Saturday, July 24, 2010


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG thinks Rudd has now got what he wanted with the offer of a United Nations job

Navy tensions over boat people

OVERWORKED Navy patrol boat crews have been told to brace for an election influx of eight to 12 illegal boats carrying between 300 and 800 passengers.

The nation's fleet of interceptor vessels has been warned of ships in waters around Christmas Island and Ashmore Reef.

This comes as Navy chiefs launched an urgent appeal for reservists to go to Darwin to relieve patrol boat crews. Many of the sailors, and their families, are so fed up that they openly support Opposition policy to turn boats around and reinstate temporary protection visas.

On any given day eight of the 10 Darwin-based Armidale Class patrol boats are at sea on boat people duty.

"We will do it, but it will be a s*** fight," one sailor said. "There will be children overboard, sewing lips, jumping, fighting and we will need SAS and infantry with riot batons and shields to turn them back."

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott yesterday announced a $93 million package to boost border security. He said the Coalition would restore the $58.1 million Labor cut from a security screening program at Australia's ports and airports and add another $35 million. "You can trust the Coalition with border security. You can't trust Labor," Mr Abbott said.

A spokesman for Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor said both sides of politics regarded border protection as a key priority. "The Government has invested more than any previous Government in strengthening Australia's border security," he said. "Over the past two budgets, Federal Labor has committed more than $1.8 billion to strengthen border and aviation security. "We have invested in eight new patrol vessels with improved surveillance and response capability -- strengthening our Border Protection Command, which already has 18 vessels and 18 aircraft."

The high level intelligence provided to sailors and passed to The Daily Telegraph this week is so detailed it includes the names of each smuggling venture, the identity of the people smuggler involved and that most passengers will be men aged between 17 and 45. "We are getting intel on when they leave and expected to arrive, but Indonesia is not acting to stop them," a sailor said.

Sailors have also been warned about a change of tactics by people smugglers, who are broadcasting fake distress calls just outside Australian waters to avoid severe penalties under the Migration Act.

Commanders have been ordered to intercept any vessel outside Australian waters and ask the skipper where he is headed. The latest FRAG (fragmented operational order) issued to commanders at sea on Thursday told them how to deal with vessels outside Australia's 12-mile zone.

"In the event you suspect the vessel to be a SIEV [suspected illegal entry vessel] you need the master to say that they require assistance to come to Australia," the orders said. "However, you are not authorised to lead their answer. Questions on the lines of 'Where are you going?' [and] 'Do you need assistance to get there?' should be appropriate."

In one case a patrol boat went to the aid of an Indonesian vessel in "distress" outside the 12 mile zone, took 70 asylum seekers off it, then provided it with fuel and watched it steam its way back to Indonesia.

People smugglers are using global positioning systems to accurately calculate their position and staying outside the migration zone, before calling friends in Australia or dialling the emergency triple-0 number to request assistance as "stranded mariners" and not illegal vessels.

This year alone 81 illegal boats have arrived carrying 3854 people, or an average of 48 passengers each. SIEV number 172 arrived this week, taking the total since July 2009 to 138 boats.


National broadcaster picks sides while the 'editor-in-chief' watches on

AT the end of this five-week election campaign, the ABC will study its performance and, if past reviews are a guide, the broadcaster will conclude it was fair to both major parties.

Others will point to examples where one side got coverage and the other did not. For example, on the first full day of the ABC's new 24-hour news station yesterday, the broadcaster failed to put Tony Abbott live to air to announce the opposition's policy on border protection, opting instead to run a story about cane farming.

By contrast, when Julia Gillard gave her speech on climate change yesterday, ABC News 24 was there. The whisper around town is that even ABC boss, Mark Scott, wants to know how this could be allowed to happen on the station's first day. Sky News showed both events live. In the first week of the election campaign, ABC "editor-in-chief" Scott has much to chew on. The broadcaster is a giant organisation with a $900 million budget and 1000 journalists.

