Thursday, September 08, 2011

Abbott being pigheaded over illegal immigration

He wants the Labor Party to eat crow by going all the way back to the old conservative policy

TONY ABBOTT is refusing to help the government revive the Malaysia plan despite being told by senior Immigration Department officials that a return to the Pacific solution will not stop the boats and that a "game changer" like Malaysia was needed.

The same officials warned separately yesterday that the proposal by the Labor Left to revert to onshore processing would result in more than 600 arrivals by boat a month, swamping domestic detention facilities in a year, and resulting in the cultural problems facing European cities with a high influx of immigrants.

The Opposition Leader was unmoved last night, ensuring the policy stalemate will continue. Before the briefing he said that "as far as I am concerned, Malaysia is out" and that remained his position afterwards.

He said the briefing by officials was "helpful" but he then wrote to Julia Gillard offering only to help revive the Pacific solution locations of Nauru and Manus Island.

Last week, the High Court ruled invalid the Malaysia plan which would have seen 800 asylum seekers returned swiftly to Malaysia in return for Australia accepting 4000 extra refugees. The ruling also cast a legal cloud over the Pacific solution locations of Nauru and Manus Island, in Papua New Guinea,

The government wants Coalition support to legislate to circumvent the High Court decision to bring Malaysia and Manus Island back in play.

In yesterday's briefing, provided by the departmental secretary Andrew Metcalfe and other senior officials, Mr Abbott was told that the Pacific solution, scrapped by Labor in 2008, would not work a second time.

It was now known that the vast majority of asylum seekers who were sent to those islands ended up in Australia or New Zealand and if the Pacific centres were reopened, they would be regarded as little more than processing centres, and be no more a deterrent than Christmas Island. The most effective measure the Howard government took was to "tow back" about seven boats to the departure point of Indonesia. "It had an intensely powerful effect," and official said.

Towing back boats was dangerous, the Indonesians would no longer allow it, and anyway, people smugglers had learnt to sabotage the boats to prevent being towed back, Mr Abbott was told.

But Malaysia, which the officials called "virtual tow-back", would send the same strong message by sending people swiftly to the point of departure.

The Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, urged Mr Abbott to get behind Malaysia. "The advice to us is that the most effective deterrent is to return people to where they began the boat journey and tell them that they do not receive any preferential treatment in terms of resettlement in Australia," he said.

"As opposed to Nauru - where people do end up in Australia if they're regarded as genuine refugees; 95 per cent of people regarded as genuine refugees ended up in Australia or New Zealand under the Howard government Pacific model. That's not a disincentive."

Ms Gillard, who is in New Zealand for the Pacific Islands Forum, said she had no intention of discussing asylum-seeker policy with the President of Nauru, Marcus Stephen.

Mr Stephen said he had met Ms Gillard twice since the forum began Tuesday, but the Pacific solution had not been raised. "I believe it's an issue that Australia needs to sort itself out first, it's a domestic issue for them," Mr Stephen said. "If Australia wants to raise it, that's up to Australia."

Mr Stephen called for an end to criticisms of the Nauruan government over conditions in the privately run detention centre when it was used to process asylum seekers. "I've been saying last year that this Nauru bashing, which I didn't appreciate, the centre wasn't run by us. I hope people are clear that we don't run the centre. I would prefer that Nauru is left out of the debate," he said.


Seven Queensland teachers still in classrooms despite sex, violence offences

SEVEN teachers who have committed serious offences are currently teaching in Queensland classrooms. Two committed robberies with violence, while the rest faced court for a range of sexual offences.

The teachers are set to be deregistered under proposed laws but because they weren't sentenced to imprisonment they will be able to reapply for registration. Six out of the seven did not have convictions recorded against them.

The State Opposition has questioned the appropriateness of some of the seven teachers potentially being allowed to teach. It follows legislation introduced into State Parliament which proposes a lifetime classroom ban for any teacher convicted of a serious offence and sentenced to jail.

Education Minister Cameron Dick said the proposed amended legislation would allow those convicted of serious offences but who were not sentenced to imprisonment to gain registration under exceptional circumstances. Their registration would be cancelled automatically and they would have to reapply to teach.

Mr Dick said they would be required to go through a two-stage process to reregister, including an eligibility test and a presumption against their registration when reapplying to the Queensland College of Teachers (QCT).

QCT director John Ryan said that of the seven teachers, four had been charged with carnal knowledge-type offences involving girls aged 10 to 16 years. Three of those offences involved 16 or 17-year-old boys dating back to the late 1960s.

