Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Victorian Human Rights watchdog again interferes with people's human rights

VCAT rejects woman's bid to set up women-only travel service -- but Muslims can do anything, of course

A TRIBUNAL has rejected a Melbourne woman's bid to set up a women-only travel service. Erin Maitland, a former tour guide, applied to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal for an exemption under the Equal Opportunity Act to set up her business, Travel Sisters. She argued some women would feel more comfortable travelling in women-only groups and safer than travelling alone.

Ms Maitland said her tours would also be tailored to common women's interests including cooking, shopping and crafts and that women's partners would be more supportive of them travelling if they knew they were with other women. Ms Maitland relied on a ruling two years ago in which VCAT granted an exemption to a woman, allowing her to arrange tours for women only.

But the tribunal must now assess exemption applications in line with the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities. VCAT president Judge Marilyn Harbison refused Ms Maitland's application, saying she had not shown enough evidence that limiting a human right is reasonable or necessary. "The grant of an exemption may well be convenient and practical to assist Erin in the establishment of her business but it cannot presently be justified on human rights principles,'' she said.

Judge Harbison said there were other steps that could be put in place to ensure women feel safe and comfortable travelling in groups, without having to exclude men.

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, which argued during the hearing that the evidence provided was "weak'', said Ms Maitland could enforce standards of conduct, select facilities with separate male and female change rooms, ensure privacy for her clients and encourage people to report safety concerns.

The commission said that even without an exemption, market forces could result in Ms Maitland's business being successful because men would not be interested in it. The ruling comes after a Melbourne party company specialising in dance events for lesbians and bisexual women won the right to ban men earlier this year.

In May, VCAT granted a three-year exemption to an inner western suburbs gym, enabling it to conduct women-only swimming sessions and related programs. Many of the women at the YMCA gym in Ascot Vale are Muslim who, because of their cultural and religious beliefs, cannot take part in mixed swimming lessons.


Absurd attack on freedoms in Western Australia

YOU don't have to be a civil libertarian to oppose giving police the powers to indiscriminately stop and search people without so much as a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing. Yet that is exactly what the West Australian government is trying to do with legislation before parliament this week.

Think about it for a moment. You could be walking down the street (or even driving a car) and a police officer, for whatever reason, could stop you, frisk you and go through your personal possessions. If you are a woman that includes rifling through your handbag. No reason needs to be given, no discussion had, no consent.

These are extraordinary powers, unprecedented in this country. West Australian Police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan defends them on the grounds that they won't be used unnecessarily. But the legislation is silent on this opaque promise, which, with the sands of time, could wash away. Anyone who values their freedoms should be appalled.

The newly elected state Liberal MP Peter Abetz (when he isn't referring to the actions of Adolf Hitler to improve law and order in fascist Germany) says: "When it comes to the crunch, people prefer to be safe than to have freedom."

But a large component of safety is protection against an all-powerful state. That is why the term "reasonable suspicion" is a bedrock of policing standards across the globe.

The real reason the Barnett government wants to introduce these absurd laws is because there have been recent well-publicised cases of botched "reasonable suspicion" arrests resulting in the courts letting the accused walk free. That happens when police don't do their jobs properly. The solution is to improve policing, not simplistically widen their powers so as to infringe on the rights of law-abiding citizens.

And of course Western Australia now has mandatory jail sentences for anyone who assaults a police officer. If you resist a search you can be pinned against the floor and, if you in any way react, you could be deemed to have assaulted the officer who without reason stopped and searched you. So blokes out there, don't go getting too offended when a cop runs his hand up your wife's inner thigh without reasonable suspicion. It could land you in jail.


Rudd is treating us like mugs

THERE is an emerging credibility gap in the Rudd government's navigation of contentious policy issues, a compulsion that denies the obvious and rests on the apparent assumption that Australians are mugs.

There are many examples but the issue of asylum-seekers offers compelling evidence. Kevin Rudd invested much time in parliament on Monday insisting that the 22 asylum-seekers who first left the Oceanic Viking were receiving no preferential arrangement. Asked by 3AW's Neil Mitchell last week if there was special treatment, the Prime Minister replied: "Absolutely not." Yet the terms set out by the Minister-Counsellor Immigration in the Jakarta embassy, Jim O'Callaghan, to the asylum-seekers suggests a set of detailed special arrangements. They were authorised by the Rudd government's border protection committee of cabinet chaired by Immigration Minister Chris Evans.

The Australian's Jakarta correspondent Stephen Fitzpatrick reported yesterday that the Oceanic Viking people were quarantined from others because of resentment at their preferential conditions courtesy of the Rudd government.

There are three key provisions in O'Callaghan's document: if the UNHCR has found a person to be a refugee they will be resettled within four to six weeks of disembarkation; if an individual has already registered with the UNHCR they will be resettled within 12 weeks of disembarkation; and if people are not yet registered and are found to be refugees, they will also be resettled within 12 weeks. These provisions are highly generous. It is no surprise they are exceptional within UNHCR Indonesian operations. There are many refugees in Indonesia and none is given resettlement in four to six weeks.

The Australian offer included English language and orientation classes while cases are being processed. A "highly professional" team of Australian officials will work "every day" to assist refugee applications. The Red Cross will assist in tracing family members. The Sri Lankans were told many services will be provided in the resettlement country and these may include "assistance with housing, medical care and counselling, income support, English language tuition and help to find a job".

Rudd has been desperate to persuade the Sri Lankans to disembark in Indonesia. He had rightly drawn a line in the sand; he would not allow the boat to come to Christmas Island and he had a victory yesterday with reports that all Sri Lankans would disembark after the past month's protracted agony.

