Wednesday, July 09, 2014

High Court challenge: Government admits holding asylum seekers, pledges 72 hours' notice on any deportation

A group of 153 asylum seekers intercepted off the coast of Australia could be detained at sea for weeks, if the High Court decides to hear a legal challenge over their fate.

A High Court hearing today heard the first official confirmation that the group, which includes children as young as two, are being held on an Australian Customs vessel.

The Government has agreed not to return the asylum seekers to Sri Lanka without three days' notice.

Meanwhile members of another group of asylum seekers, who were handed to the Sri Lankan navy on Sunday, appeared in court in the southern city of Galle.

In the High Court, lawyers acting for about one third of the 153-strong group of Tamils, whose whereabouts the Government refuses to disclose, are seeking to challenge the legality of the Commonwealth's actions.

Today's hearing in Melbourne was told that at least 21 of the asylum seekers are minors, aged between two and 16 years of age. The majority of the group as a whole are males.

Ron Merkel QC, who is acting for the asylum seekers, told the court the boat was intercepted in Australian waters and that there was evidence it was in "trouble" at the time.

However Solicitor-General Justin Gleeson said the boat was found in Australia's contiguous zone - not the migration zone - and argued that the passengers had no right to claim asylum in Australia.

"People who reach the contiguous zone have no rights under the act," he told the court.

Mr Gleeson said the 72 hours' notice would be given to the asylum seekers' lawyers if a decision was made to hand them over.

He said the commitment to provide notice was "given without any admissions on any matter of fact or law".

Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop has told Sky News the Government will uphold the commitment.

"We will of course abide by our undertakings to the court and we await the outcome, but the Australian Government has made it clear from the outset that we intend to disrupt the people smuggling trades," she said.

Mr Merkel said the issue was not whether the Government had power to take the 153 people on board an Australian vessel, but whether they could be forcibly returned to Sri Lanka.

The court has yet to decide if the lawyers have a case to be heard, but if the application is accepted it could prevent the asylum seekers being handed over to Sri Lankan authorities.

Uncertainty for asylum seekers still being held at sea

Justice Susan Crennan indicated the full bench would likely hear the case, with the matter to go back before the High Court for a directions hearing within 21 days.

It is unclear whether the asylum seekers will stay aboard the Customs vessel for that time.

Justice Crennan has given lawyers for the asylum seekers seven days to file a statement of claim, after which the Government has seven days to respond.

Mr Merkel has asked the Government's lawyers to give him notice if the asylum seekers will be transferred to Manus Island or Nauru.

The hearing has now been adjourned until Friday morning, when the Government's lawyers are expected to provide documents including details of the asylum seekers' names.

Sri Lanka's high commissioner to Australia, Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe, says his country has no plans to accept the group, who are believed to have set sail from a port in India.

"I can categorically deny and reject any plans of Sri Lanka to take over the suspected, speculated, presumed asylum seekers coming from India," he told ABC News 24.

The president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs, says the asylum seekers could be sent to an offshore processing centre.

"I believe that the intention is that the children ... and the families and others will be taken to a land based detention centre," she told 7.30.


Tony Abbott says Japan's attempts to resume Southern Ocean whaling will not harm relations

Prime Minister Tony Abbott says any attempt by Japan to resume whaling in the Southern Ocean would not damage a "special friendship" underlined today by the signing of a free trade deal.

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe says his country will abide by the International Court of Justice's (ICJ) ruling earlier this year that its whaling program in the Southern Ocean must cease.

The ICJ ruled the program was not carried out for scientific purposes.

But Mr Abe, who is in Australia for a three-day visit, indicated that might not be where the matter ends.

"The decision by ICJ confirms that one of the objectives of the international convention for regulating whaling is indeed a sustainable use of resources," he said through a translator.

On Monday, Mr Abe indicated his intention to restart Japan's Southern Ocean whaling program.

He said Japan is committed to carrying out scientific research on whales. "Japan, looking at international law and scientific ground, will engage in research of whaling in order to collect the indispensible scientific information in order to manage the whale resources," he said.

Mr Abbott says the two countries will have to differ on the issue.

"Friends can disagree. That's in no way inconsistent," he said.

On Tuesday night a gala dinner was held at Parliament House in Canberra to honour Mr Abe.

Labor's foreign affairs spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek planned to raise the issue when she met Mr Abe at the dinner.

"Being such close friends does allow us to raise issues like whaling, where there has been some differences of opinion between Japan and Australia, and we will do that in the meeting," she said.