Mr Ryan said six of the seven registered teachers did not have a conviction recorded against them and all of the cases had been reviewed by the QCT, with registration granted under exceptional circumstances.

But opposition education spokesman Bruce Flegg raised concerns about those charged with robbery with violence, in particular, still being allowed to teach.

Dr Flegg agreed that if a teacher was not sentenced to jail the case should be decided on its merit. But he said the impressionable nature of children needed to be taken into account and the QCT should err on the side of caution. "I don't think that Queenslanders would be particularly keen to see violent robbers teaching children in a school," he said.

"And I think there is also the potential problem that information, particularly in the modern technological era, is likely to become public information if somebody is holding a position like a teacher, which therefore undermines the authority of that teacher anyway. "Therefore I think (those convicted of) serious violence offences of that nature ... should be looking for careers other than teaching in the classroom."


Former Victorian Labor government couldn't even run a railway station

New government has to pick up the pieces after design failure

LIFTS at a recently rebuilt western suburbs railway station have broken more than 100 times in 10 months, repeatedly leaving wheelchair passengers stranded on platforms or unable to get to trains.

The $93 million Laverton station, which opened last year, has stairs and lifts to get people onto platforms. Unlike most other stations with elevated entrances, it has no ramps.

Complaints to the Department of Transport about the station after it reopened were passed to train operator Metro. It in turn said the department had been responsible for the station's design, but attempted to resolve the issue by giving disabled passengers taxi vouchers to get to other railway stations with ramps.
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Greens MP Colleen Hartland tabled a question in Parliament asking how many times the lifts at Laverton broke down between July 2010 and last April.

Transport Minister Terry Mulder told Parliament in his reply that they were inoperative on 105 occasions. And he said that a $15 million footbridge at Footscray station, also built last year without ramps, had lifts that broke down 117 times over the same period.

"It is quite clear that they didn't put any thought into these two stations," Ms Hartland said.

The stations were unsafe without ramps, she said, because in an emergency wheelchair passengers and parents with prams needed an alternative to broken lifts. "They need ramps at these stations before someone is seriously injured."

Altona Meadows resident Shanika Dannangoda was at the station yesterday with her daughter Hasara, and the lifts were working. Ms Dannangoda said she had previously carried her pram down the station's steep stairs when the lifts were out.

"Luckily my parents were there. If they hadn't been and someone wanted to help me I could've done it, but you can't expect people to come and help you all the time. For a wheelchair person it's even worse."

Ms Dannangoda couldn't understand why the ramps on the old station hadn't been replaced. "It was easier to walk on the ramp rather than climbing up a heap of stairs."

Mr Mulder said the former government approved plans to build the station without ramps. "Commuters left stranded at places like Laverton and Footscray have every right to be angry," he said.

But he stopped short of promising to install ramps at the two stations - although escalators and perhaps ramps will be installed as part of a pending Footscray station upgrade.

Mr Mulder said lifts at both stations needed fixing quickly when they broke. "I have spoken to the department and Metro about this."

The reliability of the lifts at Laverton has not been the only problem. A man who died at the station last year had to be carried out across tracks because an ambulance trolley would not fit in the lifts.


Costa on Rudd and Gillard

Former NSW ALP treasurer and strongman of economic realism points to half-baked Federal policies and says Federal Labor must ditch the Greens

At the heart of Labor's problems are internal structural conflicts and policy failings that Rudd created or exacerbated. Gillard's chalice was well and truly poisoned when she received it.

It was Rudd who undermined Labor's economic credentials with his overblown anti-capitalist rhetoric and overcooked policy response to the global financial crisis. So desperate was he to avoid a small technical recession that he unleashed an undisciplined spending spree that, despite its Orwellian marketing, provided little in quality economic infrastructure. Rudd was able to manipulate the short-term quarterly aggregate economic data sufficiently to avoid a technical recession, but this manipulation has left Labor with the political legacy of programs such as Building the Education Revolution, the pink batts installation and the cash for clunkers scheme, which have become synonymous (rightly or wrongly) in the public mind with government incompetence and mismanagement.

Massive spending programs, such as the National Broadband Network, have added to the perception of a clueless administration spending recklessly on frivolous luxuries that are high risk and of no immediate consequence to the real day-to-day concerns of people struggling with cost-of-living pressures and urban congestion.

Rudd was allegedly removed by the self-styled Labor powerbrokers because of his personal style and his dysfunctional management of the cabinet and caucus. Clearly he upset the wrong people. But the wrong people removed him for the wrong reasons.

The greatest long-term damage Rudd did to Labor was to overturn the successful Hawke-Keating governments' approach to economic management. The Hawke-Keating governments provided economic prosperity through competition policy, product market deregulation, strategic privatisation, flexible labour markets and a targeted improvement to the social safety net. The Rudd-Gillard governments have resurrected discredited naive Keynesianism (stimulus and high levels of government spending), economic cargo cultism (big government-funded projects such as the NBN) and labour market reregulation as the preferred approach to economic policy. In the public mind, the Rudd-Gillard governments are a rerun of the disastrous policy approach of the Whitlam government, without Gough Whitlam's arguable defence that he was blindsided by stagflation.

Gillard supporters, like many sympathetic political commentators, desperately have sought to shore up support for Gillard with the claim that a change of prime minister would entrench the so-called NSW disease federally. Superficially, this analysis appears correct. Changing leaders alone will not improve Labor's medium-term prospects.

But the analysis is superficial and misses the key element of the so-called NSW disease. The political undermining of the Iemma government by the party machine and sections of the union movement destroyed the historically successful division of labour between the party machine and the parliamentary caucus on the formulation of government policy.

Rudd, it should be remembered, despite a deal with Morris Iemma, chose to stand back and allow this situation to occur.

The party, through its structures such as the party branches and the party conference, worked successfully when it provided policy direction and policy guidance to parliamentary Labor. It failed miserably when it sought to directly dictate to the caucus and government on how it should govern in the interests of the broader electorate.

As unpalatable as it is to some in the Labor Party, the Labor Party conference should determine Labor Party policy, not Labor government policy. Political parties are dominated by sectional interests; governments govern for the general interest.

The NSW disease is as much about policy formulation responsibility as it is about frequent leadership change. When governments are forced to govern to meet the concerns of sectional interests rather than the general interest they are doomed to political failure. Sectional interests rarely align well with the general interest. This is the key lesson of NSW. Having destroyed the Iemma government and successfully imposed its sectional agenda on the new government, the union movement and the party machine paralysed successive government policy formulation, largely contributing to the disastrous election defeat.

The real lesson from NSW for Gillard is that her alliance with the Greens is killing her politically and will lead to inevitable electoral disaster of NSW proportions for Labor if a circuit-breaker is not found. The alliance was ill-conceived from the start. It forces the government, in key policy areas, to promote the sectional interests of the Greens above the general interest of the electorate. Gillard's real NSW disease is her alliance with the Greens.

Gillard's government may be terminal but the Labor Party, if it is to continue as a credible independent political force, needs to consider how it can best position itself for recovery. Gillard, in the interests of Labor's political future, needs to be bold and, if need be, self-sacrificing. She needs to jettison Labor's formal alliance with the Greens and reassert Labor's policy independence even if it triggers an early election.

Labor cannot afford to fight the next election with the baggage of political and policy failure the alliance with the Greens has inflicted. Labor's future lies in winning back a large part of the near 90 per cent of the electorate that won't vote Green.

It can never do this while it remains in the policy straitjacket the formal alliance with the Greens requires.


Geert Wilders to visit Australia?

A DUTCH MP accused of racial vilification for his hostile views on Islam has been invited to visit Australia by Liberal senator Cory Bernardi.

Geert Wilders, who narrowly avoided conviction in his own country for likening the Koran to Hitler's Mein Kampf, hopes to visit here this year or next.

In an interview with the ABC's Foreign Correspondent which aired last night, the right-wing MP depicted Liberal Senator Bernardi as a kindred spirit.

"I met one of your senators, Senator Cory Bernardi, not so long ago. He invited me to help him at least when I would visit Australia, and I will certainly do that," he told the ABC.

Privately, other Liberals were fuming about the incident claiming it was another embarrassment from Senator Bernardi.

Senator Bernardi told The Advertiser he had met with around a dozen people while on a parliamentary study tour in April and had extended all a courtesy invitation, along the lines of "if you're in Australia, look me up".

But in a separate statement, he did concede that he had also offered to help with introductions and logistics.

"He (Mr Wilders) did indicate that he was considering coming to Australia and I extended an invitation to assist him with his schedule," Senator Bernardi said in a statement.

Senator Bernardi has courted controversy himself on previous occasions for campaigning against the Islamic head-dress the Burqa, and against Sharia Law and Sharia banking.

The Liberal frontbencher said he supported the right of free speech but had no involvement in planning an Australian visit for Mr Wilders.


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