To grasp the nature of the special arrangement, consider the following: at October 1 there were 1760 registered asylum-seekers in Indonesia and 573 people recognised as refugees by the UNHCR in Jakarta; the typical delay time for processing and resettlement far exceeds 12 weeks and usually runs beyond 12 months. Australia, in short, is fast-tracking the Oceanic Viking people.

Evans said last week that Australia was "more likely to get the larger proportion" as the final destination. The exceptions to this, mentioned by Evans, was "if, for instance, they've got a first cousin living in Canada". Decoded the message is most are headed for Australia. However, this is far from the normal arrangement.

About 1300 people have been resettled from Indonesia to third nations in recent years and Australia has taken about one-third, with the rest going to Canada, the US, New Zealand, Sweden and France. Having rejected force to remove people, Australia had only one option left: it had to persuade them. Nobody should be surprised at the inducements offered. It was the price Rudd had to pay to keep the boat out of our territory. The price is justified. After the shambles of the past month it is a relief that Australia did not have to offer more. The criticism of Rudd is not that he paid such a price; it is that he pretends he paid no price whatsoever. He seems to think almost any line can be spun and will be believed, even when it is nonsense.

On Monday Rudd tabled a letter in parliament from Immigration Department Secretary Andrew Metcalfe to Evans, dated the same day. It was a classic example of recruiting under duress a senior public servant to buttress the government's line. The letter is a study in fact and political evasion. On tabling Metcalfe's letter, Rudd claimed it showed from the perspective of the departmental secretary "that these are not preferential arrangements". The letter shows nothing of the kind. Indeed, it is significant that Metcalfe avoids any such formulation.

He merely says that the group is being treated in a manner "consistent with that afforded to any other asylum-seeker or refugee in Indonesia". He does, however, say that Australia and Indonesia have agreed on "timeframes for the processing", which may imply a special arrangement. Requesting such a letter achieved nothing and the request should not have been made. Yet Rudd persisted in using Metcalfe as a shield and, responding to criticism from Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull, he claimed that Turnbull was disputing advice from "the independent Public Service of Australia". On the contrary, it shows the government stooping to use the public service to buttress a bad case.

It is noteworthy that Rudd was not involved in authorising the offer to the Sri Lankans. He told parliament on Monday that he was unaware of the offer's terms and did not authorise it. Turnbull seemed to find this unbelievable. But Rudd's denial was unequivocal. It stands despite his subsequent clarification that the cabinet committee that did approve the offer contained Rudd's staff.

The real point is that the Rudd government authorised a necessary special deal and, embarrassed about its domestic ramifications, tried to deny the obvious.


New Zealand less corrupt than Australia?

That's a laugh. NZ is the "orchestrated litany of lies" country. The raters just don't know NZ well

Lawless Somalia and war-torn Afghanistan have topped a blacklist of the world's most corrupt countries drawn up by the anti-graft watchdog Transparency International. Australia ranked as the eighth most honest of 180 countries, according to the annual study. New Zealand, Denmark, Singapore, Sweden and Switzerland were the top five least corrupt countries.

TI's corruption index showed how countries devastated by conflict have become overrun by graft, with Iraq, Sudan and Myanmar accounting for the three other states in the bottom five of the chart.

The Berlin-based organisation said that countries whose infrastructure had been "torn apart" by conflict needed help from outside to prevent a culture of corruption taking root. "The international community must find efficient ways to help war-torn countries to develop and sustain their own institutions," said TI's head Huguette Labelle.

Overall, the 2009 corruption list is "of great concern", the organisation said, with the majority of countries scoring under five in the ranking, which ranges from zero, highly corrupt, and 10, which is very clean.

Six years after the US-led invasion and the chaos that followed, Iraq was perceived to be slightly cleaner, with its score rising to 1.5 points from 1.3 points. It also climbed two places in the list. But Afghanistan slid from 1.5 points in 2008 to 1.3 in 2009, giving further ammunition to critics of President Hamid Karzai who has just been re-elected after a vote marred by rampant fraud.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Karzai this week that future financial support from Washington would be linked to steps to tackle graft and said that a culture of "impunity for those who are corrupt" had to end. The Afghan government announced on Monday it had formed a major crime unit to tackle corruption, in a move designed to assuage Western concerns about Karzai who is due to be inaugurated for a second term later this week.

The most corrupt nation on Earth remained Somalia, the impoverished and war-torn Horn of Africa state that has been without a functioning government for two decades, notching up a score of 1.1 points. African countries accounted for half of those in the bottom 20 of the list, including Angola which is now the continent's top oil exporter after emerging from a 27-year civil war.

But it was not just countries riven by conflict that saw their ratings slide. Italy, a member of the Group of Seven rich countries came in at 63rd on the list, from 55th last year. Fellow EU member Greece fared even worse, at 71st, slipping from 57th. [I believe those two rankings]

Seemingly winning the fight against corruption were Liberia - whose score improved from 2.4 points to 3.1 points, shooting up 41 places on the list to 97th - and Gambia, which went from 158 on the list to 106. Other significant improvements were registered by Norway, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Montenegro and Malawi.

The United States inched up from 7.3 points to 7.5, but dropped one place in the rankings to 19th. China's rating was stable at 3.6 points but also fall seven places to 79th. Russia continued to be very low down in the list, coming in at 146th place, although its score edged higher to 2.2 points from 2.1 points.

The five countries seen as least afflicted by corruption were New Zealand, Denmark, Singapore, Sweden and Switzerland - the Alpine country seen as a bastion of bank secrecy. New Zealand scored 9.4 points whereas Somalia scored 1.1 points. The score is based on perceptions of the degree of corruption as seen by business people and country analysts.


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