Monday, October 07, 2013

Abbott Government in crime crackdown on asylum seekers

ALMOST 30 asylum seekers released into the community have been charged with offences ranging from people smuggling to pedophilia and murder.

The Coalition will launch a new behaviour crackdown for bridging visa holders and community detainees who will be automatically returned to detention if they are charged with an offence.

Under the previous government some asylum seekers remained in the community while facing charges with revocations considered on a case-by-case basis.

Since the election ten asylum seekers of 14 who have had their bridging visas revoked since May have been returned to detention.

Another 14 asylum seekers in community detention have been returned since mid-2011 after being accused of serious offences.

Most of the alleged offences have occurred in NSW with 11, four in Queensland and South Australia, three in Victoria, two in the ACT and the NT and one in WA.

The alleged offences against children include the sexual assault of a child, indecent assault of a child, indecent act with a child under 16 and physical assault of a child.

Asylum seekers in the community have also been accused of rape, stalking, acts of indecency and torture.

An asylum seeker is also facing charges of murder while others have allegedly committed armed robbery with assault, aggravated burglaries and assaults, domestic violence, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, assault while armed, threatening to kill and drink driving.

Mr Morrison called for behaviour protocols in February after Sri Lankan boat arrival Daxchan Selvarajah, 21 was charged with the indecent assault of a Macquarie University student in her dorm.

He lost an appeal against the cancellation of his bridging visa in May. At a bail hearing earlier this year his lawyer said the 21-year-old denied the charges and that the case against him was weak.  A court is yet to determine the case.

Mr Morrison said yesterday while the offences were not "disproportionate for these groups" with about 20,000 people in the community he would have a "zero tolerance attitude for those who violate the trust given by granting them permission to live in the community."

"The escalating number of these serious offences is of great concern to the new government and we are putting strong controls in place," he said.  "Visas are being cancelled for those charged and they are being taken back into detention."

The Coalition has also moved to provide address details of asylum seekers living in the community to police.

State police and police unions had requested the information but were only provided postcodes under the previous government which attacked Mr Morrison's behavioural protocol policy.

Mr Morrison said the "mandatory behaviour protocols" for bridging visa holders and community detainees were being developed.

Last month an Afghan asylum seeker allegedly stabbed to death another asylum seeker at Berala.

Another asylum seeker was charged over the alleged indecent assault of a visually impaired woman on a Sydney train in July.


Clive Palmer an overnight political force

THEY came from nowhere, obscure, multicultural, unfinished but ambitious people, wanting a shot in Clive's Army. Most have disappeared back from where they came, for now, but the Palmer United Party has won enough seats to give them the balance of power in the Senate.

Now Tony Abbott needs Clive Palmer, whose candidates are more naturally aligned to him than Labor, to deliver him the power to pass laws through both houses of parliament when the new Senate takes its place from July next year.

Labor and the Greens together have 35 Senate seats.

Abbott has 33. But if you include the three new PUP senators-elect, and another three new independent senators who are either loosely or extremely Right, Abbott's got it sewn up. He just has to be nice to Clive.

Palmer offered people an unprecedented shot at instant party power, herding candidates into every one of the 150 lower house seats in the country, and into all Senate races.

There were no arduous preselection campaigns. Nominees filled in a form stating their health status, criminal history, previous political affiliations, any history of bankruptcy, military and academic record, and were asked to provide three referees.

It appears the party took just about anyone who put up their hand. Better candidates were given up to $8000, asked to acquaint themselves with the party's key policies and told: go for it. Sure-fire losers got budgets of $3000 or less, to be spent on printing and ads.

There was a big name or two, such as ex-rugby player Glenn Lazarus (now Queensland senator-elect Lazarus), and older sporting heroes like the AFL's Doug Hawkins and boxer Barry Michael, but most were complete unknowns.

It became clear after meeting some PUP candidates that all they had in common was an admiration for Palmer and a desire to get into parliament.

Palmer had five key policies: abolishing the carbon tax; building refineries to process minerals at home; and requiring that a portion of wealth flowed directly back to any community from where it was generated.

His refugee policy was unfathomable, and his vendetta against political lobbyists (no.1 on his policy list) was of little interest to Palmer.

There was no defence policy. No foreign policy. On asylum seekers, anyone who wanted to come to Australia should get a passport, pay $800 for a flight, land at an airport, have their claim heard on the spot, and if it was rejected they'd be sent home on the next flight. That would stop the boats, said Palmer.

Bikkar Singh Brar, 68, a former lieutenant-colonel in the Indian army, was notified less than three weeks out from the election that he would be the candidate in Alexander Downer's old seat of Mayo, in South Australia, after the previous PUP candidate was shifted to another seat at the last moment.

The PUP jammed anyone it could find into seats and Brar didn't have a hope. "I didn't know any single person in that electorate at the time of my nomination," he says, without complaint.

Yet Brar, who does not live in the electorate, somehow picked up 3434 votes. This willingness to vote for a total stranger was happening all across Australia, and it was a personal endorsement of Palmer.

Brar liked Palmer's uncosted promise to find $80 billion to improve Australia's health system. Brar had travelled back home to India to get two root canals and six fillings at the cost of $180. He said the same treatment would have cost $4000 in Australia.

"The gentleman is concerned about Australia," said Brar of Palmer. "He wants to see Australia as a leading country in the world. He is a passionate person. He does not seek his employment by becoming a politician."

The chance of entering parliament brought out people such as Doug Te Wake, 42, a long-serving member of the special forces, who only left the Afghanistan battlefield in 2012 after serving with the 2 Commando Regiment.

Te Wake was strongly against Labor's carbon tax, and what he sees as the Coalition's complicity in allowing it through (though they voted against it in both houses).

When Te Wake says he went through a preselection process for an NT Senate seat, he really means that he filled out the form and was notified by party headquarters in Queensland that he'd got the nomination.

He agrees that if by some freak the party had won a big number of lower house seats, rather than Palmer's (likely) sole victory in Fairfax, the party would have arrived without any true ideological alignment.

That situation remains true for the three new PUP senators, who now must confer to see if they share any true common ground beyond being united under Palmer and his core policies, most of which are so generic in nature that are open to freewheeling interpretation.

"I agree there isn't a nucleus within the party, but the reason is that it is so new," says Te Wake, who missed out on a seat but announced himself with about 7 per cent of the vote.

"It's just the start for me," he says. "The party will be contesting the various state and territory elections as they come up. We are serious. We're not a flash in the pan. We're sticking around for the long haul."

What can be said for certain about PUP candidates, successful or otherwise, is they share two unique characteristics: they don't expect to be bullied by party headquarters; and they all believe in Clive.

Whether that is basis for unity remains to be seen. But it cannot be disputed Australia found itself with its fourth-largest political party almost overnight.

Wayne Slattery, 42, the CEO of the Good Samaritans, sick of both major parties, contested an ACT Senate seat for the PUP and lost. He agrees that the party's policies must become a "deeper thing".

Most Australians, even those who've spent time reading PUP policies, would be hard pressed to say what the party really stands for, except for offering a non-Green alternative.

Slattery says PUP policy will evolve naturally. "Clive did a lot of research, about increasing pensions and making governments more accountable in their spending," he says. "It's all just common sense stuff."

But there is something of America's uncompromising Tea Party about them, an obstinate view that after winning 700,000-plus of the national vote they are entitled.

They are powerful already, but not yet dangerous. We will know once Palmer starts instructing his three senators on how to vote, from July next year. We will learn, then, whether they have the discipline to be party people and follow his wishes, or are really three new independents in disguise.


Fracking too hot a topic till after Vic election

A decision to end a ban on the controversial practice known as fracking could be deferred until after the state election in a bid to avoid a regional backlash.

As The Sunday Age reported last week, the Napthine government is headed for a showdown between farmers, miners and environmentalists as it decides whether to lift the moratorium and allow the expansion of coal seam gas (CSG) in Victoria.

Tensions over CSG have reignited as the government awaits a review from former federal minister Peter Reith, which is expected to recommend developing an unconventional gas industry in the face of future price rises.

But with the Coalition at risk of angering voters in country seats - and potentially causing a split between Liberals and Nationals within its ranks - the government has signalled it might delay the process until after the November 2014 poll in an attempt to neutralise political sensitivities.

Days after Premier Denis Napthine said he was ''in no hurry when it comes to unconventional gas'', Deputy Premier Peter Ryan said: ''It will take as long as it takes; we're not trying to time it to a calendar.

