Thursday, May 01, 2014

Cambodia agrees "in principle" to resettle asylum seekers bound for Australia

Cambodia has agreed "in principle" to resettle asylum seekers bound for Australia, after weeks of speculation as to whether the controversial deal would go ahead.

On Tuesday night, Cambodia's Secretary of State at the Foreign Affairs Ministry said the decision for the south east Asian country to resettle asylum seekers had been made.

"In principle, the government has agreed ... and we will do the work according to international standards," said Ouch Borith, Secretary of State at the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

Mr Borith met with a representative of the United Nations on Tuesday in Phnom Penh.

Human rights groups have condemned the Abbott government for seeking an agreement to send asylum seekers to Cambodia, one of South-East Asia's poorest countries, which has one of the worst human rights records in Asia.

The country is dependent on hundreds of millions of dollars a foreign aid, with Australia sending $US244 million to Phnom Penh over the past three years.

The United Nations refugee agency has warned resettlement countries are obliged to deliver education and labour rights and “not just safety.”

“Cambodia is a country that has its own set of difficulties, including economically,” Volker Turk, the UNHCR’s director of international protection,” said on Tuesday.

“I don’t want to speculate. The government has not contacted us on this . . . it’s not just about safety, it’s about fundamental human rights.” he said.

Mr Morrison has not publicly revealed details of the agreement.  But he said in a television interview on April 10 it would involve asylum seekers currently detained on the tiny South Pacific nation of Nauru.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, said Cambodia’s capacity to take care of asylum seekers or refugees is low and Australia is shirking its international obligations.

“Uighurs from China or human rights activists from Vietnam can explain about Cambodia’s shoddy record towards refugees,” he said.

“This proposal is absolutely shameful and deserves public condemnation across the region, from Phnom Penh to Canberra, and by the UNHCR.”

The UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Flavia Pansieri, who is visiting Cambodia said the United Nations would provide support.

"What we think is important is to note that Cambodia is well aware of its international commitment to human rights standards," Ms Pansieri said.

"To the extent there is any need for cooperation, we stand ready to provide support to ensure that standards are met."

The announcement comes as the 1177 asylum seekers in Nauru were told they would be given a temporary five-year visa on the island and would be given work rights for the same amount of time, but would not be permanently resettled there.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison told Fairfax Media last week he was trying to expand the "club" of nations willing to take refugees, regardless of their economic capacity, suggesting that Cambodia was a step closer to becoming a resettlement country that would accept refugees once the temporary resettlement has expired on Nauru.

"Without mentioning names, when you have a country that’s willing to be engaged in [resettlement], an experienced country that is willing to sponsor it and a third country that is a signatory country like Nauru that is also party to all of this ... That would seem to be a positive thing and something that should be encouraged."

Last Friday, the Interior Minister of Cambodia, Sar Kheng told The Phnom Pehn Post that nothing had been decided, and negotiations were still on the table.

“As of now we have not decided yet,” Kheng told reporters in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. “It is being [considered], but no decision has been made at all.”

Cambodia, which in the 1970s and 1980s saw a huge exodus of refugees fleeing war and starvation, has long been criticised by international advocate groups for its questionable human rights record.


Nervous Liberal MPs beg Prime Minister Tony Abbott to rethink paid parental leave scheme

Prime Minister Tony Abbott is being urged by Coalition MPs to follow his own advice by scaling down his signature $5.5 billion paid parental leave scheme in the interests of sharing the burden in the budget.

The call came as the government refused to hose down speculation of a special deficit levy and actively ramped up talk of big changes to reduce the welfare bill through cuts to the growth rates of a slew of pensions and the introduction of a harsher means test for family payments.

It has also signalled the widespread introduction of co-payments, especially in health, with Mr Abbott arguing that price signals are needed in the health system to remind Australians that "free services to patients are certainly not free to taxpayers".

In an interview with Fairfax Media on Tuesday, NSW Nationals senator John Williams questioned whether such messages about belt tightening could sit alongside a generous paid parental leave scheme.

"I've made no secret about whether we can afford the paid parental leave scheme proposed by the Prime Minister. I have serious concerns about it," he said.

"The economy, I believe, is not strong enough, unemployment is too high and it is a scheme that I believe we cannot afford at this stage."

Liberal MPs contacted on Monday said the government was setting up "an unwinnable argument with voters" if it proceeded with a temporary deficit levy to help balance the budget, while also sticking to a paid parental leave scheme that would give mothers full pay for six months, capped at earnings of $150,000 per year.

"I think that's an argument we cannot win," one MP said.

