Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Federal Territory passes laws to force removal of burqas

New laws that will allow police to force the removal of burqas, helmets, hats and other clothing concealing a person's identity have been passed by the ACT Legislative Assembly.

The road transport legislation, approved yesterday, will give ACT authorities greater power to order the removal of head coverings in circumstances including random roadside drug tests, traffic offences, and applications for a driver's licence. But women who wear a head covering, such as a burqa, for religious or cultural reasons will be allowed to request that it only be removed in the presence of a female police officer or in a private place in accordance with their beliefs.

Attorney-General Simon Corbell said yesterday the laws were not meant to target certain cultural or religious groups in the ACT and had been developed in response to incidents where motorists had refused to remove items of clothing such as motorcycle helmets, balaclavas, large sunglasses and hoodies when police were trying to establish their identity.

"Where drivers or riders continue to refuse to remove the item, sometimes it has been necessary to resort to the arrest power and take the person into custody to establish his or her identity," Mr Corbell told the Assembly. "A new direction to remove the obscuring item is a more efficient and less heavy handed solution."

People wearing facial coverings as part of medical treatment will not be required to remove them under the legislation.

The Canberra Liberals and the ACT Greens voted in favour of the laws, with both parties saying the legislation was sensitive to drivers who concealed their faces for cultural, religious or medical reasons.

However, Greens MLA Amanda Bresnan called for an amendment to part of the legislation that protects police who do not comply when a driver makes a reasonable request for a female officer or a private location to remove a facial covering.

The amendment was voted down by the government and the Canberra Liberals.

Mr Corbell said the laws did not impose an "absolute obligation" to comply with a request because there were circumstances where "all or even part compliance with a request may not be safe or reasonably practical."

Yesterday's amendments to the ACT's traffic laws also tightened the definition of a repeat offender for serious traffic offences, such as culpable or negligent driving.

The change will ensure that a person who commits a second offence when a conviction for a first offence is still being finalised will be charged as a repeat offender and can have their licence automatically disqualified.

Mr Corbell said that the amendment would make ACT roads safer and encourage better driver behaviour.


Government schools as middle-class welfare

Gerard Henderson is really stirring the pot below. But what he is implicitly advocating would move even more kids into private schools, which would undoubtedly be a good thing

These days, it's all the fashion to condemn middle class welfare - except when such largesse is enjoyed by relatively well-off parents who educate their children in a government school.

Last week, a friend who lives on Sydney's lower north shore received a wanted-to-buy letter from a real estate agent. The agent had a client "who is currently looking to buy a 3-4 bedroom house in the North Sydney area". The potential purchasers have two requirements: first, "they are looking to spend $1.3 to $2 million". Second, they are "looking to move into the catchment area for North Sydney Demonstration School".

So the purchasers expect to spend up to $2 million on a house. Good luck to them. And they expect that taxpayers will fund the education of their children virtually free of charge at a well-regarded comprehensive government primary school. After that, the children would still be in the "catchment area" for one or more of the well-regarded government secondary schools on the lower north shore.

If well-off Australians choose to forgo private health insurance and rely on Medicare and the public hospital system, they are required to pay a higher Medicare levy. However, when well-off Australians avoid private education and rely on the government system for the education of their children, there is no financial disincentive of any kind. The taxpayer pays all.

The concept of free education is so ingrained in the Australian national psyche that it is rarely, if ever, challenged. So even the rich can have their children educated for free without economics journalists who bang on about middle class welfare saying a word.

The expert panel headed by David Gonski, whose final report on the Review of Funding for Schooling was recently handed to the Gillard government, did not tackle this issue. Why? Well, it was not in their terms of reference because this is not a discussable matter. That's why.

Gonski and his colleagues recommended that "in a new model for funding non-government schools, the assessment of a non-government school's need for public funding should be based on the anticipated capacity of the parents enrolling their children to contribute financially towards the school's resource requirements".

This is a fair point. However, if the parents' capacity to pay is a relevant criterion when assessing government funding of private schools, why is it irrelevant when assessing the taxpayer funding of government schools?

In other words, why should a person who lives in a $2 million house in North Sydney pay nothing to educate his or her children - while a person of modest means living in a rented flat be required to make a financial contribution to educating their children in the local Catholic primary school or some similar entity?

The question is never answered because it is rarely asked. I made this point some years ago when I received a rare invitation to address a literary festival. The atheist-inclined, sandal-wearing Byron Bay set became most upset when I suggested that in a truly egalitarian society the middle class should make a contribution to the education of their children, perhaps even grandchildren, attending government schools.

The issue of state aid to non-government schools was an issue throughout much of the 20th century. The demand came from Catholics who had established their own separate education system in the late 19th century. A convenient brief account of this controversy can be found in the book A History of State Aid by, among others, Ian R. Wilkinson and published by the Education Department in 2006, when Julie Bishop was the federal minister.

The Catholic campaign achieved two major breakthroughs in the 1960s, when the governing Liberal Party was anxious to ensure preferences from the Democratic Labor Party, which had substantial Catholic support in Victoria and Queensland.

In late 1963, Robert Menzies announced that the Commonwealth would provide all secondary schools with money for science laboratories. Then, in 1967, Henry Bolte's Liberal government in Victoria provided per capita funding for children attending non-government schools. In time, all non-government schools benefited from these initiatives.

Initially, opposition to state aid came from those opposed to Catholic schools. In more recent times, opponents of state aid have consisted of individuals opposed to non-government schools - sometimes because they oppose religious schools, whether Catholic, Jewish, Muslim or Protestant - and sometimes because they believe government always knows best.

What the critics of the non-government sector overlook is the fact that less well-off parents who make a contribution to their children's education reduce the financial burden on the taxpayer. Whereas well-off parents who send their children to comprehensive or selective government schools get a free ride on the taxpayer. Not only on Sydney's lower north shore.


Asleep on hold a real wake-up call for Federal welfare agencies

Not enough money for staff but plenty of money for a unwanted fibre network, dangerous home insulation and unusable school buildings

MEDICARE and Centrelink take so long to answer their phones that clients are falling asleep on hold, a survey of staff has revealed. And those who work for the two government agencies face-to-face with the public say they fear for their own safety as violence escalates.

A workplace survey by the Commonwealth Public Service Union has found federal budget cuts on the Department of Human Services, combined with an increased workload from the floods, have limited the ability of staff to serve customers.

The survey of almost 1000 workers in 69 agencies across Centrelink, Medicare and Child Services, found stress and wait times had blown out, with staff not being replaced. And those remaining were unable to manage the load. One manager said the stress contributed to him having a heart attack.

Staff were increasingly requesting security guards at the service agencies, the survey found. "One (customer) threatened to come back and burn me," a staff member wrote.

"I fear we will break sooner rather than later, or the customers will - and we could have a dangerous event that threatens staff or customer safety - it is only a matter of time," wrote another.

Call centre staff reported two instances of answering calls "only to find the customer had been waiting so long they had fallen asleep". "They were snoring," the staff member wrote.

The snoring matters were referred to a Canberra boss, who said the call should be terminated after 30 seconds if the customer does not wake.

"This looks good on the stats because it is a short call, and it appears that we are processing more customers," the staff member reported.


Asylum seekers 'straining' Northern Territory hospital

DARWIN'S main hospital is under strain from asylum seekers needing treatment, some with chronic anxiety, doctors say.

President of the Australian Medical Association in the Northern Territory, Dr Paul Bauert, says the Royal Darwin Hospital has three to five asylum seekers a day turning up at the emergency department.

"They are all complicated cases, because virtually of them will have some mental health issue," Dr Bauert said.

He said some of the patients had serious psychiatric illnesses.

Others had chronic anxiety, manifested in symptoms such as abdominal pain or chest pain, which became worse after they were returned to detention centres following treatment.

"The longer they are detained, the more likely these mental health issues are going to become permanent and we end up producing permanently damaged Australian citizens," Dr Bauert said.

Because of the difficulty in treating the patients and the need for interpreters, each asylum seeker tended to take up at least double the resources used by a typical patient, he said.

People housed in Darwin's two main detention centres were coming to hospital on a weekly basis after harming themselves, he said.

Last year a senate inquiry into mandatory detention heard a nine-year-old asylum seeker in Darwin had attempted to take their own life.

Dr Bauert said the money and resources used to address the health of asylum seekers could be better spent trying to fix the health needs of people in the Northern Territory.

He called on Immigration Minister Chris Bowen and Health Minister Tanya Plibersek to visit the hospital to see for themselves what was happening. "Nothing seems to change, and I just think it is a bit of (a case of) out of sight, out of mind, on the part of Minister Bowen and Tanya Plibersek," he said.

A spokeswoman from the Royal Darwin Hospital was unable to comment immediately on the claims by Dr Bauert. Neither the Department of Immigration and Citizenship nor Minister Plibersek was immediately available for comment on the matter.


No comments: