Monday, April 20, 2009

Child abuse by social workers again

SELF-DESCRIBED hippies from northern NSW are suing the state's Department of Community Services for removing their two healthy children from their care without a good reason. The couple - who cannot be named despite wanting to tell their story and not being guilty of any offence - were last week awarded legal costs, believed to exceed $50,000, for the fight to have their children returned.

They could not afford a lawyer so represented themselves in court. The mother told The Australian that the money would be used to pursue DOCS further. A judge has found their children were taken for no good reason, in an apparent abuse of power by welfare workers.

The case comes as two Queensland families prepare legal action against the Department of Child Safety for removing their children and placing them in foster homes, where they died. In one case, the family's two-year-old boy suffered a head injury at the home of his 74-year-old foster mother and died a week later in hospital. The coroner is examining.

The boy's father does not deny he has a long criminal history and a drug problem, but he says the department should not have placed his son in a foster home with older children and an elderly carer. He says the boy was not being supervised when he was hurt.

In another case, revealed on ABC radio's Law Report in a special series on the secrecy that surrounds decisions to remove children from their parents, a first-time mother was told her daughter had died in foster care, from unknown causes.

A mother - who likewise wants to tell her story but is forbidden from revealing her identity - told the ABC's Heather Stewart that her baby girl had shown some problems during a 20-week scan. The baby had an operation immediately after birth, and another several months later. During a later medical appointment, a doctor noticed some bruising and scratches, and notified the Queensland Department of Child Safety, as required by law. The department removed the child from her mother and placed her in foster care. The family fought hard to have the child returned but, at eight months, the baby girl suddenly died. The coroner is investigating.

In the NSW case, two children were removed from their parents' care after they had an argument with DOCS workers over the mother's weight. A DOCS worker told the court she was concerned about drug use in the house and told the mother she looked as if she had lost weight. The mother replied: "You look like you've put on weight."

Hours later, the DOCS worker returned to the house with police and removed the children. They were placed in foster care for nine weeks, before Supreme Court judge George Palmer ordered the family reunited. He said he could not understand why DOCS had removed the baby, or why it was trying to keep the baby in care.

In the second Queensland case, the grandmother told the Law Report: "We tried desperately to get her back. We offered other family members that would care for her. "But DOCS is like an iron gate - you just can't get through. They never return your calls. They don't answer letters. They have no need to talk to family. Once they take your baby, they've done their job and they just don't want you around."

The family has a letter from Queensland's then attorney-general Kerry Shine, which says: "I accept you feel terribly let down by the actions of the department, which limited the time you were able to spend with your granddaughter during her short life."


Australia opts out of racist conference

AUSTRALIA has cancelled plans to attend an anti-racism conference in Geneva over concerns the UN-backed forum will degenerate into a launchpad for anti-Semitic attacks. The decision to boycott the Durban Review Conference was taken after Australia, in conjunction with the US, Israel and other countries, was unsuccessful in pushing for changes to the wording of a draft document upholding anti-Semitic remarks in the 2001 Durban Declaration.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith yesterday said that while Australia remained strongly committed to fighting racism, the federal Government could not support the document reaffirming the original declaration. Canada, the US, Israel and Italy have for similar reasons already pulled out of Durban II, which begins today.

The Netherlands broke ranks with the European Union last night to join the boycott. Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen said The Netherlands would not attend because it feared the event would be abused ``for political ends and attacks on the West''. Germany is also considering a boycott, after intense lobbying by Mr Smith and Mr Verhagen.

Pro-Palestinian Labor backbencher Julia Irwin broke ranks to slam the boycott.

Canberra's 11th hour decision follows a US State Department announcement on the weekend that changes in the meeting's final document did not address concerns of anti-Israel and anti-Western bias. The 2001 Durban conference ended acrimoniously, with Israel and the US storming out in protest over Arab attempts to adopt a resolution equating Zionism with racism.

Mr Smith said he feared the Geneva conference was heading the same way. "The 2001 declaration singled out Israel and the Middle East," he said. "Australia expressed strong views about this at the time. The Australian Government continues to have these concerns. "Regrettably, we cannot be confident that the review conference will not be used as a platform to air offensive views, including anti-Semitic views. Of additional concern are the suggestions of some delegations in the Durban process to limit the universal right to free speech."

Mr Smith's argument was strongly rejected by Ms Irwin. "It's a shame Australia will be one of a handful of nations boycotting the Durban conference," Ms Irwin said. "Any nation which has policies which discriminate on the grounds of race or religion should not be above criticism and should not be supported by the Australian Government."

Australia's Jewish community warmly welcomed yesterday's decision. Executive Council of Australian Jewry president Robert Goot said the Durban II conference would not advance the fight to combat racism but would again single out Israel for condemnation. Australia-Israel and Jewish Affairs Council executive director Colin Rubenstein said Durban II's draft declaration was always going to be problematic. "With Libya chairing the preparatory committee assisted by Cuba as rapporteur and Iran as one of several vice-chairs, the proposed outcome document has mixed the fight against racism with a variety of morally deplorable political agendas," Dr Rubenstein said.

