Friday, November 23, 2012

A conservative politician shows up the bureaucracy

Liberal MP Ivan Venning has followed through on a promise to personally paint a public road bridge in his electorate.  He said the South Australian Government had taken too long to get around to it.

The MP and a team of volunteers started painting the bridge in the south of Nuriootpa on Thursday and expected to finish within a day or so.

The Government said paint on the bridge handrails contained lead and its removal needed to be managed professionally.

But Mr Venning said he had taken all the right precautions.

"We did put down sheets, big plastic sheets, and even where it was worst we didn't get half a cupful of dust," he said.  "We sanded it off by hand, so in other words it didn't go anywhere, it just fell straight down onto our sheets.  "We had respirators there and I had an industrial vacuum cleaner there as well. And now we've filled it with modern paint."

Mr Venning said the job was originally costed at $600,000 by authorities, but he thinks his group can do it for about $2,000.


PM faces new claims over union past

PRIME Minister Julia Gillard knew about a $150,000 Slater and Gordon mortgage for a property used by union fraudster Bruce Wilson more than two years before the date she admitted to knowing about it in an interview with the firm's management, a former senior partner claims.

In the latest revelation in the Australian Workers Union scandal, Nick Styant-Browne also revealed there was "deep disquiet" among S&G's top-tier management about some of Ms Gillard's conduct as a lawyer acting for the AWU.

And pressure on the Prime Minister over her role in the 17-year-old union scandal is expected to intensify today when former AWU official Ralph Blewitt will meet Victorian fraud squad detectives to provide extensive information about the fraud, involving up to $1 million in misappropriated funds.

Mr Styant-Browne, speaking from his US home, told the ABC's 7.30 program that he was speaking out to challenge a "stunningly incomplete account" by Slater and Gordon of Ms Gillard's departure from the law firm in late 1995.

The lawyer released new documents, including previously unseen portions of the transcripts from Ms Gillard's "exit" interview which he suggested challenged comments made by the PM to her former firm.

His claims revolve around a $150,000 mortgage provided by the law firm for the purchase of a Melbourne property in 1993. The Fitzroy property was purchased in the name of Ralph Blewitt, who subsequently signed a Power of Attorney to Mr Wilson. The document was witnessed by Ms Gillard, who was in a romantic relationship with the union fraudster from 1991 to 1995.

According to Mr Styant-Browne, Ms Gillard "claimed in the interview in 1995 that the first she heard about the Slater and Gordon loan for the acquisition of the Kerr Street property was in about August of (1995)".

But he said documents showed there was "no doubt that Ms Gillard knew about the mortgage from Slater and Gordon in March of 1993 (and) was specifically involved in taking steps to facilitate that mortgage".

"That is a matter of documents, it's not a matter of assertion and hearsay," he said.

Last night, the Prime Minister's office said there was "no contradiction" between Ms Gillard's recollection of the mortgage documents and the claims made by Mr Styant-Browne.

"Ms Gillard has no recollection of seeing the correspondence from the Commonwealth Bank dated 23 March 1993," a spokesperson for the PM said.

"Ms Gillard stands by her statements in the Slater and Gordon interview of 11 September 1995 as her best recollection of events two and a half years earlier."

Opposition deputy leader Julie Bishop said Ms Gillard's stance on the AWU scandal was "increasingly untenable" and called on her to make a full statement to parliament next week.

Mr Blewitt is expected to outline key details about his knowledge of the AWU Workplace Reform Association the $400,000 "slush" fund used by Mr Wilson.

Mr Blewitt is also expected to tell fraud squad detectives about Ms Gillard's role in helping to establish the Association and discuss how certain monies from the fund were spent.


Australia Defends Tough Media Detention Center Restrictions

SYDNEY — Australian immigration officials have defended restrictions that limit press access to detention centers.  While the media are barred from offshore processing camps in Papua New Guinea and Nauru, journalists are allowed into facilities on the mainland but are subject to strict rules and barred from formally interviewing detainees.

Eighteen months ago the Australian Broadcasting Corporation said that the country’s immigration centers were “less open and transparent than Guantanamo Bay.”

Since then, the Immigration Department has given reporters limited access to detention facilities under a Deed of Agreement on media access.

Journalists are permitted to speak with detainees but are not given permission to formally interview them or record their comments, nor are they allowed to publish images of inmates’ faces.

Immigration officials say the restrictions are in place to protect the privacy of asylum seekers, in much the same way that school children or hospital patients have their privacy protected from the press in Australia.

While reporters are allowed to visit mainland immigration facilities, they are barred from recently reopened camps in Papua New Guinea and on the tiny South Pacific island of Nauru, which houses asylum seekers from Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Pakistan.

Senior Australian immigration department spokesman, Sandi Logan, told a forum at the University of Technology Sydney that he hoped the press will eventually be allowed in.

“I have got to say that operationally there are much greater priorities for us in Nauru at the moment than a media access policy. But having said that, I think it is absolutely essential that journalists have access to that facility and likewise to the facility in Papua New Guinea, and that will be something that in time, in time, will be negotiated.  And when those two parties i.e. the government of Australia and the government of Nauru have agreed on the settings, the parameters for that media access then it would be my expectation that will occur," said Logan.

