Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Tony Abbott hits back at suggestions he has created an abusive culture in public debate

Calling Abbott a mad monk is OK, of course

TONY Abbott has described the actions of four protestors who hurled abuse at Julia Gillard in question time yesterday as deplorable amid claims from Labor he incited the outburst.

Speaking this morning the Opposition Leader said the Prime Minister and the parliament needed to be respected after members of the public were kicked out of the public gallery for shouting "Ju-liar" and "moll" at Ms Gillard.

"People should be polite to the Prime Minister, it doesn't matter what they think of her policies or her government, they should be polite to her - that's the respect that the senior leadership of this country ought to be given," Mr Abbott told 2GB's Ray Hadley.

"And people certainly shouldn't be disruptive of the parliament, so I deplore any disruption. But on the other hand I think people are certainly entitled to express an opinion and one of the things that really upsets me about this government is that it seems to be trying to bully people into silence."

Labor has pointed the finger at Mr Abbott over yesterday's protest action in question time, saying the Opposition Leader has fostered a culture that allows members of the public to feel they can abuse parliamentary process.

Cabinet Minister Tanya Plibersek this morning said Mr Abbott was to blame for the outburst by four protestors who were later ejected from the public gallery.

Yesterday Ms Plibersek was heard shouting at the Opposition Leader across the chamber "you created this culture" and today stood by her remarks.

"We have Liberal members of parliament whipping people up at a rally on the lawns of parliament house, we have people in Liberal party t-shirts who then come into the parliament with the feeling that their behaviour is sanctioned by the highest levels in the Liberal party in Australia," Ms Plibersek told the Nine Network.   "It's a very bad time and a very bad culture."

Labor MP Graham Perrett accused Mr Abbott of "throwing grenades" into the public debate to create a climate where protest action occurs.

"He spent two years of throwing grenades rolling them down the aisle and saying ‘do this, go and stand under defamatory disgusting signs', he does all of that and then suddenly says ‘oh an election is coming, better slip on the blue tie, put on the white shirt' and suddenly all of that skulduggery and dirty behaviour, suddenly stops," Mr Perrett said.

"That's not the culture that Mr Abbott has created and the chickens are coming home to roost.”

Greens MP Adam Bandt also said the Coalition was to blame for some of the negativity resonating throughout public debate.

"I do think the Liberals do bear some responsibility for the ugly direction that some of the public debate has gone in recent years," Mr Bandt said.

"Tony Abbott has sided with the kind of denigration of the parliament and of the Prime Minister even that has not been seen for many, many years."

Coalition MPs said it was "ridiculous" to suggest Tony Abbott had fanned a negative public debate and Labor was simply trying to distract the public from its policy failures.

"It's a ridiculous suggestion from a desperate government who is trying to divert attention from their failures," opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison told Sky News.

Liberal MP Jamie Briggs said it was "an absolute double standard" from Labor.

"Because they don't like the fact they are being held to account for the broken promises they made," he said.


Conroy's media rule changes face defeat

COMMUNICATIONS Minister Stephen Conroy denies his media law changes are an attack on the freedom of the press, as MPs and media organisations line up against the plan.

Senator Conroy says he won't be "bartering" on the details of the plan to get it through parliament by his deadline of Thursday week, even though the specific details of the legislation have yet to be made public.

The planned measures - to be introduced to parliament on Thursday - include a public interest test on media mergers, to be overseen by a government-appointed bureaucrat.

The public interest media advocate would also ensure the self-regulatory body that handles complaints about the print and online media does its job properly.

The minister was compared to despots Joseph Stalin, Chairman Mao and Fidel Castro in News Limited's Daily Telegraph newspaper on Wednesday.

However, Senator Conroy said the media advocate would not have the power to restrict freedom of the press.

"That's just not the case at all," he told ABC radio on Wednesday when asked whether it amounted to government regulation of the press.

He rejected claims by News Limited boss Kim Williams that the changes amounted to the biggest attack on freedom of speech since World War II by introducing government-sanctioned journalism.

Senator Conroy said the changes - which stemmed from two media reviews in the past 18 months - had been widely debated and not rushed.

Liberal frontbencher Eric Abetz says it's not good public policy to restrict freedom of the press.  "That is clearly what is on the government agenda," he said.  "To top it all off they want to ram it and force it through the parliament."

Nationals Senate leader Barnaby Joyce described Senator Conroy's plan as "quite bizarre".

Labor senator Doug Cameron described the plan as "modest", adding that the response from News Limited and the opposition had been "hysterical".  "I don't think News Limited exercises its responsibilities well at all," he told ABC television.

