Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Japan keen to seal first trade deal with Tony Abbott

Tony Abbott's hopes of signing a series of bilateral free trade agreements with some countries within a year may not be as unrealistic as first thought, with at least Japan privately keen to get the jump on its Asian competitors.

Japanese high-technology manufacturers are petitioning their government to wrap up the talks that have dragged on since 2007, to give them the best chance of increasing market share in Australia in everything from Japanese cars to cameras and televisions.

Canberra is now in accelerated talks with Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo to finalise country-to-country trade agreements given the apparent hopelessness of World Trade Organisation talks aimed at multilateral arrangements.

Top officials from Australia and Japan have stepped up the pace of negotiations after Mr Abbott met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in Brunei.  Mr Abbott emerged from those talks describing Japan as Australia's best friend in Asia.

Japan places import tariffs as high as 800 per cent on beef and rice, while the tariff on cars imported into Australia is just 5 per cent.

But Fairfax Media has learnt that at least privately, Tokyo shares Mr Abbott's eagerness to conclude a deal amid growing nervousness at the progress of bilateral trade talks between Australia and Beijing, and particularly between Australia and Seoul.

Those with inside knowledge say the two major sticking points in the trade talks are beef imports on the Japanese side, and automobile imports on the Australian side.

With the Australian car industry on life support and unable to survive without continued government assistance, Canberra has shown a reluctance to lower tariffs on imported cars.

Two-way trade between Australia and Japan topped $71 billion last year.


Same-sex marriage is an oxymoron

Monsignor John Woods, Administrator of the Catholic Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn, comments on the recent passing of a same-sex "marriage" law in the Australian Capital Territory

Marriage is based on difference, not sameness. Two people of the opposite sex become one because of their difference, and that gives them the potential to create new life. The Marriage Act affirms this.

Margaret Thatcher claimed that there is no such thing as society, only individuals. Some people also argue that marriage is just about individual choice, and that love is enough. They forget community too.

Marriage is a radically generous idea, going beyond the woman and man involved to the children they hope to create and the contribution their family can make to the community. Marriage is the way the community encourages responsible relationships between men and women and attempts to secure the well-being of any children born of their union. Marriage is unitive of a couple in their complementarity which is potentially procreative.

Gender is significant. While there have been marked changes in the understanding of marriage, including the move away from regarding women as mere chattels, or from the use of marriage to confirm family and political alliances or from restrictions on inter-racial marriages, marriage has always been the union of a woman and a man.

Despite the claims of those advocating marriage equality, you cannot equate something that is essentially different. A union between same sex people and a union between opposite sex people is essentially different and only one has the potential to create new life.

The ACT government recognises this and seeks to circumvent it with proposed ‘‘parallel legislation’’ for same sex marriage. In other words, it presumes to redefine the notion of marriage in fact and in law so as to champion the oxymoron of "same sex marriage". Does it truly matter if marriage is changed? Yes, because it is something designed for heterosexual people. Imagine if Christianity was extended to people who do not believe in God, it would no longer be Christian. So how can marriage survive as a useful institution if it is extended to people it was not designed for?

Same sex marriage advocates speak of their right to parenthood. Here, one must distinguish between the loving intention of a same sex couple and the rights of a child. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child says a child has ‘‘as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents’’.

A same sex couple cannot have a child as a result of their union but as the result of a previous relationship or an arrangement with a surrogate or an IVF clinic. In that instance, a child becomes the object of a claimed right, not the gift of unitive love. For the sake of the child and ultimately for the dignity of all, no one has a right to a child, whatever one’s aspiration for parenthood.

It is especially noteworthy that same sex civil unions now afford couples the same rights as for married couples. However it is argued that allowing same sex couples to marry would give them acceptance in the community. On the contrary, it would be recognition at odds with both their orientation (to sameness) and the nature of marriage (unitive and procreative). I am therefore advocating a natural law rebuttal to the ACT government’s proposed ‘‘parallel legislation’’, which is out of step with the rest of the country and in potential conflict with existing law.

Of course, now same sex marriage legislation is passed in the ACT, even with exemptions for religious bodies, the matter will not end here. Overseas experience is that churches, photographers and wedding reception facilities amongst others have all faced civil claims for not agreeing to be party to a same sex marriage. What about the right not to be involved in a union to which one conscientiously objects? What about the right to religious freedom?

Rights are not always reconciled easily. Therefore discussion of contentious issues should be conducted respectfully and in the hope of not offending against love or truth. I subscribe to that position as a citizen and as a priest purporting to minister the inclusive love of God.

