Wednesday, April 23, 2014


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is cynical about Bill Shorten's Labor Party reform proposals

Baird must revisit mandatory sentencing laws

There is much truth in this.  Some appalling outcomes of such laws have been observed in the USA

Following last week’s resignation of Barry O’Farrell and the appointment of Mike Baird as premier, it is now time to get back to the key criminal justice issue in NSW: the prevention of alcohol-fuelled violence.

In late January, under O’Farrell’s leadership, the NSW government introduced reforms targeted at improving the law’s response to alcohol and drug-fuelled violence. They were intended to address significant community disquiet after last year's guilty plea and sentencing of Kieran Loveridge for the manslaughter of 18-year-old Thomas Kelly. O’Farrell’s ''alcohol and drug-fuelled violence initiative'' was targeted at improving perceived inadequacies in the law’s response to Kelly’s death, and the one-punch homicide of Daniel Christie last New Year’s Eve.

The reforms included the creation of a new homicide offence designed specifically to cater to this context of lethal violence and the introduction of mandatory minimum sentences for serious assaults involving drugs and alcohol. Also included were initiatives targeted at removing the opportunity for alcohol-fuelled violence in late night Sydney, such as 1:30am lockouts, 3am last drinks and precinct bans.

Of greatest concern was O’Farrell’s proposal to introduce mandatory minimum sentences for a range of serious offences, including assault occasioning actual bodily harm (two-year minimum proposed), reckless wounding (three-year minimum proposed), reckless grievous bodily harm (four-year minimum proposed) and sexual assault (five-year minimum proposed). Thankfully, while O’Farrell’s "one-punch" homicide offence and lockouts gained quick support at a parliamentary level, the proposal to introduce mandatory minimum sentences for a range of serious offences did not gain favour. And rightly so.

The dangers of mandatory minimum sentencing schemes are well established in research worldwide.

They are typically introduced with the promise of deterring future offenders and consequently reducing crime.  Indeed, all they do is act to discourage defendants from pleading guilty to an offence holding a mandatory minimum sentence. Such an outcome in NSW would increase pressure on an already stretched criminal court system.

While the notion of a definite term of imprisonment for serious offences may appear attractive to a public outraged at the law’s response to Kelly’s death, it undermines the principle of proportionality in sentencing and creates barriers to achieving individualised justice.

The experienced members of the NSW judiciary who confront these cases are ideally placed to weigh up the individual facts of the case and apply a sentence that best fits. This is not the job of politicians or the public.

From a financial point of view this is an approach to sentencing that NSW cannot afford. At a time when prisoner numbers are at record levels and prisons overcrowded, any legislation that has the effect of unduly increasing the minimum sentences imposed should be avoided.

While it is undoubtedly important for the government to be seen to be addressing alcohol-fuelled violence, and particularly one-punch homicides, mandatory sentences are not an effective way to do this.

Sentencing guidelines – an approach favoured by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Lloyd Babb, following the Loveridge/Kelly case could be more effective. This would provide a clear directive to the courts on how alcohol and drug-fuelled violence should be considered at sentencing, while still maintaining judicial discretion and individualised justice. 

It was refreshing to hear Baird’s first speech where he pledged to commit to consultation. If Baird is to stay true to his word he will consult the community, legal practitioners and academics on the value of mandatory minimum sentencing schemes for alcohol-fuelled violence-related offences. It is hoped that in doing so, the community will heed the lessons of failed sentencing reform from elsewhere. We need to send a clear message to the government that we seek educative and preventative reforms that address the root of the problem, rather than sentencing reform.

The final section of O’Farrell’s initiative, proposed an advertising campaign to ‘‘address the issues of community perceptions and drinking culture’’. Alongside any other reforms, this is an essential component of the government’s response to alcohol-fuelled violence that cannot be overlooked. This approach seeks to address the culture of masculine violence engulfing our streets late at night. Education programs and awareness campaigns are key to challenging the acceptability of violence, drug and alcohol abuse among young males. The Sydney Morning Herald’s "Safer Sydney" campaign and boxer Danny Green’s advertisement about the dangers of single punch assaults, are good examples of initiatives already at work.

