Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Abbott accuses Government of 'surrender' on boat arrivals

The Federal Government has reacted angrily to an accusation from Opposition Leader Tony Abbott that it has "surrendered" in the battle to curb boat arrivals.

Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare has ordered an investigation into how a boat full of asylum seekers apparently slipped past Customs surveillance before sailing into Geraldton in Western Australia yesterday.

This morning Mr Abbott told commercial radio that the latest arrival was a "disaster".  "It just gets worse and worse all the time and I think effectively the Government has kind of surrendered," he said.

"And the problem with surrendering on boat people is that in the end it discredits the whole of our immigration program."

The boat which arrived in Geraldton was carrying 66 Sri Lankans who said they wanted to get to New Zealand.  Their rickety fishing boat, with a 'Deutsche Bank' logo painted on the side, was intercepted just 100 metres off shore after locals alerted authorities.  They had spent 44 days at sea.

It was the first case in five years that an asylum seeker boat had reached the mainland.

But Immigration Minister Brendan O'Connor accused Mr Abbott of "acting hysterically".  He said 19 boats managed to reach the mainland undetected during the years of the Howard government.

"If you're looking at any benchmark then every Immigration Minister during the Howard years should have resigned," he said.

"The difference is the then-Opposition was not acting hysterically and calling this a 'surrender' as the Leader of the Opposition has.  "Last week we had Tony Abbott talking about our economy and comparing it with Cyprus and today he's talking about surrendering.  "He is not fit for prime ministership."

Mr Clare also rejected Mr Abbott's view that the Government had "surrendered", saying the language was "not helpful".  "It's indicative of the bigger problem with this debate," he told ABC radio's AM program.

"The political parties have been fighting about this now for more than a decade, and it's politics that has poisoned this debate."

Mr Clare said Border Protection Command had advised him that the boat travelled an unusual route from Sri Lanka.

"Their initial advice is they believe the vessel travelled directly from Sri Lanka to Geraldton, which meant that it travelled in a way that is south of the main surveillance area, south of where most of our planes and patrol boats are focused," he said.

"All of our patrol boats and our surveillance aircraft are targetted at the north west where 99 per cent of vessels arrive and are intercepted.

"I've asked customs and border protection to review the circumstances of this case and advise me whether there needs to be changes to the way in which we patrol the seas in the north west."

But Mr Clare brushed aside questions relating to the cost of possibly patrolling further south.  "All of the early advice to me is that this is highly unusual," he said.

"We'll interview the people on the boat to see what their motivations were but 99.9 per cent of vessels that are intercepted are heading either to Cocos Island, Christmas Island or Ashmore Island.

"People do that because they're seeking the shortest trip possible."


School behaviour contracts get tougher

TOUGH new behaviour contracts will be introduced in Queensland public schools from next year as part of the state's new $535 million education reforms.

Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek said the contracts would be a more stringent version of current behaviour plans.

Mr Langbroek has pledged to give principals more power to crack down on misbehaving students with figures released this week revealing 64,324 suspensions and exclusions were handed out last year. He said parents would also be called on to play a greater role in their children's education.

"We do have a contract about behaviour at the moment which people sign off on when they join a school. We are looking at making it a lot more stringent," Mr Langbroek said.

It is yet to be determined exactly what the contracts would involve. Schools are expected to be given a choice as to whether or not they use them, but they still have to have a behaviour plan in place as well.

Mr Langbroek said the contracts would be partly modelled on a version being used in a North Queensland school which has seen student performances soar.

Cairns West State School principal Michael Hansen said the academic success guarantee contracts, in place at his school since 2008, compelled parents to ensure their children had a 95 per cent attendance rate.

In exchange, the school guaranteed their child would meet or beat year-level benchmarks in literacy and numeracy, he said.

And it is working.

While discipline was not part of the contract, Mr Hansen said the work his teachers were doing with parents and students had helped improve behaviour as well. Grattan Institute school education program director Dr Ben Jensen said discipline was a significant issue in classrooms, but it was also important to focus on good learning behaviour.

"A bigger issue is understanding that any sort of improvement in learning and teaching over time is a behavioural change process," he said.

"We have a problem in Australia that we focus too narrowly on just learning outcomes and not also on learning behaviours."

The Newman Government's reforms also include bonuses for top-performing teachers and principals, scholarships and the deployment of master teachers to schools identified as in need of extra help to lift student performance.

The Queensland Teachers' Union has called on teachers to rally outside Parliament House on April 17 against the plan. It is also considering further action in a meeting on April 15.


Qld. Premier  threatens to walk away from Federal school deal

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman says he will refuse a new Commonwealth funding deal if it means some schools in the state will be worse off.

Premiers and chief ministers will travel to Canberra next week for Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meetings.

Top of the COAG agenda will be discussions surrounding the Gonski review into education.

Mr Newman has reaffirmed he will not sign up to the Federal Government plan unless there are changes.

"While they continue to put forward proposals that would disadvantage 100 schools at least, we just simply can't agree to those sorts of things," he said.

Mr Newman says the ball is in the court of Federal Education Minister Peter Garrett.

"We will say fine we don't need your money if it comes with those sorts of unaccepatble outcomes," he said.

Mr Newman says the outcome of COAG will not affect his $535 million schools plan announced yesterday.


Union corruption: Former HSU boss on money-laundering charge

Former union boss and Labor Party president Michael Williamson has been charged with another two fraud and corruption offences.

The former national president of the Health Services Union (HSU) was already charged with 48 offences, including fraud and corruption.

Today, charges of money laundering and cheating or defrauding were added to that list.

Williamson, 59, was excused from appearing in the Downing Centre Local Court.

His bail conditions were tightened, and he is now banned from contacting Crown witnesses except through his lawyers.

Court documents allege that between December 12, 2006, and February 15, 2010, Williamson "facilitated the fraudulent preparation, submission and payment of Access Focus Pty Ltd invoices with intent to defraud" the HSU.

Under the money laundering charge, Williamson is accused of receiving $600,000 between December 12, 2006 and February 15, 2010, knowing the money was proceeds of crime.

The matter returns to court on 18 June.

Williamson resigned from the HSU late last year amid allegations he misused more than $500,000 during his time at the union.

His resignation came less than two weeks after a leaked report into the union's internal workings alleged Williamson engaged in nepotism by funnelling union funds to himself and his family.

The report, by Ian Temby QC and Dennis Robertson, detailed allegations of multi-million-dollar instances of nepotism, mal-administration and cronyism.

It said Williamson had a salary of almost $400,000 and alleged five members of Williamson's family were among the union's best paid employees.


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