While the proposed legislation is no doubt well intended, it sadly confuses the status of people by presuming to equate that which is essentially different. The legal gymnastics of ‘‘parallel legislation’’ should be rejected in truth and out of love for the dignity of all citizens. We can do better and how we might do that is the discussion we need to have.


Australian woman falls foul of America's race neurosis

For context, The High Court of Australia ruled a few years ago that the word "n*gger" is not offensive in Australia

Pix at source.  The costumes were obviously donned by people with only vague knowledge of Africa.  There were Red Indians, tongue-poking Maoris and the KKK portrayed  -- as well as simple blackface

The whole thing was obviously just naive fun with no knowledge of American hypersensitivity

AN AUSTRALIAN woman has been forced to defend herself amid accusations of racism by international websites.

The woman, named Olivia, threw a 21st birthday party with an African theme, in which guests were asked to wear costumes in line with the world's second largest continent and, as with most post-party photos, uploaded the shots to her Facebook page.

In the pics, some attendees have painted their faces black which have some up in arms.

The photos surfaced soon after on Tumblr user BlackinAsia's account and American websites were quick to pick up.

"This is what resulted … blackface, elephant and gorilla costumes, warpaint, Native American headdresses (?!) and more …. I'm at a loss for words," wrote BlackinAsia.  "And yes, this is from 2013.

"The girl posted the pictures proudly and flatly refused to take them down when confronted by another individual about how they were racist apparently. Pictures were reported to Facebook weeks ago and they still have not been taken down. Wow.

"In case you ever wanted to know how white folks saw us black Africans … here you go."

Buzzfeed have since deemed the party pics "incredibly offensive." Meanwhile, Jezebel, whose story runs with the headline, "Racist 21st Birthday Party Gleefully Documented on Facebook" describes the pictures as "ignorance, insensitivity and racism ahoy!"

In a response on Tumblr, which she has now deleted, Olivia defended herself, writing, "It was my 'African themed' party and it was honestly made that theme because I have always wanted to go to Africa (to teach English) but haven't made it there yet. In no way was this party intended to hurt anyone's feelings or upset anyone at all.

"However, some guest (sic) did decide to paint themselves, although this was in no way my intention or encouraged in the slightest. I understand that this has offended some people and I have no idea how these photos have even been seen, they were simply put on Facebook for my guests to see the photos of themselves.

"I am 100% sure that parties would be held that would be 'Australian themed' or American themed or even countries of the world, and in that instance I don't believe anyone would be offended. People wear Oktoberfest costumes to parties and no one cracks it that they are not German? So what I am saying is I do understand the people who have painted themselves have offended people, although none of them intended that …. but how can people be annoyed that the majority of the people at the party were celebrating another countries culture."

She continues to describe a Mauritian friend who painted himself white for the party, but interestingly those photos did not make the cut in BlackinAsia's post.

She maintains she never received a request to take the images offline.  "To be honest I am not a racist person at all so I didn't think anyone could possibly take it that way."

She has since deleted all of her social media profiles, including Facebook.

This isn't the first time an Australian has gotten in trouble for crossing the race relations line.

In May this year singer Delta Goodrem was branded a racist for retweeting a photo of fans dressed as The Voice judges at a costume party.

In it, one man was dressed in "blackface" to represent Seal complete with black paint over his face and arms and fake scars on his cheeks.  "That is hilarious!! Hope u had fun! Ha!!," Goodrem responded before retweeting the photo.

In 2009, Harry Connick Jnr stormed off the set of Hey Hey It's Saturday after a "blackface" skit went wrong but said he did not accuse the performers of being racist.

"Where I come from, blackface is a very specific and very derogatory thing," he said in a statement.

"Perhaps this is different in other parts of the world, but in the American culture, the blackface image is steeped in a negative history and considered offensive."


Australia retailer  falls foul of America's race neurosis

Australian fashion retailer Best & Less has apologised to disgruntled commentators on social media after its latest catalogue was attacked for carrying racial overtones.

The cover of the retailer’s latest catalogue depicts a dark-skinned woman eating a watermelon and a small group of its Facebook followers were quick to point out the likeness to racial iconography used in the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries.

“I hope it's just the case that you didn't know the cultural reference instead of being racist,” one man posted on Best & Less’ Facebook page on Sunday.  “Imagine if you run this in USA.”

Best & Less marketing director Jee Moon told Fairfax Media her team were unaware of the American stereotype when they designed the cover, which was meant to “celebrate summer,” using a diverse range of models to reflect its broad customer base.

“I genuinely was unaware of [the stereotype] until yesterday, it’s not from a point in time and a culture that I’m familiar with - if we had known we wouldn't have done it,” she said. 

