Saturday, January 21, 2012

I'll turn back every boat, says Tony Abbott

A COALITION government will order the navy to turn around asylum-seeker boats and return them to Indonesia in an assertion of Australian border protection, Tony Abbott revealed. The Opposition Leader is determined to impose a new and tougher policy whereby Australia uses its navy to secure its borders.

If elected prime minister, Mr Abbott will tell Jakarta Australia will no longer passively accept the arrival of asylum-seeker boats from that country, The Australian reported last night.

A radical policy departure, this has far-reaching and unpredictable consequences for Australia-Indonesia relations.

In recent talks with his colleagues, Mr Abbott said: "This is a test of wills and Australia has lost. "What counts is what the Australian government does, not what it says. "It is time for Australia to adopt turning the boats as its core policy."

Mr Abbott said this would involve an increase in the number of naval vessels to force the boats back, including the capacity to remove asylum-seekers from deliberately sabotaged boats before repairing those vessels to enable the boatpeople to be returned to Indonesia.

The Coalition has also ruled out a political deal to revive Labour's Malaysia Solution and is planning a tougher regimen of temporary protection visas.

This includes a quota on the number of permanent visas issued to temporary protection visa holders to favour authorised asylum-seekers and to provide a disincentive to people making the journey by boat.


O'Farrell hits back at donations overhaul critics

NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell has faced a parliamentary inquiry examining his planned overhaul of political donations, saying the changes are essential to restore public confidence in the state's politicians.

The State Government wants to allow donations only from individuals listed on the electoral roll. Under the plan money from companies, trade unions or not-for-profit groups would not be acceptable.

The Upper House committee also heard today from a constitutional lawyer who says the laws would be vulnerable to a legal challenge.

But Mr O'Farrell used his appearance to argue why the changes are needed. "I, along with most members of the community, don't think you should be able to buy elections," Mr O'Farrell said.

"There must be reform, because without this type of reform, without reducing the amount of money in New South Wales politics, you will not restore the confidence of the public in public administration, you will not restore public confidence in the Government in New South Wales."

The Premier also attacked those opposed to his plan, including the Opposition and the Shooters and Fishers Party.

"The fact is a new parliament has now got a chance to make further reforms, to show leadership across this nation, to express the will of the Parliament in legislation to clean up politics in New South Wales and the fact is that the Greens, the Shooters and Fishers and the Labor Party are opposing it," he said.

The ALP is concerned about the potential end of union donations to the party, but received no sympathy from Mr O'Farrell.

"What is the Labor Party's reaction, almost a year after the election in which they were thrown out of office? (It) is to stand in the way of legislation that will clean up politics in New South Wales," the Premier said.

The Greens are split on the issue, with their support essential if the laws are to get through the Legislative Council.

Mr O'Farrell noted that division in an attack the committee's chairman, Greens MP John Kaye.

"Who has changed their tune before and after the election campaign? Regrettably, Mr Chairman, I have to look at you, and regrettably, Mr Chairman, members of your own party are also looking at you," he said.


How (not) to pick a nanny-state winner

Jessica Brown

Hot on the heels of the Wilkie and Xenophon-led pokies debate, a Southern Cross University report released this week has warned of the next big bogeyman. Online gaming, like everything else online, is growing fast.

Australians now spend $600 million annually gambling online, and problem gamblers lose an average of $825 per month, according to the report.

The report will no doubt excite the hand-wringing brigade (‘we must do something!’) but it should also set their alarm bells ringing. While the boffins are preoccupied thinking up clever and complex ways to stop us from putting money into machines, Aussies have found an even more efficient method of blowing their hard earned cash: via a credit card and a few keystrokes in their lounge room. Could it be possible that the pollies are a few steps behind?

This sudden explosion of online gaming highlights the difficulty of regulating vice. Whether it is sex, drugs, punting on the horses, or eating Big Macs – if people want to do it they will find a way. We can regulate pokies and regulate online gaming, but in the blink of an eye some other as-yet-undreamed-of technology will spring up to replace it.

With the trend for all things retro, perhaps we’ll even see a resurgence of illegal backyard shed casinos, fumigated with Chop Chop and lubricated by moonshine RTDs.

What makes online gambling all the more difficult to regulate is that so many of the gaming websites are hosted overseas. Are digital poker games such an outrageous problem that we think it is necessary for government to block foreign websites? A few years back, Senator Stephen Conroy’s attempt to ‘filter’ the Internet taught us what a fraught – and fruitless – exercise that would be.

Governments and the do-gooders that egg them on can try all they like to protect us from ourselves. But they can’t get away from the fact that, ultimately, some people just don’t want to be protected.


Historic Constitution vote over indigenous recognition facing hurdles

This is just Leftist nonsense. The 1967 referendum gave the Commonwealth power to legislate on behalf of Aborigines and there are already in existence extensive measures to help them

HISTORIC changes to the commonwealth Constitution to acknowledge indigenous Australians face almost certain defeat unless significantly amended, after a 300-page proposal presented to Julia Gillard yesterday prompted a chorus of concerns from some indigenous leaders and legal experts.

Chief among their worries is the recommended insertion of a clause to prohibit racial discrimination, which Tony Abbott suggests may amount to a "one clause bill of rights".

The report, produced by an expert panel, recommends that the nation's guiding document be altered to remove racist sections and create a section to legislate for the "advancement" of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders and the protection of their language and culture.

The Labor government has promised to hold a referendum on the constitutional recognition of indigenous Australians on or before the next federal election, due next year.

The expert panel of 19 high-profile people, who included Cape York leader Noel Pearson, indigenous academic Marcia Langton, father of reconciliation Pat Dodson, prominent lawyer Mark Leibler and politicians, travelled the country last year holding public meetings on the issue.

They presented a unanimous report, which is politically and historically significant because it involved conservative leaders such as Mr Pearson joining forces with more left-leaning leaders such as Mr Dodson in pushing the nation's political leaders to endorse their proposals.

Speaking at the launch of the report in Canberra yesterday, the Prime Minister urged Australians to embrace the recommendations. "As a nation we are big enough and it is the right time to say yes to an understanding of our past, to say yes to constitutional change, and to say yes to a future more united and more reconciled than we have ever been before," Ms Gillard said. She conceded that bipartisan support would be essential.

Legal experts said the panel had overreached by seeking to prohibit discrimination based on race. Indigenous leader Sue Gordon, the former chairwoman of the federal intervention into Northern Territory remote communities, warned the recommendations might be too complex to sway voters at a referendum.

The panel recommends that recognition takes place in the body of the Constitution, rather than the minimalist approach favoured by former prime minister John Howard of doing so in the preamble.

The panel wants it recognised that the continent and islands known as Australia were first occupied by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people - acknowledging the continuing relationship of indigenous people with their traditional lands and waters; respecting the continuing cultures, languages and heritage of indigenous people and acknowledging the need to secure their "advancement".

Controversially, a new section 116A would be established that would prohibit the commonwealth, states or territories from creating laws that discriminated on the grounds of race, colour or ethnic or national origin. However, the panel added that this did not preclude the making of laws or measures for the purpose of "overcoming disadvantage, ameliorating the effects of past discrimination, or protecting the cultures, languages or heritage of any group".

There is also a suggestion for a new section 127A to provide for the "recognition of languages". This states that while the national language of the commonwealth of Australia is English, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages "are the original Australian languages, a part of our national heritage".

The panel has argued that these changes be put to the Australian people in a single referendum question, and that the referendum should not be held at the same time as a vote on constitutional recognition of local governments.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin last night told The Australian that the government would consider all the recommendations. "The task that I have now is to think about both what I would recommend to government and, just as importantly, how we facilitate that discussion with the Australian people," Ms Macklin said.

The Greens will push for the changes to be adopted in their entirety. But the Opposition Leader has already raised doubts about the anti-racial discrimination provision. "In examining the report we will be looking closely at the potential legal ramifications of any specific anti-discrimination power," Mr Abbott said.

"The key objective of any referendum is to achieve a unifying moment for the nation similar to that achieved by the 1967 constitutional referendum. It is in that spirit that the Coalition will consider the report of the expert panel. "We have some reservations about anything that might turn out to be a one-clause bill of rights. But we accept that millions of Australians' hopes and dreams are resting on constitutional recognition of indigenous people."

Indigenous leader and former ALP national president Warren Mundine said the panel had overreached and it was unlikely the proposals would go unchanged. "My gut feeling is that this document will not be the final document for the constitutional amendments that go forward," Mr Mundine said. "We need constitutional amendments that all Australians can back."

Mr Dodson admitted the constitutional changes could lead to extra litigation, with people wanting to test laws in the High Court, but he said they did not pose a threat and he warned against a hysterical backlash.

Conservative constitutional expert Greg Craven said the proposal to prohibit discrimination based on race, ethnicity or nationality was a "dog" of a proposal that must be struck out. "The problem is there's an almost infinite category of things that can be connected to ethnicity, race or colour and if you're saying to the High Court that you have a blank cheque to decide that something is a problem you have no idea where that provision will go," he said.

Referendums are hard to pass in Australia. At the 1999 referendum, electors were asked whether they approved of an alteration to the Constitution to insert a preamble, among other things, honouring Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. The proposal was rejected by a majority of Australian voters and by a majority of voters in a majority of states.

The last successful referendum in 1967, which won 90.77 per cent of votes and was carried in all six states, did two things: it removed the words "other than the Aboriginal race in any state" from section 51 (xxvi) of the Constitution, allowing the commonwealth to make laws for Aborigines, and it removed section 127, headed "Aborigines not to be counted in reckoning population".

Since federation, only eight out of 44 proposals to amend the Constitution have been approved.

Mr Dodson conceded there were obstacles ahead, but called for "strong leadership". "This is the time when truth and respect for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples needs to be achieved," he said.

Mr Dodson said legislation such as that establishing the Northern Territory intervention would not be affected by the changes. "My hope is that we'll have an informed debate about these things and not some sort of hysterical debate because it is too important for the future of this nation," he said.

The panel suggests that before making a decision the government consult the federal opposition, the Greens and the independents, as well as state and territory governments and oppositions.

If the Government chose not to take on the panel's recommendations it should consult further with indigenous Australians to ascertain their views on an alternative proposal.

The Prime Minister urged bipartisanship on the issue.

Mr Abbott was not invited to the handing over of the report. Aboriginal Liberal MP Ken Wyatt, who was a member of the panel, sent his apologies and could not attend.


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