Palestinian groups expressed anger and disappointment at the decision, which they said showed Australia was not serious about ending racism. Australians for Palestine founding member Moammar Mashni said the Rudd Government had bowed to pressure from pro-Israel lobbies.

While Britain says it will be attending, [Another indication of the antisemitism that infests Britain's Leftist intelligentsia] the participation of countries such as Iran and Cuba, which have reputations as serial human rights violators, is likely to ensure the summit turns into an anti-Israel and anti-US slanging match.


FedGov is "listening" to immigration advice

In the circumstances, that's progress

THE Federal Government has warned the nation to brace for more illegal boat arrivals, describing the surge as a "threat" which must be stopped. "We have real problem on our hands,'' Immigration Minister Chris Evans said. "The Government acknowledges that. We are throwing all the resources we can into combating it.''

Senator Evans blamed increased armed conflict in northern Asia for people taking to leaky - and increasingly deadly - boats to try to reach Australia and seek asylum, The Sunday Telegraph reports.

He confirmed that the Government had been warned by Australian Federal Police (AFP), when it softened its refugee policy by abolishing Temporary Protection Visas, that more illegal refugees would try to reach Australia. "We are absolutely listening,'' he said. "There is no suggestion that the AFP warnings have been ignored.''

The Federal Opposition seized on the admission, with shadow foreign minister Julie Bishop accusing the government of a "cover-up'' and dropping the ball on its watch.

Senator Evans' warning follows the death of three people and injuries to a further 47 on a sinking refugee boat last week after it had been doused in petrol and set alight off Ashmore Reef, 600km from Broome. Two people are missing.

Authorities yesterday were reportedly tracking another refugee boat en route to Australia.

Surgeons in Brisbane today will operate on six injured people, airlifted from Darwin and suffering life-threatening burns.


Desalination plant already full of corrosion

Appalling bureaucratic bungling. Corrosion at this early stage indicates grossly incompetent design. Corrosion prevention should have been a leading design feature in anything handling salt water -- which has fierce and well-known corrosive effects

JUST two months after the taps were finally turned on, the State Government's $1.2 billion desalination plant will be shut down for five weeks for repairs. The plant at Tugun on the Gold Coast has been besieged with problems, and is still months away from being officially handed over to Water Secure - the government body that will own and run it.

Infrastructure and Planning Minister Stirling Hinchliffe confirmed the plant will shut down from late this month for "scheduled repair work", and dismissed claims it is an expensive white elephant. "The planned shutdown in late April will go ahead, to carry out work such as the replacement of corroded couplings," Mr Hinchliffe said. "There is also other ongoing work as previously announced, including the progressive replacement of water valves by the supplier. "Water Secure will not take delivery of the plant until all these issues are fixed. This is about protecting taxpayers' dollars - now and in the future."

The plant was supposed to be pumping 125 megalitres a day of water into the southeast Queensland water grid by January 15, but that did not happen until March 9. Premier Anna Bligh was featured on the cover of a national engineering magazine this year, supposedly tasting water from the opened plant last November. Water did not enter the drinking system until three months later.

Natural Resources Minister Stephen Robertson yesterday was forced to defend claims the plant had "mysteriously" stopped pumping last week as dam levels neared 60 per cent. He said the halt on Thursday was for "just scheduled maintenance". "There is no drama here, nothing significant here," he said, noting it was back at 33 per cent capacity yesterday. "Desalinated water costs more than water that comes from the sky and into our dams," Mr Robertson said. "To run the desalination plant more than you need to would result in an increase in the price of water, which is not in the public interest."

He said it would run closer to full capacity as the high Hinze Dam level dropped. Water is being let out of the Hinze, and into the water grid, so work can begin on raising the dam wall.

LNP Leader John-Paul Langbroek said the Government had serious questions to answer about how the water grid was being run. "It beggars belief that we can spend so much and get so little for it ... it just does not stack up," he said.

Despite the ongoing problems, Mr Hinchliffe said the project had been a success, supplying more than three billion litres of water to the southeast grid since late February. "This is the largest desalination plant built on the east coast of Australia, so some teething pains are to be expected," he said.


Green dream ruined by reality

AFTER spending five years raising three small children in what many consider the idyllic South Coast town of Berry, naturopath Amanda Haberecht and designer Stuart Cook couldn't wait to move back to the city.

"Over a bottle of wine one night, we realised that we actually liked art galleries and restaurants and doing nothing on the weekends," she said.

"Life in the country was working all week and then working all weekend to fix fences or build stuff or mow acres."

The Balmain couple say the years in the countryside were great for the children, "who can now deal with spiders and snakes and all those things city kids freak out about", but became a problem as they grew older.

"We spent so much time driving our kids around that we thought it really limited their independence," Ms Haberecht says. "In the city, kids have more opportunities and can get around on their own."

The couple also found it difficult to find enough employment while they lived in Berry and spent much of their time commuting back to Sydney for work.

"It took a real toll on the marriage because one of us was always single-parenting and the other was on the road," Ms Haberecht said.

"And you know what? I really hate gardening. I liked the idea of growing organic vegies, but I hated doing it."


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