Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Greens lashed by Chris Bowen on onshore solution

IMMIGRATION Minister Chris Bowen has attacked the humanitarian credentials of the Australian Greens after his attempt to end the stalemate over offshore processing failed amid fresh brawling with the Coalition.

Mr Bowen, struggling for a policy response to an ongoing flood of asylum-seeker boats arriving off northern Australia, described the Greens yesterday as "naive and out of touch" after the party's leader, Bob Brown, insisted offshore processing was no deterrent to people-smuggling.

The minister's comments came as government sources confirmed that they expected hundreds of asylum-seekers to enter Australia by boat over the coming holiday period and warned of a repeat of last weekend's sinking of an overloaded boat off Indonesia, in which as many as 200 Middle Eastern asylum-seekers headed for Australia drowned.

The tragedy continued to dominate political discourse yesterday as Labor and the Coalition parties insisted onshore processing was acting as a beacon to people-smugglers but remained deadlocked about the location for an offshore regime.

With the government promoting Malaysia and the Coalition sticking by its policy of reopening a processing centre on the Pacific island of Nauru, Senator Brown described their positions as "an anomaly" and said they were out of step with public opinion.

Senator Brown said that the most humane approach was to process asylum-seekers in Australia.

His position provoked a strong response last night from Mr Bowen, who said the Greens' view that the answer was to accept more refugees was "naive and not in touch with the practical reality and experience".

"He (Senator Brown) needs to consider that there is nothing humanitarian about a policy which says to people: your best chance of a new life in Australia is to risk your life to get here," Mr Bowen told The Australian.

"All the evidence shows that if you have proper offshore processing in place then it does discourage boat arrivals."

Earlier, Senator Brown said: "I say that Australia should be processing onshore because that is an international legal obligation."

When asked to respond to claims his policy attracted people-smugglers, the Greens leader said: "I'm not here to answer to The Australian's policy or the policies of the big parties; I'm here to promote our policy because it's humanitarian."

Asked for a solution to the fact that asylum-seekers were dying on their way to Australia, Senator Brown said: "There is none. Whether you take offshore or onshore. We know that from the terrible history."

Senator Brown said he was "mindful of the fact that the worst tragedy of this run of asylum-seekers to Australia, at least in recent history, was the SIEV X, which came after John Howard's policies of diverting people to Nauru".

Earlier yesterday, Labor revealed Julia Gillard had approached the Opposition Leader last Wednesday -- before the latest disaster -- for new talks to seek common ground to reinstate offshore processing.

Warning of worsening weather conditions north of Australia, the Prime Minister wrote in a letter to Mr Abbott: "I believe that in circumstances such as this the Australian people expect us to work together to ensure that the national interest is upheld."

In a written response, Mr Abbott refused: "This is a problem that you have created and it is your responsibility to solve."

Mr Abbott argued that the Coalition wanted processing of asylum-seekers on Nauru, a reinstatement of temporary protection visas and a policy of turning back asylum boats where possible. It was "pointless", Mr Abbott wrote, for new talks unless the government had a genuine new policy proposal to put forward.

Two further approaches this week by Wayne Swan, including one in which the Acting Prime Minister cited the parties' "shared responsibility" to find a solution, were also rejected.

Mr Bowen appeared to offer a compromise by saying processing on Nauru was impractical "in the absence" of processing under Labor's plan to send 800 asylum-seekers to Malaysia in return for 4000 approved refugees, which was taken to mean he was open to processing in both places.

But Coalition sources insisted they were not confident that the minister could win support from Ms Gillard for the position.

Mr Bowen last night told the ABC's 7.30 he would not place parameters around any "good faith" discussions with the opposition should they agree to talks.

"Our policy position is clear," the minister said. "We believe that temporary protection visas led to an increase in the number of people coming to Australia by boat because it denied family reunion and that said to people your only chance of coming is by boat. Turning back the boats is dangerous. The navy says it risks lives. I'm not going to walk away from those positions.

"But by the same token, I'm not going to say to the opposition 'come in and . . . these areas have parameters around them which we can't talk about'."


Speech restrictions in Australia

When you see the North Koreans’ bizarre public grief for their oppressive leader you are watching the extreme end of state control. Whether real, imagined or exaggerated, the locals’ grief must be exhibited for the cameras lest the consequences be grave.

In Australia, this kind of media control is unthinkable. Or so you would think. But I reckon what the authorities seem to be trying to impose here is not cheerleading, not toeing the party line, but rather a kind of compulsory ambivalence.

(I have been to Pyongyang and would love to share some thoughts but there is plenty of that around at the moment, and media regulation in Australia is an increasingly worrying issue.)

Take the case of Adelaide ABC radio hosts Matthew Abraham and David Bevan; found to have lacked impartiality in their interview with [Leftist politician] Kevin Foley. Here is the audio, and for context it starts just after the first question which is “Kevin Foley, do you think a growing number of South Australians and perhaps even your own colleagues are tired of the Kevin Foley soap opera?

Now I know these blokes well enough, and have crossed swords with them on an issue or two. Do they fit neatly into the ABC’s all-too-prevalent “progressive” world view? Not really. But that’s not the point. They are skilled broadcasters and diligent journalists. They are generally well briefed and intelligent, and pursue their quarry with some alacrity when required.

This ruling against them is another example of the over-regulation of the Australian media. Matt and Dave, as they are known, would have interviewed Mr Foley dozens of times over a range of issues. Many exchanges would have been robust, and the one in question was particularly so, because it traversed into personal matters. Mr Foley’s social life and some unfortunate incidents had become significant stories. So the issue of him allegedly being assaulted in a wine bar was legitimate news. Because he had been the treasurer and deputy premier, and was still a senior minister, this was a matter of public interest. The ABC broadcasters were right to pursue the issue. Their questioning was very aggressive. I happened to listen to the interview online from Sydney, wincing and feeling some sympathy for Mr Foley – someone I consider a mate.

We could have a lively debate about the merits of the interview, how it was conducted, Mr Foley’s responses, and whether he should even have agreed to do it. But that is not the point. The point is why a federal government body should, subject to two complaints, rule on the alleged lack of impartiality of the interviewers. That it should find that Matt and Dave both “prejudged” the issue before the interview is quite extraordinary given ACMA never spoke to them about it. That ACMA could get inside the head of one radio interviewer is amazing. But two at once, is simply astonishing. And it found they both had made the same pre-judgement. Matt and Dave are close friends but ACMA has turned them into Siamese twins.

Mr Foley thought the interview was potentially defamatory and he has always had the option of pursuing legal action. Matt and Dave are answerable to their employers at the ABC, who were satisfied that they had done the right thing. More importantly, they are answerable to their audience, who no doubt told them what they thought, and won’t keep listening if they think the hosts are unreasonable.

In a year when Andrew Bolt was taken to court under racial vilification laws for causing offence, Stephen Conroy launched a media inquiry because he thinks the “hate media” are out to get the government, Alan Jones was admonished for not broadcasting all sides of an environmental issue, and the convergence review is suggesting all media might need to be subjected to ACMA-style content regulation, it is time to be afraid, very afraid.

Think about how much information you can get through your phone now. Think about how many television stations you have access to at home. Think about the hansard, transcripts, video links and news sites you can access over the internet. Our choice in media has never been wider. Whatever facts we want, we can get them instantly. Whatever opinions we wish to sample, we just press a few buttons. Yet the nanny state legislators are everywhere, trying to turn every journalist, broadcaster and commentator into some sort of blancmange of information.

No, they will never have us all out on the street cheering or weeping for the Dear Leader. But these regulators, and their political and academic supporters, would love to turn us all into a series of Max Headrooms, spouting a pre-ordained mix of politically correct and legislatively sound information. Matt and Dave, and Kevin and the audience, are all mature enough to work this one out for themselves.

SOURCE (See the original for links)

Pedophile in top Queensland Health job as more failed checks on public servants revealed

THE prince, the pedophile and the pirate - three reasons Queensland Health's bureaucracy is considered a farce by so many voters. The Courier-Mail has uncovered more inadequate background checks on senior Health employees.

The "prince" is Joel Morehu-Barlow - a finance officer charged over the alleged embezzlement of $11 million from the department. No criminal checks were done on the man who falsely claimed to be a Tahitian prince.

The convicted pedophile is Rick Alan Austin, Health's Consumer, Carer and Family team manager. He served time in jail for indecently dealing with a child under 16.