''To do that would be a bad mistake and would fly in the face of our approach: that we have to do justice to this issue and accommodate all the concerns from the community.''

Mr Ryan's Gippsland South seat is one of several under fire from CSG opponents.

Fracking is the practice in which gas is extracted by injecting water mixed with sand and chemicals underground. While coal seam gas has been mined and used in parts of Australia for nearly 30 years, farmers and environmentalists fear that fracking could contaminate aquifers and result in gas escaping into drinking water as it rises to the surface.

The government says it has not yet received Mr Reith's review, but well-placed sources believe it is likely to recommend lifting the moratorium on fracking, which was put in place last year, and explore the development of CSG and other types of unconventional gas in Victoria. The review is also expected to suggest giving farmers royalties for the use of their wells.

Last week Mr Reith said community concerns about water contamination were understandable, but at the same time action had to be taken in Victoria to avoid future gas shortages and rising prices.

''Just a straight-out ban to me is not an approach which suggests a sort of rational consideration,'' he said.

Concerns have been raised that the taskforce assisting Mr Reith is heavily weighted towards industry. It includes representatives from Dow Chemicals, the Australian Pipeline Industry Association, Energy Australia, the Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, Origin Energy, and Australian Industry Group. Newly elected federal Liberal MP Angus Taylor was also enlisted.

Documents obtained by Labor MP Lily D'Ambrosio under freedom of information laws show that Mr Reith is being paid at a rate of $2000 a day (capped at 30 days) to chair the review.

Prior to the moratorium, dozens of licences had been granted for unconventional gas exploration around the state, including in Dr Napthine's electorate on Victoria's south-west coast, Mr Ryan's electorate, and parts of western Victoria.

In the Nationals heartland of Gippsland, Lakes Oil, which is partly owned by Gina Rinehart, has already fracked 11 sites, and is ready to frack another - the Wombat gasfield - as soon as the moratorium is lifted.

Gerald Leach from the Victorian Farmers Federation said farmers should be given the right to veto mining on private land. This would be better than paying them royalties, he said, because it would allow farmers to negotiate for a share of future profits.


Australia's leaky submarine program

This week some interesting leaks have suggested that Australia's six Collins Class submarines are facing serious (read expensive) risks that might make extending their operating life difficult (read really expensive) or even impossible.

Originally the first Collins Class submarine was scheduled to be retired in 2024, with the remainder to be decommissioned by 2031. They were to be replaced by 12 Future Submarines, which have a largely bespoke or developmental design, and will be assembled in Adelaide.

The Future Submarine was the centrepiece of the 2009 Defence White Paper. The implementation of this ambitious plan to reorganise the nation's defences has languished due to systemic underfunding and heel dragging on the part of government decision makers. Nowhere was the delay more evident than the Future Submarine project.

It takes 15 or more years to bring the first boat of a developmental class to operational status. If work on the Future Submarine had begun promptly in 2009, it would have been theoretically possible to meet the original timeframe. But it didn't.

By the end of 2012 many fundamental decisions and preparatory steps still had not been taken. The likelihood that the Future Submarine would be in service before the Collins Class became obsolete was very low.

It was at this time that the Gillard government released findings that the Collins Class service life could be extended for another full operating cycle (seven years), regaining the four years they had wasted through inaction since the 2009 Defence White Paper. It was a fortuitous finding, but what would the cost of the extension program be?

The Collins Class has very low reliability and high costs compared to its rivals (as detailed in my 2012 report). With the news that 68 major systems aboard the submarines pose a high to extreme risk of preventing the fleet from reaching its life expectancy or being extended, it seems that the bill for keeping the Collins Class subs operational will get even larger.

The Defence Department has commented that 'identify[ing] potential issues and risks ... is a common and normal process to be followed if consideration is being given to the life-extension of any system.'

If this was a common and normal process, why was the existence of these risks (and the expected cost of dealing with them) not released to the public before the election? Operational security should not be invoked as a shield to hide poorly performing defence programs from public scrutiny.

Taxpayers are entitled to know whether the Collins Class currently represents value for money. They are entitled to ask whether the service life extension of the Collins is a good investment, before we commit tens of billions of dollars to replicate the Collins Class process for the Future Submarine.

They are also entitled to ask whether there are other options, but that is a story for another day.


No comments: