Saturday, December 11, 2010


The man of the moment at present. Two out of many articles about him and the issues he raises lead off today's stories below. Note: There are also new posts today on my QANTAS/Jetstar and Australian police news blogs

PM Julia Gillard's Left flank revolts over WikiLeaks' Julian Assange

JULIA Gillard is facing a revolt from MPs in her left-wing parliamentary faction, who are enraged at the treatment of Julian Assange. The MPs are demanding the Government stop treating Mr Assange as a criminal and protect his rights as an Australian citizen and whistleblower.

A large number of MPs have spoken to The Weekend Australian to express grave concerns at the language ministers and the Prime Minister are using in relation to Mr Assange.

Laurie Ferguson, a friend and factional colleague of Ms Gillard who was dumped as parliamentary secretary for multicultural affairs and settlement services, told The Weekend Australian the Government had overreacted to the WikiLeaks release of secret US documents. He said the information that had been released was crucial to democracy and exposing the truth.

"It hasn't been borne out that people have been endangered by this information," Mr Ferguson said. "On the other side of the ledger, I think it is important that the world is informed on how intense the Saudis are about Iran's nuclear program and, for instance, that some members of the federal Labor Party caucus are so heavily engaged in briefing another nation."

Mr Ferguson took a veiled swipe at Sports Minister Mark Arbib, saying he was glad it was now well-known that the right-wing Labor frontbencher was a secret source for the US Government.

His comments came as Attorney-General Robert McClelland was yesterday unable to explain how Mr Assange had broken Australian law. Mr McClelland indicated an Australian Federal Police investigation into whether WikiLeaks had committed a criminal act could go on for more than a year.

The Government has come under fire after Ms Gillard appeared to pass judgment on Mr Assange, declaring that "the foundation stone of this WikiLeaks issue is an illegal act".

One senior left-wing MP said, on the condition of anonymity, that the Government had taken a "harsh" line on Mr Assange and had "angered" its left-wing base internally and in the community. Another said Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd had "got it right" on the WikiLeaks case while Ms Gillard had "messed it up".

Mr Rudd this week took aim at US security levels surrounding the handling of classified confidential information, rather than Mr Assange. He said those who originally leaked the documents were legally liable.

The left-wing Labor MP who heads the economics caucus committee, Sharon Grierson, said she had sympathy for Mr Assange because he believed in freedom of information and the public interest test being applied. "It's terribly important to keep asserting that Australians will always and do always look after their citizens," Ms Grierson said. "They have rights and protection under the law, and we would all want to see those applied in that case."

Ms Grierson said the world had embraced the open, globalised flow of information, and had to deal with its consequences. "We now have to find ways to respond to that which are reasonable, not irrational in any way," she said.

West Australian Labor MP Melissa Parke said the Swedish rape charges against Mr Assange were unusual and he should not be treated as a criminal. "I am concerned about the statements in the United States that Julian Assange or his family should be subjected to physical violence, and I strongly condemn them," Ms Parke said.

"The charges from Sweden sound highly unusual on the basis of the information available, and I expect the British courts to take a long hard look at that before any decision on extradition is made.

"As to the actions of WikiLeaks and whether they have broken any laws, the fact is we don't know. I think it is therefore wrong for anyone to suggest Julian Assange is a criminal."

Hundreds of people in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne protested yesterday against the treatment of Mr Assange. Criminal lawyer Rob Stary told a Melbourne rally the Australian Government was a "sycophant" of the US. He compared Mr Assange to fellow Australians David Hicks and Jack Thomas, saying their conviction on terrorism charges were helped by the government's "propaganda machine".

Mr McClelland yesterday stressed it was not his responsibility to determine guilt or innocence. He said the Australian Federal Police had been asked to examine whether any Australian laws had been breached by Mr Assange. But asked to clarify the government's position, Mr McClelland repeated his assertion that it would be illegal in Australia to obtain or distribute classified documents.

"I said by way of analogy that if . . . serving military personnel or officer of the commonwealth had access to a similar database in Australia and took confidential national security classified information off that website and revealed it, I have no doubt it would raise issues of potential criminality."

Asked about the AFP inquiries into the case, Mr McClelland said it took a long time for the investigation into leaks by public servant Godwin Grech to reach a conclusion, and people needed to take a "reality check".


Legal fury at 'war on free speech'

A MELBOURNE lawyer and former boss of Prime Minister Julia Gillard has criticised her government for its handling of WikiLeaks and its Australian founder, Julian Assange. Peter Gordon, whose legal firm made Ms Gillard the first female partner of Slater and Gordon, said her comment that Mr Assange had broken the law was baseless.

He said the fact that people such as Ms Gillard and Attorney-General Robert McClelland - both of whom he knew to be good lawyers and decent people - could be driven to behave in this way was a sobering reminder of "the seductive and compulsive draw of power".

Mr Gordon was speaking on Thursday night at a WikiLeaks forum attended by 250 lawyers and civil libertarians at the Law Institute of Victoria.

In today's Age opinion page, he writes: "If the Wikileaks disclosures tell us anything, it is that no government, whatever its political colours, is going to hesitate for a nanosecond to conflate the notion of 'national security' with 'my own career security'." He calls for a challenge to the "war on information . call it what it is - a growing and insidious attack on free speech".

Mr Gordon's stance was backed by several top barristers, who said neither official secrets nor terror laws provided any offences under which Mr Assange could be charged in Australia.

Mr Assange also received support from more than 500 people who attended a rally outside the State Library in Melbourne. The rally was one of several held around the country, with backers calling for a ban on WikiLeaks censorship and for Mr Assange to be freed.

Julian Burnside, QC, said of the government: "I think they are trying to defend the indefensible." He said the state had an obligation to protect citizens who got into trouble in a foreign country. "They ignored that obligation and instead sided with the Americans. They even went so far as to threaten to cancel his passport. That's exactly the opposite of what any self-respecting country ought to do."

Ms Gillard insists the actions of Mr Assange, an Australian citizen, are illegal. Attorney-General Robert McClelland has said Wikileaks' actions are likely to be illegal. Yesterday Justice Minister Brendan O'Connor said it was entirely up to federal police to say whether Mr Assange had committed any crimes.

Several barristers agreed that it would be stretching credulity to try to mount a case based on terror laws, such as a claim that Mr Assange had recklessly helped al-Qaeda by publishing a list of the sites the US most feared would be terror targets.

Greg Barns, a barrister with experience of Australian terror trials, said: "Even under the outrageous curtailing of freedom of speech that the anti-terror laws represent in this country, you couldn't even at a stretch maintain that there was an intention or even recklessness on the part of Mr Assange."

Mr Barns and others pointed out that any charge laid against Mr Assange would also have to be laid against all the large media outlets that had republished his documents.

Even the United States had so far failed in its search for an offence, Mr Assange's Melbourne solicitor, Rob Stary, said. "This issue has also been examined by the Congressional Research Service in the US, and they made the same observation. He's the second person in the chain; he receives material, but he doesn't take it himself." Therefore, no offence could be identified, he said.

Mr Stary said lawyers at the forum expressed "enormous disquiet as to the role of government attempting to suppress this information" and had criticised Ms Gillard and Mr McClelland for undermining the presumption of innocence.

Mr Burnside said: "I think, standing back from it, what we have seen is what happens to a citizen who breaks the unwritten law about embarrassing the governments of powerful countries . If they want to avoid embarrassment, they shouldn't shut down freedom of information. They should stop acting embarrassingly."


"Green" policies are cold comfort for older citizens

By Senator Barnaby Joyce

Certain things paint an indelible image in your mind. One happened to me lately when my mother in law told me that whilst doing meals on wheels in winter there was always a place you could find pensioners, in bed. This was not because of an infirmity but because they could not afford the price of the power to stay warm outside bed. How completely self indulgent and pathetic we have become that in our zealous desire to single-handedly cool the planet we have pandered to those who can afford the power bill over those less fortunate to avoid privation. How pathetic we are that South Korea, using our coal, can provide power cheaper to their citizens after an 8,300 km sea voyage than we can with power stations in our own coal fields.

Oh yes, aren't the solar panels doing a great a job. In Canberra last week it was revealed that they would add $225 to the average electricity bill, and that the Government's proposed carbon tax would raise them by a further 24%.

It is just that the poverty creep is making its way up the social strata, though I doubt it will reach the most affluent group The Greens. Bitterness on my part I suppose but I represent a party that represents the poorest electorates. Now what other lunacy are we considering, none other than shutting down the Murray Darling Basin so you can have a diet that suits the misery of the winter nights temperature in the unheated house..

Yes we have become so oblivious to the obvious because the loudest voices are not necessarily the neediest. We spend, sorry borrow, for school halls that do not make students more competitive in competency. No school hall taught a student a second language or a higher level maths. We borrowed for ceiling insulation and burnt down 190 houses and 4 installers died.

We borrowed for aimless $900 cheques as we decided that somehow imported electrical goods to Australia would reboot the US economy. We borrowed so much that we are now 170 billion dollars in gross debt. We are told not to worry about gross debt, its net debt that counts. Well try that out on your local bank manager. Try paying him back what you think you owe him, because of what you think others may owe you. Not surprisingly he will direct you to what is noted on your loan statement.

It is funny how the people who try to assuage our concerns with the net debt myth can never clearly identify what are the items that make up the difference between the figure on the Office of Financial Management website as Australian Government Securities outstanding and their miraculous net debt figure.

Since the election, the Labor-Green government has borrowed an average $1.6 billion each week. Every fortnight that amounts to three new major public hospitals or the inland rail from Melbourne to Brisbane. Not bad going for a country that can not keep its pensioners warm.

Whilst we are waiting we are merrily selling at a record rate our agricultural land, mines and now the hub of commerce the ASX, so that when the day of reckoning for our children comes they can try and get out of trouble by working fastidiously for someone else and hoping they feed them. The average foreign purchase of agricultural land over the past two years is 2.7 billion a year or more than 10 times that of the average of the previous 10 years.

So when is all this going to change? When are we going to shake ourselves out of this dystopia that we are inflicting on others less connected but more affected by the self indulgent political delusion. What is our current solution to the very real problems becoming more and more apparent at the bottom end of the lucky country?

Well apparently it is gay marriage. Yep I am sure that will warm the cockles of their hearts, if not their living rooms, that our nation's wisest are going to engage in hours, possibly days at the end of the political year on gay marriage. Then when we are finished with gay marriage we may have enough time to engage the remainder of our time on euthanasia.

You can not reduce power prices without increasing the supply of cheap power. No other nation has an earnest desire to feed you before they satisfy their own. It is a fluke of history that you are here in this nation but luck is easily lost with bad management and naive aspirations.


Immigrant woman thinks she shouldn't have to understand English

ONE of Australia's largest labour hire companies is being sued for racial discrimination, with claims that it demanded that a young Thai migrant with limited English complete a written health and safety exam, and then in effect dismissed her when she failed it.

Wan Phen Promlee says she was looking forward to returning to casual work as a warehouse picker and packer this year after time off with a wrist injury.

But, according to a claim she has filed in the Federal Magistrates Court, her employer, the labour hire firm Integrated, had other ideas. Ms Promlee says that when she returned she was initially told there was no work for her. Then, some weeks later, she received a call. The management of the warehouse company she had been sent to, Ceva Logistics, had been wondering where she was and asked Integrated to send her specifically.

But instead of returning to her duties, Ms Promlee, 26, was told to sit a written exam. "I went there and the woman said, 'You sit and watch the CD and answer the questions'," Ms Promlee said. "I couldn't understand. I just gave the paper back."

Ms Promlee says she was not allowed to have someone with her to read out questions and was not offered any translation assistance. She was not offered any more work.

Integrated said Ms Promlee had the questions read to her and was given the chance to answer them verbally. It said the health and safety test is mandatory for all employees when they register with the company.

But Ms Promlee was not required to sit the exam until six months later. She had already been given a safety orientation by Ceva Logistics, including instruction by a young woman who spoke her language.

"I learnt about how to lift a box without hurting yourself and what boxes are too heavy so you need to ask for help," Ms Promlee said. "I know how to be safe."

This was confirmed by employees at the Lidcombe factory. Integrated refused to comment yesterday.

Ms Promlee's lawyer, Giri Sivaraman, said the case was one of the more blatant examples of racial discrimination he had come across. "I just fail to understand how in modern Australia someone can be forced to sit a written test in English," Mr Sivaraman, from law firm Maurice Blackburn, said.

"I was really surprised at the lack of assistance for someone who really needed it. Taking into account the type of work - they should have done better. I think labour hire firms are scared of injured workers. Over the last 10 years I've repeatedly advised people who couldn't get work with labour hire companies because they were injured."

Ms Promlee is also suing Integrated for breaching the Disability Discrimination Act on the grounds that it had refused her request to undertake limited duties while she was recovering from her injury.


Banned food list has gone nuts in Australia

SCHOOLS have banned lunchbox staples such as egg, mayonnaise, Nutella, peanut butter, kiwi fruit and bananas to protect a handful of students with severe food allergies. Children are not allowed to share food and have to wash their hands and face after recess and lunch to prevent cross-contamination.

While the number of Australian children suffering from food allergies is on the rise, official guidelines on anaphylaxis in schools do not recommend blanket bans.

Many schools forbid all nut products, but some have gone further, to include eggs and egg-based mayonnaise, fish products, fruits and chocolate that may contain traces of nuts. Canteens do not sell the offending products and parents are told not to pack them in their child's lunchbox.

Medical experts, parents and interest groups oppose the bans, arguing they pander to anxious parents and create a false sense of security when a risk-management strategy would be more effective. "There is no scientific evidence to suggest banning a food from a school is helpful in reducing risk of anaphylaxis," NSW Department of Education and Training guidelines say.

Milk and egg are the most common food allergens in children, but many outgrow their allergy by the time they start school, leaving peanuts and tree nuts as the most dangerous culprits.

Associate Professor Dianne Campbell, a staff specialist in immunology at The Children's Hospital at Westmead said it is almost impossible to have an anaphylactic shock from touching a contaminated surface. They could, however, get a localised reaction such as hives or welts.

"But unless you've eaten it or absorbed it onto a mucosal surface like your mouth or eye, you can't actually have a systemic reaction, ie anaphylaxis," she said. "If someone is eating an egg sandwich or having mayonnaise and they're four lunchboxes away from you and you're not touching them or sharing food, you really shouldn't be able to have a dangerous reaction from that. But it's very anxiety provoking for the parents."

NSW Primary Principals Association president Geoff Scott said schools were "allergy aware" and vigilant but bans were impossible. "Banning of a product in another child's lunch prepared at home is a bit problematic as it's very difficult for a school to check 800 lunches to find out what's in each," he said.

"Obviously, no school lives in a bubble and, for those children who are anaphylactic, you just put in place as much risk-management as you can."

Croydon Public School principal David Horne said all nut products were banned including Nutella and marzipan, the canteen did not sell egg or egg-based mayonnaise, and parents were asked not to send egg products and kiwi fruit to school. "If a child comes with those foods, they need to inform their teacher and wash face and hands immediately after eating it," he said.

A Canberra school visited last month by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd warned journalists who had eaten a banana in the previous 12 hours they were not permitted to cover the visit due to allergy concerns.

Anaphylaxis Australia president Maria Said said she knew of independent, Catholic and government schools that had imposed food bans but they were overreacting. "Have hand-washing procedures, have children eat at designated times, no sharing of food, make sure teachers are trained and children have awareness of food allergy - those strategies will work much more effectively than saying we have a blanket ban on kiwi fruit or mayonnaise," she said.


1 comment:

Paul said...

personally I think Assange is a charlatan and disinfo creep, and much of what he's put out is salacious but ultimately inconsequential in the Global scheme of things. It is funny though watching the ALP running around with their hair on fire.