Monday, December 12, 2011

Muslim extremist shoots cop but still walks free

Police and prosecutors complain of a trend of inexplicable leniency in sentencing, and a recent survey by Victoria's Sentencing Advisory Council found the public also thinks judges are out of touch and too soft on violent crime.

This indicates a crisis of public confidence in our judiciary.

Take, for example, a recent case in the NSW District Court in which Justice Leonie Flannery acquitted a terror suspect who shot a police officer while being arrested.

The man, who was under ASIO surveillance, was carrying two loaded guns, had acquired chemicals in preparation for a terrorist act, and had possession of jihadi extremist material and 11 mobile phones he had purchased on eBay. But Judge Flannery claimed an environment of anti-Muslim feeling, which engendered in the Muslim community a high sense of paranoia, had made the man panic when police came to arrest him near a western Sydney mosque in 2005.

"He was concerned for his safety, and (in) the climate of anti-Muslim feeling in the community at the time, he believed that he might be harmed by the police."

She concluded the suspect had not intended to shoot the policeman and therefore found him not guilty.


Durban climate "deal" isolates Australia

DURBAN'S meek outcome doesn't bode well for international efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions or the sustainability of Australia's domestic scheme. After 13 days of negotiations, governments agreed to the Durban Platform. But they did not agree to a new international treaty to cut emissions.

The key component of the platform includes all countries negotiating "an agreed outcome with legal force" by 2015 to start cutting emissions by 2020. It's a platform to continue debating the details of an agreement where countries disagree on most of the substantive matters.

The negotiations for other countries to sign an agreement to engage in climate-based economic hardship, as Australia has through its carbon tax, are all uphill from here.

Significantly, Kyoto has been taken out of its casket and been put on critical life support. With Kyoto's emission reduction commitments expiring on December 31 next year, its future will be decided at next year's December meeting guaranteeing a gap.

Kyoto's survival is still in doubt. Canada is likely to withdraw in the next year. Japan and Russia aren't likely to sign up to a new Kyoto emissions reduction round.

Keeping Kyoto alive is a strategic move to use it as a 2012 bargaining chip to pressure developing countries to stay in the negotiating tent. It's their cause celebre because it puts emission cutting obligations on rich countries.

The legal architecture of a $100 billion-a-year Green Climate Fund will also be established to finance climate change adaptation for developing countries. Ultimately, financing the GCF will become the negotiating chip for rich countries to buy off support from poorer ones.

Where the GCF's money is coming from remains unclear. If financing is direct, Australia's contribution is expected to be between $2bn and $3bn a year.

The option to finance the GCF from an international shipping and airline tax that disproportionately hits geographically isolated, trade dependent nations (read Australia) remains.

The division and hostility that exists around negotiating a document to progress negotiations doesn't indicate positive outcomes in future talks.

Structurally, negotiations remain difficult because they are required to be progressed on an equity-based approach where developed countries take on more obligations, and developing countries fewer obligations despite being the major source of emissions growth.

The extent of the wrangling about whether the world negotiates a new treaty probably doesn't make much sense from the outside.

But there are good reasons for division. Any agreement is about cutting global greenhouse emissions levels. But it will also be about if, and how, the world agrees to radically restructure the global economy.

Cutting emissions means countries have to take on higher costs bases. All countries will have to rededicate resources from economic development to the high cost of emissions reduction, slowing growth.

Because most of Australia's emissions profile comes from cheap coal-based electricity, the cost gap to alternatives is high. Europe desperately wants other countries to impose equivalent costs that they've shackled their economy with through the introduction of an emissions trading scheme.

But proportionate to the size of the economy it's less burdensome than for developing countries.

In India, the bulk of their population has never turned on a light switch. Before agreeing to the deal Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan argued India wouldn't "write a blank cheque and sign away the livelihoods and sustainability of 1.2 billion Indians".

Any future treaty can make the difference between whether Indians living in electricity-free shanty towns ever enjoy the modern conveniences we take for granted.

The conference isn't a victory for global emissions reduction. It's a victory of intent. It still leaves Australia and its carbon tax plan well ahead of global action.

The entire economic case for the scheme was built on the premise that other countries would impose equivalent carbon prices, which would have reduced the acute economic pain inflicted on the Australian economy. The Durban Platform does not rectify that.

It means Australia's carbon tax, starting on July 1 next year, will be implemented years before we know whether a successful international agreement can be struck and other countries take action.

As a result, the Durban Platform perpetuates the problems with Australia's carbon pricing scheme. It is politically unsustainable to increase a carbon price without a comprehensive international agreement and a price in other countries.

With no certainty about equivalent action in other countries, the "certainty" the government claims will be provided by the Australian price remains elusive.

