Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Robust response to Aboriginal flag burners in NT

A LABOR politician last night last night slammed her colleague for calling a group of children who burned the Australian flag "little pricks".

Marion Scrymgour hit back at Rob Knight after he made the remark during a radio interview on Monday. "His comments are not helpful at all, and I don't think Rob's little army should carry on this emotional debate," she said on Facebook. Ms Scrymgour was responding to a post from one of Mr Knight's supporters, congratulating him for his stance.

Mr Knight last night said he stood by his comments. "I absolutely condemn the burning of our flag," he said. "I don't believe any cause has ever been served well by burning any flag."

The minister was inundated with public support yesterday with scores of Territorians flooding the NT News website and social networking sites to back the politician over his controversial remarks.

But his boss, Chief Minister Paul Henderson, was less convincing in his support. "Rob's got to answer for his own comments, but I think he's expressed sentiment," Mr Henderson said in a press conference yesterday. "Now whether I would have expressed it in those terms is another matter, but what we have here is a different discussion taking place in the Northern Territory."

The CLP again attacked Mr Knight over the remarks yesterday. Opposition leader Terry Mills said the flag burning was a deeply offensive act, but that Mr Knight had responded in a crass way.

"Trashing the flag is an offence. It offends the sensibilities of this nation, particularly for our defence forces," he said. "But for a community leader to respond in such a low level and crass way I think diminishes the high office that he holds."


Queenslanders want school performance made public

ALMOST two-thirds of Queenslanders believe teaching and learning audit results of state schools should be publicly released.

A poll on found 62 per cent of 2120 respondents wanted to know how schools performed, while 38 per cent did not think the results should be released.

The Courier-Mail's publication of the audit results on Saturday caused a furore among teachers and principals, with the Queensland Teachers' Union directing members to suspend participation in the process.

Political leaders are divided over the issue with Premier Anna Bligh backing the release, saying parents had a right to know, while LNP leader Campbell Newman dodged questions on whether he would continue the audits if his party won government.

"There's this obsession that's being created about doing the measurement, the testing and the measurement and the reporting, rather than helping the kids," he said.

Opposition education spokesman Bruce Flegg said he supported parents having the right to information about their schools but wanted to know more about the cost and benefits before deciding about publication or whether they should still be run in Queensland.

Teachers are now pursuing a way of keeping future teaching and learning audit results from being published, despite the State Government saying it believes parents have a right to the statewide information.

The QTU opposed a Right to Information application by The Courier-Mail late last year for the results, endorsing last November to suspend participation if the outcomes were ever published. That suspension was put in place on Monday.

The union argues it had secured an agreement the statewide results would not be published and any publication of them was misleading.

Every state-run school and education centre was audited in 2010, with 460 re-audited last year against world-class benchmarks in eight teaching and learning practices.

Queensland Teachers' Union president Kevin Bates said they were now considering discussing the future of the audit as part of their impending Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA), including a possible guarantee of confidentiality as part of the EBA.


Interference claim: MP investigation needs investigating, says union chief

The stink of corruption: Craig Thomson's conviction would lead to the downfall of the Gillard government so it must not be allowed to happen

The national secretary of the Health Services Union has called for an immediate inquiry into Fair Work Australia over its investigation into the alleged misconduct of the embattled Labor MP, Craig Thomson, and other senior union officials.

Ms Jackson, the national secretary of the HSU, says the investigation - first flagged in 2009 - was taking far too long and raised the explosive possibility of government interference into the process.

"There needs to be a competent, external inquiry into the goings-on at Fair Work Australia," Ms Jackson said. "Why has it taken so long? Why are we still waiting for answers? And why are we in this position? We need this to end."

Fair Work Australia is investigating allegations of misuse of a union credit card by the Member for Dobell, Mr Thomson, when he was national secretary of the HSU. Fair Work Australia first looked at the case in April 2009 but it did not begin a formal investigation until March 2010.

