Sunday, August 28, 2011

Federal politicians unlikely to support homosexual "marriage"

THE mounting evidence is that the Greens-led "bandwagon" strategy to introduce same-sex marriage backed by wide sections of the Labor Party has provoked strong resistance and is unlikely to prevail in the current parliament.

In a conspicuously under-reported event this week 30 MPs reported to parliament on the earlier motion moved by Greens MP Adam Bandt for community consultation, with 20 signalling their rejection of same-sex marriage and only seven MPs giving support to change the marriage law.

While it cannot offer a definitive guide, the omens are apparent. The same-sex marriage campaign is running into heavy weather guaranteed to get worse. Senior Labor ministers pledged to the same-sex marriage cause concede it is most unlikely to pass this term. This means further polarisation around the issue with Greens spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young telling The Weekend Australian she will proceed next year with her bill and aims to get a co-signatory from both Labor and Liberal.

The battlelines are now entrenched. The Greens will not cease their campaign from one parliament to the next and have made this cause pivotal to their identity. The Labor Party is dangerously divided, probably for the long run, over same-sex marriage, with a strong push at the coming ALP national conference to change policy to a conscience vote.

And Tony Abbott, in response to questions, said he viewed the issue as a policy matter. That means the Coalition will vote against same-sex marriage on policy grounds without a conscience vote (individuals have the right to cross the floor). Abbott's is the critical decision.

Frankly, it is hard to see parliament legislating same-sex marriage while Abbott is Liberal leader. Hanson-Young said she believed the new law "is achievable this term" but her proviso was a Coalition conscience vote.

Parliamentary sentiment at present would be opposed, with enough Labor MPs joining the overwhelming numbers on the Coalition side to vote against same-sex marriage. Despite the bandwagon effect driven by the gay lobby, the Greens, Get Up! and media organs led by the ABC and The Age arguing that religious prejudice is the main roadblock, a parliamentary majority may prove more difficult into the future than many assume.

There is, however, no doubt that opinion has moved and moved fast. This week's reports to parliament reveal strong backing for same-sex civil union recognition, notably from the Coalition side. This was simply not the case several years ago. The reality is that civil union recognition is there for the taking, but what was once seen as a significant advance for the same-sex cause is now largely dismissed as inadequate because the over-arching ideological goal has become same-sex marriage. Only time will tell whether this constitutes a serious tactical blunder.

Consider the position of former Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull, one of the most socially progressive Liberals in the parliament. He is sympathetic to the same-sex cause, repeatedly urges his constituents to push for civil unions but stops short of advocating same-sex marriage.

The politics are long familiar but rarely learned: with the Labor primary vote less than 30 per cent this issue, like the republic or indigenous recognition, can be carried only by winning some conservative support. Yet the campaign from the Greens, Get Up! and much of the same-sex lobby only alienates conservatives. Anybody who doubts this should read this week's speeches from a range of Liberal, National and Labor MPs. These people, having voted in recent years to remove more than 80 items of discrimination against same-sex couples and being willing to back civil unions, are unimpressed at being branded as homophobic or religious nuts because they think marriage is a union between a man and a woman.

Within the Labor Party, the dawn of political realism is arriving. The past year has seen a succession of journalists and celebrities telling Labor as a "no-brainer" to back same-sex marriage. Indeed, a number of state ALP conferences have called for the ALP at the national level to change its policy. It is now obvious, however, that same-sex marriage is a flammable issue for a weakened Labor government. Julia Gillard has been aware of this from the start.

The first risk for Labor is that it will be seen, yet again, as following the Greens agenda, a perception now poison in the electorate. The second risk is that Labor would elevate an issue on which the party is irrevocably divided. How smart is that? If the ALP national conference backed same-sex marriage, as many want, the Labor Party would split because a significant number of MPs would not accept such direction on their vote. In addition, this policy switch would constitute such a repudiation of Gillard's declared personal opposition to same-sex marriage that it would shake her leadership. The idea is political madness. That it has been entertained for so long within so much of the Labor Party and its forums is a commentary on its present malaise.

The conscience vote alternative will anger both sides but its sponsors, such as senior minister Anthony Albanese, a backer of same-sex marriage, seek to defuse and manage Labor's divisions while striking a formula that can be presented as allowing the parliament to legislate same-sex marriage in future years. An interesting feature of the debate is that the Labor Left, like the Greens, has moved beyond civil union recognition and will accept only same-sex marriage as the goal.

This week Bandt said the "report back" debate was a "very important step along the road to full equality". He said the universal sentiment in feedback to him was: why shouldn't someone marry the person they love?

Yet sentiments reported by MPs varied widely according to the disposition of the local member and the electorate with huge differences, for example, between Melbourne and Bundaberg. Bandt said yesterday with only 30 MPs involved the numbers were "not necessarily an accurate poll" of parliament's stand.


Queensland police will no longer investigate their own as more power handed to CMC

But why the 2 year delay?

CIVILIAN teams will be in charge of investigating rogue police under sweeping reforms that will stop Queensland police from eyeballing their own.

The biggest shake-up to the police disciplinary system in decades will give the crime watchdog more power, public complaints will be dealt with more quickly and the police executive will no longer be able to delay an officer's sacking.

Business cases will be developed for a surveillance unit to spy on police accused of serious crimes and alcohol and drug-testing for officers.

The Bligh Government's response to an independent report into the police disciplinary system, exclusively obtained by The Sunday Mail, has ordered the new policies be implemented by 2013.

Almost 3000 complaints were made against police in 2009-10.

Premier Anna Bligh said 56 of the independent panel's 57 recommendations would be supported or supported in principle. "Our response to the independent expert panel outlines a new regime that will make the police complaints system simpler, more effective, more transparent and stronger," she said.

Civilians, such as lawyers, will take the blowtorch to serious misconduct inquiries and, in some cases, police officers from interstate may be used. The reforms also include:

* Police will no longer be able to be cautioned or reprimanded and will either be punished or have to undergo further training.

* Local stations will no longer be able to investigate lower-level complaints and a new regional complaints team will be established.

* The CMC will be able to override decisions by assistant commissioners. [Not the Commissioner?]



No one within a 100-kilometre radius of Barnaby Joyce will ever die wondering what he thinks. The Queensland Nationals' senator is happy to give his opinion on everything and will answer whatever question he is asked. Loudly and expansively.

During dinner he holds forth on a range of topics, including men in Parliament (too politically correct); life on the road (lonely); government debt (too big); Coalition leaders, past and present (loquacious and kind, respectively); Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights (moving); gay marriage (strongly opposed) and the biological clock of his interviewer (ticking).

Some opinions were solicited, others weren't. All were given in a spirit of warmth and honesty.

Joyce wanted to have lunch in his home town of St George, Queensland, 500 kilometres inland from Brisbane, but the distance and scheduling proved too difficult.

Instead, we end up - during a parliamentary sitting week - at l'Unico in Kingston, south Canberra, a family-run Italian restaurant where Joyce comes to "chill out", often eating alone, when he's working in Canberra. He knows the proprietor by name and has a favourite table.

"I don't like it," he says of the amount of time he spends away from his wife and four daughters, aged between nine and 15.

"I worked out last year I spent 200 days on the road and in Parliament. I spent more days on the road than anyone else in the Coalition … it's not a natural life."

The reason, he says, is that he is so often asked to appear at rallies, fund-raisers and sundry political events.

People know he can pull a crowd. His peculiar mix of down-home country blokedom, combined with his lively intelligence and tub-thumping oratory, never fails to entertain, even if his logic can be difficult to follow at times.

Conversation with Joyce jumps from topic to topic. He speaks quickly and his mind moves fast. While trying to make a point he will pepper you with questions about your own opinions and he can be confrontational. But once his point is made, he moves on swiftly.

We order a calabrese pizza to start, and a bottle of cabernet sauvignon. For main course, we share another pizza, a capricciosa.

Joyce says he puts up with the difficulties of life on the road because he is driven by the kind of issues where he thinks people are "going to get ripped off", such as the rights of farmers versus coal seam gas miners; the proposed carbon tax; the duopoly of Coles and Woolworths, and foreign ownership of Australian companies.

Joyce always wanted to be a politician. At primary school he told classmates he wanted to be prime minister ("I've lowered my sights a bit since then") and at secondary school he recorded his aspiration to be a "grazier/politician".