Another Liberal said he was encouraged that voters had understood the messages about sharing the burden but the government could not expect people to hear that message and then turn a blind eye to such a generous parental leave scheme.

"They're saying yes its tough out there, and the budget needs to be tough, but then they say 'what's he [Mr Abbott] going to do about his parental leave scheme?'," he said.

One MP said: "I think it's very very difficult to imagine doing both [deficit levy and PPL] and there's a real sense that the PM needs to be also sharing in the budget pain by dropping his beloved PPL scheme."

Mr Abbott told reporters in Melbourne on Tuesday that he knew that there were "mixed views" in the community about his PPL scheme.

He added that he was working with people in the community who had a "very traditional mind set" but was confident that their thinking could evolve, because his own had on the subject.

"There are one or two of my colleagues in Canberra who have already shifted a little on this and I am pleased about that," he said.

Greens leader Christine Milne, whose party will be key to the Coalition passing the PPL in the Senate, reaffirmed that there were no negotiations between the Greens and the government on the issue.

"The Greens have had no contact whatsoever with Tony Abbott on paid parental leave. It makes you wonder whether he is serious about it and it is quite obvious now that he has a mutiny on his hands in his own party," she told reporters in Hobart.

The electoral reality check underscores the difficult balancing act being attempted by the government with Mr Abbott using a speech last night to the Sydney Institute to signal widespread changes, including an admission that pensions will be changed in just three years with lower indexation and an older eligibility threshold.

"To keep to our commitments, there will be no changes to the pension during this term of Parliament but there should be changes to indexation arrangements and eligibility thresholds in three years' time," he said.

"There are other social security benefits where indexation arrangements and eligibility thresholds should be adjusted now so that our social safety net is more sustainable for the long-term.

"Such benefits won't be less tomorrow than they are today but the rate of increase will be slower and needs to be slower if a comprehensive social safety nest is to be preserved for everyone's future."

The comments represent the clearest indication from the most senior level of government that pensions for the aged and the incapacitated will be progressively cut as a proportion of male average weekly earnings.

With the government's first budget just a fortnight away, Mr Abbott signalled serious inroads would be made into the burgeoning family payments system used by previous governments to buy votes in middle Australia.

In the gun are family tax benefits, with a sharp reduction of $50,000 in the allowable income threshold taking eligibility from the current $150,000 per year for families to $100,000.

"Not for a second would I label families as 'rich' just because they are earning $100,000 a year," he said.

"But the best way to help families in $100,000 a year is long-term tax relief and more business and job opportunities, not social security handouts."

He said he expected people would grumble but promised that everyone would be called on to make a sacrifice, "including high-income earners such as members of Parliament".

The opposition, which suffered a relentless attack from Mr Abbott during the Rudd-Gillard years over broken promises, slammed the suggestion of tax increases and pension changes, branding the proposed deficit levy as a "deceit tax" by a government with such "twisted priorities" it would take money from pensions and the disabled while funding millionaires to have babies.


ABC crookedness  -- designed to affect its treatment in the forthcoming budget?

Doubts over ABC’s China TV claims

THERE are growing doubts over the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s supposed deal with the Shanghai Media Group (SMG), which the ABC claims will broadcast Australian-generated content to hundreds of millions of Chinese television viewers.

The national broadcaster is due to sign a memorandum of understanding with SMG, the second-largest state-owned broad­caster in China, next weekend in Shanghai.

However, it appears basic ­details of the proposed co-operation are yet to be finalised amid claims the announcement was rushed forward to be delivered before the federal budget is handed down next month…

The ABC claimed it would team up with SMG’s internat­ional channel in an online portal from which Australian shows would be made available to be broadcast across China…

However, the supervisory body has told The Australian it had not been approached by ­either party. “We have not received any ­application about this co-operation and have not expressed support or approval of it in any way,” a spokeswoman called Ms Xu said…

The ABC originally quoted the executive director of SMG’s International Channel, Sun Wei, who said the Chinese broadcaster was keen to develop relationships with international broadcasters as part of its expansion strategy… However, Mr Sun refused to comment when contacted on the proposed new deal and a spokesman for the broader SMG group was not aware of the ABC’s announcement.


ABC puts off China deal after false start

THE ABC has been forced to delay signing its “historic agreement” to broadcast content into China after admitting the deal was yet to receive regulatory­ ­approval.

A signing ceremony in Shanghai, which was due to be held this Sunday between ABC executives and the Shanghai Media Group to finalise a memorandum of understanding between the two broadcasters, has been pushed back to early June and could now be held in ­Sydney…

The Australian revealed this week that the industry supervisory agency, the Shanghai Municipal Administration of Culture, Radio, Film and TV, was unaware of the proposed deal despite the ABC’s announcement last week that it would be “formalised” and signed in Shanghai on May 4…
A spokeswoman for the Shanghai Municipal Administration of Culture, Radio, Film and TV said the regulatory body had yet to receive any formal application from either the ABC or SMG, which was required for the deal to proceed… “It is impossible for us to express ‘support’ without getting formal application documents...”

The ABC said on April 17 that ABC International and the ­Australia Network had “struck an international multi-platform media co-operation arrangement supported by the Shanghai ­Municipal Administration of Culture, Radio, Film and TV”.


More crooked union spending

Health Services Union boss turned whistleblower Kathy Jackson ran a secretive union slush fund that used up to $300,000 in members’ money to help support the political and factional campaigns of her allies, including those from other unions.

Internal union banking records reveal $284,000 was transferred with Ms Jackson’s authorisation from her union’s main account into the “National Health Development Account” between 2003 and 2010.

Fairfax Media has confirmed that some of these funds were used to support Ms Jackson’s political allies, including officials from the Australian Workers Union, which was previously headed by federal opposition leader Bill Shorten.

The revelations provide further insight into the murky world of ALP and union fund-raising, in which slush funds have been commonplace and used for purposes such as supporting Labor factional players to win seats in Parliament.

Ms Jackson’s ties to the NHDA underline her complicated role as both union whistleblower and influential factional figure involved, by her own account, in the ALP’s “filthy” power plays.

Documents detailing the operation of the NHDA have been provided to the union royal commission.

Fairfax Media has spoken to seven HSU committee of management members who served during that period and none said they had heard of the account. Long-time union members also said they had never heard of the account or its activities.

Leaked union records also show how Ms Jackson’s branch of the HSU made a $5000 donation in 2010 to senior Victorian Labor MP Marlene Kairouz and described it in a financial report as a payment to a charity.

When regulator Fair Work Australia queried this payment with the HSU later in 2010, the union changed its description of it to a “fee for service”.

The $5000 was deposited in an ANZ bank account in the name of ‘AB Hinc’ - a Latin term which means ‘from here on’ - and which was an election fund controlled by Ms Kairouz.

Fairfax Media has confirmed the ‘AB Hinc’ account was never declared to the Australian Electoral Commission. Disclosure laws generally require election funds to be declared to the commission. ALP head office was also not told of its existence as required under Labor guidelines.

Ms Jackson’s whistleblowing on corrupt HSU union official Craig Thomson and her regular media appearances - including her recent comments backing the royal commission as a means to target ‘vampires’ sucking funds out of unions - have seen her gain national prominence and the support of Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

The royal commission is likely to examine the extent of disclosure of the NHDA’s operations and existence to the HSU members who unwittingly funded it.

“This sort of conduct has done incredible damage to the union movement. Members' money must be used in a transparent and accountable manner," said HSU branch secretary Craig McGregor, who in 2012 left his job as a radiographer after being elected to head the branch that Ms Jackson used to lead.

Mr McGregor said the review of the union's accounts to determine how members' money had been spent over the past decade had "nothing to do with politics and everything to do with ethics and democratic practice".

Fairfax Media is not suggesting Ms Jackson ever used members’ funds in a criminal fashion or for personal expenditure.

Ms Jackson declined to answer specific questions about the NHDA, saying she did not want to prejudice the work of the royal commission, which she is assisting. However, she provided a broad statement saying she never used money from the fund “for my own private benefit or for payment to third parties unless such payment was conscientiously believed by me and and relevant others to serve the legitimate political purposes of the union”.

“I say that I have done nothing in relation to the fund that is criminal or that was not in the best interests of the union as I genuinely believed them to be.”

Former HSU committee of management member Robert Matejin is one of seven branch committee members who said they could not recall ever being told of the NHDA.

“Members deserve to know what has happened to their money,” he said.

Kathy Jackson is listed on several banking documents as the person who authorised the movement of several thousand dollars from the union’s main bank account to the NHDA.

In seven years of HSU financial statements filed with regulators, the Australian Industrial Register or Fair Work Australia, the “NHDA” is only referred to once, in 2005. It is listed as an acronym and has no explanation of its purpose.

Leaked documents suggest there may have been an attempt inside the HSU to obscure the existence of the fund, with auditor accounts revealing an unknown person working for the HSU edited the spreadsheets to remove references to the NHDA.

The changes resulted in an accounting error in the 2006 financial statement, with $38,000 of members’ money sent to the fund removed from the final accounts.


1 comment:

Paul said...

The Cambodians will be all well and good until the first Africans arrive and start acting like Africans, as they do everywhere they invade.