The Treasury modelling's carbon tax impact scenario is at odds with reality.

That leaves the Durban Platform as a breath of life for the Gillard government and their carbon price. But it's a long way from the outcome Australians need if they're going to shoulder the world's largest carbon tax.


More boats ahead, Australia's Immigration department warns

Immigration Department secretary Andrew Metcalfe agreed it was "possible" 3600 boatpeople could be intercepted in the next six months. Picture: Ray Strange Source: News Limited
MORE than 3600 asylum-seekers could arrive in Australian waters in the next six months unless there are changes to border protection laws, Immigration Department secretary Andrew Metcalfe has warned.

As the 64th boat to arrive this year was intercepted in Australian waters yesterday, Mr Metcalfe told a parliamentary committee the flow of boats would not slow any time soon.

Under questioning from opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison, Mr Metcalfe agreed it was "possible" 3600 boatpeople could be intercepted in the next six months.

"I think we should expect a significant number of arrivals," Mr Metcalfe said.

He said the department remained concerned about overcrowding in immigration detention centres and was working on keeping detainee numbers down to prevent more riots.

The evidence came as the seventh boat in nine days was intercepted by Customs, carrying 49 people and three crew. The arrival takes the total number of boatpeople to reach Australian waters this year to 4115.

Mr Metcalfe had previously warned the rejection of the government's Malaysia Solution could lead to 600 asylum-seekers making their way to Australia each month.

He told the committee into Australia's Immigration Detention Network yesterday that the recent High Court overturning of the Malaysia deal and its move to allow asylum-seekers appeal rights in court had "effectively unwound legislation" put in place in 2001.

Under the deal Australia was to send 800 boatpeople to Kuala Lumpur in exchange for 4000 processed refugees.

First assistant secretary Greg Kelly told the hearing the department was working at getting new arrivals off Christmas Island and into mainland detention centres within two weeks of arrival to prevent overcrowding. "That is our aspirational target," Mr Kelly said.

"Obviously it depends on the weather conditions, the availability of charter flights and any other things dependent on ensuring detainees are safe to travel."

As of last night there were more than 1300 asylum-seekers on Christmas Island, with most of the more than 300 asylum-seekers to arrive this week yet to be on the island.

The latest asylum-seeker boat was picked up yesterday by HMAS Larrakia, northwest of the Ashmore Islands. Customs said the passengers would be transferred to Christmas Island, where they would undergo initial security, health and identity checks.

Tony Abbott said yesterday Australia's border protection system was in crisis.

"The Prime Minister has effectively given up," he said. "She talks about offshore processing but she practises onshore release. The government's policy is Bob Brown's policy -- let people come, put out the welcome mat to the people-smugglers."

The Opposition Leader said the push to release more asylum-seekers into the community on bridging visas would only encourage more to come. "Handing out bridging visas, they might as well have a bridge between Indonesia and Australia," he said.


Shocked Education Minister orders probe into student suicides, mental health issue among teens

The abandonment of effective discipline has given free rein to bullies and we are seeing the result of that

VICTORIAN Education Minister Martin Dixon has ordered an investigation after schools registered "a spate of alerts" about the mental health of students during VCE exams last month.

Department officials have found that, on average, one Victorian student attempts suicide each week of the school year. Preliminary findings show 24 students, in government schools alone, are believed to have taken their lives over the past four years.

Mr Dixon, a former secondary school principal, said he was shocked. "These are lives that are lost, or these are lives that are in obvious turmoil," he said.

Mr Dixon is calling for open discussion about mental health and the huge pressures facing today's teenagers and younger children. "It's something we just can't hide under the mat any more," he said. "Any statistic in this field is tragic, whether it's one or it's 30."

The Education Department's figures, which are based on initial "alert reports" by schools, also detail other causes and indicators of severe "mental stress".

In 2011 so far, there have been 122 reports of students threatening to commit suicide, self-harming, or suffering as the result of another person's suicide. This compares with 96 last year, and 77 in 2008.

Mr Dixon said he wanted to bring attention to the previously taboo topic because "(now) the best clinical advice is that we can't turn a blind eye to it and pretend the problem doesn't exist".

"I had been made aware of alerts coming into us, where schools had reported incidents regarding children self-harming and threatening to self-harm. "There just seemed to be a spate of them. It was around (VCE) exam time, and I thought, 'I need to go a bit deeper on this and see what's happening'."

Suicide rates across Australia have fallen over the past decade, including among teenagers, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

But one-in-four young people will experience a mental-health problem over the next 12 months, according to Orygen Youth Health.

Dr Vicki Trethowan, Education Department senior psychologist, said mental-health problems were distinct from "normal adolescent behaviour, where moods will fluctuate".


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