Australian journalists say that the Deed of Agreement that governs visits to detention centers is too restrictive, and prevents them from telling the true story of conditions behind the razor wire fences.

The head of the Australian Press Council, Julian Disney, says the public does have a right to know.

“People in those detention centers are there because of government policies," he said. "They are the policies adopted by the governments we have elected and they are having a very substantial impact on people, even if those people are not our citizens.  Therefore as citizens of Australia people are entitled to know what the impact of their government policies are.  But we think there are substantial ways in which these restrictions go too far.”

Since the restrictions were brought in a year ago, about 50 journalists, including reporters from Switzerland and Germany, have toured mainland immigration centers in Australia.

It is unclear when press access will be granted to Australia’s two offshore detention centers on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, which reopened Wednesday, and another on the tiny South Pacific republic of Nauru, which reopened in September.

Both facilities were used by the former conservative government in Australia.  In the past critics derided the policy as cruel and ineffective, and they are taking aim once again. 

Amnesty International this week said conditions on Nauru were responsible for a "terrible spiral" of hunger strikes and suicide attempts.

Australia grants protection visas to about 13,000 refugees each year under a range of international agreements.


Illegals getting a hard time

A storm in Nauru has caused quite a bit of flood damage to the island and the processing centre for refugees living in tents. Fairfax Media. Photo: Angela Wylie. November 22 2012.

Wet, wet, wet: Tropical downpours have caused flooding and damage in Nauru's detention centre. Photo: Angela Wylie

TORRENTIAL rain left parts of the Nauru detention centre underwater on Thursday in what Amnesty International described as vindication of their assessment of conditions at the centre as "totally unacceptable".

"Some spots of the camp were under nearly a foot of water," Amnesty's Graham Thom told Fairfax after visiting the centre. "Shoes were floating on the water, some of the tent floorboards were floating. It was extraordinary how much like a pond the front of some of the tents had become in a very quick period of time."

The heavy rain followed a reported suicide attempt at the centre by an Iranian asylum seeker on Wednesday night after the Gillard government announced that many of the asylum seekers who have arrived since offshore processing resumed would be released into the community on bridging visas.

Immigration officials confirmed an "incident of attempted self-harm" at the centre, saying the injuries were minor and the man had been treated on site, where 387 asylum seekers are accommodated in tents.

Refugee advocates said the Iranian tried to take his life after hearing of the new policy under which the "no advantage" principle intended to apply to those sent to Nauru has been adapted for those who will remain in Australia. They said that the injured man had been taken to the facility's medical centre and remained separated from other detainees.

Amnesty officials, who were at the centre as asylum seekers became aware of the news, reported that many asylum seekers were in a highly anxious state, and asking why they had been sent to Nauru, when others who arrived at the same time would be released into the community.

Despite assurances that they would be allowed to photograph detainees and conditions inside the centre on Thursday, the Amnesty officials were refused permission to record any images.

Dr Thom said the theme of interviews with asylum seekers over the past three days was how unfair they considered their situation. "They said, 'Look at what we have been going through for the last few months, and now it's even worse for us'.

"A lot of them said, 'We're happy those people are going to be out in the community, but why have we been forgotten? Why have we been cast aside, pushed into a corner? Why are we locked up like this?' Again and again, they just spoke of the injustice of the situation."

There was also despair after Immigration Minister Chris Bowen confirmed that they could be waiting five years before being resettled in Australia if their claims for refugee status are upheld.

"I think the news came as a real kick in the guts to the guys inside," Dr Thom said. "Those aware of the five years said, 'Come and look where we live? How can we stay like this for five years? We are going to die here."'

Aside from the uncertainty of their situations, Dr Thom said that the leaking tents had left many with wet bedding and led to skin conditions before Thursday's heavy rain.


Fair Work Ombudsman extorting bosses with threat of legal costs

AN EMPLOYER has agreed to make a public apology and repay more than $17,000 owed to one of his staff rather than endure litigation by the Fair Work Ombudsman in a rising trend among workplaces to avoid court.

Giacomo Ferretti will take out an advertisement in the Herald and pay nearly three times the $6600 maximum penalty that could have been imposed if the matter had gone to court after he admitted to terminating his employee's contract without paying out his annual leave.

The employee had been retained as a senior mechanical engineer at Mr Ferretti's engineering, design and consultancy business, Enjenia Services, which went into liquidation in March.

Mr Ferretti's act of contrition is one of 34 "enforced undertakings" that the Ombudsman has negotiated since they were introduced into law in 2009.

Among them, Coles has donated $20,000 to a program that educates pregnant women about their rights at work and James Hardie has contributed $10,000 to support workers with disabilities.

In each case, the recipients of their generosity were far from coincidental.

Coles had moved a pregnant employee into a more menial job, with a lower salary, when it was concerned she could not do heavy lifting as her pregnancy advanced.

James Hardie rescinded its offer of employment to a business development manager after he did not pass a medical exam, even though his disabilities were not relevant to the job.

The Ombudsman has also required two employers – Cotton On and Sadamatsu Katsuyoshi, who operated the Japanese restaurant Masuya in Sydney – to publish apologies on the Facebook walls of their businesses.


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