Monday, April 05, 2010
Conservatives side with blacks against Greens
This is personal for Tony Abbott. He has long worked personally in furthering Aboriginal welfare. Comments below by black activist Noel Pearson
THE Senate's legal and constitutional affairs committee this week started its inquiry into Tony Abbott's private member's bill, which seeks to override the Queensland government's Wild Rivers Act 2005. It is one year since the Queensland government announced on April 3 that it had made the first declarations of wild river areas in Cape York Peninsula.
There are serious questions about the validity of these declarations. They were approved by the Governor on April 2 last year, only 12 days after the Queensland state election. The Natural Resources Minister who purportedly made the declarations, Stephen Robertson, had been appointed only eight days earlier.
The Wild Rivers Act requires the minister to consider the results of community consultations and public submissions before deciding whether to declare a wild river area. The minister who decides to make the declaration must be the same person who has complied with the legislative responsibility to consider submissions and the outcomes of consultations. Before last year's Queensland election, the relevant minister was Craig Wallace.
If the legislative responsibility to properly consider public submissions was performed, it could only have been performed by Wallace ahead of the election. The declarations were already finalised and ready to go long before Robertson became minister. We do not know whether Wallace exercised the power to decide to make the declaration.
The Queensland government has since claimed that it was Robertson who made the decision to declare the wild river areas under section 15, and that he did this on April 1 last year.
We need to be assured that legislative requirements were met. Correspondence between Queensland bureaucrats obtained under Freedom of Information laws shows that the declarations were already proceeding to the Governor in Council on March 30 last year, two days before they were supposedly declared by Robertson.
Why is this important? The implementation of the Wild Rivers Act is also at issue.
Two examples illustrate the injustice of the Wild Rivers Act and its implementation. Section 15 of the act stipulates that the minister's decision can be reviewed only if the minister decides not to make a declaration. If he does decide to make a declaration, the minister does not have to provide any reasons for his decision. Those who have questions about the minister's decision have no recourse.
The second example concerns decisions about the width of buffer zones from riverbanks where activities are proscribed. The legislation contemplates that the width of buffer zones is to be determined by relevant scientific information and the public is to be consulted.
Government documents obtained under FoI legislation have disclosed that buffer zones relevant to mining and petroleum exploration activities were subject to an agreement struck between the Queensland government, the Queensland Resources Council and the Wilderness Society. These setbacks from riverbanks are far more lenient for miners than for indigenous interests, in some latter instances just 50m from a waterway in a preservation area.
There are three ways in which Abbott's bill would restore the rights of indigenous people in Cape York and allow us to continue our reform agenda. First, the bill would enhance the land rights of the native titleholders of Cape York Peninsula and enable them to negotiate with the state government so they provide free and informed consent to arrangements to protect the rivers of Cape York Peninsula.
The Queensland legislation offends the commonwealth's Native Title Act 1993-98, enacted by the Keating Labor government as an act of historic justice in 1993. For the Queensland government and environmental groups to claim the Wild Rivers Act does not affect native title, they must believe title is restricted to so-called traditional activities, confined to hunting and gathering. But in many cases native title is a full property right analogous to freehold.
It is remarkable that this bill - which enhances native title - is proposed by the conservatives. The resistance of the Coalition to native title in the past resulted in amendments in 1998 during the Howard government, which reduced the rights of native titleholders. But the weakening of the rights of native titleholders vis-a-vis external development has had the perverse consequence of weakening the rights of native titleholders to undertake their own economic development.
The conservative side of politics has been late in waking up to this effect. However, for anyone concerned about honouring indigenous rights, especially land rights, it is not a matter of who is proposing to honour and enhance the rights but whether the proposal does indeed achieve the honourable result. Furthermore, this bill is consistent with the commonwealth government's commitments as a signatory to the International Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The declaration says governments shall consult and co-operate in good faith with indigenous peoples to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them. It also states indigenous peoples have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for the development or use of their lands or territories and other resources. The wild river laws contravene both these articles.
There is an Australian law, a well-established mechanism for governments and other parties to obtain the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples in relation to matters affecting their lands: indigenous land use agreements under the Native Title Act.
The Queensland government should have negotiated and settled indigenous land use agreements with native titleholders as part of the process of putting in place environmental protection provisions for rivers.
Finally, Abbott's bill puts the indigenous reform agenda in Cape York Peninsula back on track. The Queensland Wild Rivers Act derails our reform agenda. After 20 years of land rights gains and government progress, indigenous people in Cape York Peninsula are forced to contemplate a restrictive economic future shackling us to continuing welfare dependence.
The most perverse effect of Queensland's wild rivers scheme is that it will make smaller-scale environmentally sustainable developments more difficult while not preventing large-scale industrial developments, such as mining. It will be large-scale external developers, able to pay their way through the heavy transaction costs imposed by the layers of red tape - and able to lobby their way around George Street, Brisbane - that will be able to operate.
This is the hardest point to explain in this debate. The Queensland government claims the Wild Rivers Act allows indigenous economic development. But in reality, jumping through all the bureaucratic hoops is prohibitive to Cape York people.
The green bureaucrats who will have the real power, who are they? They are the public service arm of the extreme preservationist movement that made the deals about the future of our land with the Queensland government in the first place.
These are the reasons the bill to override the Wild Rivers Act must be supported by the commonwealth parliament.
