Friday, October 23, 2009


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is mourning the death of TV entertainer Don Lane

Clergy unite against human rights charter

THE nation's most powerful church leaders have united in a bid to scuttle efforts to create a national charter of human rights, warning the Rudd government it could curtail religious freedoms and give judges the power to shape laws on issues such as abortion and gay marriage. Catholic cardinal George Pell led a delegation of about 20 church leaders to Canberra to raise strong concerns about the impact of a charter on religious freedoms.

The leaders, representing major churches including the Catholic, Presbyterian, Baptist and Pentecostal, warned that a charter of rights could restrict the ability to hire people of faith in churches, schools and welfare bodies. Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen did not attend the meeting with Attorney-General Robert McClelland on Wednesday because of a synod meeting but said he staunchly backed the delegation's views. "We strongly support human rights, but we don't think a charter such as this is necessary or even effective in protecting the rights of the most vulnerable people in our community. It may in all likelihood make things worse, particularly in the area of religious freedom," he said.

Cardinal Pell said there was no doubt a charter of rights would be used against religious schools, hospitals and charities by other people who did not like religious freedom and thought it should not be a human right. "If these protections are to be revised, it should be done by MPs answerable to the people, not by judges or human rights commissars," Cardinal Pell writes in The Australian today.

It is understood the Uniting Church was the only major church not to take part in the delegation because it did not support opposing a charter.

The meeting with Mr McClelland came after the government's hand-picked human rights committee led by Jesuit priest Frank Brennan recommended the government adopt a charter of human rights and give the High Court the power to declare laws incompatible.

Opposition legal affairs spokesman George Brandis warned if rights such as the right to found a family were enshrined in a charter, as recommended by the committee, this could allow the courts to shape laws on issues such as gay marriage and adoption. Senator Brandis, who also met the church leaders to hear their concerns, said such issues should be resolved directly by parliament and not via the "elliptical way" of expanding court powers. "The agenda of the human rights lobby in Australia is a secular agenda and that fact has been somewhat masked by the fact the chairman of the government's human rights consultation committee is himself a priest," Senator Brandis said. "It's a Trojan horse for the secular leftist human rights agenda."

A spokesman for Mr McClelland said the church leaders had raised a number of issues which the government would "give careful consideration to".

Australian Christian Lobby managing director Jim Wallace said church leaders had spent almost two years fighting the Victorian government's review of the church's exemptions from anti-discrimination laws, born out of the Victorian charter of rights and responsibilities. He said no measures could alleviate the church's concerns about a charter of rights. "We think it's a bad idea and the government should not go down that path," he said. He said the church was also adamant the government should not establish a human rights charter through the "back door", for example by changing the law so that courts were forced to interpret legislation with regard to specific human rights.

Australian Federation of Islamic Councils member and former senior legal adviser Haset Sali said he was concerned the nation was headed to receive a rights charter. "My concern is that statutes quite often reduce rights rather than add to them," he said. "Overall, I think we've got a pretty good situation in Australia at the current time."

The Great Synagogue of Sydney's Jeremy Lawrence said the Jewish community was passionately involved in the debate but did not have a consensus view. However, Rabbi Lawrence said: "I'm always hesitant to lock certain values in writing to the exclusion of others, thereby disadvantaging people whose core tenets become abrogated through omission."

Ambrose Centre for Religious Liberty chairman Rocco Mimmo said experience in Britain showed that a human rights charter could be used to limit religious freedoms.


Ideology dressed up as social justice

By George Pell, Roman Catholic archbishop of Sydney. His Eminence recognizes an underhand attack on Christianity when he sees it

THE Christian churches strongly support human rights and their attendant responsibilities. But religious freedom should not be eroded by stealth.

The Brennan committee's report on human rights gives the government two options: an upfront charter of rights or a Trojan Horse version.

The upfront charter is the committee's proposal for a federal human rights act. Committee chairman Frank Brennan already has acknowledged that parts of this proposal are unviable and unworkable because the High Court of Australia probably won't be able to play the part the committee wants to assign it. But that's OK, the report says. The Australian Human Rights Commission, with increased powers, should be able to fill the gap.

In whatever form it comes, Brennan's charter of rights is a bad idea because it is a threat to some freedoms. The upfront version at least has the merit of being in plain sight. The Trojan Horse version is more difficult to come to grips with. It is contained in the recommendations the committee describes as "the primary options" the government should implement even if it rejects an upfront charter.

The keystone is a "definitive list" of rights, to be selected from the international treaties Australia has signed. The beauty of making up your own list of rights is that you don't have to include those you don't like. And if you do have to include some of them for appearance's sake, you can redefine them so they're not too much of a nuisance. The charters in Victoria, the ACT and Britain leave out the internationally acknowledged right of parents to choose the appropriate moral or religious education of their children.

The law on judicial review of administrative decisions will then be amended so that the definitive list of rights will have to be observed in every federal government decision. The law governing the interpretation of commonwealth legislation will also be amended so that all federal laws must be interpreted in a way consistent with the definitive list of rights.

Finally, every bill introduced to federal parliament will need a statement of compatibility with the definitive list of human rights.

