Thursday, February 28, 2013
Australian Muslim activists lose free speech case
Two Muslim activists accused of sending offensive letters to families of Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan narrowly lost a court appeal Wednesday that cited their constitutional freedom of speech.
Iranian-born Man Horan Monis, a self-styled Sydney cleric also known as Sheik Haron, was charged in 2009 with 12 counts of using as postal service in an offensive way and one count of using a postal service in a harassing way. Amirah Droudis was charged with aiding and abetting the offences.
The six judges of the High Court split on whether the charges were compatible with Australians' right to free speech. When the nation's highest court is undecided, an appeal is dismissed and the lower court decision stands.
That sends the charges to a lower court where they will be heard on a date to be set.
Monis allegedly wrote letters critical of Australia's military involvement in Afghanistan and condemning the dead soldiers. He also allegedly wrote to the mother of an Australian official killed in a terrorist bomb blast in Jakarta, Indonesia, in 2009 and blamed Australian government policy for the tragedy.
His lawyers argued in the High Court last year that the charges were invalid because they infringed on Australians' right to freedom of political communication.
The Australian Constitution doesn't include an equivalent of the U.S. First Amendment. But the High Court has held for decades that the constitution contains an implied right to free speech because such political communication is essential to democracy. This right is not as extensive as that guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
The pair had appealed in the High Court the unanimous ruling of three judges of the New South Wales state Court of Appeal in December 2011.
"Whilst at one level the letters are critical of the involvement of the Australian military in Afghanistan, they also refer to the deceased soldiers in a denigrating and derogatory fashion," their judgment said.
It is not immediately clear what potential jail term the charges carry.
Qld govt reveals school privatisation plan
PRIVATE companies will build and maintain 10 Queensland state schools under a Newman government plan.
The announcement comes just a day after the Queensland government revealed plans to privatise parts of the state's health system.
Treasurer Tim Nicholls says the Queensland Schools Project will see private companies contracted to finance, design, construct and maintain 10 new state schools.
Core education services will still be provided by Education Queensland.
Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek says the state needs new methods to build and finance schools to meet growing population demands and the plan will give "taxpayers the best bang for their buck."
The 10 new schools will include two high schools and eight primary schools catering for up to 10,800 students.
The minister said the schools would employ up to 540 teachers and 130 non-teaching positions, and the five-year construction phase would generate about 1,700 jobs a year.
Interested companies have until March 14 to register.
Queensland's Health Minister Lawrence Springborg announced on Wednesday that certain projects and services in Queensland Health would also be outsourced to the private sector.
Purge of NSW public servants to save $65 million
Under-performing senior public servants will no longer be allowed to languish on five year contracts, but be forced to meet tougher standards under a purge of the NSW public service that is expected to save $65 million in three years.
Premier Barry O’Farrell said he expected a 20 per cent reduction in the number of senior and middle managers within three years after the changes were fully implemented.
There are currently 3884 senior and middle managers working in the public service.
Mr O’Farrell said the changes to the senior and middle management would create "a more professional public service".
"We want an innovative, professional and accountable public service which encourages and rewards performance and delivers the best possible frontline services for local communities,” he said. "The NSW Government wants to reward talent, not time, in the public service."
Under the existing system, senior managers are employed on five year contracts making it difficult for the government to terminate their employment earlier if they are not performing.
The new system would provide an ongoing contract which was conditional on senior managers meeting performance benchmarks.
The government will also removed some levels of management to streamline the public service because it has found that under the current structure, there are some managers with no people to manage.
About 16 per cent of executive staff do not manage any people and, of those who do, around 30 per cent only manage one to three people.
Mr O’Farrell said a typical manager should oversee more than six people.
Cabinet has accepted the changes which also include reducing multiple layers of management and tightening procedures to "quickly and fairly deal with poor executive performance".
Government executives in different agencies would be brought under a single Act of parliament.
NSW Police, teachers and local health districts would be allowed to retain some independence.
Mr O’Farrell said research by the Public Service Commission had found the number of senior officers had increased from 280 in 1999 to more than 1,600 in 2012.
Conservative Senator attacks ALP over jobs
QUEENSLAND Senator Ron Boswell has blasted the federal Labor Government for the destruction of jobs, saying it was often the lowest-paid workers who bore the brunt of carbon tax, renewable energy and regulatory compliance costs.
“Australian businesses operate in an increasingly tough global marketplace but are being burdened down with government-generated costs that are destroying their competitiveness,” Senator Boswell said. “As a result, imports are rising and exports are falling. Under this Labor Government, Australia’s fastest growing export commodity is jobs.”
Speaking in the Senate today, Senator Boswell said most businesses had suffered but particularly food manufacturers and primary producers.
“The Australian Food and Grocery Council says production in its sector is down significantly and 7,000 jobs were lost in the industry in the 2011-12 financial year. According to the Council’s “State of the Industry” report for 2012, 335 businesses in the sector closed down or moved overseas.
“For example, Heinz has moved significant food processing operations from Brisbane and Melbourne to New Zealand. The currency difference and Australia’s extra on-costs, carbon tax and renewables tax mean it is 50% cheaper to do the work in New Zealand. In particular, New Zealand has the advantage of a minimal carbon tax – just one dollar and eleven cents per tonne of CO2. Australia’s Carbon Tax is 20 times more expensive, at $23 a tonne.
“Of course, when food processors shut down particular commodity processing lines or close their doors, this in turn affects Australian farmers. They lose markets for their produce. It has serious flow-on effect.
“This impacts real people. Farmers in the Lockyer Valley, west of Brisbane, traditionally a premier vegetable growing region, lost important markets when the Heinz Golden Circle cannery in Brisbane moved some processing lines to New Zealand factories using New Zealand product. It is a similar for tomato growers and other farmers in Victoria. They have been forced to cut back their operations and sack staff.
“It is the lowest-paid workers – people like farm workers and workers on food processing lines – who are bearing the brunt of industries’ extra costs from carbon tax, renewable energy taxes, regulation compliance and other burdens imposed by this Labor Government.”
Senator Boswell said the answer was to strip “unnecessary, unproductive, job-killing costs” out of the manufacturing process.”Get rid of the job-killing carbon tax and the renewables tax, and reduce the cost burden of regulations.”
Senator Boswell accused the Labor Government of substituting “stunts and thought bubbles” for sound policies and good government.