Thursday, August 27, 2009


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG has a shot at both the NSW Labor party and the Federal Liberal party

Bill of rights would be a death knell for democracy says Howard

A BILL of rights would erode Australia's democracy, diminish the reputation and accountability of Parliament, politicise the judiciary and represent the ''final triumph of elitism in Australian politics'', the former prime minister John Howard said last night.

Delivering the annual Menzies Lecture at the University of Western Australia, Mr Howard campaigned against ceding power from elected individuals to the non-elected judiciary.

The Rudd Government is exploring whether to introduce a bill of rights. In December, it commissioned a committee chaired by Father Frank Brennan to gauge public opinion on how best to achieve greater protection of rights. It is due to report to the Government on September 30.

Mr Howard has long opposed a bill of rights. He said ministers and parliamentarians should make all the controversial decisions transparently and be accountable for them.

''A bill of rights would further diminish the prestige of Parliament, it would politicise the appointment of judges, it would increase the volume of litigation and it would not increase the rights and protections now available to Australian citizens,'' Mr Howard said.

''A charter or bill of rights would represent the final triumph of elitism in Australian politics - the notion that typical citizens, elected by ordinary Australians, cannot be trusted to resolve great issues of public policy.''

Mr Howard said the Northern Territory intervention, the banning of gay marriage and the conscience vote to lift the ban on the abortion pill RU486 could have been handballed to judges had there been a bill of rights.

He warned ''political activisits of the left'' to consider that one day a cause they may support ''might be better served by the votes of contemporary Parliament, rather than a court dominated by men and women holding views you might not share''.


The Supreme Court of the United States shows the inadvisability of entrusting our rights to unelected judges. It is now and always has been a judicial abomination. Its guiding principles have always been political rather than judicial. It is not as political as Stalin's courts but its respect for the constitution is little better. Some recent abuses: The "equal treatment" provision of the 14th amendment was specifically written to outlaw racial discrimination yet the court has allowed various forms of "affirmative action" for decades -- when all such policies should have been completely stuck down immediately. The 2nd. amendment says that the right to bear arms shall not be infringed yet gun control laws infringe it in every State in the union. The 1st amendment provides that speech shall be freely exercised yet the court has upheld various restrictions on the financing and display of political advertising. The court has found a right to abortion in the constitution when the word abortion is not even mentioned there. The court invents rights that do not exist and denies rights that do -- JR

Victorian Primary School bans bottled water

I must admit that I find the bottled water craze quite mad but if people get some satisfaction out of it, who are we to judge them? I am sure I do some things that some others might consider mad -- like blogging, for instance. I am sure the Greenies would be able to find something wrong with blogging if they tried -- uses too much electricity or some such -- JR

A Melbourne school has banned commercially bottled water in what is believed to be a Victorian first. Pupils at Eltham North Primary School are being told to drink tap water and use only environmentally friendly re-useable containers.

Principal David Foley said the ban was part of the school's green policy, which includes re-useable containers for lunches, the Herald Sun reports. "We have good water in Melbourne," he said. "It's a waste of money buying plastic bottled water and most of the bottles end up in our waterways or in landfill. "We don't want students to come to school using soft drink or bottled water."

It is estimated Australians spend about $500 million each year on bottled water. A bottled water ban was introduced in the NSW town of Bundanoon last month.

But Mr Foley said his school had been moving towards the policy since installing waste-cutting water fountains last year. "It's the way to go," he said. "We're also using it as an education process to see what can happen if water goes off and what can happen if you're using a poor bottle like a soft drink container." Mr Foley said bags wouldn't be checked for dodgy bottles, but staff would monitor the use of drink containers in class and in the playground.

Brendan Lynch, from water dispenser firm Aquabubbler, said his company had supplied eco-friendly products to hundreds of schools in Victoria. "Kids are a lot more discerning about where they drink from these days," he said. "A lot of water troughs at schools are unhygienic." Mr Lynch said it was crazy that people were buying so much bottled water during the economic crisis. "A lot of those bottles can't be recycled and end up as landfill, it's a no-win situation," he said.

Opposition education spokesman Martin Dixon said he had no problem with the bottle ban. "It's something that they have weighed up carefully," he said. "It's good to allow schools to do something innovative and environmentally friendly."


Follower of radical Islamic movement granted asylum in Australia

Extreme Islamic attitudes that are not even acceptable in a Muslim country are acceptable in Australia?

A follower of a radical Islamic movement that seeks to introduce sharia law and has been linked to terrorist groups is being granted asylum in Australia. The Refugee Review Tribunal has recommended a protection visa for an Egyptian man, who is a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic political group with links to al-Qaida.

The Muslim Brotherhood has been outlawed in several countries, including Egypt. It seeks to establish a pan-Islamic state ruled by sharia law and is committed to the destruction of Israel.

