Sunday, September 29, 2013

Australian Navy sends asylum seekers back to Indonesia

For only the second time in the past six years, the Australian Navy intercepted a boat and handed the asylum seekers back to Indonesia

THE Australian Navy has sent more than 40 asylum seekers back to Indonesia, after intercepting their boat off the coast of Java.

The boat carrying 44 asylum seekers attempting to get to Australia, issued a distress call 40 nautical miles off Java yesterday morning.

The Australian Navy intercepted the asylum vessel, after Indonesia’s rescue agency Basarnas said it did not have the capability to reach the boat.

The Australian Navy advised Basarnas it would drop the asylum seekers and two crew members off.

In the early hours of the morning, the Indonesian rescue crew met the Navy ship off the coast of Java and the passengers were handed over, and returned to the mainland.

Azam, one of the intercepted boat’s crew members told the ABC the boat was not broken, despite passengers calling Australia to be rescued.  He said there was nothing wrong with the boat when the Australian Navy intercepted it, and the engine was working.

It appears the asylum seekers called the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, hoping to get rescued and taken to Australia.

He said the Navy set fire to the boat at sea.

Suyatno, head of operations at the Jakarta office of Basarnas said he did not know why Australia did not take the asylum seekers to Christmas Island.

The Australian Navy only handed asylum seekers back to Indonesian authorities once during the six years of the last Labor government.

On all other occasions where a boat of asylum seekers were intercepted by Australian authorities assisting in their rescue, they were taken to Christmas Island.

This rescue and return of asylum seekers hints at a new and tougher approach by the Australian government, according to the ABC’s Parliament House bureau chief Greg Jennett.

Jennett predicts this action could establish a precedent with Indonesia, and future calls for Australian help and rescue will come with a condition that the passengers and crew will be handed back.

However, such claims may never be confirmed or denied, following the Government’s recent communications clampdown.

The Government are sticking by its policy of not commenting on the operational details of any intercepts at sea under Operation Sovereign Borders.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott recently ordered all ministers to obtain approval from his office prior to speaking to the media, including the ABC.

The Australian Navy’s return of passengers back to west Java has caused a minor dispute with local Indonesian authorities, who did not want responsibility for the asylum seekers.

This recent incident comes as a diplomatic row continues to simmer between Australia and Indonesia about the handling of asylum boats.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott described tensions between the two countries over the Coalition’s border protection policy as a “passing irritant”.

“The last thing I would ever want to do is anything that doesn’t show the fullest possible respect for Indonesia’s sovereignty,” he said.

“We are already at this very moment cooperating closely with the Indonesians… I don’t believe that the incoming government will do anything that will put that cooperation at risk. We want to build on that.”


Cool, calm and coiffed, Julie Bishop brings world's leaders to heel

LOL.  Julie Bishop in the seat Kevvy coveted.  That must burn

First came a bang of her gavel, and next was one of those steely-eyed stares.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon stopped talking, and Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg sat up straight - Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was the boss today after all.

Making her world debut as chair of the United Nations Security Council in New York, Ms Bishop quickly had the full attention of some of the globe’s most important leaders as she declared: “The 7036 order.”

Dressed in a designer suit, Armani probably, and her hair coiffed and unmoving throughout, Ms Bishop, who for years voiced her opposition to Labor’s campaign to snare a position on the UN Security Council, sat proudly centre stage, the words “PRESIDENT AUSTRALIA” on the desk in front of her.

“The provisional agenda for this meeting is ...,” she paused, "small arms,” before giving another strong bang of her gavel.

The 57-year-old, whose childhood was spent on a cherry farm in the Adelaide Hills, could not have hoped for a better outcome to her first day in charge as the council adopted a landmark resolution on small arms.

During the two-hour long meeting Ms Bishop was poised, professional and in control.

There was only an occasional stumble as she tried to pronounce names, including Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister, Elmar Mammadyarov.

Also not going to plan was when the lights went out – but only for a second.

But mostly Ms Bishop, who has been in New York all week representing Australia at the 68th session of the UN General Assembly, held her own.

“The Security Council has taken too long to adopt its first resolution on small arms,” she told the high level meeting.

Yet despite her polished performance, Ms Bishop unusually refused a request to speak to world media about her landmark role, prompting speculation she was unwilling to face potential questions on the increasing tension with Indonesia over the Coalition’s turn-back-the-boats policy.

During the meeting, representatives from member states applauded the Australian government for its relentless pursuit of a devastating global problem that has not been addressed by the UN in four years.

“Thank you Madame president for choosing the issue of small arms for the month of your presidency,” added the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.

His sentiments were echoed by foreign ministers from other states who praised Australia for its “hard work” in highlighting the issue of the proliferation and use of small arms and light weapons.

Ms Bishop beamed, and said: “I should note that Australia has built on the earlier work of others – including Argentina some years ago – to get to this point.”

What she could also have noted – but did not – was the work of Labor, who battled for four years amid fierce opposition from Ms Bishop herself to land a position on the Security Council.

“An expensive victory,” was how she and Tony Abbott put it when the campaign, started by former prime minister Kevin Rudd in 2008 came to fruition last October.

"There is a limit to what can be achieved as a temporary member on the United Nations Security Council,” she told ABC TV at the time.

"Of course, the ultimate test will be in terms of success, what we have achieved for the benefit of the Australian people after two years on the Security Council as a temporary member."

Most likely, as Ms Bishop kicks back tonight in her plush hotel near Grand Central with a view of New York's sparkling Empire State Building, she is toasting that success.


TV cameraman fired for 'terrorist' slur on rioting Muslim

CHANNEL Nine cameraman Simon Fuller has been sacked after calling the father of a Melbourne riot suspect a "f---ing terrorist" outside the Melbourne Magistrates' Court.

Nine announced the decision on its news bulletin last night.   "Following an investigation, his employment has been terminated," news reader Peter Hitchener said.  Nine director of news Michael Venus today said he had nothing more to add.

Fuller was stood down pending an investigation after footage of the incident aired on Media Watch on Monday night.

"I've looked at the tape myself, the field tape, and it's sufficiently deeply disturbing enough for us to have taken the action that we have taken in recent days," Mr Venus told Neil Mitchell on Radio 3AW yesterday.

"I should point out, Neil, also that the cameraman involved did apologise to the father and his son immediately after the incident. That's no excuse but it's something that has been overlooked in the discussion to date."

Fuller was filming 19-year-old Omar Amr and his father after the teenager was bailed on April 1. He followed them after the court session ended and filmed them.

The dispute began when Fuller said what sounded like "f--- off" to the pair. Amr's father, Gad, responded by calling him in a "bloody idiot". Fuller then called Mr Amr a "f---ing terrorist".

Omar Amr is facing charges of incitement to riot, riot, affray, burglary, theft and criminal damage following the riot that damaged a Bob Jane T-Mart store in Oakleigh.

Two 19-year-old men from Morwell have also been charged over their alleged involvement in the riot.


New broom Pyne ready to reshape curriculum

Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne has warned he will take a much more hands-on approach to what is taught in the nation's schools, as he prepares to overhaul the government body in charge of the curriculum and NAPLAN tests.

In an ominous sign for the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, Mr Pyne vowed not to outsource his ministerial responsibilities and declared the agency was "not the final arbiter on everything that is good in education".

And Mr Pyne was not worried about sparking a fresh round of "history wars" by claiming the national curriculum favoured progressive causes, saying he did not mind if the left wanted to fight the Coalition on the topic.

"People need to understand that the government has changed in Canberra, that we're not simply administering the previous government's policies or views," Mr Pyne said.  "I know that the left will find that rather galling and, while we govern for everyone, there is a new management in town."

Mr Pyne signalled the interventionist approach in an interview in which he also failed to spell out a clear way forward on school funding.

The new system of needs-based funding is due to begin in most states in January, but it remains unclear how the Abbott government will treat cash-strapped Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory, the places that did not strike agreements with the Commonwealth before the election.

Pressed on the school funding issue, Mr Pyne repeatedly said Labor had "left us a mess" and he would consult with the states and territories on how "to fix that mess".

If the new government were to offer more favourable concessions to the hold-out jurisdictions it could open itself to demands by the early adopters - NSW, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT - to pass on the concessions.

NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli vowed to defend his state's rights, saying the agreement Premier Barry O'Farrell signed with then prime minister Julia Gillard in April ensured no state would receive a greater share of additional funding or more beneficial annual increases.

"We signed an agreement that had a 'no disadvantage' clause in it and that was signed with the Commonwealth government, not with the Labor Party," Mr Piccoli said. "Yes, we would seek to use that clause."

Mr Piccoli said he had not spoken to Mr Pyne since the election but was confident the new government would be much more co-operative than its Labor predecessor.

One of Mr Pyne's immediate priorities is to set up a ministerial advisory group to look at improving teacher training. He said universities should take a more practical approach to training teachers and focus less on theory so graduates left classroom-ready.

Mr Pyne also confirmed plans to reform one of the government's key education authorities by ensuring it was focused only on curriculum development.  ACARA now publishes the My School website, administers national literacy and numeracy tests known as NAPLAN and collects performance data.

Under Mr Pyne's plan all non-curriculum-related roles will move into the Department of Education, suggesting ACARA will relinquish much of its testing and ranking activities.

Mr Pyne said he had not yet started work on the agency's overhaul as it was not a priority, but the Coalition's election-eve costings document factored in $23 million in savings from ACARA's four-year budget, including $7 million this financial year.

Mr Pyne said the review of the national curriculum was needed to ensure "that it is achieving the outcomes that we believe it should be" and hinted he may not accept ACARA's advice.

"I don't believe in handing over responsibility for government policy to third parties," Mr Pyne said. "The Westminster system of government requires ministers to take a hands-on approach to matters within their portfolio.  "ACARA has an important role but ACARA is not the final arbiter on everything that is good in education."

Mr Pyne said the national history curriculum played down "the non-Labor side of our history" despite the Coalition governing for two-thirds of the past 60 years.

In a statement to Fairfax Media, ACARA - which has 117 full-time and 22 part-time staff - said the curriculum for English, mathematics, science, history and geography had been "signed off by all state and territory ministers".  It vowed to continue to perform its current roles, which had been agreed by a standing council of state, territory and federal education ministers.

"We will prepare advice for Minister Pyne on current activities as well as matters that have been raised in policy statements," it said.


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