The report's recommendations also include "a comprehensive framework" to educate everybody about the list of rights, and create a "human rights culture" in the public service. Sounds like imposing an ideology.

Strangely, the Brennan report is weak on defending human rights. Stranger still, it wants the Human Rights Commission to have more power to investigate breaches of the definitive list of rights. The commission is presently inquiring into whether religious freedom is compatible with human rights. It doesn't even understand that religious freedom is a fundamental human right.

There is no doubt that if Australia gets a charter of rights, upfront or by stealth, it will be used against religious schools, hospitals and charities by other people who don't like religious freedom and think it shouldn't be a human right. The target will be the protection in anti-discrimination laws that allow religious schools to exercise a preference in employment for people who share their faith.

If these protections are to be revised, it should be done by MPs answerable to the people, not by judges or human rights commissars.

Under the British Human Rights Act, religious freedom claims have almost never succeeded. The Victorian charter's protection of freedom of religion and conscience has been shown to mean nothing against the more important claim to a right to abortion. We can expect a similar hierarchy of rights under a federal charter, with religious freedom well and truly at the bottom.

Things in Australia are not too bad, but religious freedom is under pressure. The push for a charter of rights should be seen in a wider context that includes the attempt by the ACT government to force the sale of Calvary public hospital in Canberra, which is run by the Little Company of Mary. If it succeeds in this, other public hospitals run by religious organisations will be targeted next.

A charter of rights, upfront or by Trojan Horse, will politicise the judiciary and erode the separation of powers by transferring legislative power to the courts. Neither a charter nor the Human Rights Commission will protect religious freedom, which is why so many religious people oppose both. Other Australians should do the same.


Conservative party leader (NSW) replies to his media opposition

The media don't criticize governments. They only criticise conservatives, in or out of government

While I hope Andrew Clennell is right to predict the community will elect a NSW Liberals & Nationals Government in March 2011, I know he's completely wrong about our approach - both in preparation for government and for government itself. Ultimately, the piece just falls for trite cliches and stereotypes – usually invented by our political opponents – to try and characterise the NSW Liberals & Nationals as anti-public sector, pro-privatisation, and lock-em-up and throw-away-the-key luddites.

The parties have been working hard on the prescriptions to the State's woes. We've already released more than 30 policies in areas ranging from economic growth, fiscal responsibility, public administration, health, transport, environment and others. Importantly we've applied the discipline of setting out our over-arching policy goals; the fundamentals that will guide our decision-making before and after government. They are available at - and some have even been reported in the pages of The Sydney Morning Herald!

We start with a desire to put the economy and economic growth back at the centre of government. We do so because of the opportunities it creates for people and the revenue it generates for government to provide the services people rely upon. Our commitment to lower taxes – highlighted by our payroll tax initiatives – recognises that to grow the State's economy we have to again be a competitive State for people to invest and do business in.

On public sector management, we've committed ourselves to reform. Our approach reflects our determination to restore focus onto the community, those who depend upon the services government provide. It's unashamedly about better performance, rewarding excellence and restoring integrity.

We understand that a professional, independent public service – providing frank and quality advice – will be critical in helping a NSW Liberals & Nationals Government restore the State's services and revive its economic fortunes. It's why we're committed to ending Labor's politicisation of the public service. We will establish a Public Service Commission to ensure jobs are advertised, appointments are made on merit and there is a full-time effort on lifting professionalism.

Mr Clennell continues to run his own privatisation agenda.

On DOCs he seems to have missed the fact that Justice Wood recommended, and both sides of politics supported, greater involvement of the non-for-profit sector in the provision of these critical services. It's an approach that the Coalition has always supported. On privatisation generally our position has been very clear: we support private sector involvement where it is in the public interest. We've also pointed out there are many ways the private sector can be involved from asset sales (like lotteries), public private partnerships and contracting out (as we have proposed for ferries). Given the media gave us a bollocking for our opposition to the sale of the State's electricity assets last year, it's surprising to be accused of simultaneously wanting to privatise everything and of running a small target strategy!

On law and order, we've very publicly called for an end to the auction. We mean it and we've stuck to it. We know the community understands that the repeated offer of simplistic approaches by NSW Labor hasn't improved public safety. Importantly, from their years as a prosecutor and police officer, so do my future Attorney General and Police Minister - and that's why they take an intelligent stance rather than try and repeat past mistakes. It's odd to be accused by Andrew of contemplating the opposite.

Why not throw in the usual tripe about North Shore and Anglo – and ignore the fact our most recently selected candidates have been a Vietnamese Australian and former ABC journalist, an Italian Australian, and a Lebanese Muslim Australian?

So Andrew, thanks for the viewpoint, but frankly it's just odd. It would be better to judge us on what we've actually said, done and become – which is a competent, mainstream and united team offering solutions - rather than an a dated depiction of what our side of politics is about.


More official bungling during the Victorian bushfires

Sounds like they were too proud to admit that they needed help

AS BUSHFIRES consumed Victorian lives, forests, homes and townships in February, the Russian Government offered to send two of the world's biggest and most advanced waterbombers to the battle. Each of the giant Ilyushin-76 jets could drop in a single pass 42,000 litres of water or retardant on a fire - almost five times the maximum capacity of the ''Elvis'' skycrane helicopters.

