Tuesday, September 12, 2006

More straight talk to Muslims from John Howard

John Howard has called on moderate Muslims to speak out more often against terrorism and declared it is no good "pussyfooting around" about Islamic terrorists. The Prime Minister believes Australians have a sensible, uncowed view of terrorism and that everyone, including Muslims, knows Islamic extremists are responsible for the threat and the tougher security laws that entails. "People in Australia are in no doubt that extreme Islam is responsible for terrorism," Mr Howard said in an interview with The Australian to mark the fifth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks on the US that killed nearly 3000 people, including 10 Australians.

US President George W.Bush will mark the anniversary by visits to the attack sites - in New York, where the two World Trade Centre towers stood; Shanksville, Pennsylvania; and the Pentagon, just outside Washington DC. He will save his formal remarks for a televised Oval Office speech due to air on Tuesday morning, Australian time. Mr Howard, who has sent a letter of condolence to Mr Bush on behalf of the Australian people, will attend a ceremony at the US embassy in Canberra today.

The al-Qaeda terrorist group taunted the West last week by releasing a video of Osama bin Laden meeting 9/11 hijackers, in a move calculated to maximise fear ahead of the anniversary.

Speaking over the weekend, Mr Bush assured Americans that the US was relentlessly hunting down suspected terrorists in order to avoid a new attack. He said that while the country was safer, "America still faces determined enemies". "We must take the words of these extremists seriously, and we must act decisively to stop them from achieving their evil aims."

Mr Howard said that it was illogical for civil libertarians to attack the Australian Government for changes to its security laws because terrorists - "Osama and his grisly band" - were responsible. "I accept that in a free society you have to justify reductions in people's liberties. I accept that, bearing in mind my starting point is that the most important human right is the right to life," he said. Mr Howard, who was in Washington when the Pentagon was hit by a hijacked plane, said at the time that he knew something enormous had occurred but did not know who was responsible or what the consequences would be. "I knew ... the world was quite never going to be the same again. You couldn't escape the realisation that this was something like nothing else," he recalled. He had met Mr Bush the day before the attacks, and "George Bush and I didn't talk about terrorism on September 10, 2001".

The Prime Minister said Australians had "adjusted in a very sensible way" since then. "They understand things have changed, they accept the need for new laws, they support those laws but they are getting on with their lives and doing the things we want to do while having in the back of our minds there may be one day a terrorist attack which (will) inflict mass casualties on this country," Mr Howard said. "That's the mood of the people, that's how they think. You can't down tools and stay at home and stop going to the football or the cricket or stop travelling on trains or aircraft. "It doesn't alter what I do and shouldn't alter what I do."

Mr Howard was criticised two weeks ago for suggesting a small minority of Muslim immigrants refused to learn English or integrate into Australian society. But he told The Australian that despite the criticism, people, including moderate Muslims, knew extremists were the common thread of terrorism. "We shouldn't pussyfoot around. No decent, genuine Muslim would support terrorism," he said. "We are not attacking Muslims generally but you have to call terrorism for what it is - it is a movement that invokes in a totally blasphemous and illegitimate way the sanction of Islam to justify what it does."

Mr Howard also said he thought it would help more if "on occasions they (moderate Muslims) should come out and be more critical of terrorism". "We are confronting people who would deny our human rights," he said. When people were subjected to searches or reduced liberty, he said, "the people who should be blamed are the terrorists, not the Government. The terrorists have made it necessary". "I find it amazing civil libertarians run around and attack me, or (British Prime Minister) Tony Blair or attack the police," Mr Howard said. "We haven't done it. We are the instruments of the changed circumstances in people's lives, but the cause is the terrorist threat."

Mr Howard said the September 11 attacks had fundamentally changed politics in Australia. "It is a new dimension, a new element, and when I was elected I never dreamt the biggest thing I would confront would be the terrorist threat. It wasn't there," he said. "We have invested $8.3 billion in enhanced security and I wish we could have spent it on something else. But who has made it necessary? Osama and his grisly band. "I don't talk up the terrorist threat; I just call it as it is."

Kim Beazley accused the Government yesterday of not doing enough for national security. "When you look at the fact we've spent $8 billion, we still don't have a coast guard; we still don't have closed-circuit TV across all our railway systems; we still don't have proper inspection of crews and ports ... You've got to say there's room for improvement here, big time," he said.