Now is the time to step away from punitive and ineffective policies in favour of a rational response to addressing drug and alcohol-fuelled violence in NSW.


Royal commission must shine light on Sydney's shady political past

Sydney’s Olympic Stadium was completed ahead of schedule in 1999, long before the 2000 Olympics. There were no delays, no disruptions and no blowouts in the $690 million budget. The question is, was the charmed life of this project built on a $500,000 bribe paid to the Labor Party?

Only two people would know for sure. One is Sam Fiszman, who was legendary in NSW Labor circles as the party’s chief fund-raiser. He allegedly solicited and received the bribe. But he is dead, so we don't get his side of the story.

The other is the man who says he paid the bribe: Ian Widdup, then a senior executive at Multiplex. He is alive, though struggling, and pleading guilty to corruption. Widdup gave his version of events to the Independent Commission Against Corruption on Wednesday, during a private interview with ICAC investigating officers. He has also spoken to me at length about this and other matters.

"That stadium was built ahead of schedule because every bribe had been paid," he told me last week. He said Fiszman had asked him for $500,000, an enormous increase on the type of amounts he had previously provided.

"He told me if Multiplex paid $500,000 we would get the Olympic Stadium. I trusted him. He had enormous power in the party."

They had a bagmen’s bond. For years Widdup has been paying bribes to the Construction Forestry Mining and Engineering Union, and giving donations to the Labor Party, above and below the table. Fiszman raised tens of millions of dollars for Labor.

They had never crossed each other, and Fiszman told him how the money would be laundered: "I was to buy 2500 raffle tickets at $100 each, at a big function for some stooge Labor foundation. That’s $250,000. I paid it with my [American Express] black card. It set off the Amex security and I received a call. They wanted to confirm that I had just spent $250,000. I said it was fine and they hung up. That call came from America."

Much of the remaining $250,000 was laundered by what Widdup described as Fiszman’s favourite ploy, ordering carpets. He had made a fortune as a carpet dealer but many of the carpets he sold did not exist. The money was in reality a donation to Labor. Widdup bought a lot of phantom carpets.

Widdup, who has leukemia, is also keen to be interviewed by the Royal Commission on Trade Union Governance and Corruption, headed by former High Court judge Dyson Heydon. It began its hearings last week.

He has already given hours of detailed evidence in court about bribes he paid to the CFMEU, during the case of Ballard v Multiplex and CFMEU. The judge, Robert McDougall, said he found Widdup’s evidence to lack credibility.

But McDougall never heard Widdup’s evidence. He never saw him in court. Never asked him a question. He came to the case late, after witnesses had completed giving evidence, because the presiding judge, Rex Smart, had suffered a mild stroke and was removed from the case.

"I wasn’t lying in court," Widdup told me. "I was engaged in corrupt behaviour."  There is much more to his story that could be followed up by investigators.

Back in June 2001, the Herald nibbled at the edges of the big picture with a front-page report that began: "Australian political parties are taking donations from people with highly dubious backgrounds ... A Herald investigation of donations since 1994 reveals that the parties are still engaging in suspect fund-raising practices and exploiting serious deficiencies in the electoral laws ...

"NSW Labor failed to declare its share of $75,000 raised from the Star City casino through an auction at a fund-raising dinner ... At least a dozen major companies have each donated more than $1 million to political parties since 1994, half of them from the property development and construction industries."

The Herald published the confidential guest list of a Labor fund-raiser at which $450,000 was raised. It included "VIP tables" purchased by Multiplex Construction and Leightons.

In 2000, Fiszman was honoured at a gala dinner attended by numerous Labor luminaries. He  told an arresting story. In 1948, when he was 21 and on his way to Australia aboard the SS Derna, filled with refugees, he was seething with hatred for the Germans and Fascism. He got into a fight with an Estonian over anti-Semitism. They fought on the deck and he shoved the Estonian over the railing. The man was not seen again.

When the ship docked at Fremantle, immigration officials refused to allow Fiszman to disembark. They cited the man overboard incident and a petition by passengers saying he had been spreading communist propaganda. A NSW Labor politician, Syd Einfeld, intervened. He contacted the Chifley Labor government in Canberra and Fiszman was allowed entry. A lifelong bond with the Labor Party was forged.

