Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Prime Minister Julia Gillard facing poll wipe-out

LATEST polling has confirmed the Gillard government is headed for electoral oblivion with its primary vote falling to 28 per cent - just one point shy of the depths Labor plumbed in Queensland.

The exclusive Newspoll in The Australian today, which shows Labor would be wiped off the map federally as it was in the Sunshine State, comes as the Prime Minister remained in complete denial about the political shockwave, reported The Daily Telegraph.

In South Korea at a nuclear summit with world leaders, Julia Gillard said Saturday's election result was "a deep, deep disappointment" but denied it had anything to do with unpopular federal policies such as the carbon tax.

Newspoll today has federal Labor's primary vote crashing from 31 per cent to 28. Labor's primary vote in Queensland was 26.9 per cent.

The Coalition is up four points to 47 while the Greens fell one point to 11 per cent.

The two-party preferred result should also send shivers down ALP powerbrokers' spines with Labor down four points to 43 and the Coalition up four points to 57 per cent.

Senior federal Labor MPs are warning Ms Gillard that without a strategy to "win back Queensland", the party faces being decimated.


A conservative tax-cutter in NSW

TAX cuts would be offered to business under plans being championed by Barry O'Farrell to ignite the sluggish NSW economy.

The Premier wants to reduce the payroll tax rate, which at 5.45 per cent, is the highest in Australia.

In an interview with The Sun-Herald marking his government's first year in office, Mr O'Farrell said he wanted to bring NSW into line with, or lower than, other states. Victoria's payroll tax rate is 4.9 per cent and Queensland's is 4.75 per cent. The Treasurer, Mike Baird, said tax relief for business was "totally on the table" but no decision had been made, with falling GST revenue flowing from the federal government.

Payroll tax rakes in $6.6 billion a year and Mr Baird said there was "no way" the rate could be dropped to the Victorian level in one go. The cost to the state coffers would be about $360 million. A reduction of 0.2 per cent would reduce revenue by about $130 million.

About 71,000 large and medium-size companies with wage bills above $678,000 pay the tax.

Mr O'Farrell said he wants "harmonised red tape" across Australia but supported the concept of "competitive federalism".

"For me, it's never been about getting a single rate of payroll tax across the states or down the eastern seaboard, I've always wanted to get differing rates of payroll tax so we can seek to gain a competitive advantage over the other states," he said.

"We understand that taxes upon business, taxes upon investment are a barrier to economic growth. We have a higher rate, the challenge for us over this term is trying to ensure we get our tax rates down to make us at least as competitive, if not more competitive than other states."

Mr O'Farrell said he would seek meetings with a Liberal/National Queensland government to lock in a cross-border economic reform agreement like the one signed with the Victorian Premier, Ted Baillieu, in December. Three conservative governments along the eastern seaboard, combined with the vocal leadership of the Western Australian Liberal Premier, Colin Barnett, represented a "fundamental shift" in the states' relationship with Canberra, Mr O'Farrell said.


Expert argues university degrees overrated

HAVING a university degree may be "grossly overrated", a leading education research body says.

The National Centre for Vocational Education Research wants to debate the merits of university degrees because it will advance thinking around expanding the tertiary sector.

It is partnering with St James Ethics Centre to bring the live debate, Intelligence Squared Australia, to Adelaide in July to debate the idea that "having a university degree is grossly overrated".

Managing director Dr Tom Karmel said the purpose of the debate was to tease out the issue, because while there were many benefits to having a university degree there were other paths to consider as well.

"Are we looking at credentialism, where everyone will have a degree when they don't really need one," he said. "There are many jobs around you do not need a degree for and wouldn't want a degree for."

The Federal Government wants 40 per cent of Australians aged between 25 and 34 to have a bachelor degree by 2020.

Skills Australia has estimated that in the five years to 2015 Australia will need an additional 2.1 million people in the workforce with a vocational education qualification at Certificate III level or higher.

"When the Government make these decisions you always have to check against reality and make sure people are getting a good return from their degree," Dr Karmel said.

"(But) as we expand the number of people with degrees, on the whole, the return is holding up."

National Tertiary Education Union assistant secretary Matthew McGowan said degrees were very important for Australians to compete intellectually on an international stage but that did not mean everyone needed one.


