Monday, March 24, 2014

Future of Manus Island asylum seekers unclear as Peter O'Neill says most are not 'genuine refugees'

Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister has pre-empted decisions on the refugee status of asylum seekers being held on Manus Island, declaring “a good majority” of those who have been interviewed are not “genuine refugees”.

Peter O'Neill has also made plain that PNG will only re-settle “some” of those whose refugee claims are recognised, insisting other countries in the region should “carry the same burden as we do”.

But Prime Minister Tony Abbott, in a joint media conference with Mr O'Neill yesterday, could not nominate a single country that has indicated it will take refugees from Manus, where around 1300 asylum seekers are being held and not one refugee status determination has been completed since the first transfer of asylum seekers in November 2012.

Mr Abbott accepted that “it might be hard” for PNG to take all whose claims were recognised and said Australia was “continuing to work with other countries in our region to ensure that people don't come to Australia if they arrive illegally by boat”.

As the two leaders met and vowed to “stay the course”, journalists were given access for the first time to the controversial centre, where many of the asylum seekers pleaded for their freedom. During the journalists' visit, asylum seekers made new claims about the murder of detainee Reza Barati, saying he was thrown from a balcony before being beaten to death.

The journalists entered the centre with the approval of PNG judge David Cannings, who is investigating human rights after the incidents last month in which scores of asylum seekers were also injured, allegedly by PNG nationals employed by the security contractor at the centre.

Mr O'Neill made a fleeting reference to the violence, saying he regretted “instances of late”, but gave no indication of when the police investigation into the incident would be complete.

While legislation allowing for resettlement in PNG will not be ready until May and remains highly contentious, a defiant Mr Abbott said Australia could best assist PNG “in ensuring people found not to be refugees are swiftly repatriated”.

“This is the bottom line: if you arrive illegally by boat in Australia you will never permanently settle in Australia because, as long as there is this prospect of permanent resettlement, there is the risk that illegal boats will keep coming,” Mr Abbott declared.

Mr O'Neill recommitted to the centre despite international agencies including the United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, and Amnesty International raising concerns about conditions in the centre, the state of processing and requirements that might be attached to resettlement.

Before a PNG official declared that the leaders would take no more questions on Manus, Mr O'Neill said that some communities in the country had offered to participate in a resettlement program.

“It is pretty hard to speculate when we don't precisely know the actual number of people that we are talking about. We expect it to be less because people are expected to go home.” he said.

“Many of them now that have been processed, a good majority of them, are economic refugees. They are not genuine refugees. So, as such they will be sent back to the country of origin.”

It was not clear on what Mr O'Neill based his claim that a majority of those processed were not “genuine refugees”, given that the legislative framework for determining refugee status and resettlement has not been finalised.

In a statement that will concern the UNHCR, Mr O'Neill said the absence of legislation was not an impediment to decisions. “Interview and processing of refugee people at Manus is now taking place as we speak,” he said. “Those proven to be not genuine refugees will be moved on as quickly as possible and those who want resettlement will be resettled under our legislative structure.”

Both leaders were talking after they met at PNG's Parliament House on Friday and signed an economic co-operation treaty.


Leftist hypocrisy knows no bounds

FEDERAL Labor is asking way, way too much of the public with its high-minded moralistic posturing over Liberal Senator Arthur Sinodinos.

Sinodinos, who stood aside as assistant treasurer on Wednesday to give the government clear air in the lead-up to the May Budget, has been called as a witness in the current NSW ICAC hearings into whether former NSW Labor heavyweights Eddie Obeid, Joe Tripodi and Tony Kelly misused their positions to favour Australian Water Holdings.

No allegations of any criminal activity have been made against the NSW Senator, a former chief of staff to former prime minister John Howard, with an enviable reputation for honesty and integrity.

Yet former AWU boss and Labor leader Bill Shorten, who is likely to be called before the royal commission headed by former High Court justice Dyson Heydon into alleged trade union corruption, has occupied almost all Question Time with his attempts to besmirch Sinodinos and by association, Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

As Education Minister firmly told Parliament on Thursday, the Abbott government “will not be judged by the party of Craig Thomson, and the party of Michael Williamson, and the party of the AWU slush fund, and the party of Eddie Obeid and Ian Macdonald”.