He attributes this early interest in politics to his childhood in rural NSW. His parents were well-educated and opinionated, as were his four brothers and sister. "You weren't surrounded by fools, so your debate had to stand on legs or you would fail miserably," he says.

"I was growing up on the land and you're very affected by politics. How wool was classed, it's a government decision. Services that were provided to you, it's a government decision. If industrial relations' provisions meant people were on strike all day so you couldn't move your produce, it's all government policy.

"So the discussion around the dinner table is a charged political discussion. From a very young age you're inspired by it. If all the problems are political, than a good place to be would be in politics, so you can change it."

Joyce, a commerce graduate from the University of New England, was working for a bank in Charleville in south-west Queensland when he walked next door to join the National Party in 1994. He became active at branch level, eventually rising to acting treasurer of the Queensland Nationals, and had three cracks at a Senate seat before winning at the 2004 election - reclaiming the seat the Nationals lost to One Nation in 1998.

Once elected, Joyce was far from docile. He soon established a reputation for being independent or recalcitrant, depending on your point of view. He crossed the floor "about 28" times, by his own count, on issues as diverse as voluntary student unionism and trade practices' legislation. He fought with the former prime minister John Howard over the government's treatment of accused terrorist David Hicks.

His independence made him deeply unpopular with some in the Coalition. How did he cope? "Anger," he says, "and you try to just say, 'I don't give a shit'. You have dinner by yourself and lunch by yourself."

Many conservative politicians deride the independent rural MPs Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor for forming minority government with Labor, despite what they say are the wishes of their electorates.

How did Joyce justify crossing the floor so many times, given he was elected to represent the Nationals? "You've got two angels that sit on your shoulder," he says of his decision-making process. One says, 'It's not about you, you've got to play the team game'. The other angel says, 'You know what is right, you're being a coward. Stand up for yourself and say what you really think.' Twenty-eight times, that's the angel that won the argument."

He says he would cross the floor again, although he would resign his shadow portfolio if he did (he is spokesman for regional development, infrastructure and water, having lost the shadow finance portfolio in a reshuffle in 2010).

This is less likely under a Tony Abbott-led opposition. "Tony is a very decent human being," he says. "Sometimes I get annoyed that the general public don't actually see what I think are the qualities of the person. He is genuinely a kind person … he's a fighter, he's disciplined but he's not a nasty person."

Asked his opinion of the former Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull, Joyce becomes uncharacteristically careful. "I don't talk about people's bad sides. I talk about their good," he says. "Malcolm is loquacious, is charming, he's intelligent and he's strong."

Not kind? "No. It's not an attribute he has. There's no point endowing a person with an attribute they don't have, otherwise you make a mockery of all the attributes you just gave them."

Joyce's honesty extends to himself. He wants to lead the Nationals but says he would never challenge the incumbent, Warren Truss.

He plans to run for a lower house seat at the next election, either in his adopted home state of Queensland, or against Windsor in New England, where he grew up and attended university.

As a former accountant Joyce holds strong opinions on debt and gets very exercised when it is suggested Australia's deficit is (globally) a comparatively low percentage of its gross domestic product.

He pulls out his smartphone to access the Office of Financial Management's website and shows the "big black number" that represents federal government debt. He delivers a long speech about the sorts of people who used to come to his office when he was a humble rural accountant, who were about to lose their shirts because of onerous debts, side-tracking to talk about the sorts of people who think an Amway scheme is going to make them rich.

"People are suckers," he says emphatically when asked how this relates to Labor's deficit, "especially when you get people who listen to the spin and believe it. The only way you can see it is to rise above the issue and really think about it."

As much as he disbelieves Labor's promise to return the budget to surplus in 2013, and no matter how idiotic he considers many of their policies, not least the carbon tax, he still likes the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, as a person. "Oh yeah, I'd be only too happy to sit next to her on a plane and have a yarn," he says. "I find her warm and engaging. I've got her phone number [but] … I think she's struggling in finding her soul. Now she's isolated and under the pump.

"My job in the political arena - not in the personal arena, but in the political arena - is to bring her down. She knows that. "You play a hard game on the field; you're out to win. But you don't play football in the change rooms. As soon as you walk out the door you treat people civilly."

When not metaphorically tackling his political opponents, Joyce likes to bushwalk. He loves botany and becomes rapt and quasi-spiritual when talking about nature, or the way the English landscape artist John Constable painted clouds. He listens to the Stones, Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Buckley.

He loves to spend time with his family, and reading. He has just read Empire by the British historian Niall Ferguson; he loves T.E. Lawrence and poetry (he singles out Alfred Tennyson and Sylvia Plath).

He finds fiction "frustrating" but recently read Wuthering Heights. Did he like it? "I couldn't stop crying. I was hopeless," he says. It's impossible to know if he's joking or not.


'Second-chance crime wave' in Victoria as 884 offenders freed and then commit 4177 crimes

VICTORIA Police is concerned that suspected violent criminals are being freed by the courts - despite facing serious charges - and then allegedly committing murder, rape and armed robbery.

An investigation by the Sunday Herald Sun has revealed 6096 suspects were granted bail last year and then went into hiding, missing the date of their court hearing. And, before arrest warrants for failing to appear in court were executed, 884 of them went on to commit an alleged 4117 new offences.

But Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius said there were "clear expectations" on officers to remand anyone in custody who posed a risk to society or was a risk of absconding and he was "confident" this was done in all police cases. "Ultimately, it's the court's decision and sometimes the courts don't go our way," Mr Cornelius said.

"There are times when we are concerned because of the risk to the public. There are plenty of cases where it might be said they've (the courts) got it wrong."

But Chief Magistrate Ian Gray hit back, suggesting police may have let some of the bail-jumpers go. "Offending while on bail is a serious issue and the decision to grant bail is made carefully," Mr Gray said. "It's not clear from these figures how many of these are police bails or court bails - but where it's shown in court that an offender poses an unacceptable risk of reoffending bail will be denied.

"Courts are obliged to apply the law. There is a presumption in favour of granting bail unless an accused needs to show cause or show exceptional circumstances."

Mr Cornelius cited the release of captured drug kingpin Tony Mokbel, who subsequently fled to Greece while on bail and was on the run for more than a year before being rearrested and extradited back to Melbourne. "I hope that Mokbel would be one case that would provide a source of reflection for our judicial colleagues," he said.

The statistics were obtained under Freedom of Information requests over several months. Police would not reveal the identities of the alleged murderer and other criminals who reoffended while at large.

Mr Cornelius revealed a newly published six-month performance report flagged outstanding warrants as an issue and that police statewide would now be conducting regular operations. "If a suspect has made a decision to skip bail and not turn up to court it's likely they have also made arrangements to go to ground and not be found," Mr Cornelius said, explaining why suspects were not located straight away.

"The volume of warrants is going up because courts are dishing out more each day, while we are still trying to find the ones we already have. It's on our radar. Our focus is on outstanding warrants and we need to pay a great deal of attention to it."

All officers are notified of a warrant if they happen to stop a person for any reason and run a check on their name.

The police's job becomes harder if the suspect moves to another suburb, interstate or even overseas. "The impetus and motivation is very much there to catch everyone who is wanted on a warrant," Mr Cornelius said. "For every crime there is a victim and if we don't have the accused there is a victim out there not getting justice. "The 4117 figure is a number that serves a reminder to Victoria Police to pay attention to this matter."

The Justice Department refused to comment on the issue this week after being asked on Wednesday.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Maybe once there have been several serious transgressions against judges and their families they will start to understand that their job is to apply the expectations of the the community within the confines of the law. Crimes with violence should be invoke mandatory remand as should crimes against children or the eldely. There should be no chance for such people to re-offend whilst awaiting trial. As an offset to increased remand an effort should be made to expedite the trial process which is horrendously slow. Perhaps a couple more judges and a stick to the backsides of recalcitrant lawyers who are paid by the hour also should not become a case of win at all costs.

If more resources for forensics are required to speed up trials then this also should be a point of focus along with streamlined processing of alleged criminals by the police and negating the need for trial testimony by officers where such testimony is not contested by either party ensuring more frontline time for officers. Too much of the police payroll is tied up with court appearances, perhaps such appearances could be conducted by video from their local police stations instead.