No ban on smacking

Two state premiers have dismissed calls for a national ban on smacking, insisting parents have the right to discipline their children responsibly. The Australian Childhood Foundation has called for a nationwide ban on smacking after it found 45 per cent of Australians believe it is reasonable to leave a mark on a child by smacking them. In a poll of 750 adults, the child welfare group found 70 per cent of people support smacking, while 10 per cent believe it is appropriate to hit a child with an implement. A report by the Australian Childhood Foundation recommends state governments change their laws allowing parents to physically punish their children.

Queensland Premier Peter Beattie said a smack on the bum never hurt anybody. "Everything in moderation," he told Macquarie Radio. "You don't use it as an excuse for violence and you don't hurt them. "A smack on the bum never hurt any kid, in my view."

NSW Premier Morris Iemma said he would not be changing the law because the current NSW laws provide the necessary balance between preventing child abuse and allowing parents to discipline their children. "Our laws provide that appropriate balance," Mr Iemma told reporters, "in the government having strong laws against abuse and harm, and sending a very strong message about protecting kids, and at the same time recognising the responsibility of parents and the role of parents." NSW laws ban the use of implements to discipline children and any form of physical contact to their head.

The Australian Family Association said a ban on smacking would be going too far. "We have some concerns about introducing laws which have the potential of turning parents into criminals," spokesman Damien Tudehope said. "To introduce laws which mean the government has a role to play in deciding who and who isn't a good parent, we think that's going too far."


More evidence of failing schools

Apprentices fall short in maths, science

A large workplace training provider has been forced to teach maths and physics to apprentice electricians. The move by Adelaide-based Peer Tec -- which trains hundreds of apprentices -- follows warnings that universities may need to lengthen courses or drop subjects unless the review of the South Australian Certificate of Education produces more maths and science students.

Peer Tec chief executive Michael Boyce said a shortfall in the maths and physics knowledge of students who had left in years 10 and 11 had forced the company to introduce classes for its first-year apprentices. He said the 40 hours of maths and physics classes were essential for apprentices training to be electricians, refrigerator mechanics and data communications technicians. "We have found that the maths taught at Year 10 and Year 11 level is not relevant to what we require in electrotechnology courses," Mr Boyce said. "The high school maths education does not provide them with the skills to work with formulas. Physics is required to be able to handle the concepts underpinning the trades." Peer Tec's parent, Group Training Australia (South Australia), has also hired senior maths teachers to review the "gaps" between senior school courses and the requirements of an electrical apprenticeship.

The Rann Government's review of SACE is in its early stages and includes input from state schools, universities, TAFE colleges, and Catholic and independent schools. Education Minister Jane Lomax Smith said yesterday the leaving age for students would soon be increased to 17 to ensure they had the academic background to enter apprenticeships. The review of SACE would also include recommendations to increase the flexibility for students who left school at Year 11 to enter the workforce but required extra tuition.

University of South Australia pro-vice-chancellor Peter Lee said last month degrees may have to be increased by a year if the SACE review failed to turn around the shortage of students.

Group Training Australia manager Mal Aubrey said the classes were introduced along with "aptitude tests" in maths and physics, made up of the sorts of problems first-year apprentices should be able to answer. Demand for places in apprenticeships was growing in the face of a national skills shortage in trades and heavy industry. Despite the strong demand for apprentices and a key role in finding jobs for school leavers, Mr Aubrey said Group Training Australia held a "peripheral" position in the review of SACE. But high-school education standards concerned the organisation enough to hire a senior maths teacher to conduct a review of the high school maths and physics curriculums. "There appears to be a couple of areas where there are gaps between what we require and what the school system is delivering," Mr Aubrey said. The maths and physics classes at Peer TEC started in January and the review will report to the Group Training Australia annual general meeting in November.


Going easy on black thugs called into question

The Northern Territory Opposition and police are demanding changes to the rules governing the admissibility of evidence in anattempt to secure more murderconvictions for violent Aborigines. Concerns are growing in the Territory - which has the nation's highest rate of homicide - about sentences for serious crimes and difficulties involved in pursuing murder convictions. Most deaths, especially in central Australia, involve Aborigines, alcohol and domestic violence. But since prosecutors have to prove intent, manslaughter convictions are more frequent than murder.

Opposition Leader Jodeen Carney said that while the rules of evidence existed to protect the accused, more flexibility was needed. "I would like to see some changes made to the admissibility of records of interview," Ms Carney said. "My view is that the pendulum has swung a little too far in favour of the accused."

Since 1996, 12 indigenous people in the Northern Territory have been convicted of murder and 62 for manslaughter. There have been 24 convictions for dangerous acts causing death and 23 for dangerous acts causing death while intoxicated.

