Friday, January 31, 2014

Abbott intensifies pressure on Labor to allow return of ABCC

THE Coalition has seized on fresh claims of corruption in the multi-billion dollar construction industry, saying Labor must now endorse the restoration of the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

Tony Abbott said the revelations demonstrated the pressing need for the reinstatement of the ABCC with "full power, full authority, (and) full funding".

"If the Labor Party is serious about tackling corruption, again, they will stop standing in the way of the re-establishment of a strong cop on the beat in that particular industry," the Prime Minister said.

As the government prepares to establish a promised judicial inquiry into union slush funds, new reports claim union officials are being bribed by corrupt companies to help them secure lucrative contracts.

Mr Abbott declined to say today whether the scope of the inquiry would be expanded in light of the latest revelations, or whether it would take the form of a full royal commission with coercive powers.

"The government will make appropriate announcements in due course," he said.

Mr Abbott said it was a "tragedy" that Labor had axed the ABCC, set up by the Howard government following the Cole royal commission into the construction industry.

"When the ABCC was operating ... we got a much stronger observance of the ordinary law of the land in the commercial construction industry," he said.

"Once you've got a strong cop on the beat, the whole culture of an industry improves."

Labor and the Greens are opposed to the restoration of the ABCC, which the previous Labor government replaced with the Fair Work Inspectorate.

Employment Minister Eric Abetz linked Labor's reluctance to restore the ABCC to its acceptance of $6 million from the CFMEU in recent years.

"That is why Bill Shorten and Labor are so heavily prejudiced against the re-establishment of the ABCC," he said.

Opposition workplace spokesman Brendan O'Connor said Labor had no tolerance for corruption, but the allegations should be tackled by police, not a rejuvenated ABCC.

"If people are committing crimes, if there are serious allegations of crimes, where better than to refer such matters to the police could there possibly be?" he told ABC radio.

He said the ABCC added an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy and failed to improve productivity in the construction industry.

The construction union also urged police to investigate the allegations.

"These are serious allegations and our reaction is very clear the union has no tolerance for corruption among any of its employees, officials or representatives," CFMEU national secretary Dave Noonan said.

He defended the union's dealings with companies linked to organised crime figures, saying it negotiated enterprise agreements with employers in the industry on behalf of members.

"There are a number of employers, and I stress employers, in the construction industry, who do appear to have links with criminal organisations," Mr Noonan said.

"That is not news to us. The union's responsibility is to represent our members in negotiations, not to select who employs them or indeed, who starts companies in the industry.

"The alternative would be ... that the union will play no role in ensuring minimum wages, standards and conditions for workers who are employed by that company."

Mr Noonan said he had investigated the union's links with a company linked to Sydney underworld figure George Alex, whose labour hire firm has a contract to supply workers on the Barangaroo building site.

He confirmed the union had an enterprise agreement with the company, but said it had played no role in helping secure its contract.

Lend Lease, the principal contractor at Barangaroo South, said it did not tolerate corruption and did not have direct dealings with companies employed by its subcontractors.

Mr Noonan said the union has sacked officials in the past for corrupt conduct, and would do so again if necessary.


Ex-cop targets building criminals

Qld. is not waiting for the Feds

QBCC's new commissioner Stephen Griffin is a former detective who worked in drug enforcement, organised crime and internal affairs in the New South Wales police force. Picture: Liam Kidston Source: News Limited

THE head of Queensland's new building and construction watchdog has vowed to crack down on corruption and organised crime within the industry.

Stephen Griffin starts his job as the Queensland Building and Construction Commissioner on Monday.

The former detective - who worked in drug enforcement, organised crime and internal affairs during his time in the New South Wales police force - said restoring confidence in the industry and eradicating corruption are among his top concerns.

His comments come as the Federal Government considers holding a royal commission into revelations unions in southern states were involved in corruption and organised crime.

Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie has called for any inquiry to look into possible corruption in Queensland.

No firm links have been revealed here but Mr Griffin said that did not mean it was not happening.

"It would be wrong for us to suggest that it doesn't exist," Mr Griffin said.

"Our role at the QBCC will be to work very closely with the Crime and Misconduct Commission, the police and, if the Commonwealth Government comes up with a Royal Commission, work very closely with them.

"(We will) obtain the information we need to make sure that if there are people in the industry that are forming links or associations with organised crime, we remove them from the industry."

"We will be doing everything we can. If they are not fit and proper people, they will be removed from the industry."

Housing Minister Tim Mander said the Government was determined to ensure Queensland's building and construction industry was clean.

"If that type of activity is happening in the southern states it would be naive to think there wasn't some sort of element happening here," Mr Mander said.

The commission has the power to order investigations into building and construction licensees and resolve disputes between consumers and the industry.

The QBCC has replaced the controversial Queensland Building Services Authority which was disbanded in December after a parliamentary inquiry ordered it be scrapped and replaced.

Mr Griffin said his goal would be to ensure the new body represented the rights of customers and contractors equally and he intended to put his investigative skills to good use in the new role.

"The vast majority of the building and construction sector are very good, hardworking, law-abiding people and it's only the very small minority that you need to pay attention to so I will be making sure our resources are focused on those people," he said.