In Fiszman’s obituary published in the Herald in 2002, a friend wrote: "In Australia Fiszman turned his hand to business, building his small carpet company, Univers Carpets, into a multimillion-dollar endeavour ... He repaid Einfield's support by serving ... on the Australian Tourism Commission from 1987-97, was chairman of Tourism NSW and chair of the NSW Major Events Board at the time of his death. He also worked on the Darling Harbour Board in the critical Olympic period of 1995-2001."

This is how politics works in Sydney. Not just money is laundered but also reputations.

It would be useful if Widdup was given the chance to have his credibility tested by the Heydon royal commission, with its immense latent potential to finally map the dark side of Australian politics.


Crown-of-thorns starfish: New method kills more than 250,000 marine pests on Great Barrier Reef

More than 250,000 crown-of-thorns starfish have been removed from the Great Barrier Reef off Queensland in the past two years, Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt says.

The pest is considered to be one of the biggest threats to the reef and has traditionally been hard to destroy.

In recent decades, the crown-of-thorns starfish has been responsible for 42 per cent of coral loss on the Great Barrier Reef.

Researchers are now using a single injection that causes the starfish to break up between 24 to 48 hours, replacing the previous method requiring up to 20 injections.

The single injection method is harmless to other marine plants and animals.

Mr Hunt says the method has lead to a four-fold increase in the eradication rate.

"We have provided $1 million now - we have $2 million in the budget going forward and we believe that this is likely to be an ongoing program," he said.

"It's necessary for the reef and it's the single best hope we've had in dealing with the crown-of-thorns since people have been working in this space."

Mr Hunt says the new method has made a big difference.  "This is a nasty critter - it does damage to the reef, it does damage to aquatic life," he said.  "We can make a difference - we have saved literally billions of eggs from being released onto the reef."

Crown-of-thorns cull part of long-term reef plan

The Government's crown-of-thorns eradication plan is a key element of its Reef 2050 Plan.

Divers from the Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators can cull over 1,000 crown-of-thorns starfish on a 40-minute dive.

Project manager Steve Moon says this includes 27,000 in just eight days at Arlington reef and 9,000 at Batt reef, as well as 14,000 at Spitfire reef near Cooktown, north of Cairns.

"What we have noticed is a significant increase in coral cover, which is absolutely spectacular," he said.

"That was the aim of the whole program - to try and give the coral a chance to grow and we've seen that, despite some of the extreme weather events that we've had."

Other measures under the Government's Reef 2050 Plan will see improvements to the quality of water entering the reef, which will limit the ability of larval-stage starfish to thrive on water-borne algae that results from nutrient-rich waters.

The Government has also funded a second control vessel, Venus 2, as part of the program.

But Mr Moon says more resources may be needed.  "I don’t think we’ve seen the peak of this current outbreak yet," he said. "I think we’re going to be looking further down the track somewhere around this time next year, given that we’ve already had a spawning season in recent months.

"What we’re going to see - is two boats going to be enough? Possibly, but probably not."

Jairo Rivera from James Cook University helped to develop the single injection and says it is working with scientists from the Sunshine Coast University on a contraceptive to further control the spread of crown-of-thorns starfish.

"We found a protein on the surface of the sperm and that can be [bound] to a molecule that turns the eggs sterile," he said.

"If we can do that, that will be awesome because one single starfish can produce up to 60 million eggs per year."

Mr Rivera says the new method could be ready to trial in two years but $300,000 is needed to support the research.


Political foes unite to pay tribute to Neville Wran

Nifty Nev did indeed do a lot of good.  He introduced the ALP to conservatism and his most notable follower, Bob Hawke, is rightly regarded as Australia's Margaret Thatcher.  Quite remarkable

Both sides of politics are paying tribute to former New South Wales premier Neville Wran, as a state funeral is prepared for the Labor icon.

Mr Wran, who led NSW from May 1976 to July 1986, died yesterday at the age of 87 after suffering from dementia.

This morning current NSW Liberal Premier Mike Baird said Mr Wran's family had accepted the offer of a state funeral for a man he described as having "made a permanent and positive mark" on the state.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott described Mr Wran as "one of the most significant figures of his generation"


No comments: