energised. The Opposition Leader thinks he is on a winner with his stodgy “fight for jobs” line. Normally, when people progress in life they become more refined, yet Shorten uses job losses to transition himself from private-school boy into a turbo-charged union roughie. Perhaps he cannot see his transparence: the only jobs Labor ever wants to save are union jobs.
Labor sees the purpose of a business as only to provide jobs. Key ALP players, all from unions, cannot comprehend beyond that mistaken concept. Business is seen as only the provider of money to workers who must be unionised, so union officials can pay for their entry into politics.
The purpose of a business is to provide a good profit to its owners, then a useful service to its customers and decent employment to its workers, in that order. Only if Qantas makes a profit can it provide a service and employ people. I hope, for everyone’s sake, that Joyce’s wage-freeze plan is real.
Friday, February 28, 2014
Paid parental leave: NSW Senator John Williams says Abbott's scheme is too costly
Abbott's aim is to get mothers back into the home but is this the best way to do it? A drastic decrease in the cost of housing (which is very high in Australia) would have a similar effect. Such a reduction could be achieved by sending home all unassimilated immigrants (essentially welfare-dependant ones). That would free up (say) 100,000 dwellings -- and the law of supply and demand would do the rest
A Government senator says the economy is too weak to support Prime Minister Tony Abbott's $5.5 billion paid parental leave scheme.
It follows earlier reports today that the Commission of Audit has warned the policy is too expensive.
New South Wales Senator John Williams has told the ABC he wants to personally raise his concerns with the Prime Minister before stating publicly whether or not he will cross the floor.
The Australian Financial Review is reporting the Commission of Audit's first report, which the Government received nearly a fortnight ago, says the scheme is too costly and cannot be afforded with the budget in deficit.
The ABC has been unable to verify the report and a spokeswoman for Treasurer Joe Hockey says the Commission of Audit's "recommendations are confidential".
Senator Williams says he is concerned the economy is not currently strong enough to support the scheme.
"I've said all along, I don't have a problem with the paid parental leave scheme. That is our policy so long as the economy is strong, but I do have concerns about the strength of the Australian economy," he said.
"To me a strong economy in Australia [has] a four in front of unemployment – that's currently got a six in front of it and a four or close to four in front of economic growth - and we're currently growing at 2.5 per cent. "So I do have concerns that the economy is not strong enough."
Asked if he would cross the floor, Senator Williams said he would not be making his position public until after he had the chance to talk personally to Mr Abbott about his policy.
"I'm going to have discussions with the Prime Minister prior to any decision I make and I think that's the right thing to do by the Prime Minister," he said.
Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen seized on the report in the Australian Financial Review and urged the Prime Minister to dump his "excessive, gold-plated paid parental leave scheme".
Abbott defends his 'signature' policy
Mr Abbott told Parliament that he still "absolutely" stood by his policy. "It's good for women, it's good for families and it's very good for our economy because if we can get the participation rate up, we will get our productivity up, we'll get our prosperity up, it'll be good for everyone," he said.
Mr Abbott says the time for his scheme, which would award new mothers six months at their full wage, capped at $75,000, had come. "This is a policy which we took to the election and I have to say this is a policy that the Australian public well and truly understood when they voted in last year's election," he said.
But Senator Williams said there would have to be amendments to Mr Abbott's scheme because the Government did not have the majority in the Senate.
The Greens are refusing to support the scheme unless the cap is lowered to $50,000. "If the Greens stick to their guns then I can't see it getting through the Senate," he said. "We'll have to wait and see what comes up in front of us."
Several Government sources, who did not want to be named, told the ABC the Prime Minister's policy was friendless within the Coalition and some argued even within the Cabinet.
One Liberal says the policy was the first concern raised at every business function they had attended since the Prime Minister announced his policy to his surprised party room in 2010.
Move to limit ideological objections to Qld mining projects
The Queensland Government is looking to restrict who can object to mining applications, in a bid to crack down on what it calls philosophical opposition to projects.
Currently any group or person can object to applications, potentially sending the decision to the Land Court.
Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney said it was "frustrating" for the Government. "It's obvious that the current process allows individuals or groups who are fundamentally opposed to the coal industry - for whatever reason - to use the objection process to frustrate and delay those projects," he said.
"The people of Queensland have elected us as a Government based on developing our coal industry to supply the world markets and our processes need to allow us to do that."
In the next few weeks, the State Government will release a discussion paper looking at who can object to applications.
"What we're looking at is a process that will have an assessment process that is relative to the risk the project poses," Mr Seeney said.
"So for the really big projects I think it should be open to almost anyone, but for the smaller projects and for the lesser approvals ... there is a much different requirement."
Mr Seeney declined to spell out the definition of a big project.
The changes in the latest paper are broadly similar a 2013 discussion paper called Reducing Red Tape for Small Scale Alluvial Mining.
It suggests restricting objections to mining leases to "affected landholders" and local governments.
EDO chief solicitor voices reservations about changes
Environmental Defenders Office Queensland principal solicitor Jo Bragg says she has grave concerns about the impact this could have. "It's hard to see what the Government means, but it appears to mean just a person where the mine is on their land," she said.
"But the community ... concerned about endangered species, groundwater - they should also be able to object as they can now."
As the discussion paper has not been publicly released, the Deputy Premier also declined to define an affected landholder.
In the Darling Downs community of Acland, some locals are concerned about how any potential changes could affect them. The New Acland Coal Mine wants to expand to export up to 7.4 million tonnes of coal a year.
Veterinarian and farmer Nicki Laws is a member of the Oakey Coal Action Alliance and lives 30 kilometres away from the mine itself.
She says she wants to make sure her voice is heard. "These ecosystems underpin us all, they underpin our communities, our living, our health, our prosperity as a district - so if we're threatening it, anyone should be allowed to comment on that," she said.
Mr Seeney said he would encourage everyone to participate in the discussion once the discussion paper is released.
"This proposal is about reviewing the assessment process, understanding the Government has a mandate from the people of Queensland and ensuring that the process allows us to fulfil that mandate," Mr Seeney said.
He did not provide specific examples of philosophical or vexatious objections. "This review is not about any particular circumstance," he said.
"It's part of a broader commitment that we've given to the people of Queensland to review the assessment processes to ensure the projects the Queensland economy needs can proceed and respond in a responsible and appropriate way."
Bill Shorten apologises over mistaken comments to Parliament in defence on Stephen Conroy
A Leftist who makes up "facts". How surprising!
Bill Shorten has apologised for mistakenly telling Parliament that Liberal frontbencher Michael Ronaldson called the former Chief of Army Ken Gillespie a "coward".
The Opposition Leader apologised on Wednesday night, after receiving a letter from Senator Ronaldson demanding to see the evidence for his "coward" claim. It also came after a day spent trying to deflect attention from comments made by Labor frontbench colleague Stephen Conroy.
During Tuesday's Senate estimates, Senator Conroy sparked controversy by accusing Lieutenant-General Angus Campbell of participating in a "political cover-up" by citing operational reasons for not answering questions about the Abbott government's secretive border protection policies.
Trying to deflect attention from Senator Conroy's attack on General Campbell, Mr Shorten told the House on Wednesday: "What I also know is that . . . when Chief of Army General Gillespie was at estimates it was Senator Ronaldson who called him a coward," during debate on a motion to admonish Senator Conroy.
"I'm sure that, given his time again, Senator Ronaldson might have chosen his words differently," Mr Shorten said.
But the Special Minister of State, Senator Ronaldson, had no recollection of calling General Gillespie a "coward" at an estimates hearing in 2011. And when he phoned the General to check, the former Chief of Army also did not recall the exchange.
Senator Ronaldson wrote to Mr Shorten's office asking to see evidence for his claim. "I wrote to Mr Shorten asking him to provide me with a copy of the transcript showing me where I allegedly said this," Senator Ronaldson said.
Mr Shorten's staff could find nothing in the parliamentary record to support his "coward" claim.
It is understood Mr Shorten received the letter from Senator Ronaldson at 7.20pm and at 7.26pm he entered the House to correct the record and apologise.
"This afternoon I referred to the Special Minister of State," Mr Shorten said. "At the time I had been advised that the minister had made the remark I attributed to him.
"Tonight at 7.20pm, I received a letter from the Special Minister of State advising that he has no recollection of making that remark. "Therefore, I wish to correct the record and I apologise to the Special Minister of State."
Mr Shorten got the "coward" tip from his Victorian Labor colleague David Feeney. Mr Feeney had passed a note to the Opposition Leader telling him about Senator Ronaldson's alleged exchange with the Chief of Army in 2011.
When Fairfax Media called Mr Feeney on Thursday morning, the member for Batman admitted he might have unwittingly misinformed his leader.
"I witnessed a couple of sharp altercations [between Senator Ronaldson and General Gillespie]," Mr Feeney said, though acknowledging there was a difference between a "sharp altercation" and calling the Chief of Army a "coward".
"But the critical point here is that this is a device for the Liberal Party to avoid talking about issues that actually matter," Mr Feeney said, citing "secrecy, Manus Island, cuts to Defence and the difficulties that Senator Nash is experiencing".
Senator Ronaldson said he wanted a "formal retraction" from the Opposition Leader. "The only way the record can be properly corrected is for a full and unequivocal retraction of the allegation and this must be done in the House by Mr Shorten," he said. "Notwithstanding the rough and tumble of Parliamentary proceedings, Mr Shorten's accusation went way beyond acceptable standards."
Independent MP Andrew Wilkie, who initiated a parliamentary censure of Senator Conroy believes he can remain opposition defence spokesman provided he apologises to General Campbell.
Mr Wilkie said it was entirely appropriate to quiz General Campbell about Operation Sovereign Borders. "But what happened was, Senator Conroy accused General Campbell of being complicit in a cover-up when there is no evidence," he told ABC radio on Thursday. "It was a direct attack on his character and it was entirely unwarranted," he said.
Mr Wilkie said Senator Conroy should face the media and publicly apologise to General Campbell. "Say he made a mistake, that he’ll learn from it and he’ll get back to work," he said.
NSW Government resists Commonwealth push for independent government funded schools
New South Wales is resisting any further embrace of the Federal Government's new $70 million Independent Public Schools initiative.
The reforms, launched earlier this month, include a goal of 25 per cent, or approximately 1500 existing public schools to become Independent Public Schools by 2017.
Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne said on Sunday that he had letters from every state and territory, except South Australia, wanting to be part of the program.
But NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli says his state has already substantially gone down the road of school autonomy and is not planning to go any further.
"We've made it clear and New South Wales has gone substantially down the road of increased school autonomy. Public schools in NSW will manage 70 per cent of their budget up from the current 10 per cent," he said.
"So we have gone substantially down the road of school autonomy, New South Wales has done a lot.
"The Commonwealth have got their views and I have met with Christopher Pyne to talk about where our reforms actually meet the kinds of changes that he would like to see and we continue those negotiations."
He says it is powerful for public schools to be part of a system and he does not want that to change with more autonomy.
"You have got to have a balance between the power of principals to make decisions about their schools but also keeping the power of a system in place, " he said.
Mr Pyne says NSW wants to be part of the independent schools program and he will continue to work with Mr Piccoli.
"I'll be working with him to develop the kind of autonomy in schools that we both think is of an advantage to students, particularly, in bringing about good outcomes for students," he said.
Mr Pyne has denied there are any tensions between himself and the NSW Education Minister saying he feels "very positive toward Adrian Piccoli".
The Federal Education Minister has urged MPs to talk to parents and teachers to encourage schools in their communities to become independent public schools.
Mr Piccoli says he does not have a problem with federal MPs lobbying schools. "Federal MPs are entitled to write to their local schools," he said.
But the the Director-General of Education and Communities Dr Michele Bruniges has taken issue and written to the state's public school principals.
" NSW public schools operate as part of a school system. Individual schools are therefore unable to enter into any such arrangement with the Commonwealth government," she wrote. "Any discussions about independent public schools will be conducted at a departmental level."