The pirate, senior IT manager Brent Roger McArdle, was hit with Australia's highest damages order for software piracy in 2001.

Queensland Health says it has no problem with the convicted pedophile heading up a unit that helps Queensland's most vulnerable children.

Rick Alan Austin was convicted in the Brisbane District Court in 1994 and sentenced to 18 months jail, of which he served six, for indecently dealing with a child under 16.

He is now the Consumer, Carer and Family team manager in QH's mental health section, whose staff give information and assistance to the mentally ill and their families.

A whistleblower, who wishes to remain anonymous, said she warned the Government of his criminal history about a year ago, but was advised disclosure of the conviction wasn't required and measures would be made to ensure he didn't have access to children.

However, a job ad for an administration officer for the team, listed last year, in which Mr Austin was the contact, had Queensland Health specifying that roles providing for "health, counselling and support services mainly to children" required a blue card.

"Pre-employment screening, including criminal history and discipline history checks, may be undertaken," the job application said. "The recommended applicant will be required to disclose any serious disciplinary action taken against them in the public sector employment."

Health Minister Geoff Wilson was unavailable for comment. QH director-general Tony O'Connell also would not comment on whether Mr Austin had a blue card.

Mr O'Connell said Mr Austin had been employed by QH since 2000. "This person's role is not clinical and he has no direct contact with children whatsoever as a consequence of his role ... this person is closely supervised, and the person has worked in the public sector for 11 years without incident," he said in a statement.

"It is unlawful to discriminate against a person on the basis of their prior criminal history unless the crime is relevant to their duties. The CMC (Crime and Misconduct Commission) was also briefed on his situation in 2003, and raised no concerns with his ongoing employment."

A Google search on Mr Austin found his photo and conviction on a public website listing Australian pedophiles. He presented at an international mental health conference in Ireland last year, which was partly sponsored by the nation's Health and Children Department. He has received accolades from QH for helping develop policy and describes himself as a "mental health carer for a family member".

Commissioner for Children and Young People Elizabeth Fraser said a child-sex conviction would automatically disqualify a blue card applicant.


Wivenhoe Dam operators under fire again

WIVENHOE dam managers accused of flooding parts of the southeast [Qld.] last summer are again in the hot seat after a report found better operation was needed to prevent downstream damage.

Commissioned by the State Government, the report found major structural changes such as raising the dam wall or creating more dams downstream would cost millions but do little to stop major flooding.

Raising the dam wall by two metres would take four years and give 30 per cent more flood mitigation space - or an extra 437,000 megalitres - but would cost more than $830 million.

A higher wall would have had "minimal" impact during last summer's floods, the report by engineering consultants GHD stated.

Instead, the report found "largest reductions" in flood damage would come from improved dam operational rules.

The finding will come as a blow to many victims who believed their homes and businesses could have been saved if managers had released water before January's devastating deluge.

Natural Resources Minister Rachel Nolan yesterday said there was "no simple solution" because Brisbane and Ipswich were built in flood-prone areas.

But two out of three flood events modelled in the report showed that "alternative operation" of both Wivenhoe and Somerset dams, including early release strategies, could have reduced peak levels at Brisbane's Port Office gauge.

The GHD report called for more detailed modelling, noting other studies that warned releasing water early could worsen the impacts of smaller but more frequent floods.

Ms Nolan said Seqwater had initiated a long-term study into the optimum operation of Wivenhoe and Somerset Dams, as recommended by the flood inquiry.

The $250,000 GHD report, also ordered by the flood inquiry to examine how Wivenhoe Dam could better protect Brisbane, floated the option of creating extra storage along the Bremer and Lockyer Rivers.

It found more dams could have lowered flood levels by up to a third at Moggill last summer

LNP leader Campbell Newman in August said his party would look at raising the dam wall if elected and deputy leader Tim Nicholls yesterday said that option was still on the table.


1 comment:

Paul said...

The story goes that under Stalin those in the Kremlin would applaud furiously because no-one wanted to be seen to be the first to stop clapping. I was reminded of this anecdote while watching the bizarre outpourings of "grief" in North Korea. There again, under a regime where the Leader is pretty much deified and becomes a central visible figure in every life, every day, then it would be a little like losing a family member, even if it was weird Uncle Kim who drinks whiskey and messes with the kids.