Sunday, April 22, 2012

New watchdog established for angry air travellers

JETLAGGED passengers will have a new airline complaints czar to report to when flights are deliberately overbooked or their luggage goes missing.

Transport Minister Anthony Albanese will today announce the establishment of a new, independent national airline customer advocate to help passengers resolve complaints.

The new role follows concerns the rise of low-cost carriers accused of deliberately overbooking flights had coincided with an increase in consumer complaints.

Applications for the role open this week.

The new advocate will also name and shame airlines into action, publishing complaints received and the major reasons for complaints to each airline.

The new role, which will carry a six-figure salary, will be independent but funded by the airlines rather than taxpayers.

Qantas, Virgin Australia, Jetstar Airways, Regional Express and Tiger Airways will participate in and jointly fund the position.

The airline advocate role was first proposed in the National Aviation White Paper, amid warnings airlines could face a tougher regulatory approach if they failed to embrace the measure.


Abbott urges AFP to investigate Slipper allegations

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says Australian Federal Police should investigate sexual harassment allegations against House of Representatives Speaker Peter Slipper.

A political row has erupted over the future of Mr Slipper, who is returning to Australia from Los Angeles denying the allegations made by former staffer James Ashby.

Mr Ashby, 33, launched legal action in the Federal Court on Friday claiming he was continually harassed by Mr Slipper since he began working for him in December last year.

The Sunshine Coast MP is also accused of misusing taxpayer-funded Cabcharges.

Mr Abbott says the allegations are "extremely serious".

"It is very important that the Prime Minister act swiftly to require the Speaker to step aside," he said.

"And it is very important that the Australian Federal Police quickly investigate these matters so that they can be resolved as soon as humanly possible."  The AFP says it is assessing the information.

He was confronted by journalists when he landed at a Los Angeles airport on Saturday afternoon.

He remained silent for the most part when questioned by journalists saying simply: "All allegations are denied."

He had earlier taken to his Twitter account to deny the claims.

The allegations are a new headache for Prime Minister Julia Gillard's Government, which is relying on the independent Speaker's support to retain its parliamentary majority.

Mr Slipper was appointed to the Speaker's role after he resigned from the Liberals as part of a deal with Labor.

Federal Government Frontbencher Anthony Albanese says he has no knowledge of the allegations and rejects suggestions for Mr Slipper to be stood down.

"Those issues are a matter for Mr Slipper, there are legal proceedings underway... that's what the newspaper reports indicate this morning," he said.

"On that basis it's important that we recognise the separation between the judicial arm and political arms of the state."

In the claims detailed in News Limited's Saturday papers, Mr Ashby alleges the Speaker only hired him to pursue a sexual relationship.

He says in his first weeks on the job, Mr Slipper requested massages, asked him for graphic details about his sex life and sent him suggestive text messages.

In one of the alleged exchanges quoted by News Limited, Mr Slipper is said to have asked Mr Ashby if he wanted to become "closer", immediately after allegedly sending a sexually suggestive text message.

Mr Ashby also alleges his employer sent him texts signed with an "x" or an "xxx".

He said in his legal statement that Mr Slipper asked him to shower with the door open, which he refused to do, but he says Mr Slipper never closed the door for his showers.

Mr Ashby claims he always rejected the advances of the 62-year-old, who is married with two children. The case is due to come before the Federal Court May 21.


Should fish be eaten or just admired?

Australian Greenies say that  fishing disturbs nature so fishing should be forbidden in vast areas of Australia's extensive territorial waters  -- and the present Leftist Australian government is about to give Greenies just about all they want

Australia's newest Commonwealth marine reserve will be the world's largest "fattening paddock" for yellow fin tuna, but critics say only foreign fishing vessels will be reaping the benefits.

The one million square kilometre Coral Sea Marine Reserve will be the world's largest.

Chief among those arguing that commercial fishing should be allowed in the reserve is Canberra University's Dr Bob Kearney.  He is a former director of fisheries research in NSW and a fierce critic of what he claims is a decline in scientific rigour when it comes to Australia's plans to give up a third of its exclusive economic zone to marine reserves.

Dr Kearney says the Western Pacific tuna fishery is the world's last great fishing resource and Australia should be increasing its catch, rather than locking it up.  "It's just absolute nonsense, it's scientific claptrap to claim the yellow fin tuna is under any threat," he told ABC's Landline.  "The real problem for Australia is it's grossly under-exploited.

"While we've got a shortage of food, we're importing 70 - 75 per cent of our seafood."

Contrary to claims by conservation groups such as Greenpeace, Dr Kearney says yellow fin tuna stocks are not threatened by fishing and could be fished much harder.  "You couldn't wipe them out on known technology if they were $1 million each," he said.

But one of Australia's leading marine conservation scientists says that is not the point.  "I'm not arguing we need to protect the Coral Sea because it's hugely overfished, its actually the opposite argument," says Dr Terry Hughes, who is director of Coral Reef Studies at the ARC centre for Excellence in Townsville.

Dr Hughes is also one of 300 international marine scientists who have called on the Australian Government to make the Coral Sea Reserve a 100 per cent no-take park.

"The issue isn't about food security or about fisheries management, it's about preserving one of the last few pristine ecosystems on the planet for the benefit of future generations," he said.  "So we have a societal choice to make. Do we want to make everywhere in the ocean equally degraded or do we want to have a few places that are very special where we afford a higher level of protection?"

The Australian Government hopes to complete its rollout of marine reserves by the end of 2012 but could finalise the Coral Sea proposal in the coming weeks when Australia commemorates the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea.

The Government received more than 486,000 submissions during its 90-day public consultation period, with about 80 per cent generated by an international online campaign run by conservation groups.

The Protect Our Coral Sea Alliance comprises 14 organisations including the Australian Marine Conservation Society and the American Pew Foundation.

It has welcomed Australia's commitment to marine conservation but argues the Coral Sea proposal does not go far enough.  The alliance also wants a ban on all fishing.

Under the Coral Sea proposal released late last year, some commercial fishing would be allowed in the reserve.

But a group of longline operators fishing the Coral Sea say the restricted zones are unworkable.  They would rather be compensated than risk legal action for accidentally fishing in no-take areas.

"Our gear shifts around in the currents and we set that gear over about 50 miles (80 kilometres) in length in the water so we have to allow enough room for the gear not to drift over the line, if we drift over the line with any hooks into the park then we would be breaking the law," says Gary Heilmann, of De brett Seafoods.

He is the spokesman for the group representing 10 boats fishing out of Cairns and Mooloolaba.  Mr Heilmann says it costs about $50,000 to send a boat from Mooloolaba to the Coral Sea to fish for tuna and other large species.  He says the likely returns once the marine reserve is declared would not justify the cost.

'Fattening paddock'

Queensland Senator Ron Boswell says Australian boats are being forced out of the Coral Sea while Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands governments are licensing foreign operators to exploit the region's abundant tuna reserves.

"People are taking 700,000 tonnes of tuna just on the other side of the Coral Sea so Australia is providing a big fattening paddock for international fishermen to come in and take our catch," he said.

He has asked questions in the Senate about the likely cost of compensation which will also include about 40 prawn trawlers and the businesses supporting them.

"No-one's ever put a figure on it but I've done a rough count around Australia and there's 245 boats that are going to be displaced in one form or another and that is going to cost millions and millions of dollars," he said.

The Government says compensation and readjustment funding will be decided on a case-by-case basis and it expects to begin negotiations with the industry in the coming months.


Eyes hold clues to life for deadly box jellyfish

Scientists in far north Queensland say a new discovery about the life cycle of the deadly box jellyfish will allow them to better predict when swimmers are at risk.

Researchers from James Cook University in Cairns have been able to pinpoint the exact time when box jellyfish turn from polyps into deadly stingers.

JCU Associate Professor Jamie Seymour says until now, there have been serious gaps in understanding when people are most at risk from the deadly animals.

"We've had a model for about eight or nine years now that predicts the end of the seasons and it does it really, to within two or three days," he said.

"We've been spot on for the last seven or eight years but we've never been able to predict the start of the season."

He has been able to get an insight into exactly when box jellyfish hatch by hunting them down off the far north Queensland coast near Weipa and gouging out their set of 24 eyes.

"It's a lot like the trunk of a tree, it's got concentric growth rings inside it and each one of those growth rings is added daily so then we were able to age exactly how old those jellyfish were," he said.

He found the jellyfish turn from tiny polyps into deadly stingers around September but they do not turn up along the coast and start posing a risk to swimmers until November.

"The next thing I'd like to find out is what do they do in that two to three months? Where are they?" he said.

"We know they're growing quite quickly so from that tiny size, they do reach a decent size quite quickly but where are they? What are they doing? Why is it a couple of months until they show up along the coastline?"

Professor Seymour says his team of researchers is prepared to put themselves on the line to answer those very questions.

"It's sort of like working with snakes, as long as you get hold of the non-bitey end you're away and running, " he said.  "And having said that, it's fun and if you take the precautions."


1 comment:

Paul said...

The Slipper affair is starting to get a Mal Coulston feel to it. The Cabcharge thing seems to be the bread and butter of the affair while the sex thing is the window dressing that everyone sees. Cabcharge to put him in breach of regulations and butt-sex to smash his public credibility. A one-two political punch. Why a 33 year old though? Most 33 year olds would know how to handle someone like this (pun not intended) as Slipper should know, and if allegations of this sort of conduct have been around for ten years at least, then why now when it was clearly a moral issue then? So far this in my opinion isn't reflecting well on anybody and may even backfire on the Liberals. That will depend on what context the media coverage follows. Brilliant politics but tawdry just the same, and ultimately not good for the nation. I guess vengeance and glory don't often hold hands.