Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Backing for immigration ban grows

MORE than half of Australians want to ban immigration because population growth is out of control.  The number of people wanting to close the border to immigration has risen from 41 per cent in 2005 to 51 per cent, research by AustraliaSCAN reveals.

Almost two-thirds believe migrants should try to "fit in" when they arrive.

Mary Drost, from suburban residents' action group Planning Backlash, said the results confirmed community concerns about rapid population growth, with Australia running the highest per capita migration program in the world.

"The roads are getting more congested, the trains are full, the schools and the hospitals are overloaded," she said. "We can't cope with it in Melbourne."

Just a third of the 2000 people questioned by Quantum Market Research believed overseas migration made Australia "a more interesting and exciting place", down from almost half in 1995.

Monash University migration expert Bob Birrell said the results showed public opinion had moved into new territory.

"I think they are right to be worried," he said. "We have record levels of immigration and, as a consequence, we are allowing 100,000 migrants to enter the workforce at a time when employment growth is at a level lower than that."

The Government's immigration and refugee program for 2012-13 is expected to reach a record 203,000 people, similar to the mass migration intakes of the 1960s.

But the major political parties show no signs of wanting to slash immigration. Opposition spokesman Scott Morrison blamed Labor's border protection policies for public hostility to migration, which was why the Coalition wanted to reinstate its border protection policies to stop the boats,

A spokesman for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said migration had brought substantial economic and cultural benefits, and net overseas migration had blown out under the Howard government.

"Our immigration reforms are delivering a sustainable level of migration, while responding to labour market needs," he said.

Jennie Blencowe, research and policy manager of AMES, a migrant resource group, said Australia was a nation of migrants with 45 per cent of the population either born overseas or with a parent born overseas.

"Refugees and migrants who come here have a very strong desire to fit in to Australian society," she said.


Queensland flood victims join class action claim

 I think the plaintiffs have got an open and shut case.  The flood compartment should never have been used to store water

MORE than 3000 Queenslanders have joined a legal claim over the deadly 2011 floods as class-action law firms ramp up pressure on the cash-strapped State Government.

The firms plan more town hall meetings and increased advertising in a bid to recruit more claimants.

Maurice Blackburn and financial backers IMF have hired two US experts as part of a million-dollar effort to establish that there was negligence in the operation of the dams in 2011.

Early briefings have boosted the firms' confidence about taking on the Government, which is yet to state its position on compensation.

"They've given us a greater insight into what went wrong and why," Damian Scattini of Maurice Blackburn said.  "It was mismanaged throughout the period and there is the suggestion of prior negligence. The upshot is that it shouldn't have happened this way."

Rival law firm Slater & Gordon is also investigating possible action against the Government but would not give details of its clients.

Ultimately any payouts would be funded by the taxpayer.  A spokesman for Premier Campbell Newman said the new Government had yet to receive any legal claims and was still busy working through the recommendations of the flood inquiry, which it planned to implement in full.

"The Premier has said if anyone has suffered injustice at the hands of the State Government he would ensure they were treated fairly," he said.

"The Queensland Flood Commission has made no finding of negligence on the part of the state or the dam operator."

Ipswich councillor Paul Tully, a flood victim who has signed up to the Maurice Blackburn scheme, predicted that the Newman Government would eventually settle with victims  many of whose health had been damaged along with their property.  "I'd be 100 per cent certain that Campbell Newman will want all of this finalised by 2015 before the next state election," he said.  "They won't want this to be a political issue."

IMF's John Walker said his firm would place newspaper ads to attract more flood victims, including those whose businesses had failed as a result.

Maurice Blackburn and IMF will also hold further public meetings later this month in Brisbane.  "The strength of the claim is in the numbers," Mr Walker said.

IMF is funding research into the floods in return for up to 30 per cent of any eventual pay-out.

Mr Walker said the $15 million flood inquiry, which closed in February, had not made any findings relevant to the potential class action.  "The flood inquiry wasn't there to identify wrongdoing," he said.  "It was whether the manual was followed. We are trying to identify the standard of care (and) . . . any difference between that and what occurred."


New conservative Qld. Govt. to review same-sex civil union laws

The LNP Government looks set to overturn controversial civil unions laws.  Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie is expected to recommend the legislation passed this year by the ousted Bligh government be scrapped.

The move comes as an exclusive Galaxy/Sunday Mail poll reveals that 50 per cent of people are in favour of same-sex couples getting married, with 33 per cent opposed.

Almost one in three people polled nationwide last week believed Prime Minister Julia Gillard opposed changing the law because she was "out of touch with the community".

Premier Campbell Newman hinted during the election campaign that the LNP would act if it won power.  "We would be looking at that (repealing civil union legislation) if we become the government but there are other very important things," Mr Newman said in March.

Former deputy premier Andrew Fraser introduced the legislation in what many saw as a blatant attempt to retain his marginal Mt Coot-tha seat.

When Parliament resumed last week the LNP didn't waste time in putting the civil union debate back on the floor.  A spokeswoman for the Attorney-General said: "He will be bringing proposals to Cabinet within a few weeks."  She declined to elaborate, but party sources said there was widespread support among the 78 MPs to change the legislation quickly.

However, in response to the Sunday Mail's story, on Sunday morning a spokesperson for the Premier's Office contacted couriermail.com.au to indicate the matter was not a priority.  "No submission on this issue has been put to Cabinet," the spokesman said.

Mr Newman was attacked during the campaign for personally supporting gay marriage but outlining the LNP stance on civil unions.

Federally, Tony Abbott is defying sections of his own frontbench and the majority of voters in refusing a conscience vote on gay marriage.

Former Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull has previously admitted to pushing for a free vote on the issue.  The push was slapped down by Mr Abbott but that does not guarantee some Liberal MPs won't yet cross the floor to vote for change.

Calls for a free vote sparked debate within Coalition ranks last year, with senior frontbenchers such as Joe Hockey, who opposes gay marriage, Christopher Pyne, George Brandis and Mr Turnbull debating the merits of a free vote behind closed doors.

A Galaxy survey commissioned for The Sunday Mail, shows Mr Turnbull's position is backed by 77 per cent of Coalition voters.   According to the survey, three in four voters back a conscience vote regardless of which party they support.

While calling for a free vote, Mr Turnbull has reserved his position on how he would vote on the gay marriage legislation until it was presented to Parliament. "My view is there should be a conscience vote," Mr Turnbull said last year. "I raised the matter privately with Tony some time ago."

The issue of gay marriage flared last week on ABC television when Mr Hockey told the openly gay Finance Minister Penny Wong, who recently had a child with her partner Sophie Allouache, that children should have a mother and a father.

WA Liberal MP Mal Washer said he personally backed gay marriage - but wouldn't vote for it.  "I think it's inevitable," he said. "But if it came to a vote, the consensus in my electorate is pretty conservative so I wouldn't vote for it."


First uranium mine in WA a step closer

The first uranium mine in Western Australia is a step closer after the Environmental Protection Authority gave the project the go-ahead.

South Australian miner Toro Energy is seeking to develop the mine at Wiluna, about 550 kilometres north of Kalgoorlie.  The proposal has been in the pipeline since the WA Government overturned a ban on the practice in 2008.

Toro's managing director Greg Hall says his company has consulted widely with the community.  "The process with traditional owners has been quite a long one," he said.

The mine is expected to operate for 14 years and produce up to two million tonnes of mineralised ore and 1,200 tonnes of uranium oxide concentrate each year.

The EPA's chairman Paul Vogel says there will be little risk to those living nearby.  "The exposure to radiation for those communities near Wiluna is very, very low," he said.

Dr Vogel says the uranium will be trucked in sealed containers to the South Australian border, past Kalgoorlie, and shipped out from Port Adelaide.  "We paid particular attention to that knowing that the community was particularly concerned about that," he said.

Greens Senator Scott Ludlum says the authority's decision suggests it has failed in its role.  "If creating a permanent carcinogenic hotspot in the north-east Goldfields that will still be carcinogenic thousands of years in the future, then something has gone wrong with the EPA," he said.

Dr Vogel says the Toro project will be subject to the most rigorous monitoring program possible, overseen by the radiological council and the Department of Health.  "My understanding is there will be financial assurances required, there will be monitoring requirements to meet the trigger levels," he said.  "And, if those trigger levels are exceeded, then the Department of Mines and Petroleum will ensure those standards are met over time."

Senator Ludlum says he expects Toro to face an uphill battle to get the project up and running.  "I think given the state of the world market that is still trying to work out the consequences of the ongoing disaster in Japan where all nuclear reactors are currently closed, I don't think Toro has a chance in hell of bringing this project to market," he said.

The Opposition's Bill Johnston says WA Labor remains opposed to uranium mining but, if Toro is granted final approval before the election, it will not stand in the way of its development.  "The Labor Party's decision is that if final approval has been given to a mine before the election then we would honour those final commitments," he said.

The mine is expected to generate 350 jobs during the construction phase and 170 once it is operational.

Mr Hall says he hopes Toro can make a final investment decision by the end of the year.  "We now will await the decision by the Western Australian Minister," he said.  "The recommendation is open for appeal for a two week period and the Minister will decide on a course of action beyond that."

Toro's application now needs to be approved by the state's Environment Minister Bill Marmion before being passed on to the Commonwealth for federal approval.


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