However, the offer, which came from the highest levels of the Government of the Russian Federation, was rejected, according to the Russian embassy in Canberra.

The Russian offer seems to have been lost in the confusion engulfing federal and Victorian authorities as they tried to deal with the disastrous fires, which cost 173 lives. A spokesman for Emergency Management Australia, a division of the federal Attorney-General's Department, said: ''During a severe natural disaster such as the Victorian bushfires many offers of international assistance are provided. ''As states and territories have primary responsibility for dealing with natural disasters, all offers of international assistance are forwarded to relevant state and territory agencies for their assessment.''

However, a spokeswoman for the Victorian Government said that despite a search of all available material, no record of the Russian offer could be found. A spokesman for the Country Fire Authority said he also knew nothing of the proposal, but would make further inquiries.

A spokesman for the Russian embassy in Canberra, Yaroslav Eremin, told The Age that the aircraft - part of a purpose-built fleet on standby in Russia to fight fires anywhere in the world - could have been in Australia within two days. They were not being used, because the northern hemisphere was in winter while Victoria burnt. He said the offer was made through diplomatic channels directly from the Russian Government to the Australian Government. But the response from Australia, which he said ''took some time'' was that the planes were not required....

The IL-76 waterbombers were developed to fight wildfires in remote areas of Russia such as Siberia, but have been used to fight major fires in Greece, Portugal and Yugoslavia. Their two large water tanks are capable of being filled in 10 to 12 minutes and can be dumped in a single burst, producing a downpour akin to heavy rain over an area 550 metres long by 100 metres wide. If the tanks are emptied sequentially, the saturated area extends to 900 metres by 65 metres.

In a letter submitted to the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission last week, the Russian ambassador to Australia, Alexander Blokhin, said experts from the Russian Ministry of Emergencies estimated that two such aircraft ''would have been enough to cope with the firefighting task near Melbourne in February 2009''. He also stated that a smaller, Russian-built firefighting jet, the amphibian Beriev BE-200, which can scoop 9000 litres of water from the sea - even with waves of up to 1.5 metres running - could have stopped the East Kilmore fire ''in one or two hours if the firefighting operation started in due time''. The East Kilmore fire eventually consumed Kinglake.


Corporate boredom to cost the shareholders $15m?

As an ANZ shareholder, I am mightily peeved by this. It might even motivate me to go to the next AGM!

It is just three elegantly curved blue shapes appended to 'ANZ', but chief executive Mike Smith believes it reflects a world of difference at his bank. ANZ Bank's new logo, proudly unveiled yesterday by Mr Smith at the group's new headquarters in Melbourne, will be backed by an initial $15 million marketing spend, The Herald Sun reports.

On Sunday ANZ will begin selling the new brand through a wide-ranging television, billboard and newspaper advertising campaign in Australia, New Zealand and Asia. The global brand-building comes after 18 months of research in which customers, staff and advisers from M&C Saatchi concluded the bank needed to streamline its brand as it widened its push into Asian markets such as Cambodia, Vietnam and China. The strap-line of the brand will be: "We live in your world". [So who doesn't?]

"In recent years, the ANZ brand has become fragmented," Mr Smith said. "To deliver on its growth strategy and regional aspirations, ANZ has to look like one bank and provide a consistent experience for our customers and our people wherever they come into contact with the bank." The three shapes in the new signage reflect ANZ's three core markets - Australia, New Zealand and Asia Pacific - while the central human shape represents customers and staff.

Mr Smith, who took over the reins of the country's fourth largest bank two years ago, said the rebranding was driven by the company's values which put people at the centre of the organisation. [I don't know whether to yawn or groan at that]

Banks in developed economies are now trying to reposition their brands to head off public anger flowing from the global financial crisis. While the level of home loan defaults has been relatively small in Australia, Mr Smith said ANZ was prepared to sacrifice market share to protect its reputation as a responsible lender.

He cast doubt on the wisdom of some other lenders that grew their home lending this year on the backs of borrowers who received first homebuyer grants from the government. "I feel that with an interest rate environment likely to rise it's just a recipe for disaster to lower your loan to value ratios," he said. "We tightened lending criteria earlier this year and haven't relaxed them . . . we have a responsibility to our customers, I think."

The image overhaul will be phased in over two years because Mr Smith said a gradual change was less costly than an overnight makeover. The bank will spend $15 million on the signage overhaul in 2010, with further spending planned in 2011.

Mr Smith said ANZ was now "almost running" with its growth plans in the wake of the global financial crisis and the Opes Prime securities lending scandal. He said the bank had exited its problematic businesses in private equity and securities lending following big losses in his first year at the helm. "I think we're in a stage now where we are almost running with our strategy and all the remedial work on discontinued businesses is behind us."


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"give judges the power to shape laws on issues such as abortion and gay marriage" as opposed to givng George Pell the power to shape laws....between him and his spooky gods and monsters, and our quality Judges, I don't think any of us have a prayer.