These figures have provided ammunition to critics, including commentator Margaret Simons, who isn't alone in complaining the ABC doesn't break many stories for that kind of coin. In January, she wrote: "When did Aunty last consistently break major news stories? Can we have a list, please? I'd be glad to publish it."

Sydney Institute director Gerard Henderson has added a new segment to his Media Watch Dog column "devoted to ABC chairman Maurice Newman's suggestion (in March) that a certain 'group think' might be prevalent at the ABC". Henderson fills the spot each week with examples of ABC journalists talking to people who agree with each other, with no dissent. This week Newman has re-entered the fray, telling The Weekend Australian in Beijing on the night of ABC's new station launch "things are improving" at the ABC, but the problem is not yet solved.

"This is not a five-minute exercise, changing culture and changing attitudes and so on," he says. "These are things that take time." He says Australian media generally displays a "lack of intellectual curiosity" and that reporters tend to "accept a point of view without doing the necessary research, without stepping back and judging whether or not conventional wisdom is always correct".

But Newman notes that the ABC, as a taxpayer-funded organisation, is "required by our charter to walk both sides of the street and be balanced and all those good things. That is really the contract we have and it's important that we fulfil that obligation." So how is it doing?

ABC News 24 chief Gaven Morris yesterday confirmed a snag with the Abbott press conference, saying it was not able to establish the live link to the speech, so "rather than crashing into it and missing the key part of the announcement, we decided to record the full event and play it back in the proper context".

But this week, the first of the federal election campaign, some have questioned the way Kerry O'Brien -- one of the long-serving ABC old guard -- has handled two major interviews.

O'Brien interviewed Julia Gillard on day three of the campaign. He did not ask a single question about Building the Education Revolution, the multi-billion-dollar scheme to upgrade the nation's schools that has been plagued by waste and rorts, despite the fact that Gillard, before she became Prime Minister, was the education minister. He did not ask about the failed home insulation scheme, either.

O'Brien did ask about the failed East Timor solution, putting the question this way: "You seemed to show inexperience in the way you handled your attempt to persuade East Timor to embrace a regional refugee centre for asylum-seekers. How do you persuade Australians that you're a safe pair of hands on all those very tricky foreign policy issues?"

O'Brien was a touch more aggressive on Gillard's constant use of "moving forward", saying: "Paul Keating's speechwriter Don Watson says the way you're already endlessly repeating slogans is treating voters like imbeciles, trying to train them like dogs." But he ended on a gentle note, saying: "Last question: You've spent time talking about your strengths; nominate a weakness that you are aware about yourself?"

She replied: "I've been known to make the occasional joke where media friends like you, Kerry, haven't necessarily shared in the joke or shared in the humour."

O'Brien's interview with the Coalition's Joe Hockey was somewhat different in tone. Hockey stood in for his leader, Tony Abbott, after Abbott decided not to miss the opportunity to front a commercial audience as a guest on Hey Hey It's Saturday. O'Brien began by telling the audience: "After interviewing Julia Gillard on Monday, we were hoping Tony Abbott would be available last night or tonight to balance the scales. Mr Abbott couldn't make it tonight. He's on another television program called Hey Hey It's Saturday with Daryl Somers on their Red Faces segment. So his shadow treasurer, Joe Hockey, is here now to fill the breach."

He then turned to Mr Hockey and said: "I understand you were complaining today about Labor trivialising this election campaign. But before we get to that, are there any Paris Hilton lines you want to share with us tonight?"

The difference is obvious, even without audio. Hockey defended his leader, saying: "No, Kerry. And I think you're wrong also about Tony Abbott. I'm sure he's prepared to come on your program."

O'Brien said: "He's agreed to come on next week. It's a pity he couldn't be here . . . So the point about trivialisation: what is it?"

O'Brien ripped into Hockey about the opposition's decision to bury and cremate Work Choices, and to support Labor's industrial reform, saying at one point: "I suggest to you that it defies credulity."

One of the most vocal critics of the ABC is a former staff member, Kevin Naughton, who worked at the ABC for 16 years, covering 10 state and federal elections. Naughton, who was media adviser to former SA Liberal leader Martin Hamilton-Smith, told The Weekend Australian yesterday: "The ABC has always publicly defined itself as balanced. It does so, because that's what its editorial guidelines demand of reporters and broadcasters.

"The reality is different. ABC newsrooms get very nervous when the Liberal Party looks a winning chance and they get angry when Liberal governments retain power.

"One classic example was the clarion call of 1996 when a flustered senior current affairs producer exhorted the troops to get stuck into the Libs because, 'we could lose this thing . . . Keating could lose'.

"Programs such as The 7.30 Report are built on a Labor culture of ALP for the workers (including struggling journos), and Kerry O'Brien didn't disappoint when he gave honeymooning PM Julia Gillard a nice run on Monday night."

Of course, O'Brien is more than two interviews: prior to this campaign, he is credited with his tough interview of Kevin Rudd over the failures at Copenhagen, prompting a fiery Rudd to hit back about the treatment he was getting from "7.30 Reportland". He followed it up the following week with a stinging interview with Abbott. The Weekend Australian this week asked Media Monitors to analyse the coverage ABC TV accorded former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser when news broke he'd quit the Liberals, and compare it with this week's coverage of former Labor leader Mark Latham dumping on Labor.

The results are shown in the chart and the difference is stark: the ABC reported Fraser's move with three times the enthusiasm it showed for Latham dumping on Labor. True, a leader and former PM quitting a party might be seen as a bigger story, but in the context of the last month's events in Canberra and Latham's contributions from the sidelines, was the Fraser story more important by a factor of three?

In a statement to The Weekend Australian yesterday, the ABC said: "Our editorial standards are clearly articulated. Our editorial performance is under constant evaluation and review by our divisional heads and the managing director. It is discussed at the board.

"The ABC recognises its special role in the Australian media and appreciates its performance is open to criticism and evaluation including by its own programs. Audiences will make up their own minds and audiences constantly turn to the ABC for intelligent, informed discussion." It had no comment to make "on the recollections of one former staff member of events a decade and a half ago".

Newman did not attend this week's flash launch and party for the new, 24-hour news channel. He was in Beijing on other business. He supports the development, and wants the news presented there to be unbiased, too.

So far, so good: one of the ABC's newish recruits, Chris Uhlmann, broke a story damaging to Labor that led news bulletins for a day, no mean feat in an election campaign.

He and colleagues Ali Moore, Annabel Crabb, Leigh Sales and others are part of a new generation of ABC talent. They haven't yet muscled their way into the big jobs, but surely that day is coming.


The story a judge wanted banned

Victoria does seem to be the censorship capital of Australia

TODAY, The Weekend Australian is giving Victorians a story a judge didn't think they were intelligent enough to read.

Two months ago, this newspaper was forced to withdraw 70,000 copies of The Weekend Australian Magazine from circulation in the state, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars, because Supreme Court judge Lex Lasry believed one article would influence the trial of Victorian man Robert Farquharson for the murder of his three sons.

While the rest of the nation read the May 22 article by Caroline Overington -- which focused on an unrelated child murder and did not mention the Farquharson case -- a hastily arranged suppression order meant Victorians missed out.

Today, we are providing all Victorian readers with a copy of the disputed magazine -- as well as the regular magazine published this weekend -- so they can make up their own minds as to whether the article would have prejudiced Farquharson's chances of a fair trial, as Justice Lasry believed.

The order reinforces Victoria's growing reputation for closing its courts to the media and, as a result, the public. There is, says state opposition legal affairs spokesman Robert Clark, "clearly a problem with suppression orders in Victoria".

On Thursday, a jury found Farquharson guilty for the second time of the 2005 murder of his three sons by driving them into a dam. The verdict lifted the suppression order imposed by Justice Lasry, at the request of Farquharson's defence counsel, on the Overington article.

The expiry of a separate ban, this time imposed by the Victorian Court of Appeal, means readers in that state can also be told about the extraordinary legal battle by free speech advocate Julian Burnside QC to overturn Justice Lasry's order. With just 30 minutes' notice, Mr Burnside rushed into the Victorian Court of Appeal on May 21 to seek leave to appeal against Justice Lasry's order. This rare after-hours challenge ended in defeat at about 8pm on the night before the magazine had been due to appear.

The suppression orders had been imposed because Justice Lasry considered that the magazine's cover story about a murder in South Australia could influence the jury dealing with the Farquharson trial in his court.

The legal battle over the magazine was initiated by Farquharson's counsel and the suppression order was granted even though prosecutor Andrew Tinney SC withdrew his support for the order after reading the article. "We've read the article and there's nothing in there that could possibly prejudice a fair trial in this case," Mr Tinney said.

Mr Clark said suppression orders in Victoria were issued far too frequently and the approach of the state's judges needed to be brought back into line with the rest of the country.

However, this comes soon after the attorneys-general of all states -- including Victoria -- agreed in May to uniform draft legislation that would dramatically expand the grounds on which judges could issue suppression orders.

Media lawyer Justin Quill warned that the draft scheme would allow judges to issue suppression orders on a new "public interest ground". Mr Quill said this potentially cleared the way for suppression orders to protect the privacy of those before the courts.


Multiculturalism protects a vicious assault

Samoan man convicted of smashing a man's jaw for allegedly disrespecting his sister -- but no jail

A SAMOAN national has narrowly avoided being immediately sent to jail for smashing the jaw of a fast food worker who was "culturally disrespectful" toward his younger sister.

The Brisbane District Court was told Sanervie Sautia landed a single punch to the face KFC employee Robert Hirsch, 20, and breaking his jaw in two places at the fastfood chain's Inala store, 15km west of Brisbane, on April 16 last year.

Sautia, 23, was today sentenced two years' jail, but released on immediate parole, after pleading guilty to one count of grievous bodily harm.

Lawyers for Sautia argued it was considered unacceptable in Samoan culture for a person to disrespect or insult a woman. Barrister Tim Ryan said his client "never intended" to harm Mr Hirsch, but confronted casual KFC employee over having called his sister a "f***head.’’ "In the Samoan culture it is unacceptable to disrespect females," Mr Ryan said.

The court was told Mr Hirsch allegedly made the "insulting" remark while working with Sautia's sister - also then employed by KFC.

Prosecutor Rob Glenday said Mr Hirsch had been sitting on the KFC store's loading dock, on a break, when he was approached by Sautia about 2.30pm. Mr Glenday said Sautia confronted Mr Hirch saying: "What's you name bro? So you was the one going off at my sister."

Mr Hirsch replied: "No way." The court was told Sautia told Mr Hirsch to never "f***ing talk to my sister like that" and punched him once in the face.

Mr Glenday said Mr Hirsch was later taken to hospital and required surgery to insert three metal plates, to secure his jaw, and 35 internal and two-external stitches. Mr Hirch was forced to "eat through a straw" for numerous weeks after the attack, the court was told. "(This was a) mindless act of aggression against (Mr Hirsch) while he was sitting down at work," he said.

Judge Richard Jones, in sentencing Sautia, said the attack may have been triggered by a cultural "slight", but that it was an unacceptable act of violence.

"It is a most serious offence and is all too prevalent in society today," Judge Jones said. "(Mr Hirsch) worked with your sister at the Kentucky Fried Chicken premises ... and insulted your sister ... using coarse language. "It appears among Samoan culture ... to insult a woman is a significant slight indeed. "It may provide an explanation, but no excuse."


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