The Egyptian man initially was denied a protection visa by the Department of Immigration, but the decision was overturned by the tribunal. "The tribunal is of the view that the applicant's decision to abandon ship, insistence on his rights not to return to Egypt for medical treatment, and behaviour towards his captain, if combined with his support for the Muslim Brotherhood, his low-level political activities and past expression of anti-government political views, would generate a profile that could attract the adverse attention of the authorities and focus their attention on his sympathies for the brotherhood," it found. "On this basis, the tribunal is of the opinion that there is a real chance that this could place the applicant at risk of facing arrest, detention and ill-treatment."

Prof Greg Barton of Monash University said the Muslim Brotherhood had been linked to terrorist attacks, such as the Luxor bus bombing in 1997, but had since denounced violence, though many of its goals had been taken up by terrorist groups. "Al-Qaida and other militant groups have benefited greatly from their ideas so it is true that the ideas produced by the brotherhood are taken further by more militant groups," he said. "The brotherhood connection for anybody would automatically give Australian authorities a reason to check into their background."

Jeremy Jones, director of international affairs with the Australia-Israel Jewish Affairs Council, said the brotherhood presented a threat to democratic countries. "The Muslim Brotherhood has been banned in many countries for good reason," he said. "It's not just it's attitude towards Israel that's of concern. It has strands that are very sympathetic towards terrorism."

Opposition immigration spokeswoman Sharman Stone said she would write to Mr Evans asking to have the decision overturned. Immigration Minister Chris Evans said the man would have a rigorous security check before a visa was granted. "Should there be an adverse security assessment, the department cannot grant a visa," he said.


More revelations about a rotten government-run ambulance service

Paramedics operate in 'culture of fear' because management behavior in unaccountable

THE State Government will establish a panel [A "panel" three bureaucrats! Three dedicated coverup artists, no doubt. How about a judicial enquiry?] to investigate bullying and harassment amid concerns paramedics and emergency workers operate in a "culture of fear".

The Courier-Mail can reveal an internal investigation found an Emergency Management Queensland boss guilty of victimisation, harassment and inappropriate comments, which included very harsh, sexist and intimidatory language. Documents obtained under Right to Information laws show six of 10 allegations made against the manager were substantiated and he was aggressive towards EMQ office staff.

Another EMQ officer was found guilty of swearing at Emergency Service cadets during a camp exercise last year. He referred to them as "little bastards" and told them they were "full of s--- and wouldn't survive in the bush".

Recommendations made as a result included staff training in the department's code of conduct and dealing with conflict in the workplace but it is not known whether the culprits were reprimanded.

Emergency Medical Service Protection Association president Prebs Sathiaseelan said he had received numerous complaints from his members. "EMPSA on a regular basis receives calls from our membership about some form of harassment and bullying – it isn't improving," he said. Mr Sathiaseelan said it was a "culture of fear".

In another case, a Brisbane senior officer was investigated after he "dropped his trousers, exposed his genitalia and simulated oral sex" with another employee against her will. He also made offensive comments against two colleagues in relation to race and sexuality. While at least one recipient of his comments has left the QAS, his language was deemed to be "part of his character" and "generally non-offensive". [????] But a spokesman for QAS Commissioner David Melville this week said the officer concerned was asked to "show cause" at a formal disciplinary hearing. "This officer was not counselled as the Regional Assistant Commissioner determined that the matter was of such a serious nature that this officer should be formally reprimanded." The officer was warned if his behaviour deteriorated again over 12-months he would also be docked two weeks pay.

Another senior officer, who didn't want to be named, contacted The Courier-Mail concerned the organisation was cutting corners trying to keep up with patient demand. "When you stick your hand up and say anything nowadays, you just get smashed and told to shut up," he said.

Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts said yesterday after discussions with the Director-General, ambulance officers, firefighters, and staff in EMQ and the Department of Community Safety would be able to make complaints to a dedicated phone line and email service, which would then be referred to the panel. "It is my hope that this panel will be utilised by personnel who feel that they cannot confidently report instances of bullying, harassment or intimidation through existing channels," he said.

The panel will comprise Ministerial, Information and Legal Services branch executive director Fiona Rafter, Ethical Standards director Terry Christensen and Legal Services director Tracey Davern. "It is important that employees feel confident that their allegations will be taken seriously, properly investigated and dealt with without any personal ramifications," Mr Roberts said.


The Labour party has empowered productivity destruction

WHEN in opposition, more astute members of the Australian Labor Party cheered when the Howard government introduced Work Choices. They realised two things.

First, the Coalition had seriously overreached; Work Choices was political poison and it would ultimately help bring down the government. Second, it would generate a widespread mobilisation of the union movement, funding a huge election war chest for Labor.

Ironically, the Rudd government’s Fair Work laws may have the same effect, though in a much quieter, slower way. While Work Choices was a short fuse - once lit, it didn’t take long to explode - Fair Work looks like being a long, slow burn. But in time, as its effects slowly grow more obvious and more drastic, perhaps it will deliver just as big a bang.

Increasingly, Fair Work appears to represent a dramatic overreach. And though the business community has been slow to react and even slower to pick fights with a government known to be vindictive, it seems the full horror of the new regime is starting to dawn on it. Even worse, workers will end up bearing the brunt of Labor’s IR hubris.

While improved productivity was sold as the heart of Labor’s IR revolution, Julia Gillard, the minister overseeing Fair Work, is obviously nervous that the propaganda is beginning to unravel.

With no sign of a Fair Work productivity boost - in fact the opposite - Gillard told the 15th World Congress of the International Industrial Relations Association in Sydney yesterday that the “final piece of the productivity puzzle” apparently rests on “workplace leadership and the requisite culture” to build co-operation in the workplace.

But hang on. Gillard’s Fair Work regime has reinstated an adversarial system of workplace relations where unions can game the new collective bargaining system to their advantage.

Even before the laws came into operation, improved productivity under Fair Work was a sham. For months the restaurant and cafe industry - a sector that drives employment - warned that many of them would close if forced to adhere to the new award of increased minimum wages, penalty rates, casual rates, shift loadings and allowances. And Gillard agreed.

In May, when she directed the Australian Industrial Relations Commission to create a new special award for this industry, she effectively conceded that the Rudd government’s “award modernisation” reforms could not deliver promised productivity gains. Gillard also asked the AIRC to take the full five years to implement the new restaurant awards so as to ease cost pressures on employers during the tough economic climate.

Not surprisingly, the media failed to report or understand the real meaning of Gillard’s intervention. During the election campaign, Labor specifically promised voters that its new IR system was made for all seasons, economically sensible and safe in good times and in bad. Bad times arrived and Gillard personally intervened to ensure that the restaurant industry could weather the economic storm. While she was lauded for her pragmatic intervention, any system of workplace relations that relies on the grace and favour of a government minister is the antithesis of a predictable, workable industrial relations system. Unions are furious about Gillard’s intervention and other industries, not surprisingly, are lobbying the Employment and Workplace Relations Minister for similar favours to ride out the economic downturn.

The productivity promise of Fair Work has gone the way of Grocery Choice and Fuel Watch: political puffery crushed by reality. Only Fair Work is worse. Worse than failing to deliver on promises made, Fair Work diminishes productivity.

More specifically, the notion that collective bargaining will drive productivity is equally spurious. Enter Cochlear, maker of the bionic ear, a company that ought to be lauded as an Australian success story. In the past five years, Cochlear has trebled in size, generating $600 million in revenue during the past fiscal year.

It did that by moving away from an artisan or craft-based system to a 21st-century manufacturing process, allowing the company to operate in a globally competitive marketplace. Ninety per cent of Cochlear’s revenues are generated outside Australia and 90 per cent of the company’s global tax bill is paid to federal or state governments in Australia. That is, as chief executive Chris Roberts told the Senate IR hearings in February, “good news for Australia”.

Explaining the revolution at Cochlear, Roberts told The Australian: “We required different thinking and different approaches to manufacturing as we scaled up”, focusing on leaner, more flexible operations, better employee training and aligning reward with productivity increases.

Change came about by dealing directly with Cochlear employees, who earn 45 per cent above award wages, with average rates rising between 16per cent and 23 per cent during the past two years.

Yet, Roberts says incredulously, “the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union fought very hard against those changes that significantly increased productivity”.

Fair Work has brought the unions back into the game. Last week, the AMWU used Labor’s new laws to secure what it hailed as a landmark victory over Cochlear when 57 per cent of workers expressed their desire to bargain collectively. But this is a case of not so fast. Unlike many business leaders who timidly preferred to stay under Labor’s radar, Roberts remains vocal in raising his concerns about Fair Work, given his focus on productivity in the real world of commerce and innovation.

Under Fair Work laws, the AMWU will get a seat at the Cochlear bargaining table, even if only one Cochlear worker wants it there. On past evidence that does not augur well for productivity.

As Roberts says: “The behaviour of the unions to fight against initiatives that drove up our productivity and delivered financial rewards to our people made no sense.” The problem, he says, is that unions “need a conflict to be relevant”. The other problem is that 43 per cent of workers have expressed a view that they do not want the unions representing them, “so what you end up with is a divided workforce”.

Roberts is most scathing about the government’s empty productivity rhetoric. There is, he says, “no immutable law that links collective bargaining with productivity” and he was amazed at the paucity of data to support the government’s proposition. “The fundamental basis of this IR legislation is false. We moved into the age of enlightenment 259 years ago - if you consider 1750 as the dawn of the age of reasoning and logic - and we shouldn’t walk away from evidence.”

On the evidence to date, Fair Work is not the softly, safely set of IR reforms promised by then economic conservative Kevin Rudd when he was seeking office. In fact, Gillard’s reforms have restored an adversarial culture she has the temerity to claim is holding back productivity. With the country’s most militant unions already on the warpath, it is only early days for this potentially long-fuse time bomb.


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