Sunday, April 04, 2010
Geheime Staatspolizei galore in Australia
There they go again, our very own Keystone Kops. The Australian Federal Police have bungled yet another "anti-terrorist" investigation. The fiasco finally came crashing down around their ears in the Victorian Supreme Court on Wednesday. To cut a long story very short, three prominent members of the Australian ethnic Tamil community - all Australian citizens - had been charged with acts of terrorism in support of the Tamil Tiger rebellion in Sri Lanka.
Over five years, the evidence against them gradually fell to pieces, and the more serious charges along with it. The operation was a mess. It sank to grim farce when one of the suspects, Arumugan Rajeevan of Sydney, was unlawfully dragged from his car at gunpoint by "federal agents", as they grandly style themselves these days, presumably in mimicry of the FBI. Rajeevan was clapped into handcuffs, denied a lawyer and questioned for five hours. When it gradually dawned on the plods that the evidence against him would not stick, they decided to "unarrest" him, a concept hitherto unknown to the law, as the Victorian judge, Paul Coghlan, pointed out with some asperity.
"The notion of unarresting people is something that I've struck here for the first time," he said. "The notion that somebody can be arrested unlawfully and then just unarrested at somebody else's whim is bizarre."
Justice Coghlan found that some AFP officers had been "frighteningly high-handed". They had abused Rajeevan's rights, and his interrogation by one officer, Patricia Reynolds, had been "beyond any training a proper investigator can have". The three pleaded guilty to a minor charge of sending money to a terrorist organisation, and each was released on a good behaviour bond of $1000. Figures given to Parliament last year show the AFP had spent well over $5 million on the pursuit.
The trouble is that when you give the police and the security services extraordinary and secret powers, as governments have done, it is London to a brick those powers will be abused. We saw that in the affair of Mohamed Haneef, the Indian doctor stitched up by the AFP and the Howard government as an Islamic terrorist. And I wonder, too, if we are seeing it in the matter of an Iranian-born Islamic cleric in Sydney, Mansour Leghaei, who faces deportation after ASIO branded him a risk to national security.
Leghaei and his family - who are Australian citizens, although he is not - have lived quietly in this country for 16 years. There appears to be tremendous community support for him. The local Anglican rector, Father David Smith of the Holy Trinity Church in Dulwich Hill, describes him as "one of my best friends" and is leading what he calls a "Christian Save The Sheikh Coalition".
"Mansour is just not a political animal, " he says. " He has been working towards integration and understanding."
Leghaei is not allowed to know the evidence against him. ASIO needs to give no reason, and no appeal is possible. The spooks have spoken. Big Brother is bigger than ever.
Carbon trading on backburner
THE Rudd Government has transferred its entire emissions trading team into the strife-prone household insulation program, putting plans for carbon trading this year on the backburner.
The team of 154, which has been costing taxpayers an average of $370,000 each planning for the non-existent emissions trading scheme, will be put to work on sorting out the problems with the $2.45 billion home insulation program that left four people dead and has been implicated in 120 house fires up to March 24.
With a budget of $57 million this financial year alone, the emissions team works for an agency that is little more than a name – the Australian Climate Change Regulatory Authority – until legislation to create an emissions trading scheme passes Federal Parliament.
Hiring for the "phantom" agency (as it has been dubbed) continues, with plans to take staffing to 300 by the end of next year, relayed Department of Climate Change deputy secretary Geoff Leeper.
Emissions trading laws, officially known as the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, are stalled in the Senate and now face a firm no vote from the Opposition. They were once the centrepiece of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's response to climate change, which he dubbed "the greatest moral, economic and social challenge of our time".
The re-assignment of these bureaucrats is part of a quiet gutting of Environment Minister Peter Garrett's department over the past couple of weeks as the Department of Climate Change under South Australian Senator Penny Wong and former ACTU secretary Greg Combet took responsibility for another $400 million in environmental programs.
About 500 Environment Department staff were requisitioned by the Department of Climate Change to keep the programs operating. The Department of Climate Change did not exist until December 2007. The new entity is known as the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. Its secretary, Martin Parkinson, said it now has more than 1000 staff.
Dr Parkinson told a Senate inquiry his agency had taken over the National Energy Efficiency Initiative and Solar Homes and Communities Plan, which were budgeted to cost about $370 million this financial year. These new responsibilities could take spending to as much as $1 billion, according to last year's budget reports on climate change.
Rudd flips on 'big Australia'
Insane growth rate is stretching all services
The federal government will consider slashing Australia's annual migration intake to help tackle concerns about traffic congestion, housing, hospitals, water and the environment.
Just months after declaring himself in favour of a "big Australia", Prime Minister Kevin Rudd yesterday warned of "legitimate concerns" with population growth and appointed Agriculture Minister Tony Burke as Australia's first Population Minister. Mr Burke has been given a year to develop the country's first population plan, including a review of immigration levels.
The announcement came as another boatload of asylum seekers - the 102nd to be intercepted since Mr Rudd took office - was placed in detention at the Christmas Island facility, which has reportedly reached capacity.