War veteran calls emergency number from hospital bed
And no sign of repentance from the hospital
An 87-year-old war veteran had to use his own mobile phone to call triple-0 from his hospital bed because he couldn't get help from nursing staff. Asbestosis sufferer Kevin Park was left languishing in Lismore Base Hospital earlier this month after waking in, in the middle of the night, soaked in sweat.
Patients on the ward were forced to use archaic brass bells to get attention after the paging system failed. A nurse initially tended to Mr Park but no one bothered to help him change out of his soaked hospital gown, so he tried ringing his bell again to get someone back.
Scared, confused and alone, Mr Park was at his wit's end after 45 minutes of ringing when he finally decided to call triple-0 on his mobile. "I didn't know what was going on. It hadn't happened to me before and I wasn't even sure whether it was blood or sweat," he said from his hospital bed yesterday.
"Desperate people do desperate things. In the end I rang the emergency telephone number to ask them to get me out of here and somewhere where I would get some attention."
Only after his telephone call of desperation went through to an operator did a nurse finally appear, but Mr Park's ordeal did not end there. The nurse took his phone, returning it later that night with its SIM card and battery removed.
"Taking my phone was, to me, the biggest offence," Mr Park said. "To me it's thieving. You can't ring out on the phones they have here so that mobile phone was my only access to the outside world."
A North Coast Area Health Service spokeswoman said staff took Mr Park's phone to prevent other patients being disturbed in the middle of the night. "NCAHS has apologised for any distress that may have been caused to Mr Park and his family," she said.
"The nurse call system on Ward C8 was identified as faulty (but) the emergency part of the system is still operative." The spokeswoman said a replacement system would be installed later this month.
Mr Park, who served with the RAAF in World War II, was admitted to hospital last month suffering a lung condition.
Food Fascists going into overdrive
They pretend its a war on commercial food providers but it is really a war on people's choice of what to eat. And it's nothing to do with health, as people of middling weight live longest
AN obesity intervention wish list has been released, calling for a ban on all junk food advertising as well as new taxes and a cap on the number of fast food restaurants. The list, published in The Medical Journal of Australia, also calls for measures to discourage the bulk purchase of junk food, a redesign of supermarkets and a redirection of subsidy dollars to make fruit and vegetables cheaper.
It was time for government to prioritise the health of its citizens ahead of the profits of the food industry, said Bebe Loff, director of the Michael Kirby Centre for Public Health at Melbourne's Monash University.
Dr Loff also had a message for free marketeers who automatically criticised calls for a tax on junk food.
"Those concerned by our wish list's 'nanny state' implications might helpfully redirect their focus to the many unseen measures intentionally adopted by the food industry to shape our behaviour," she said. "It seems that without our knowledge or consent we are subject to the pervasive nannying activities of industry." [The food industry has no powers of legal coercion -- which is what this Fascist wishes to use]
The wish list proposes that governments ban all forms of marketing of energy-dense and nutrient-poor foods, a redesign of supermarkets to make healthy foods more prominent and the introduction of "kilojoule caps" for certain foods.
It calls for greater uniformity in packaging design to make EDNP foods less enticing and less amenable to bulk purchase and says planning laws are needed to regulate the number of fast food outlets.
It says fruit and vegetables should be subsidised, with this money coming from new taxes on EDNP foods and also a redirection of current subsidies flowing to the processed food industries.
Dr Loff said the scale of the problem ensured that isolated public health campaigns would do little to "slow the so-called obesity epidemic". She said Australia needed structural reform of the "vastly altered market in food that has developed over recent decades."
Another paper, also published in the MJA, calls for a new levy on the junk food and alcohol industries. VicHealth chief executive Todd Harper said a levy could be imposed on junk food and alcohol advertisements requiring the companies pay into a pool every time they promoted their products.
Tardis solution as more asylum seekers arrive at Australia's illegal immigrant processing centre on Christmas Is.
CHRISTMAS Island is taking on qualities of Dr Who's Tardis - it seems it can never fill up. According to officials, the island still has room for the seemingly never-ending flood of asylum seekers, even though all of the beds are full.
And the island is about to get even more crowded with yet another boat with 50 asylum seekers and four crew intercepted east of Ashmore Island yesterday. That boatload - which will take four to five days to arrive at Christmas Island - was the 35th asylum seeker boat to arrive this year and the 103rd since Prime Minister Kevin Rudd took office. Also on the way to Christmas Island is another boatload of 79 asylum seekers and four crew, intercepted on Friday.
When the two boatloads do arrive they will be added to the 2062 asylum seekers already on the island. That's 22 more than the island's capacity of 2040. Despite this, a Department of Immigration and Citizenship spokesman yesterday said: "We have adequate capacity".
That seemingly makes Christmas Island akin to the time-travelling Tardis which, despite outwardly being the size and shape of a phone box , has infinite space inside.
The spokesman refused to respond to reports in The Weekend Australian that some detainees were sleeping in rooms designed for teaching English or for conducting interviews with immigration officers. "Christmas Island has adequate capacity for the current caseload," was all the spokesman would say.
Outside church yesterday, Mr Rudd refused to discuss the rising tide of people fleeing persecution from, in particular, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. On Friday 36 men and one woman were granted protection visas and were transferred to the Australian mainland. Twenty-seven of the refugees were from Afghanistan, eight were from Sri Lanka and two were from other countries.
More detainees are expected to be transferred to the mainland either today or tomorrow but the immigration spokesman would not say if they were more visa recipients or were being moved to free up beds.