Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Qld. Premier Campbell Newman gives the Green/Left another sock in the eye

QUEENSLAND'S extensive network of national parks will be thrown open to new eco-tourism developments that will potentially been modelled on popular New Zealand and Tasmanian ventures, with horse riders and four-wheel drivers set to gain more access.

Permits will be scaled back and the Nature Conservation Act reviewed to remove barriers to development under a wide-ranging action plan announced yesterday at a tourism forum in Cairns.

More than 300 industry heavyweights spoke to the Newman Government for two days to develop the action plan, designed to guide the ailing sector over the coming year.

Premier Campbell Newman, who attended the DestinationQ forum yesterday, said the state must "find ways to say yes" to better use and market its national parks and marine parks.

Mr Newman singled out NZ's popular Milford Track and Tasmania's Cradle Mountain Lake-St Clair National Park as examples to follow, saying visitors came from around the world to walk, stay, eat and drink.

"Those are the sorts of things, we should be doing," Mr Newman said.  "They've got to be done the right way, but other jurisdictions are doing it - (and) the environment hasn't suffered."

Tourism leaders told the forum - the first of its kind in 27 years - of high operating costs and falling revenues stretching their businesses to breaking point, compounded by the high Australian dollar, competition from nearby countries as well as mountains of government red tape.

Queensland Tourism Industry Council chairman Stephen Gregg said that red tape had dissuaded many ecotourism proposals "from ever getting off the ground".

Mr Newman said cutting red tape would be a key focus, as he announced a host of new funding to be made available for regional events, indigenous rangers and to up-skill unemployed Cairns residents.

Mr Newman also indicated there could soon be a new, direct flight from Cairns to an Asian country, likely Singapore.

Mr Newman was highly critical of the industry's peak body, Tourism Queensland, announcing that it would be restructured and told to find savings that could be redirected to promotional campaigns.

A second forum will be held next year to monitor progress and begin charting a 20-year industry plan.


Federal Government tells pensioners that aged care providers will hike fees the day carbon tax kicks in

THOUSANDS of pensioners have been warned they will have to pay more for their residential care in one of the first signs of the impact of the carbon tax.

The Federal Government has written to pensioners and Commonwealth Senior Health Card holders advising that their aged care providers will hike fees by up to $3.48 a week from July 1, the day the carbon tax kicks in.

The hike of more than 1 per cent outstrips Treasury forecasts that the cost of living will rise just 0.7 per cent under the unpopular tax.

The move comes as questions mount over who else will pass on price rises to Australian consumers from this weekend.

The letter, from the Federal Department of Health and Ageing, explains that the increased aged care fees aim to "share" the assistance payments being made to pensioners to compensate them for the carbon tax.

"It recognises that many of the everyday expenses for residents are met by aged care providers," the letter says.

"It is important to note that some of the assistance that you will receive in the initial payment should be used to offset the increase in the basic daily fee."

The price rise equates to a weekly $3.48 increase in fees, which also outstrips weekly electricity hikes of $3.30 expected by most Queensland households.

A spokesman for Treasurer Wayne Swan said the assistance paid to pensioners and Senior Health Card holders was "designed to fully take into account this fee".

"From 28 May to 8 June, more than 3.2 million pensioners were paid a lump sum payment," the spokesman said.

"Pensioners will receive a permanent boost to their regular payments equal to a 1.7 per cent increase in the maximum rate of the pension from March 2013."

Labor has always insisted many households would be better off after compensation for the carbon tax, but as the tax start date looms fears are growing.

The issue is dominating Federal Parliament this week, as Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott face off ahead of Sunday's introduction of the tax.

Ms Gillard is preparing for a fortnight-long blitz around Australia to sell her tax reform, while the Opposition is set to embark on a similar tour, highlighting price rises resulting from the tax.

Labor ministers and backbenchers have been ordered into electorates to spruik the tax, as the party continues the battle to revive its popularity.

Ms Gillard told the Labor caucus yesterday that Mr Abbott would be exposed for scaremongering, with Labor planning to mock his earlier claims about the tax.

Mr Abbott yesterday said the RSPCA would face a $180,000 hike in its electricity costs each year because of the carbon tax.

Appearing alongside Mr Abbott, RSPCA chief executive Michael Linke said some of the national organisation's services would be cut and about four jobs lost.

"There is no compensation to pay for this," Mr Linke said.

But Ms Gillard accused Mr Abbott of fear-mongering.

"Presumably tomorrow he will be out trying to scare Skippy the bush kangaroo and the day after he'll be trying to scare Puff the magic dragon," Ms Gillard told Parliament.

It comes after the Coalition sent small businesses in Labor-held marginal seats flyers that apologised to customers for rising costs under the carbon tax, encouraging businesses to display the posters in their store windows.

One flyer reads: "We will always strive to keep our prices at reasonable levels but because the carbon tax will make electricity and gas more expensive, our prices will increase".

But Labor said yesterday the flyers put the businesses at risk of fines of up to $1.1 million, if they falsely increase prices and blame the carbon tax.

