Saturday, May 21, 2011


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG has a shot at both Bob Brown and Malcolm Turnbull over the carbon tax

One in the eye for a nasty bitch: "The Director of Military Prosecutions, Lyn McDade"

She's not even a good lawyer, let alone knowing anything about army combat. Prosecuting our men for defending themselves was always utter slime. Get rid of the stupid bitch!

THE case against two army reservists charged with manslaughter in Afghanistan will not go to a court martial after a judge advocate yesterday dismissed the charges. However, Sergeant J and Lance Corporal D could still face alternative charges pending a decision by the Director of Military Prosecutions, Lyn McDade.

At a pre-trial hearing in Sydney, judge advocate Ian Westwood dismissed the case against Sergeant J and Lance Corporal D. That means a court martial set down for July 11 will not go ahead and Brigadier McDade must now decide whether to bring different charges against the soldiers.

It is not clear what yesterday's decision means for a third soldier - the unit's commander - who is yet to face a court martial and whether the lieutenant colonel is likely still to be prosecuted.

The charges related to a February 12, 2009, incident involving members of the Special Operations Task Group undertaking a compound clearance operation in Oruzgan province. Six civilians, including five children, were killed. [When a Talib fired on our men at close range from the middle of a room housing the women and children. The deaths were entirely on the head of the Taliban!]

Sergeant J and Lance Corporal D had been charged with manslaughter and, in the alternative, two counts of dangerous conduct, with negligence as to consequence.

Brigadier Westwood agreed with their defence team that the charges should be thrown out because they "did not disclose service offences". He said the issue of whether there was a duty of care was of "fundamental importance".

It had to be established that the soldiers had a duty of care before it could be decided whether or not they'd been negligent. But in reading through the Defence Force Discipline Act, he found an "absence of plain words" on any duty of care to non-combatants.

Brigadier Westwood said his ruling did not detract from the personal tragedy inherent in the prosecution's allegations or diminish the importance of the lives lost.

He said soldiers were in a unique position when they were engaged in armed combat. Australian law authorised the application of force, including lethal force, when troops were sent into combat. In fact, soldiers were compelled on "pain of penalty" to carry out attacks on the enemy and they could not simply decide not to take any further part in hostilities.

There was rarely time for calm reflection in what were frequently life or death situations. He noted that the prosecution had been unable to find previous cases where manslaughter charges were brought in an active combat situation and that illustrated the difficulty in proving a duty of care.

Former defence force chief Peter Cosgrove said he felt relief for the soldiers, who had got their lives back. "They had to stand up straight and let the legal system work itself out," he told Macquarie Radio. "It must have been terrible for them and their loved ones and their mates while they went through this process."

Lawyer Patrick George, who represented Sergeant J, said last night the charges were misconceived because soldiers clearly did not owe a legally enforceable duty of care for their actions in combat.


Julia rolls out the pork barrel for Tony Windsor

Using taxpayer's money as a bribe for his support in Parliament

THERE'S a golden glow in New England, enhanced by frequent bursts of cargo from Canberra, the occasional vroooom of RAAF jets and the crisp cutting of ribbons right across the House of Tony Windsor.

Like many others, Col Murray, the Mayor of Tamworth in the independent MP's northeastern NSW seat of power, feels that lovely warmth, too. "Tony Windsor has got his little piece of sunshine, and I guess that he got the PM up here shows she recognises that he's got the sunshine, too," Murray told The Weekend Australian.

In a season of supposedly "tough" budgets, Labor ministers have been making pilgrimages to this already bountiful region to deliver dams, roads, health facilities, training centres and more.

Julia Gillard made a two-day visit to New England this week - an eternity compared with the usual prime ministerial drop-ins of a few hours - and she didn't come empty-handed or to boot-scoot. The trip's indelible image was the Prime Minister and local MP descending the stairs of the RAAF VIP plane in Tamworth in the bush regal manner of Liz and Phil, those other much-loved Windsors in these parts.

Planes are a fixture in the skies here, with BAE Flying Systems winning a six-year, $120 million, Australian Defence Force contract the other day to continue basic flying training at Tamworth.

On Tuesday, Ms Gillard announced $20m in new funding for medical training facilities in Windsor's home town and in nearby Armidale.