“It really was not the intention to offend anyone. That said, I’m not apologising for including different women and in breaking the mould.  “Throughout our catalogues we have had a theme of celebrating real women.”

Best & Less apologised for the misunderstanding in a Facebook post on Tuesday, which received 204 likes and 117 comments within its first couple of hours of going live.

“We apologise if anyone is offended by our catalogue cover - this is not at all our intent,” it read.  “We're proud to show greater diversity of ages, sizes and ethnicity in our models, which is reflective of our wonderfully broad customer base.” “Thank you for sharing your perspective on the cover and again, please accept our apologies for any offence caused.”

While many people assumed the oversight was innocent, they were critical of the retailer’s advertising department for its lack of awareness.

“Although unintentional, it does warrant an apology and discussion in the advertising department about people researching the possible effects of their creative choices before going to print,” Monique Kowalcyzyk posted.

Others were more sympathetic. “Why would you be apologising for embracing diversity?” Nikki Bee said.  Are you now ashamed of the campaign?”


NSW Publican gives free beers to off-duty fire volunteers as thank you for saving his pub

Bureaucacy not amused

POLICE have denied that they issued a warning to a Catherine Hill Bay publican who shouted beers for off-duty Rural Fire Service volunteers as a way of saying thank you for saving his pub.

Catho Pub publican Dean Beevor told The Daily Telegraph yesterday that a licensing officer had visited his premises to warn him that the act of serving free alcohol was in contravension of responsible service of alcohol laws.

On Saturday, Dean Beevor offered free beer and bacon and egg rolls to hero firies who saved the historic Catho Pub and surrounding village of Catherine Hill Bay from the raging Central Coast blaze that destroyed three homes.

The pub, built in 1875, was on fire and seemed destined for destruction when RFS crews intervened just minutes before being evacuated due to the flames.

Their last-ditch efforts saved the building, prompting Mr Beevor to open the bar to fire-fighters over the following two days.

But, yesterday morning, a licensing officer turned up as the town's clean-up continued.  Mr Beevor said the officer told him he'd been sent to warn the hotel about breaking alcohol guidelines.

However, police denied the licensing officer issued a warning, nor had he been sent by his superiors.  A spokesman said no further action would be pursued.

"Whilst technically this may be regarded as a breach of liquor legislation, Lake Macquarie police are extremely grateful for the efforts of the RFS within the Catherine Hill Bay area and do not fault the actions of the publican in acknowledging them," the spokesman said.

Catherine Hill Bay resident Nancy Smythe said people in town wanted to show their thanks however they could.  "How else as a town can we show our gratitude than to buy somebody a beer - that's what you do in Australia."  "He was just trying to thank them for risking their lives for his pub."

RFS volunteer Mark Tyrell, who helped protect Catherine Hill Bay from Thursday night's inferno, said it brought a lump to his throat to see the appreciation shown by people like Mr Beevor.  "He was only trying to do the right thing by us," Mr Tyrell said.

Meanwhile, the clean-up got under way throughout town yesterday as locals took stock of how incredibly close they came to losing the entire village.  Bush so thick it was impenetrable just a week ago has been reduced to skeletons of charred trunks and branches.

Through it yesterday morning marched a band of Red Cross volunteers determined to help in any way they could.  Red Cross Lake Macquarie emergency services team leader Jill Bogaerts said it took days for the gravity of the situation to sink in for some people.

"It's surprising to see how well people are doing at the moment," she said.  "But it's not over when the fire brigades leave - for us that's when the job starts."

"Some people need ongoing accommodation, some need financial assistance or counselling later on. It just depends on the individual."


AN army marches on its stomach - and the emergency services are heading to firefronts with food lovingly cooked by grateful Blue Mountains residents.

Locals are making a beeline for nearby Rural Fire Stations, bringing trays bulging with homemade sandwiches, muffins and cakes.

The bigger sheds, swamped with gourmet love, have shared food with interstate and local colleagues. Facebook requests for useful extra batteries, zip-lock bags for making ration packs, juice and water boxes and non-perishable snacks are being answered by residents anxious to do their bit to help.

"We are making 40 meals tonight, might be the same tomorrow or maybe more,'' said Trish Doyle, who has helped co-ordinate the impromptu firefighter dinners.

At Shipley, volunteer Chris Clutterham was serving hot meals and cold drinks to the fireys, just like she has done for 17 years. Her colleague Lorraine Norley is a 35-year veteran.

"We do sandwiches, sausages and drinks. The boys and girls have got to have decent food before they go out,'' she said.


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