"If you've got this power and influence you should not desecrate the democracy you are involved in."

Independent senator Nick Xenophon says he believes the measures won't go anywhere even though some, such as a cut in licence broadcast licence fees, have merit.

Australian Greens deputy leader Adam Bandt, whose vote will be crucial in the lower house, questioned whether the government was serious about its legislation passing parliament.

"You do wonder if Labor would be happy, if in fact it fell over, and whether that is behind its odd arbitrary deadlines on such an important reform," he told reporters.

Independent MP Craig Thomson said the package was "disappointing" and a long way from the recommendations of the expert media reviews.

Other crossbenchers Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor are awaiting the detailed legislation before deciding whether to support it.

A one-day parliamentary inquiry into the laws will be held on Friday.


A crime to criticize abortion in Tasmania

“Abortion has effectively been legal in Australian states for more than 40 years, although it has remained in the criminal code. The number of prosecutions in all that time can be counted on one hand. So why the sudden enthusiasm for decriminalization?

“Because the real aim of the Labor-Green coalition which is running Tasmania is to criminalize abortion dissent. With only two weeks for the public to respond, the Health Minister, Michelle O’Byrne, has drafted what may be most draconian abortion law anywhere.

“The neighbouring state of Victoria decriminalized abortion in 2008. Ms O’Byrne says that this is the model for her bill. But the Victorian bill contains no penalties for conscientious objectors; the Tasmanian bill does. The Victorian bill doesn’t mention counsellors; the Tasmanian bill threatens counsellors with jail. The Victorian bill doesn’t mention protests; the Tasmanian bill threatens protesters with jail.”

Whenever you have a “public inquiry” in which ordinary citizens are given next to no time to prepare and enter a submission, then you know the government is trying to pull a fast one. They don’t really want public input – their mind is already made up. So that ridiculous deadline (March 22) certainly gives the game away.

And consider just what a Big Brother bill this really is: “If this bill passes, a part-time volunteer counsellor for an organization supporting pregnant women could be jailed for a year and fined up to A$65,000 if she refuses to refer a woman to a place where she can get an abortion. The bill’s definition of a counsellor includes anyone who gives ‘advice or information relating to pregnancy options’ and ‘whether or not for fee or reward’. Overnight, all agencies which disagree with abortion will be forced to shut down.

“Medical practitioners will be obliged under threat of a $65,000 fine to make referrals if they have a conscientious objection. To anyone who believes that an unborn child has a right to life making a referral means cooperating with evil. The proposed laws are coercing participation in the overall process of abortion procurement.

“Nurses who refuse to participate in abortions could be fined $65,000. The right to peaceful protest will also be shut down. The bill imposes a 300-metre-wide exclusion zone around abortion clinics. The maximum penalty is 12 months in jail and a $65,000 fine…

“To make matters worse, the prohibited activity includes intimidating, protesting or photographing, and ‘any other prescribed [sic] behaviour’. The sloppy wording, in combination with an open-ended section on regulations, could be used to punish innocent activity.

“The Health Minister has been quite disingenuous about the scope and purpose of her bill in her statements to the media. She has mentioned none of these tyrannical measures and has given the public a mere two weeks to respond to one of the most far-reaching pieces of abortion legislation ever proposed anywhere.”


Gas exploration regulated into oblivion

Coal seam gas company Metgasco says it is putting its northern New South Wales programs on hold, blaming recent State Government regulation changes.

The company is suspending its Clarence Moreton exploration and development program, which has been the subject of a series of community protests.

In a statement, Metgasco's company director Peter Henderson says it has not been an easy decision to make but was necessary because of the uncertainty surrounding regulation of the CSG industry.

A series of new regulations including a two-kilometre exclusion zone imposed around residential areas were announced last month.

The State Government is also introducing exclusion zones for critical industry clusters, such as for horse breeders and wine producers.

Mr Henderson says the changes were brought in without consulting the industry.

"The CSG industry in New South Wales endured an 18-month shutdown while the State Government reviewed the industry and put in place regulations it lauded as the toughest in Australia, if not the world," he said.

"Only five months after introducing these new regulations and confirming its support for the industry, the NSW Government has yet again announced new regulations, this time without any consultation with the energy industry."

Drew Hutton from anti-CSG group the Lock the Gate Alliance says he hopes it is the beginning of the end of CSG in the state.  "Metgasco is reading the winds here," he said.  "They're realising that the State Government is changing tack as a result of an enormous amount of pressure from the community and the Federal Government likewise with its adoption of a water trigger."

Metgasco's statement contained no references to yesterday's decision by the Federal Government to toughen environmental laws covering coal seam gas projects.


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