Ms Jackson said she could not rule out government interference into the inquiry but would not provide details or evidence to support her claim. "Anything is possible, but what I've seen in the last six months has been nothing but appalling," she said.

"The conduct of officials at the HSU, the conduct of certain government ministers about what they have been saying and not been saying privately to people, it all gets back to me."

Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten denied any knowledge of anyone in federal government interfering in the Fair Work Australia investigation.

Cabinet secretary Mark Dreyfus said Ms Jackson herself had said she had no evidence for her allegations. "People should lay off independent public servants that are going about their job," he told Sky News this morning. "This is an independent statutory agency and when it's finished its investigation and made its report public, that's the time for comment on it."

The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, repeated his call for the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, to release details of all communication she has had over the Thomson affair. "The prime minister has got to come clean," he said.

"She has to detail every involvement between her, her office, the ministers and their offices and Fair Work Australia over this, because the only way Julia Gillard survives as prime minister right now is because she has the tainted vote of Craig Thomson in the parliament."

Mr Abbott said yesterday he will not move a no-confidence motion in the government over Ms Gillard's former staffer's involvement in the Australia Day protest when Parliament returns next week but was likely to do so if and when Fair Work Australia made adverse findings against Mr Thomson.

The Liberal Party backbencher, Jamie Briggs, defended Ms Jackson's actions saying the union secretary was just "truth-telling". "It's some pretty hard questions for the prime minister to answer today," he said.

Ms Jackson said she was not gunning for the fall of the Gillard government but that it was the fault of Labor if they lost their majority in the House of Representatives in the event Mr Thomson was forced out of Parliament.

"That would be a catastrophic outcome, but this is not of my making. It's not of the making of our union," she said. "The government should have taken more care in preselecting their candidates. This was not a surprise to them."

She also accused sections of the HSU membership of withholding crucial information from the investigation. "There's critical information that the union is withholding from the membership," she said. "But the leadership in NSW is trying to gag debate within this union and I think they hope that it all goes away and it's not going away."

Ms Jackson pledged to release more information to Fair Work Australia by Friday and has launched the website today called Clean UP HSUeast! which will detail more allegations against the senior membership.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy told ABC Melbourne Radio this morning that he didn't respond to "conspiracy theories" when asked about Ms Jackson's comments and that he didn't even have the phone number of Fair Work Australia.

Ms Jackson responded that she was "totally offended" at Conroy's implication that she was "a conspiracy theorist".

Ms Jackson has been banned by the HSU from speaking publicly about the allegations and said she was speaking out as a union member.
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Claims for job losses jump under new Leftist regulations

UNFAIR dismissal claims continue to rise under the Fair Work Act and have increased by more than 10 per cent a year since the laws took effect in mid 2009.

The number of claims is now running at about twice the level of the final year of Work Choices.

Nearly 8000 dismissal claims were lodged in the first six months of 2011-12 with Fair Work Australia, a rise of 11 per cent from the same time a year earlier.

The opposition workplace relations spokesman, Eric Abetz, said more employers were paying "go away" money to get rid of claims and the Coalition would seek to cut the number of claims. "One would want to see a reduction in the number of claims to ensure people aren't using this simply as an opportunity to milk some more money out of an employer, just on the basis they can," he said.

Senator Abetz would not say how the Coalition's policy would reduce claims but said it would watch closely submissions to the Fair Work Act review.

The Workplace Relations Minister, Bill Shorten, told the Herald that millions of extra workers now had rights after the Fair Work laws took effect, while there was only a "small increase in the number of claims".

"The Liberals' industrial relations policy must be in a witness protection program, because no one can find it," he said. Mr Shorten said while the Coalition complains about the current system it "won't tell us what rights it will take away from people".

Industrial relations is a fraught area for the Coalition after its Work Choices policy contributed to its 2007 election defeat. That policy exempted all businesses with 100 or fewer staff from unfair dismissal laws.

Labor restored dismissal rights for millions of workers although in businesses with fewer than 15 staff they have more limited protections.