Clear evidence that the abandonment of double jeopardy can lead to gross abuses

We now see one reason why the double jeopady principle was entrenched British law for centuries. It's persecution the way the man below is being treated. When do the retrials stop? This could go on forever. At the very least only two trials should be permitted.

Five years ago, Philip Leung was found rocking from side to side at the foot of his stairs, cradling his blood-stained partner, Mario Guzzetti. A short time later, Mr Guzzetti was dead, having suffered head injuries.

Last week, Mr Leung, 51, broke down in the same stairwell after learning he would stand trial over his former lover's killing - for the third time.

At his original trial in 2009, Mr Leung was acquitted of murder after a judge directed the jury to find him not guilty.

The Crown, however, used NSW's controversial double jeopardy laws, introduced in 2006, to have the verdict quashed.

Mr Leung then faced court on a manslaughter charge last April, but became the first person in Australian legal history to be acquitted twice by a judge's directed verdict. As he left court that day, he said he was "finally free" to move on.

He was wrong. Last Tuesday, the unprecedented case took another twist: the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal upheld a second appeal by the Crown and ordered that Mr Leung again be tried for manslaughter.

According to uncontested facts referred to in the judgment by the appeal court, Mr Leung and his partner had been together since 2001, but a month before his death, Mr Guzzetti, 72, had told a friend he wanted to end the relationship because Mr Leung was becoming aggressive and frightening him. On the morning of April 7, Easter Eve in 2007, a neighbour heard two voices arguing at the couple's shared home in Alexandria, followed by a loud bang that resembled "a shelf falling, and pots and lids falling to the ground". She also later heard Mr Leung crying, "like roaring or having a tantrum". Almost an hour after the initial bang, Mr Leung called an ambulance, stating: "I had a fight with my friend and my friend dead."

When the first witnesses arrived at the scene, they found Mr Leung sitting at the bottom of the staircase. Holding Mr Guzzetti, he said to an acquaintance: "I want my Mario … Mario, wake up."

He told another friend: "We had an argument … I was making carrot juice and he [Mario] kept at me." Mr Guzzetti had stopped breathing before paramedics arrived and in an interview at Redfern Police Station that same day, Mr Leung could not recall the vital moments before his death. "We have breakfast, Mario argue with me. He criticise me a lot … and then my head starts spinning."

Mr Leung was charged with murder. At his trial in May 2009, the Crown alleged the couple argued while Mr Leung was making a carrot juice, resulting in him striking his lover with a bloodstained juicer that was found on the floor beside Mr Guzzetti's body, and also by applying additional pressure to his neck. However, crucial medical and scientific evidence proved inconclusive, with both a forensic pathologist and neuropathologist concluding Mr Guzzetti's blunt force head injuries were consistent with both a physical attack using the juice extractor - and a fall.

Equally, it was advised that bruising around the neck could have been the result of either force, or amateurish attempts at resuscitation. Consequently, Justice Stephen Rothman delivered a directed not-guilty verdict, ruling the Crown had failed to properly establish how Mr Guzzetti had died. In April last year, Justice Michael Adams reached the same conclusion, directing a second jury to find Mr Leung not guilty.

But on two occasions now, the Crown has utilised double jeopardy laws that permit appeals in homicide cases settled by a judge's directed verdict. In its latest appeal, the Crown pointed to the fact that prior to the second trial, Dr Paul Botterill, who had conducted the original autopsy, inspected the premises and staircase area where the death occurred. After that visit, he concluded the likelihood of the injuries being caused by falling from the top of the stairs - which change direction and feature a quarter landing - was at most a "theoretical possibility".

Mr Leung's lawyers, meanwhile, argued that with two Supreme Court judges having twice dismissed the case, a third retrial would "undermine community confidence in the criminal justice system". It was also pointed out that Mr Leung had "clearly suffered" following four months of imprisonment, strict bail conditions, as well as five years of continuing stress and uncertainty that had arisen from the Crown appeals.

In his judgment on Tuesday, the NSW Chief Justice, Tom Bathurst, said based on all available evidence, and particularly the fact that both men were alone in the house, it was "by no means certain" that a jury verdict of guilty would be set aside as "unreasonable".

He overturned the acquittal, adding it was now a matter for the prosecution to determine whether to proceed for a third time against Mr Leung.

Mr Leung is on bail for manslaughter and a trial date is yet to be set. When that day arrive, he will become the first person in Australian legal history to be tried three times over the same killing.


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