Monday, March 02, 2009

Police cover up ethnic violence again

Police and cinema chiefs have clashed about outbreaks of violence that have resulted in a critically-acclaimed film about Lebanese gangs being pulled from theatres across the state. The Combination has been dumped by all NSW Greater Union cinemas - the second blow for the movie's makers in just four days, after one of its stars was sentenced to almost six months in jail for a violent assault not dissimilar to those the film depicts.

At least two incidents at its Parramatta cinema complex had compromised the safety of staff and moviegoers, Greater Union's Robert Flynn said yesterday. A sold-out screening of the film was nearing completion on Saturday night when an altercation between a number of patrons began and then spilled out on to the street - apparently sparked after a girl asked other patrons to be quiet. On Thursday night a guard was hospitalised after he was assaulted for asking a patron to stop smoking.

Police and the cinema operator disagree about the seriousness of the incidents, The Australian reports. "A fight broke out. It went into the foyer, over the aero-bridge, and our security (footage) shows police arriving," Greater Union spokeswoman Melissa Kesby said. "We have people being put in police cars on the security footage. "A staff member was hit in the head. We can't understand why police are saying that nothing happened, because that's not what our staff said."

A spokeswoman for NSW police said: "Police were advised (on Saturday night) there were four people involved in an altercation, and perhaps 50 onlookers. Police got the call at 17.38, and were there at 17.39, and there were no signs of that incident."

Meanwhile film's writer and actor, George Basha, who plays a Lebanese-Australian fresh out of jail, said the decision to pull the film was "discriminatory". "You've got 300 or 400 people in the cinema, and then you've got three or four kids, 15 and 16 years old, making a nuisance," Basha said. "The cinema is saying they were smoking in the cinema, and there were fights breaking out ... I've seen fights happen. I'm pretty sure those films didn't get closed down."

Leading film critic, David Stratton, told The Australian the movie had "a powerful message". "It points out the problem with violence," Stratton said. "It's an excellent film, an important film. It seems to me to be an extreme reaction, a knee-jerk reaction. "It's akin to shooting the messenger. Good films are meant to provoke and challenge, and that is what this film does."

Film distributor Allanah Zitserman from Australian Film Syndicate said the decision to scrap screenings at all NSW Greater Union cinemas was upsetting for the cast and crew. "The film has done exceptionally well so far, it's been selling out in these areas," she said. "It's particularly devastating because here we have an Australian film that's connecting with audiences, touching a nerve and three days into its release it's been pulled because of a small group of troublemakers who've spoiled it for everyone else."

The company hoped to hold talks today with Greater Union about overturning the decision.


Homebirths may be pushed underground by meddling socialist government

Something that the human race has done since pre-history is suddenly wrong

Hundreds of women each year who choose to give birth in their homes are likely to face greater medical danger for themselves and their babies with the introduction of regulations that could force the practice underground. From the middle of next year, midwives will be required to hold professional indemnity insurance as a condition of practice, under the Rudd Government's plan to streamline registration requirements for all health professionals.

No commercial insurer has been prepared to offer an insurance policy to an independent midwife since the medical indemnity and wider insurance crises of 2001. When the new regime comes into effect, it will no longer be legal for these uninsured independent midwives to attend home births. The only exception will be if the midwife is employed by one of the very few publicly funded services, thought to be fewer than half a dozen nationwide.

Although the number of women giving birth at home is tiny in Australia - just over 700 in 2006, or 0.26 per cent of all births - this represents a committed group. More than 50 per cent of submissions to the federal Government's recent maternity services review came from women calling for greater support for homebirthing services, which claim up to a 10-fold greater share of births in some overseas countries such as Britain. Since 2001, an estimated 150 midwives have provided homebirth services to women, at a typical cost of between $3000 and $5000, but without rebates from Medicare or private health funds, and without insurance cover that would give recourse to compensation should anything go wrong.

Midwifery experts, consumer advocates for homebirthing and even some obstetricians are calling for the problem to be sorted out before midwives are forced out of homebirths. Sarah McLean, a volunteer with the Homebirth Access Sydney consumer group, is pregnant with her third baby and is planning to deliver at home. She said the prospect of losing the option of homebirth was "quite devastating". "It's ridiculous to effectively make homebirth illegal, when other countries like Britain have publicly funded homebirth programs," Ms McLean said.

Caroline Homer, professor of midwifery at the University of Technology Sydney, said the "worst-case scenario is that women would be unattended" when giving birth. "Another scenario is that the midwives will continue to practise under other names, but there won't be any standards of care, and no peer review or evaluation, because it will all be in secret," Professor Homer said. "Removing independent midwives and saying we won't do homebirths won't solve the problem; women will continue to have babies at home."

Obstetrician Andrew Bisits, director of obstetrics at Newcastle's John Hunter Hospital, said there was no reason that the federal Government should not support midwives' indemnity costs as it already did for obstetricians and other doctors. Between 2003 and 2006, the federal Government subsidised doctors' premiums to the tune of $54.39 million. "If that's denied, you will have a number of people going underground, making these very fragile, secretive arrangements," he said. "It's much more sensible to be positive about it."

Homebirth supporters had been hoping the Maternity Services Review would solve the problem by recommending federal support for midwife indemnity. In the event, the report said homebirthing was "a sensitive and controversial issue" and the "relationship between maternity healthcare professionals is not such as to support homebirth as a mainstream commonwealth-funded option (at least in the short term)".

Evidence for the safety of homebirths is disputed. US research published in the British Medical Journal in 2005 found low-risk women giving birth at home with midwife supervision had lower rates of medical interventions, such as the use of forceps, and no greater risk of their baby dying either during birth or soon afterwards.


Warmist Wong is wrong

Business has a new nickname for Climate Change Minister Penny Wong. They call her "The High Priestess", reflecting the view that Wong has been overtaken by religious zeal - rather than rationality - in her campaign to impose the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme on Australia. It also reflects the fact that in the context of the global financial crisis this is now a changed world from the one in which the idea of an emissions trading scheme was debated before the last federal election.

Back then the collapse of the world's financial markets was dismissed by Labor. Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan scoffed at the idea of a global downturn. At that time they were obsessed by an economy which they thought was on an inflation-fuelled freight train, running out of control and in need of a yank on the interest-rate brake. And Peter Costello, warning of a "global tsunami", was labelled a desperate Henny Penny, peddling fear as an election device to scare voters back into the Coalition fold.

Not now. In the resource-boom environment that prevailed then, business was prepared to countenance the idea of an ETS - even if it involved some job losses and extra cost - because with the economy expected to stay on a growth path it was an acceptable price to pay for a cleaner, greener future.

No more. Last week saw a decisive shift in sentiment, with the influential Australian Industry Group - generally seen as close to the Government - calling for a delay in the introduction of any ETS until 2012, rather than the Government's proposed 2010. In a statement, the AIG described 2010 as "neither necessary nor realistic" and was explicit too about the likely impact of the bleak global outlook on Australia's emissions task. "Australia is already on track to meet its Kyoto commitments over the period to 2012," the group said. "The sharp downturn in the economy and the associated reduction in emissions . . . will reduce our abatement task in the short term."

In other words, the targets set and still championed by Wong are now irrelevant. The truth is, business always had reservations, but in the afterglow of Rudd's emphatic 2007 mandate it kept those concerns muted. But now AIG's reservations have been echoed by Onesteel, BlueScope Steel and the Australian Farm Institute.

Andrew Robb is Wong's Coalition opposite number on the ETS. Even before his instalment in this position he had around 50 major companies coming quietly through his back door, pressuring him to get Wong to change tack. Since January, when formally endorsed to shadow Wong, he's had 20 more.

In a week in which the loss of 1850 jobs at Pacific Brands has finally crystallised the truly national threat to employment security flowing from the global credit crunch, the Opposition is now linking the ETS directly to these fears. "Every sewing machine, every production line, every mill, every conveyor belt, every piece of machinery that uses energy will suffer a new cost as a result of the ETS that our overseas competitors will not have to face," thundered former National Party Senate leader Ron Boswell last week.

His point is that in setting carbon-reduction targets, Australia is well ahead of its low-wage trade and manufacturing competitors such as India and China. The United Nations conference on climate change in Copenhagen later this year will try to bring those developing countries and others on board. But if it fails in this endeavour, the Opposition argues, Australian industry will be dangerously exposed.

A year ago, Boswell was almost a lone voice. Even the Coalition was committed to an ETS - and this remains nominally the case - but Malcolm Turnbull now says it's only part of the solution. Boswell suddenly has company. Under this pressure, the Government - if not Wong - appears also to be shifting ground. First, Treasurer Wayne Swan tried quietly to set up an inquiry into the merits of an ETS - despite the fact the Government was already nominally committed to such a scheme. When the obvious contradiction blew up in his face, Swan scuttled the idea.

Last week there was another straw in the wind. In his first minor front-bench reshuffle, Kevin Rudd assigned one of the best operators in the Government, Greg Combet, to become parliamentary secretary to Wong with explicit responsibility for climate change. There are two ways of looking at this: Combet is there to help Wong, or he's there to ride shotgun on Rudd's behalf. In his former guise as ACTU Secretary, Combet had only one priority: the protection of workers' jobs. After the human and economic tragedy of PacBrands, Wong may find Rudd's focus too has shifted Combet's way. In which case, last week may turn out to be the time when the ETS - at least in its current form - hit the wall.


Nasty Leftist bitch backed by NSW government but found to be a liar

And the taxpayer picks up the bill!

NSW taxpayers are facing up to $1 million in legal bills after a landmark court case found that a woman on a State Government board had defamed two of her colleagues by saying they were having an affair. Three-time Labor candidate Meryl Dillon had her legal costs covered by the Government while the people she defamed were refused the same protection, even though they were all connected to the same board. The Government said it is standard practice to help board members who are sued "while acting in their official capacity" and insists Mrs Dillon's Labor credentials are irrelevant.

Now that she has lost the case, taxpayers will have to cover the massive legal bills of both sides - a result that has enraged the Opposition and seen the case referred to the corruption watchdog.

Last week District Court judge Michael Elkaim, SC, found Mrs Dillon had acted out of malice and not genuine concern for the reputation of the Border Rivers-Gwydir Catchment Management Authority when she told its chairman, James Croft, that board member Les Boland and then-general manager Amanda Cush were having an affair. The judge said Mrs Dillon's case was damaged because she had passed the gossip to others before she spoke to Mr Croft. She told Mr Croft of the rumour without trying to find out if it was true and despite the fact that she did not believe it. "I accept that her relations with the plaintiffs may not have been conducive to such an approach but, nevertheless, she made the bald statement to Mr Croft without any qualification as to its lack of proof," Judge Elkaim said.

A jury had already decided Mrs Dillon had defamed Mr Boland, a farmer, and Ms Cush, who later lost her job over unrelated matters, when she spoke to Mr Croft. Judge Elkaim had to decide whether she was protected by qualified privilege - that is, if she was properly carrying out her duties as a board member by informing the chairman. But he decided her actions were malicious and awarded $5000 each in damages to Mr Boland, now 64, and Ms Cush, now 39. They said Mrs Dillon's revelation had had a devastating impact on their lives.

Mrs Dillon said she was "very disappointed with the outcome". "I believed I was doing the right thing - in fact, my duty - by having a confidential meeting to advise the chairperson of issues relating to the governance of the [catchment management authority]," she said. "It would seem that it is a very cautionary tale and one that has far-reaching implications for any member of a board or statutory authority and their need to weigh their obligations as a board member against their own personal risk."

Nationals MP Kevin Humphries, who defeated Mrs Dillon to win Barwon in 2007, said NSW Treasurer Eric Roozendaal should cancel the payment of legal bills from the case. "If people want to defame others then they should be liable, not the taxpayer," he said.


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