Police Association president Vince Kelly said prosecutors sometimes "chucked in the towel too easily". He said it could be difficult to prove Aborigines - and others who did not speak English well - understood legal processes. "At some stage, the community, including the Aboriginal community and the legislature, are going to have to consider whether the rules of evidence in relation to these serious offences need to be changed," Mr Kelly said. "The simplest approach would be to review the whole notion of the right to silence. If you can't display that the person you are interviewing understood that they have that right to silence ... and unless you get every step right, you can well lose your record of interview. That's what creates the problem."

Attorney-General Syd Stirling said the Territory Government was strengthening the Criminal Code to remove "partial defences" to murder. "Being drunk will no longer be a defence to murder, and nor will an offender's cultural or ethnic background in assessing an ordinary person's behaviour," he said. But Mr Stirling denied there were plans to broaden the way evidence is admitted to court. "The Territory Government is not convinced that removing the right to silence would improve the fairness of the justice system," he said. "The current balance between the rights of the accused and the ability to present evidence in court is right."

In February this year, Georgie Swift, an Aboriginal man born in Alice Springs, was sentenced to 10 years in prison, with a non-parole period of seven years, for the manslaughter of his wife at a central Australian outstation. Swift, aged between 32 and 36, was drinking alcohol at his home when the offender began arguing with his sister. He pulled a kitchen knife from his pants, stabbed and slashed his father and sister and then went looking for his wife. After finding her in the bedroom, Swift - already serving a suspended sentence for assaulting his wife with a 30cm bar - fatally stabbed her several times.

In another case, Leeanne Jurrah, 21, was sentenced in October last year to five years behind bars, with a non-parole period of 2 1/2 years, for the manslaughter of her husband.


A sluggish bureaucracy finally takes on crooked cops

A covert police corruption investigation has revealed a culture of criminality, heavy drinking, guns and pornography at a suburban police station. The Age can reveal that the Office of Police Integrity, in a joint operation with the Ethical Standards Department, has charged three detectives from Springvale criminal investigation unit with possessing weapons, theft and handling stolen goods. The investigation also found that heavy drinking sessions and watching pornographic videos were a regular feature for some in the station.

The charges are among the first to be laid against police by the two-year-old Office of Police Integrity. The Age has discovered that the OPI has charged a total of 10 police on summons for various offences. The charges are crucial to the credibility of the OPI, which has been under fire from the Opposition and the Police Association for not charging anyone.

Police sources say that partly as a result of the entrenched problems at Springvale CIU, the unit will be closed and merged with nearby Dandenong. It is believed Detective Senior Constable Ross Colley has been charged with five counts of theft, six of handling stolen goods, and possessing weapons and dangerous goods. Detective Senior Constable Mark Ziemann has been charged with two counts of theft and one of unlawful possession. Detective Senior Constable Kenneth Taylor has been charged with two counts of theft.

But when the cases go to court, the investigation will also reveal details of the blokey culture of a suburban police station. The Age believes that a television in one office in the Springvale station constantly played pornography "as a matter of course" throughout the day. It would be turned off if a female officer entered the office. The investigation is also said to have found that some detectives would, while on duty, go for long, boozy lunches at local pubs and clubs, while one member of the unit would stay sober and remain on call. A source said that after returning to the office late in the afternoon, it was not unusual for officers to drink another slab of beer before going home. There would be two or three alcohol-soaked Friday afternoons each month. Meanwhile, ammunition and firearms were kept lying loose in desk drawers, in contravention of legislation requiring weapons to be safely stowed at all times.

The Age believes that the investigation into the Springvale CIU included "integrity testing", in which temptation is put in the way of officers to see if they resist. Incidents of criminal behaviour were videotaped during the investigation. "It was like an outpost with poor supervision," one source said. Anybody trying to bring about change was ignored.

The charging of the three detectives, who will face Melbourne Magistrates Court for a brief mention next Tuesday, comes as the OPI gears up for the toughest test of its powers yet. The watchdog has ordered a quarter of the armed offenders squad to appear before public hearings in the County Court from next Monday to be questioned about allegations of assault and misconduct. The 35-member squad was disbanded on Friday by Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon, who insisted the move was not a reaction to the OPI's investigation, but in line with reforms of the crime department. The public hearings are also likely to delve into questions about poor policing culture.

The hearings will be only the second time the OPI has used its extraordinary coercive powers in a public setting. It is the first time the powers have been used to target detectives from the elite major crime department. Two officers who appeared at the OPI's first hearing in February are to face court in relation to the alleged theft of $40,000 from an abandoned car in June last year. They are Senior Constable Christopher Sean Vincent and an officer identified only as R100.


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