Thursday, July 19, 2007

Visa laws 'unfair' to Muslims

The poor little precious petals are being asked to name their families. What an outrage!

NEW laws that demand Arabs seeking visa entry into Australia provide the names of their parents and grandfather hint at racial and religious profiling, according to a leading Islamic group. "It would be pretty naive to think there is no religious profiling going on (with visa applicants), even if it's not officially recognised," said the Islamic Council of Victoria's spokesman, Waleed Aly.

Australian security agencies had asked for the new regulations that require extra personal information from Arabic visa applicants to include the names of their parents and grandfather. Other visa applicants, including those from China and Russia, are also being required to provide additional information about the spelling of names and ancestral names before being granted entry to Australia.

The Federal Government has insisted there is no racial or religious profiling in Australia's immigration programs. Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews' spokeswoman said the changes would help in the proper identification of applicants and their character. "The question that has been included in the new form (about Arabic grandfathers) is designed to enable more accurate and higher-quality identification of visa applicants," she said.

But Mr Aly said his own experiences had shown him racial and religious characteristics were focused on by border officials. Mr Aly said despite random searches being conducted at Australian airports, he had become used to always being stopped and questioned, and that many Australian Muslims knew that they would come under special attention, especially at airports. "They disproportionately focus on people who are Muslim or who appear to be Muslim," he said.

All visa applicants aged 16 and older wanting to visit Australia must fill out a character assessment form, which identifies their siblings and parents. But regulations brought in this year require Arabic, Chinese and Russian visa applicants to provide extra detail. For Russian citizens they must include their patronymic or ancestral name, and Chinese applicants must provide their name in commercial code numbers, which relates to Chinese characters, and in English


A rare good-news report about mobile phones

Refreshing after the endless speculative claims that mobiles will give you cancer

A new study has found mobile phones have enhanced the lives of most Australians. Researchers from the Australian National University, working with colleagues from New South Wales and New England, found only 3 per cent of people believed mobiles had a negative impact on their lives. More than half of those questioned said their mobile phones helped them achieve a better work-life balance. Three-quarters of people said carrying a mobile made them feel more secure.

Research Professor Judy Wajcman says overwhelmingly people use their mobile to phone family and friends. "What it seems to us, when we look at our findings overall is that the mobile phone is not primarily a work tool," he said. "Indeed, one of the principal uses of the mobile phone is to strengthen ties with kin and close relationships, close friends."

The project was based on collaboration between university-based researchers and the peak organisation of mobile phone service providers, the Australian Mobile Telecommunication Association (AMTA), under the umbrella of the Australian Research Council Linkage grant scheme. The report says AMTA's mission is 'to promote an environmentally, socially and economically responsible and successful mobile telecommunications industry in Australia'. The collaboration follows a workshop held in May 2004, jointly sponsored by AMTA and the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia.


Cautious climate policy

AUSTRALIAN researchers will be encouraged to participate in a global project to build a new-generation nuclear reactor under Howard Government climate-change plans, which include grants to help homeowners and schools buy rainwater tanks and solar hot water systems. John Howard yesterday savaged Labor plans to cut emissions as confusing "panic with virtue" as he allocated $637million for a strategy that he said involved "a blend of prudent conservatism and economic liberalism" to address climate change. The Prime Minister said he would offer $50,000 rebates for schools installing solar hot water systems or rainwater tanks. And he said families earning less than $100,000 a year would get a $1000 rebate to replace an electric hot water system with a solar one.

After announcing the grants on the internet site YouTube early yesterday, Mr Howard moved quickly in a lunchtime speech to commit $12.5million to the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation and local universities to contribute to the US-led project to develop a nuclear reactor that recycles its own waste material. Mr Howard said with 40per cent of the world's uranium deposits, Australia could not stand apart from developments in nuclear technology. "Nuclear power has no direct carbon dioxide emissions and is already a significant part of the world's energy system," he told the Melbourne Press Club. The US-led Global Nuclear Energy Partnership has established a multi-nation research project into what are known as Generation IV nuclear reactors. Using gas rather than water to cool the reactor, designers hope the plant will re-enrich spent uranium to be reused, cutting down on waste.

Labor has rejected nuclear energy as part of its climate change response and labelled the Government's pursuit of nuclear technology as an "obsession". Opposition industry spokesman Kim Carr said the Government's announcement was a "nuclear waste" and argued that Australia should be putting its efforts into developing nuclear medicine. "Australia is blessed with an abundance of clean energy resources and we should be using them to power our future," he said. "Instead, Australian taxpayers will once again be footing the bill for Howard's nuclear power obsession."

Mr Howard launched a 46-page glossy publication outlining the Government's climate change agenda, saying the policy was designed to link in with emerging global schemes.

But Labor environment spokesman Peter Garrett warned that Australia must not create a "competing" system that might undermine the UN-sponsored climate change negotiations. Mr Garrett said the Howard Government's desire to go it alone could ultimately leave Australia isolated, particularly after last month's meeting of the Group of Eight economies, where nations including the US signalled there must be a global target for emissions. "Labor believes there is no place for establishing competing regimes. Instead, Mr Howard's task is to ensure Australia and APEC create a unifying force that brings together the various initiatives that are being advanced," he told the Lowy Institute.


Global cooling hits Melbourne too

IT WAS cold, so very cold. Then came the rain, the wind and in some parts of the state, the snow. Melbourne yesterday recorded its coldest day in nine years. The temperature hovered around six degrees for most of the afternoon, dipping to 5.4 degrees at 6pm. The top was 9.2 degrees at 9.48am, well below the July average top of 13.7 degrees. Weather bureau forecaster Dean Stewart said a cold front hit Melbourne around the morning peak hour, bringing hours of rain and blasts of cold Antarctic air in its wake. The previous coldest maximum Melbourne temperature came on July 9, 1998, with a top of 8.9 degrees.

The State Emergency Service took 150 storm damage calls across the state, mostly in metropolitan Melbourne. SES spokesman Tim Wiebusch said Emerald, Hastings and Sorrento were the busiest units, with 15 to 20 calls for help in each area, mostly for fallen trees. In other areas, the weather brought joy. Sean Robertson, manager of the SkyHigh restaurant and lookout at Mount Dandenong, welcomed a light snow that blanketed the centre, car park and terraces from 4pm. "If it's going to be cold, it may as well snow."

Ballarat City Council media officer Nicole Gillard said Ballarat's main street, Sturt Street, resembled a movie set when it was frosted with snow yesterday morning. "Lots of people were taking photos of snow in their backyards, on cars and the white streets," she said. "It actually put a smile on everybody's face." Snow and ice forced VicRoads to close roads in Ballan, Daylesford, Trentham, Woodend and Mt Macedon for hours due to snow and ice. There were no complaints on the Victorian ski fields, which continue to enjoy the best start to the ski season in seven years.


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