Mr Rudd denied the new strategy was a smokescreen to divert attention from the recent boat arrivals, saying the idea for a population plan had come after "extensive deliberations of the cabinet over the last month".
He said population growth must be monitored: "Particularly its impact on urban congestion, its impact on the adequacy of infrastructure, its impact on the adequacy of housing supply, its impact on government services, its impact also on water and agriculture and on our regions."
Mr Rudd's change of heart followed the release last month of Treasury's Intergenerational Report, which predicted Australia's population would swell from about 22 million to 35.9 million in 2050, with overseas migration by far the biggest contributor.
Australia's growth rate is now twice the global average, even outstripping that in some developing nations including the Philippines, Malaysia, India, Indonesia and Vietnam.
Figures from the Bureau of Statistics show that last financial year net overseas migration added a record 298,924 people, while natural increase (births minus deaths) added 157,792.
Victoria's population, estimated at 5.44 million at June 2009, is growing faster than the national average, with 27 per cent of all immigrants in 2008-09 choosing to set up home here.
The majority moved to Melbourne, where population growth outstripped all other capital cities for the eighth year in a row, compounding pressure on the city's public transport network, roads and housing market.
Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison dismissed Mr Rudd's announcement as a diversion to cover his failure to control boat arrivals. "Effectively what he has announced is a plan for a plan after the next election," he said.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said Australia needed a serious debate on population. "It's very hard to have a sustainable population strategy if you can't control our boat arrivals. You can't have a population policy without having a border protection policy," he said.
The Future Eaters author and former Australian of the Year Tim Flannery welcomed the move, but said the Government should create an independent board to set medium and longer-term targets that would take into account the environment, social issues and the economy.
Greens leader Bob Brown said the new strategy must be matched with action. "The major parties' population growth plan is outstripping Australia's infrastructure, environmental capacity and affecting quality of life."
Rigid Leftist workplace laws hurt teens
IR's teen losers take their jobs plea to the PM
TWO youths who lost their after-school jobs at a Victorian hardware store have appealed to Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard for their jobs back, after their employer was required to pay $3000 in back pay.
Matthew Spencer and Leticia Harrison said the part-time work had given them independence and confidence, and they would not accept back pay "for work we have not done".
The duo were among six youths who lost after-school work at the Terang and District Co-operative because their new award stipulated they had to be employed for a minimum of three hours a day, compared with the previous state award that had a two-hour minimum.
However, the youths were engaged after school for 1 1/2 hours, with their employer arguing that was the only amount of work available before the store, located 210km southwest of Melbourne, closed at 5.30pm.
Charlie Duynhoven, who employed the six teenagers, said he had agreed to back-pay them collectively about $3000 after the Fair Work Ombudsman required him to conduct an audit of his employment records.
But Mr Spencer, 17, and Ms Harrison, 16, have written to Mr Duynhoven, saying they do not want "back pay for 12 months of work that we have not done". A copy of the letter has been sent to the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister. "We have decided we don't want the money; we would rather have our jobs back," they wrote.
"We do not feel that you have exploited us in any way as we had agreed that we would work for an hour and a half after school as it suited with our school hours and the opening times of the hardware store. "We would prefer that the work could continue with the same hours.
"Surely if we want to work for an hour and a half after school we should be able to do so, especially when the hardware store is only open until 5.30pm. "This job has given us independence, skills and confidence that when we leave school will be valuable to us in finding future employment."
Retailers have applied to Fair Work Australia to have the three-hour minimum cut to two hours. They want the right to employ youths after school for less than three hours where the worker agrees and business circumstances require.
In February, Mr Rudd said the government would try to "work (the issue) through". Ms Gillard's office said on February 7 that attempts were being made to come to an arrangement that suited both the employer and the teenagers.
The federal Liberal candidate for Wannon, Dan Tehan, said yesterday the students had "unfortunately learnt the hard way that Kevin Rudd is all talk and no action". "Kevin Rudd gave them hope that he would act to get them their jobs back, yet in eight weeks he has done nothing," he said.
A spokeswoman for Ms Gillard said yesterday that Mr Tehan should come clean with the students, and "tell them the hardware store owner was unfortunately breaching conditions in an award that existed when Mr (John) Howard was prime minister". "He could also explain to the students that, under Mr Abbott's industrial relations plans, as workers in a small business they'd be one of the two million Australians who could be sacked without warning or reason no matter how good an employee they are," she said.
Given the application to vary the award had been lodged with Fair Work Australia, the independent umpire would "look at the merits of the arguments and decide if changes to the minimum hours should be made".
Unions are resisting the move, with Joe de Bruyn, national secretary of the shop assistants union, warning that 30 per cent of the workforce were casuals and part-timers who relied on minimum hours protections. "The idea that school kids earning pocket money can somehow swing this issue for what is 30 per cent of the workforce would be quite extraordinary," Mr de Bruyn said. "These kids are being used by employers to prosecute a case."
Ms Harrison has started a petition seeking changes to the award, and has secured 600 signatures. Gary Black, executive director of the National Retail Association, said employers were concerned that as soon as the hardware store case attracted publicity, the Ombudsman intervened and required an audit.