Friday, January 18, 2013

Sanitarium ads raise question marks about "Discrimination"

Federal Attorney-General Nicola Roxon's department says Weet-Bix manufacturer Sanitarium - which advertises for job candidates who share its "Christian-based principles" - is not a religious body, but would not say whether the company's actions were unlawful.

Sanitarium was founded and is operated by the Seventh Day Adventist Church, which is not required to lodge the company's financial reports.

A number of its online job ads require successful candidates to have Christian principles. A cereal machine operator job ad says: "If you share our passion for what we do . . . and you are aligned with our Christian-based principles, this will be a great opportunity for you."

A Sanitarium spokeswoman has told Fairfax Media that religious belief "was not a condition of employment".

It is an offence to publish an ad that indicates an intention to unlawfully discriminate under a number of laws. But religious bodies can lawfully discriminate against people with various attributes, including religious belief, unlike other groups. A draft human rights bill retains most of their legal rights to discriminate.

A spokeswoman from the Attorney-General's department said Sanitarium was not a religious body because it was not "established for religious purposes" but could not say whether Sanitarium's ads were unlawful.

"The relevant question is how that preference is applied in practice," she said. "For example, refusing to hire a person merely because they are of a particular faith, gay or divorced, could constitute discrimination, but requiring employees to act in accordance with a particular code of conduct may not be."

The Federation of Community Legal Centres' Hugh de Kretser said most people would consider the ads discriminatory: "If the government thinks Sanitarium isn't a religious body, it should act to stop these discriminatory job ads."


Economy will be at heart of Abbott's election pitch

Tony Abbott has signalled that economic management will be at the heart of his election pitch, promising to "increasingly detail" the Coalition's policies during the year.

The Opposition Leader has seized on the latest rise in unemployment, linking it to Labor's decision to break its commitment to delivering a budget surplus this year.

"No government can be good for jobs if it is not good for the economy... and this is a Government which simply can't manage the budget," Mr Abbott told reporters in Sydney.

"In the end, it all comes down to the economy.

"If you don't have a strong economy, it's very difficult to have the strong communities that every Australian wants and deserves."

He says having a strong economy is necessary to maintaining good government services, having a clean environment and securing the country's borders.

Labor has responded to Mr Abbott's comments by pointing to the Government's track record in guiding the economy through the effects of the global financial crisis.

"Since the Government came to office, we have created more than 800,000 jobs, we've grown the economy by 13.2 per cent, and labour productivity has risen by 6.5 per cent," Employment Participation Minister Kate Ellis said.

She also pointed to the way in which state Liberal governments have gone about slashing jobs, arguing that a federal Coalition government would take the same approach.

"You don't have to look back to the Howard government, you can look to any of the current state Liberal governments to see exactly what modern-day Liberals stand for," Ms Ellis said.

"And that is job losses, it is stripping away people's protections in the workplace, and we know that an Abbott-led government would be absolutely no different.

"Now if they want to stand up today and talk about job losses, they might want to have a few words to say to their colleague in (Queensland Premier) Campbell Newman, because we know that when you look at Queensland, it sends a very clear example to the rest of the country of what we would see if Tony Abbott was ever elected to government."

The federal election is due in the second half of the year, and this week's Newspoll showed Labor was now within striking distance of the Coalition's lead.

The results buoyed Labor MPs who said voters appeared to be backing the Government's economic vision for the country.

Mr Abbott has responded to the results, saying: "No-one ever said it was easy to defeat an incumbent government.

"But every day of this year I will be pointing out that we have an incompetent and untrustworthy government up against an Opposition which has positive plans for a strong and prosperous economy for a safe and secure Australia."


'Appalling' failures kept kids in care

FIVE children have spent years in state care because the Child Safety department failed to review paperwork that could have allowed them to return to their parents' home, the Carmody inquiry has heard.

The inquiry into child protection yesterday heard disturbing allegations child welfare workers did not do follow-up work to determine if the parents of the five children had become fit and proper parents.

Rebekah Bassano, solicitor with the Queensland Indigenous Family Violence Legal Service, told the inquiry she was familiar with the case of the children, who were removed from one north Queensland indigenous couple over the course of nine years.

When Ms Bassano this week requested details of the annual review paperwork that determines the progress of the parents, and whether the children could return to their care, she was told that none was available.

Under cross-examination from Counsel Assisting, Ryan Haddrick, Ms Bassano said if the paperwork had been done, it was possible that all five children could now be living safely with their parents instead of being spread across five foster families.

"So, for all you know, eight years ago there should have been a review and that review could have determined they didn't need protection?" Mr Haddrick asked.

"Yes," replied Ms Bassano.

"The children could have been returned home, but nobody reviewed the case," Mr Haddrick said.

"So you are suggesting the department itself doesn't understand its own obligations?"

"That's right," Ms Bassano replied.

"How would you describe that situation?" Mr Haddrick said. "Appalling," Ms Bassano answered.

The parents were still trying to get their children back.

The $9 million inquiry is set to resume in Brisbane on Monday.


Unemployment rises as full-time jobs shed

The unemployment rate has risen from 5.3 to 5.4 per cent, as 5,500 jobs were lost in December.  Bureau of Statistics figures show the fall was centred on full-time positions, with an estimated 13,800 lost, while part-time employment increased by 8,300.

The original jobless rate of 5.2 per cent for November was revised up to 5.3 per cent, meaning last month's rise to 5.4 per cent was a modest 0.1 percentage point increase.

The more stable trend unemployment number, which smoothes out monthly volatility, remained steady at 5.4 per cent.

The proportion of those aged over 15 in work or looking for it - the participation rate - remained steady at 65.1 per cent.

Due to the rise in joblessness and shift away from full-time to part-time work, aggregate monthly hours worked fell by 1.1 million to 1.624 billion hours in December.

However, CommSec economist Savanth Sebastian says there were some positive revisions to the November data, particularly for hours worked.

"While 5,500 jobs were lost in December, the November result was revised up to show 17,100 job gains rather than a 13,900 lift in jobs," he wrote in a note on the figures.

"Indeed hours worked was also substantially revised up in November, now showing 0.8 per cent growth rather than 0.1 per cent."

Mr Sebastian says that demonstrates the resilience of the Australian labour market in the face of patchy growth and weakness in particular industries.

"It's clear that the job market isn't shooting the lights out but by no means is unemployment soaring. In a big picture sense the job market is in a holding pattern with a modest degree of softening," he noted.

"But while jobs are being lost in some industries, clearly they are being created in other industries."

Nearly 150,000 jobs were created last year, but that failed to keep pace with a 185,000 person increase aged over 15.

Only a decline in the proportion of people either in work or looking for it helped keep unemployment relatively steady at 5.4 per cent, up just 0.2 percentage points from a year ago.


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