Queensland chief magistrate Tim Carmody warns judiciary against using position to criticise new laws

QUEENSLAND'S Chief Magistrate has told his colleagues Parliament runs the state and they should not abuse their positions by voicing personal political beliefs.

As the acrimonious relationship between the Newman Government and prominent members of the judiciary continues, Judge Tim Carmody called for each branch of government - the legislature, executive and judiciary - to "keep their hands to themselves", saying judges and magistrates "must not meddle" with laws enacted by the Parliament.

"The separation of powers doctrine is a two-way street," Judge Carmody said in a speech to a packed courtroom which included Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie and Chief Justice Paul de Jersey.

"In return for the unfettered independence to make decisions - regardless of whether others think they are right or wrong - judges must not meddle in the administration of enacted laws by the executive and departments of state.

"They do not have the liberty of allowing curial decisions to be infected by bias or extraneous considerations such as personal opinions or ideological political or religious belief.
2000-plus rally for bikies' rights 0:45

"It is clearly wrong, therefore, for judges to deliberately frustrate or defeat the policy goals of what they might personally regard as unfair but nonetheless regular laws under cover of office as a form of redress or amelioration."

Judge Carmody also took a swipe at members of the judiciary who sought to circumvent or criticise the Government's new bikie laws and tough bail conditions saying they were leaving the courts vulnerable to criticism.

Several bikies or associates have been granted bail following their arrest under the government's anti-association laws, including members of the so called Yandina 5.

"The paramount rule of democratic government is that Parliament is supreme," Judge Carmody said.

"The laws it makes are to be taken to be valid and in the overall best interest of the State unless and until held otherwise.

"The courts will be vulnerable to criticism, for example, if their members use the weight of their office to engage in the public debate or make comments about the comparative morality or fairness of regular laws regardless of which political party sponsored them, or routinely adopted approaches to bail or sentencing practices clearly at odds with legislative or administrative policy intents or legitimate criminal justice objects such as deterrence or community protection via hard line incapacitation strategies.


Tropical cyclone frequency falls to centuries-low in Australia

The number of tropical cyclones hitting Queensland and Western Australia has fallen to low levels not seen for more than 500 years, new research published in Nature shows.

But while that's seemingly great news for people in cyclone-prone areas, our new research into Australia's past cyclone records also highlights a serious risk.

Low-lying coastal areas such as Cairns, Townsville and Mackay in north Queensland have all been developed on the unproven assumption that the cyclone activity of the past 40 years will continue unchanged into the future.

The concern is that our new results closely matched several recent studies that have projected fewer - but increasingly intense - tropical cyclones for Australian region due to global climate change.

And if those projections prove to be right, we are taking a big gamble with existing homes, roads and offices, as well as threatening proposed developments such as the A$4.2 billion resort casino planned for low-lying coastal land near Cairns.

There is no such thing as a risk-free development, especially when building in cyclone-prone regions. However, being properly informed and cautious about developments in such regions is in all Australians' interests - because if we get it wrong, we all stand to pay through higher insurance premiums and largely taxpayer-funded disaster clean-ups.

Our study shows that current seasonal cyclone activity is at its lowest level in Western Australia since 500 AD and since about 1400 AD in Queensland. That decline began about 40 years ago.

While Australia's official cyclone records only date back to 1906, we can track cyclones further back in time using measurements of isotopes housed within limestone cave stalagmites. Those stalagmites grow upwards from the cave floor as rainwater containing dissolved limestone drips from the cave ceiling.

The isotope chemistry of tropical cyclone rainwater differs from that of monsoonal and thunderstorm rainwater. As a consequence, it is possible to analyse the chemistry of each of the stalagmite layers, which are approximately 1/10th of a millimetre thick, and generate a record of cyclones over the past 1500 to 2000 years.

My colleague Jordahna Haig then matched the isotope records with the Bureau of Meteorology's cyclone record over the past 40 years and generated a Cyclone Activity Index, which plots the seasonal activity of cyclones over the past 1500 years.

In the short term, the recent decline in tropical cyclone activity is good news for all those who live in and visit tropical north Queensland and Western Australia. However, there are some possible dark clouds on the horizon that we would be reckless to ignore.


Facebook shuts Australian  Aboriginal memes page

FACEBOOK has shut down a racist Facebook page which vilified Indigenous Australians with revolting jokes and illustrations, despite earlier telling a complainant the page was acceptable under its 'community standards' policy.

The Aboriginal Memes 2014 page was today shut down after a query from News Corp about why it failed to be classified as 'hate speech' under the social networking site's community standards policy.

It featured so-called jokes referencing the Stolen Generation and poverty among other issues too inflammatory to reference.

Facebook supplied a statement yesterday that said: "We remove content that is reported to us that violates our policies. Our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities that everyone agrees to when they create an account and which are linked to throughout the site explains what is and is not permitted on the site and explicitly prohibits hate speech."

But earlier the site had responded to a complainant with a statement that said: "We reviewed the page you reported for containing hate speech or symbols and found it doesn't violate our Community Standards."


It's a bit difficult to find out what we are not allowed to see but the two images below appear to be part of it.  One alludes to Aboriginal drunkenness, welfare dependency and foul language usage while the other refers to Aboriginal begging, which can be very intrusive.  "Centrelink" is Australia's major welfare agency and the female wants to get money from them for grog.

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