Mobbed by schoolchildren, the Prime Minister opened a $10m sports dome in Tamworth, half of which was paid for by Labor's economic stimulus dollars. She and Windsor also visited Tamworth Hospital to promote a $120m allocation for a redevelopment and a $31.6m grant for a regional cancer centre, both projects financed by the $5 billion Health and Hospitals Fund.

So far, NSW has been allocated $1.115bn from the HHF. Although New England is one of 48 federal seats in the state, its $151.6m represents 13.5 per cent of all NSW HHF grants.

The following day, the House of Representatives partners travelled the 110km northeast to Armidale, where they flicked the switch on the first mainland section of Labor's $36bn National Broadband Network - a project Windsor has fervently supported and which he cited as crucial to winning his support for Labor after last August's federal election stalemate.

The launch was attended by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and NBN Co chief executive Mike Quigley, although only seven of the more than 4000 homes connected in Armidale were using the fibre-optic network.

This month, Health Minister Nicola Roxon was on hand with Windsor to turn the first sod on the site of a proposed GP Super Clinic at Gunnedah. New England has received a number of health grants from Labor's "nation-building" HHF, $1.8bn of which has been earmarked for a regional priority round, secured by Mr Windsor and his fellow NSW independent, the member for Lyne, Rob Oakeshott.

Tamworth hospital's director of nursing and acting general manager, Chris Coombs, said the development would take the hospital from dispersed 1950s building stock into the 21st century. "The building will be state of the art," she said. "It's just wonderful." Coombs said that in the 13 years she has worked at the hospital, the number of emergency patients had grown from 18,000 a year to more than 50,000.

Tamworth's mayor said he was delighted by the healthcare funding boost, but detected a subtle force at play. "We've been seeking funding for the base hospital for many years and it has been going around and around for a lot of years, but now there's been a flood of commitments delivered in the first year," Murray said.

He also points to the Chaffey Dam upgrade, announced in February with $17m in federal funds. As well, Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese visited Tenterfield last Friday to promote with Windsor a $6m grant for a feasibility study for a realignment and bypass of the New England Highway.

During her visit, Gillard was repeatedly asked about her special relationship with the New England MP and what locals saw as Windsor's uncanny ability to secure funding for a long "wish list" of projects. "Tony Windsor is a very important part of our Australian parliament, and of course his support for the government is important to me and to the government," the Prime Minister told ABC regional radio listeners on Wednesday. "Tony Windsor, I think, is a very determined person, a very methodical person, so he works constructively with the government, raising the issues of concern to the region and that's good to see. "It's what we want local members to be doing."

Asked by The Weekend Australian if his position as a kingmaker had allow him to secure an unfair amount of funding, Windsor replied: "If that's the interpretation, I don't apologise . . . because I think country members have sold their electorates out in the past because of the need for the marginal city seats to receive the funding to buy the votes. I think it's rectifying inequities rather than some sort of pork barrel."

In any case, Labor had laid the ground work for its wooing of the rural independents over the course of its tumultuous first term under Kevin Rudd. As this newspaper has previously reported, New England received above-average stimulus funds for the primary school building program and road "black spots". Grants for social housing ($81m) and community infrastructure ($9m) ran at twice the national average.

Allocations from the Trade Training Centres in Schools program are running at almost $23m at five locations in New England. Labor has so far allocated $1.028bn over three funding rounds on these training centres. Given this program extends to every electorate, an average allocation would be $6.9m, so Windsor's seat has done extremely well from a measure Tony Abbott vows to cut in government.

When Gillard was trying to woo Windsor after last year's election, she was able to present a dossier of local projects that would be lost under Coalition rule.

Windsor said the substantive issues contained in the agreement he struck with Labor had benefited regional Australia generally, rather than one particular electorate. "I've been arguing for those things for a number of years," the independent said. "If you can put a bit more pressure on, well good luck."

Asked if that extended to pressuring government for the benefit of his electorate, Windsor replied that that was his job.


Julia hugely unpopular in Queensland

And Qld. is the swing state that any party has to win to form government

JULIA Gillard's support in Queensland has collapsed, with Labor's vote plummeting to record lows across the state. Labor's primary vote has crashed to 28 per cent, a Galaxy poll conducted exclusively for The Courier-Mail reveals. Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has pulled in front of Ms Gillard as preferred prime minister by a strong 16 percentage point margin.

And former Labor leader Kevin Rudd is now preferred Labor leader by 59 per cent of Queensland voters.

Queensland voters have turned against Ms Gillard's minority Government, with 39 per cent saying the hung Parliament has been worse than expected. In a sign the Government is failing to sell its plans for a carbon tax, only 8 per cent of respondents said climate change was the most important issue facing Australia.

Labor's primary vote has slumped from 33.6 per cent at the last election to 28 per cent, according to the poll conducted on Wednesday and Thursday nights. The party would face an electoral wipeout if these results were replicated across crucial marginal seats in Queensland.

This result would see the Coalition win by 59 per cent to 41 per cent on a two-party-preferred basis, assuming similar flows of preferences to the last election. Support for the Coalition has soared from 47.4 per cent primary vote at the last election to 53 per cent in the Galaxy poll.

For the first time in any recent opinion poll, Mr Abbott has pulled ahead of Ms Gillard as preferred prime minister by 53 per cent to 47 per cent. In a further blow to Ms Gillard, former prime minister Kevin Rudd has three times more support to be Labor leader.

Previous polls had already suggested Mr Rudd had more support than Ms Gillard as Labor leader both in Queensland and across the country. But the new poll shows Mr Rudd now has majority support among Queenslanders to take back leadership of the Labor Party. He has a massive 40 per cent lead as preferred Labor leader over the woman who deposed him as prime minister. Ms Gillard only secured 19 per cent support as Labor leader, down from 33 per cent in February.

"Such is the popularity of Kevin Rudd in Queensland that there is consensus between Labor and LNP supporters, with both of the opinion that he is now the best choice to lead the federal Labor Party," Galaxy chief executive David Briggs said.

The recent Federal Budget has not helped Treasurer Wayne Swan's popularity either. Support for Mr Swan to take over as Labor leader has fallen to 9 per cent from 15 per cent in February.

The poll shows voters' growing sense of disillusionment about Ms Gillard's power-sharing deal with the Greens and Independents. The number of people who said the hung Parliament was worse than expected has risen from 23 per cent in February to 39 per cent.

Almost half the people polled said it was too early to tell how the minority Government was working. But this was down from 62 per cent who were prepared to hold their judgment in February.

Economic management and cost of living were ranked as the most important issues, followed by illegal immigration and education standards.


Queensland Health staff angry as police called in over payroll debacle

Looks like the new minister is even more clueless than the old one

STAFF have accused Queensland Health of treating them like criminals as it attempts to claw back money wrongly claimed during the payroll debacle. The department has confirmed 88 health workers had been handed to fraud investigators.

The Courier-Mail understands 587 cases were first referred to the Crime and Misconduct Commission, but most were rejected because they involved minor payments of under $500. The remainder involved average cash payments of $5300 and were passed on to police.

But staffers who insist they mistakenly claimed too much in hardship payments said they were ready and willing to pay back any money they owed. Many were furious they had been subjected to the "humiliation and indignity" of detectives knocking at their doors alleging fraud, without any prior contact from Queensland Health.

The employees felt they were being further victimised by the disastrous system that left thousands unpaid or underpaid after its implementation last March. [And it's still not fixed!]

The department has insisted all cases were "thoroughly examined" before referrals to the police.

But two workers told of their trauma after being hauled before police, only to later be cleared of any wrongdoing. "The stress these allegations have caused are enormous. Sleepless nights, breakdown in marriage ... all because of false allegations," one man, who asked not to be named, said. "I am also out more than $2000 in legal fees to clear my name."

Another nurse released without charge said the process was "heavy-handed and insensitive", especially because she was encouraged by management to accept the interim payments.

The Queensland Nurses Union is pushing for compensation for those wrongly accused. A nurse said he was visited at home by detectives over a $500 emergency payment. "I've worked for Queensland Health for 20 years and I'm treated like a criminal and police come around and ask to question me in front of my family," he said.

General human resource services deputy director John Cairns said yesterday all staff were presumed innocent and referrals to police did not indicate guilt.

Police had also agreed to allow Queensland Health to first contact staff before detectives arrived, he said. Mr Cairns said 21 people had been been charged so far with fraud, with four pleading guilty.


Note: I have two other blogs covering Australian news. They are more specialized so are not updated daily but there are updates on both most weeks. See QANTAS/Jetstar for news on Qantas failings and Australian police news for news on police misbehaviour

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