Thomson, the former Health Services Union official and former Labor MP, has been found guilty in the Melbourne Magistrates Court of misusing union members funds to pay for prostitutes and personal expenses. He will be sentenced next Tuesday.

Williamson, a former national president of the ALP and a former head of the Health Services Union, pleaded guilty last October 15 to four charges of cheating or defrauding as a director, fabricating invoices and recruiting someone to hinder a police investigation.

His bail has been revoked and he in prison awaiting final sentencing this Friday.

The AWU slush fund affair is likely to see former Labor prime minister Julia Gillard called before the Heydon royal commission where she is likely to be asked to explain her role in assisting her then boyfriend Bruce Wilson establish a fund that was kept secret from both Wilson’s union, and Gillard’s employers, the Labor law firm Slater & Gordon.

Both Obeid and Macdonald were found to be corrupt by the NSW ICAC in connection with the issuance of mining licenses.

Little wonder that Pyne pulled Shorten up firmly.

Labor has clung to tainted MPs, even defended them, when the stench of corruption was evident to all (except, perhaps, Labor’s media arm, the ABC).

As Shorten and some unwise souls on the Opposition benches feigned outrage, Pyne walked through them through Labor’s sad record, reminding the smarting Opposition MPs that their party lacked all credibility and left itself shamefully exposed on the topics of ministerial accountability and parliamentary standards.

He said Labor presided over a “sewer” in the past three years with “an endless list of atrocities committed against this parliament”.

He reminded the House that Labor had not only suborned former Liberal MP Peter Slipper by offering him the Speakership (replacing the universally respected Labor MP Harry Jenkins) but had kept Thomson in their party room until April 29, 2012, even though there a cloud had been hanging over the former NSW Central Coast MP as early as January, 2009, well before the 2010 election, when the Fair Work Commission commenced its inquiry into the HSU’s Victorian No. 1 Branch.

So concerned was Labor about the allegations engulfing Thomson that former prime minister Gillard’s chief of staff Ben Hubbard rang the then Industrial Registrar Doug Williams in early 2009 to inquire into whether Thomson was under investigation – before the fraud allegations were made public.

Then, despite the New South Wales police launching Strike Force Carnarvon, in September, 2011, despite the Victorian police fraud squad’s confirmation of its investigation into Thomson in October, 2011, despite Fair Work Australia’s publication of its investigation into the HSU in April 2012, and its release of its investigation into the Victorian HSU No. 1 Branch, Labor continued to protect Thomson and his caucus vote.

No allegations, I repeat, have been made against Sinodinos. He has been called before ICAC as a witness.

Labor has had its share of MPs and ministers called as witnesses before ICAC, not least being former climate change minister Greg Combet who was questioned about a letter he wrote supporting a controversial mining licence sought by union official John Maitland.

The noisy Senator Doug Cameron was called to give evidence about the Obeids.

In neither case did the Liberals demand either be stripped or their responsibilities or disciplined.

The contrast between the behaviour of the two principal parties in Australian politics could not be greater.

Labor is the party of smear, innuendo and hypocrisy.

There is probably no greater example of Labor’s gutter tactics than the ugliness revealed by Gillard herself during the confected frenzy of her extremely personal tirade against Tony Abbott during which she falsely claimed he was a misogynist as she attempted to distract the public from her personal appointment of Slipper, a man who had made the most appalling references to women’s sexual organs, to the highest parliamentary office.

“I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man,” she shrieked. “Not now, not ever.”

Pathetic and baseless charges eagerly seized upon by the mindless twitterati who chose to ignore Gillard’s moral deceit and betrayal of principle in regard to Slipper’s promotion.

“Not now, not ever,” Gillard screeched theatrically.

Well, “not now, not ever”, should anyone from Labor try and lecture anyone about morality, about ethics or parliamentary standards.

Labor over the past six years has demonstrated it lacks all understanding of the terms.


Busting the myths of the paid parental leave scheme

As the May budget draws nearer, women’s groups, business and political watchers alike are anticipating the incorporation of the Abbott government’s flagship paid parental leave scheme, funded partially by a 1.5% levy on big business.

The government’s vocal commitment to this $5.5 billion scheme sits uncomfortably alongside rhetoric about the end of the age of entitlement and the need for tough choices to be made to improve the nation’s finances.

The scheme has been justified by the government as an ‘investment’ amid suggestions it will improve productivity. Rather than paying the minimum wage, workers covered under the scheme will be paid at their replacement wages, on the basis that doing so will improve participation, boost women’s super at retirement and increase fertility. These claims are either wrong or greatly exaggerated.

It’s highly unlikely there will be an increase in fertility. As the government is fond of pointing out, the proposed scheme bears a greater resemblance to those in place in other OECD countries compared with the existing scheme. Unfortunately, the enthusiasm for making this point masks the fact that these generous schemes in countries like Sweden and Norway have produced fertility rates virtually indistinguishable from our own. Strike one.

The other significant difference is that the proposed scheme includes superannuation at the going rate (currently 9.25%), which will boost a woman’s super accumulation by somewhere in the vicinity of $50,000 for an average full-time income-earner. These increases are real. But the dent in women’s savings at retirement compared to men’s is not caused by six months of parental leave; it’s the years spent in low-paid part time or flexible work due to personal choices or inadequate childcare availability. Strike two.

Productivity and participation are the bigger issues. They are not the same thing – if more low-productivity workers shift their behaviour and re-enter the workforce than higher-productivity earners, participation goes up but productivity doesn’t. The high-productivity earners the government wants to entice back into the workforce are most likely to go back anyway, thanks to high pay and generous employer-provided enticements like flexible work and on-site childcare. Strike three.

Paid parental leave is not a concept without any value: improving women’s participation is one way to broaden the tax base over the medium-term to tackle coming fiscal problems, and it has other benefits too. But all the evidence suggests that this scheme is not the way to go about it. Nor do the alleged benefits to fertility and income upon retirement hold enough water to justify the scheme. The government should go back to the drawing board on this one.


Youth unemployment:  A proud achievement of the Labor government

At 6.3%, Australia’s unemployment rate is at its highest level in ten years. While our unemployment figures compare well to the rest of the OECD, Australia was unlike its European counterparts in that it was not hit hard by the global financial crisis. It means that rather than returning to the strong growth and record low unemployment experienced in 2008, our economy has flat-lined.

These points were highlighted in Greg Jericho’s recent ABC article bemoaning a significant fall in youth employment since 2008. Jericho points to a near 10% fall in the employment-to-population ratio among 15 – 24 year-olds since 2008 to illustrate the souring employment prospects of our youth. By contrast, the employment-to-participation ratio among 24 – 54 year-olds dropped only 1% in the same period.

What Jericho fails to point out is that changes to the welfare system enacted by the Rudd government have decreased incentives for young workers to find emplloyment. At the same time, changes to labour market settings have reduced the demand for young, low-skilled labour.

Last year, former CIS Research Fellow Andrew Baker pointed to the rise of non-job seekers on unemployment benefits, highlighting that nearly half of those on unemployment benefits did not necessarily need to be looking for work to receive benefits.

Following the GFC, the government altered the eligibility requirements for those on unemployment benefits such that recipients could stay on benefits without being required to look for work, so long as they enrolled in some sort of education and training. Newstart recipients can enter into work experience after 12 months and hold onto their benefits, while early school leavers who later complete year 12 (or equivalent) can continue receiving income support.

These changes made it easier for the unemployed to continue drawing welfare benefits without actively seeking a job. At the same time, the Fair Work Act increased the cost for businesses in hiring young workers.

The award modernisation process simplified and amalgamated 3,715 state and federal awards to 122 modern awards. That made for a simpler award system, but in the process, the minimum wages and penalty rates were factored up towards the highest common denominator rather than the lowest.

This has meant that along with the yearly minimum wage hikes, there have been additional hikes to award wages as the new modern awards are phased in.

If you increase the cost of low-skilled work, you reduce the demand for that work. Young people are now more expensive to employ and at the same time are finding it easier to remain eligible for welfare benefits without looking for work. Does it come as a surprise that young workers are opting out of the labour market?


No comments: