Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Pressure on Victorian Government over Muslim women lifting their veils

THE Baillieu Government will consider laws being adopted in other states that will give police the power to force Muslim women wearing a full veil to reveal their faces.

Islamic leaders and the Law Institute of Victoria have both backed the need for police to be given clear powers to identify people. The Police Association also has supported the need for more clarity for its members.

The NSW Government this week said it would draw up legislation allowing police to ask any person stopped during routine vehicle checks to remove burqas, niqabs or other head and face coverings at the roadside to verify their identities.

The move follows a Sydney judge's decision last week to quash a six-month jail sentence given to a burqa-wearing mother of seven, Carnita Matthews.

Mrs Matthews had been found guilty of falsely accusing Sen-Constable Paul Fogarty of forcibly trying to remove her burqa when she was pulled over while driving in June last year.

Anyone refusing to obey the law may face up to a year's jail under NSW legislation. Western Australia yesterday indicated it would adopt similar laws.

Law Institute of Victoria member and former equal opportunity commissioner Moira Rayner said she supported giving police new powers, saying it was not unreasonable for people to be forced to clearly identify themselves.

Police Minister Peter Ryan told the Herald Sun NSW's legislation would be considered by the State Government. "We will have regard to what that legislation is and then consider it in Victoria," he said.

The Islamic community has backed the changes in principle. But Islamic Council of Victoria director Nazeem Hussain warned new laws must be carefully monitored so that police don't abuse their power.

It also wants female police to witness the unveiling. Islamic law allows a Muslim woman to remove her face veil to verify her identity.

Police Association state secretary Greg Davies said there needed to be clear cut legislation about what powers officers have.

Helen Szoke, Commissioner of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, said there would need to be a good reason to introduce similar laws in Victoria, but wouldn't rule it out. "There would have to be a compelling reason for you to want to do it," she said.


Commonwealth Bank chief Ralph Norris blasts banking regulation changes

COMMONWEALTH Bank chief Ralph Norris has fired a broadside at the Gillard Government for unleashing a "staggering" regulatory burden and questioned whether any benefit has been gained.

Mr Norris said regulatory changes saw the lender spend "well over $100 million to redesign systems and processes" but across the whole financial system, those additional costs were "certainly well in excess of half a billion dollars".

In the past year alone, CBA made submissions to eight major inquiries and participated in 44 others with the Australian Bankers Association, he said. "The amount of regulatory change is staggering, so is the cost... one really has to ask whether all these changes meet any reasonable social cost-benefit analysis."

He said Australia was "now in a situation which requires a certain flexibility. Adding to the regulatory burden under which businesses operate does not help".

On this Sunday's carbon tax announcement, Mr Norris said "everybody welcomes the certainty". "I mean there's nothing worse than operating in a void. Voids usually get filled with rumour and speculation so obviously having a very clear and specific understanding of what is going to be in that legislation or how the tax is actually going to be promulgated is going to obviously provide some degree of certainty," he said.

Mr Norris applauded the Reserve Bank as having done "a very good job" over the past 15 years or so, including on interest rates.

Among changes to come from CBA, Mr Norris said, was a major overhaul of its core banking system to respond to "a real-time world". He also ruled out the need for job cuts, saying cost to income ratios of Australian banks in general were at the best levels in the world.


Queensland flood report will take aim at Wivenhoe dam operator

AN interim report into Queensland's deadly floods is expected to criticise Wivenhoe Dam's operators and local councils for a lack of preparation.

Seqwater, which operates the dam, is expected to be criticised for inadequate flood control processes, according to a report in The Courier-Mail.

The report does not detail the exact criticisms to be levelled against Seqwater.

But the long-running floods inquiry has focused heavily on the way it managed water levels in the dam before thousands of properties in Brisbane and Ipswich were flooded.

Many victims blame the operation of the dam for the scale of the disaster. They say if water had been released earlier, then emergency releases at the height of January's floods would not have been needed and the damage in Brisbane and Ipswich would have been lessened.

The manual governing the dam's operation came under close scrutiny during the inquiry, amid claims the dam's flood mitigation capacity was not properly utilised.

Questions have also been raised about why water levels in the dam weren't lowered in October 2010, despite warnings then of a very wet summer ahead.

The news report said councils, notably the Toowoomba Regional Council, would also cop heavy criticism and would be told they must improve evacuation procedures.

Some councils have already been sent summaries of key findings and recommendations the inquiry is likely to make, The Courier Mail said. They've been invited to respond and indicate if they agree or disagree, and whether any issues about the handling of the floods has been overlooked.

The Queensland Floods Commission of Inquiry is due to hand its interim report to the government by August 1.


Negligent public school: Kid Left behind in fast food store toilet

A MOTHER is outraged her son, five, was forced to walk to his grandparents' house unsupervised. It came after he was left behind during an after-hours school excursion.

She said her son, now six, was distraught when he came out of the Hungry Jack's Hawthorn store's toilet after an excursion to Mitcham Cinema last month, only to find other Eden Hills Primary School students and their supervisors had left.

Her son then walked across several roads, as well a railway line, to get to his grandparents' house. "He cried all the way there, he said he felt as though he was not important enough to be remembered," the mother said. "It is a failure of duty of care. They should have had one carer for every eight children but they had just two qualified supervisors for 27 kids."

The boy's father said his son has been suffering from restless sleep and often wakes up in the night calling out for his parents to quell fears he may have been abandoned.

The child's mother said she would be removing him from the school at the end of this week. "We cannot entrust the school to adequately care for our children. It was a crisis situation, he was unsupervised while in the toilet for starters," the mother said.

She said she was horrified to be told of the incident by her mother-in-law, rather than the school supervisor responsible for her son's welfare. "It was just lucky it was him (her son) because he knew the area and where his grandparents' house was," she said. "If it was another student, who knows what would have happened."

In an email sent to the boy's mother, the school admitted "safety standards were not met" and the incident had been reported to Education Minister Jay Weatherill.

The boy's mother, who said the school had failed to adequately discipline the supervisor involved, had also written a letter to Mr Weatherill complaining about the incident.

Department of Education and Children's Services deputy chief executive Jan Andrews said the school and its OSHC unit had apologised to the boy's parents. "When a student count identified that the boy was missing, a staff member immediately ran back to Hungry Jack's to search for him," she said. "Police were called and the child's parent was contacted.

"The school and the OSHC unit acknowledge that the incident should not have occurred, has apologised to the student and family and offered ongoing support." She confirmed DECS were reviewing the circumstances of the incident, including student-staff ratios on the day.


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