"Mr Abbott is potentially exposing butchers and other small businesses . He cares about nothing but his political advantage," Assistant Treasurer David Bradbury said.


Dodgy science in the courts too

It's not only global warming and the flood of food myths

THE acquittal of Jeffrey Gilham is the latest in a string of decisions that reveals the serious systemic failures in the use of scientific evidence in NSW, one of the country's top forensic law authorities says.

As further revelations emerged about the failure of prosecutors in the Gilham case to call a key expert witness, Gary Edmond from the University of NSW said the case highlighted the need for radical changes to the way expert evidence was both formulated and presented at trial.

"[Jeffrey] Gilham, [Gordon] Wood … they all reveal serious and systemic problems in the ability of our criminal justice system to credibly engage with scientific and medical evidence," Professor Edmond said yesterday following the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal's acquittal of Mr Gilham over the 1993 murder of his parents.

In reaching its decision, the court found that vital pieces of scientific evidence presented to the jury in Mr Gilham's second trial were seriously flawed and t this had resulted in a miscarriage of justice.

Among the flawed pieces of evidence were the opinions of three scientific authorities that there were "similarities" between the clusters of stab wounds on the bodies of the victims.

The judges concluded that not only were these opinions without scientific foundation, but prosecutors were aware that another expert had tested the claims and found they were incorrect.

Before the start of Mr Gilham's first trial in March 2008, the Crown prosecutor Mark Tedeschi, QC, received a report from Stephen Cordner, the then head of the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine, to this effect.

However, Mr Tedeschi rejected this evidence as "plainly unreliable" and based upon "a complete acceptance of the accused's account", electing not to call the professor as a witness.

The prosecutor in the second trial, Margaret Cunneen, SC, also did not call Professor Cordner.

The judges found the decision "does not withstand scrutiny". "an objective and detached prosecutor would have rejected any suggestion of bias in [Professor Cordner's] methodology or his conclusions", the appeal panel found.

Professor Edmond said this highlighted the fact that prosecutors in NSW were often more focused on the capacity of forensic evidence to persuade a jury rather than its actual validity.

He said it revealed problems about the general use of scientific evidence, in particular that such evidence was often not based on proper peer-reviewed research.

"Forensic techniques and evidence relied on routinely by investigators and prosecutors have never been assessed for their validity and reliability," he said.

"We have no idea if many of the techniques in routine use actually work or how accurate they are."


Bail reform in NSW

Every effort should be made to avoid jailing people who are later found not guilty

THE NSW Attorney-General, Greg Smith, has backed a proposal that people charged with crimes be given bail unless there was evidence they were a threat to the community.

Speaking publicly for the first time since the release of a Law Reform Commission review of the NSW bail laws earlier this month, Mr Smith said he wanted to look at ways to keep less serious offenders out of jail to prevent them from being corrupted.

However, he also backed recent comments by the Premier, Barry O'Farrell, that the government would not weaken bail provisions for dangerous criminals.

"There will be no weakening [of the bail laws] but we will have a smarter bail law, one based on risk management, which is what I was proposing, which the Premier has accepted, and which will hopefully mean more transparent decisions on bail," Mr Smith said.

"The program is to look more at each individual person, not based on presumptions, but based on the individual themselves and whether they pose a risk.

"The system of presumptions against bail or for bail has been confusing and has contributed to unsatisfactory bail decisions in the past."

Asked if the government would remove the system of presumptions against bail, Mr Smith said: "I understand that's what we will be doing."

Mr Smith has faced relentless criticism from some media commentators who have accused him of going "soft on crime" because of his progressive approach to the rehabilitation of less serious offenders.

"People who aren't a risk to our community shouldn't be refused bail unless they have done previous things or are threatening things," he said.

The government is due to give its official response to the Law Reform Commission's review of bail laws at the end of this year.

Mr Smith said the government had made it clear it was "pushing" for a risk management approach to crime that operated independently of presumptions, and which looked at each case on its merits.

He said presumptions against bail had confused the role of courts in looking at the merits of each case.

He made the comments after announcing the head of South Australia's prisons system, Peter Severin, would replace Ron Woodham as the Corrective Services Commissioner in NSW.

Mr Severin, 55, had agreed to become the new Commissioner in NSW, after having served South Australia and Queensland "with distinction".

Mr Severin was the deputy director-general of the Queensland Department of Corrective Services before taking the top job overseeing the South Australian prisons system.

Mr Smith said Mr Severin had achieved the lowest return to prison rate in South Australia of any Australian jurisdiction for the past four years.

He said he expected Mr Severin to drive down the high rate of reoffending in NSW.

"Mr Severin's record of success demonstrates that he is the ideal person to address the high rate of reoffending in NSW," Mr Smith said.

Mr Severin had worked in the corrections system in Germany from 1980 and 1988 and has dual citizenship - his mother is Australian and his father is German. He is married and has an adult son.

Mr Smith said Mr Severin would replace Mr Woodham within a couple of months. He thanked Mr Woodham for his 43 years of service to NSW.


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