The new data, released by Fair Work Australia, shows claims have nearly doubled since 2008-09, the last year of the Work Choices system.

The data also includes strong growth in general protections claims which relate to discrimination and freedom of association.

Senator Abetz said he suspected the actual claims would be higher still, with anecdotal evidence that employers are prepared to pay off sacked workers before a claim is lodged.

The secretary of the ACTU, Jeff Lawrence, said while the number of workers covered by federal laws have tripled the number of claims have only doubled.

He said nearly all claims were settled, usually for less than a month's pay. "There is no evidence that this is 'go away money', rather than the employer making a genuine payment of compensation in recognition of their wrongdoing and/or paying out entitlements," he said.

The National Retailers Association executive director, Gary Black, said dismissal claims should be limited to discrimination claims and unfair dismissals laws should be abolished.


In politics as in life, fruit doesn't fall far from the ministerial tree

Peter Costello

Leave aside who told who what. The fact is the Prime Minister's office thought it was legitimate politics to organise an Aboriginal protest against her political rival.

As a taxpayer-funded "media adviser", Tony Hodges sent a tip-off to the Aboriginal tent embassy that Tony Abbott was nearby so they could do what? So they could go and protest against him.

And this is the key point. As far as Hodges was concerned the Aboriginal activists were legitimate assets to be used for partisan benefit. The only thing he had to do was to give them the message without leaving fingerprints. But Hodges wasn't up to that. So he had to fall on his sword to protect his boss.

Next time you hear the sound of handwringing coming from the Gillard government about how much they care for indigenous people, remember: they don't care nearly as much about them as they care about Tony Abbott. If they can use them to get at him, they will.

When I saw this my mind went back to the day Kevin Rudd made his apology in Parliament to the "stolen generation". A large overflow crowd gathered outside to watch the event on a big screen - indigenous and non-indigenous. Rudd's speech was received well with much applause and many tears. Then the Opposition Leader rose to speak in support. It was a difficult speech for Brendan Nelson. It involved repudiating the stubborn refusal of John Howard to use the word "sorry".

Howard loyalists were not happy about Nelson's turnaround and Nelson went out on a limb. If he had not given it bipartisan support that day, it would not have been the triumph that it was for Rudd. Rudd owed him a lot for that.

But the crowd did not warm to Nelson's speech. Some even stood up and turned their backs to the screen as his speech was broadcast. It was assumed that he had antagonised indigenous Australians. Later it was discovered that prominent among those turning their backs and demonstrating against Nelson were Lachlan Harris and Tim Gleason from the Prime Minister's staff.

Isn't that a coincidence? Different prime minister, different staff, but both engaging in attempts to fan indigenous protest against a Liberal leader.

We spend a lot of time thinking about how to successfully address indigenous disadvantage. But one thing that does not do it is political staff trying to manipulate indigenous issues for partisan advantage.

These are only two examples where staff have been caught in the act. I suspect there are many more but they have involved much more sophisticated political staff.

Before we get too hard on the staff, it is worth remembering the tone of an office is set by the minister. I always found a courteous minister had a courteous office, a trustworthy minister had trustworthy staff. People employ those who reflect their own values and beliefs. Was Richard Nixon unlucky to have those Watergate types - such as Ehrlichman, Haldeman, Colson - or did it say something about Nixon himself? Where did Hodges get the idea it was his job to spark indigenous protests against Abbott?

Which brings me to the hilarious performance by Anthony Albanese who went to the National Press Club to deliver an oh-so-serious attack on Abbott the day before the Australia Day riot. It turned out that his chief attack line was against the political rival of a fictional president played by the actor Michael Douglas in the movie The American President. Albanese says we shouldn't blame him for the blunder because he only read out a speech given to him by a staffer.

It makes you wonder what those Labor staffers are up to. Perhaps when they went to work in government they thought their lives would imitate art. In Hollywood, people organise demonstrations against opponents, do dirty tricks and get Oscars for doing so.

In the real world, actions have consequences. You learn that when you grow up.


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