"I think the fact that Japan has accepted the international verdict on the current whaling program in the Southern Ocean is a very important step and a very good indication."

Earlier, Mr Abe and Mr Abbott signed three treaties designed to further liberalise trade and enhance cooperation in the areas of defence, science and technology.

Mr Abe also addressed a special joint sitting of federal parliament on the first full day of his visit to Australia.

Speaking in English, he reiterated his nation's vow of peace made after World War II, sending his condolences to Australians killed and traumatised in that conflict.

He said deepened economic and defence ties had led to a new era in the relationship between the two nations.

"We will now join up in a scrum just like in rugby," he said, drawing laughter from MPs.

On Wednesday, Mr Abe will tour parts of Western Australia's Pilbara region.

Premier Colin Barnett will show Mr Abe and Mr Abbott the West Angelas iron ore mine, which is a joint venture project between Rio Tinto and two Japanese companies.

WA's exports to Japan totalled almost $23 billion in 2013, making the country WA's second largest export market.


Qantas sacks 167 staff, engineers' union warns of flight delays

Qantas has sacked 167 staff today as part of a broader plan to lay off thousands of workers to cut costs.  The move would see 131 engineers lose their jobs, while 36 administration staff have also been axed.

The cuts were part of the 5,000 job losses the airline announced at its results in February in a push to cut costs and return the company to profit after a $235 million half-year loss.

Qantas was targeting $2 billion in cost savings by financial year 2016/17.

Steve Purvinas of the Licensed Aircraft Engineers' Association said the loss of maintenance engineers would create safety problems.

"Qantas are going to find themselves drastically undermanned because during the consultation phase of these discussions we have noted that they already don't have enough staff to equip all of their future work," he told a press conference.

Mr Purvinas also warned the latest round of Qantas job cuts would lead to flight delays because some aircraft would be left un-airworthy.

"Qantas will find because they don't have enough staff, and our members are already working copious amount of overtime in order to get through their daily duties, they will have to defer defects on aircraft that require fixing and eventually that workload will build up to a point where aircraft aren't allowed to fly," he said.

But Qantas Domestic CEO Lyell Strambi said fewer engineers were needed as the airline moved to newer model planes.

"The simple fact is as we are retiring our older aircraft, aligning our maintenance systems with Boeing recommendations and implementing process improvements we need fewer engineering employees," Mr Strambi said in a statement.

"While any job loss is regrettable, we have worked with our employees and unions over the past five months to reduce the number of compulsory retrenchments through voluntary redundancies, job swaps and redeployment and we will continue to do so where practical."

Mr Strambi said the changes were needed to to protect the long-term viability of the company.

"The changes we are making across the whole organisation as part of our transformation are necessary to protect as many jobs as possible and the long-term future of the Qantas Group."


Royal commission hears corrupt union warned Pentridge developer not to cooperate with authorities

A recorded phone call from a union representative telling a Melbourne developer to "forget about the law" and that his site would be shut down if the company cooperated with the industry watchdog has been heard at a royal commission.

The Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption is sitting in Melbourne until tomorrow, investigating claims against the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU).

Today it heard evidence from the two principals of West Homes, the building company behind the $800 million development of the old Pentridge Prison site at Coburg, in Melbourne's north.

Leigh Chiavaroli gave evidence that the CFMEU forced him to hire both a close friend and the brother-in-law of the now Victorian state secretary, John Setka, following the death of a builder on the worksite in 2009.

Mr Chiavaroli said neither of the shop stewards worked very hard, sometimes not showing up to the site at all.

He told the commission he had to pay them for a full working week despite their refusal to sign timesheets, recording when they clocked on and off.

The hearing was told that subcontractors were shut out of the site because they were not union members and did not have enterprise bargaining agreements.

After a painter complained about the union's conduct to the industry watchdog, the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), Mr Chiavaroli said he received an angry phone call from union organiser Gerard Benstead.

In a recording played to the commission, Mr Benstead could be heard warning Mr Chiavaroli not to cooperate with the ABCC.

"If people go down the road of getting the ABCC involved, all it does is halt your job and creates dramas," he said on the recording.

"They think they frigging got all the, well they have got a lot of power, that's why you want to keep them out of there, right?

"If you go talking about the ABCC, you wait, if Johnny Setka hears about that, that'll be frigging, that'll be the end of it.

"Do the right thing now, forget about the law. I can do it another way."

In a second phone recording played to the commission, Mr Setka referred to the painter who made the complaint as a "***ing dog, Turkish ***ing painting piece of shit".


No comments: