Monday, July 07, 2014

Payouts only after asylum seekers return home

Asylum seekers who are offered substantial amounts of money by the government to leave the detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru must spend their own cash before receiving the payment.

The Sunday Age believes that once asylum seekers take up the offer to return to their home country, they are asked by the International Organisation of Migration to provide receipts for purchases in their country before they can receive the promised amount.

The Coalition has dramatically increased monetary incentives in the "return packages" for asylum seekers, as revealed by Fairfax Media last month. The packages range from $3300 to $10,000 based on "individual circumstances", compared with Labor's offering of $1500 to $4000. Lebanese asylum seekers are being paid $10,000 if they voluntarily return home, while Iranians and Sudanese are offered $7000, Afghans $4000 and Pakistani, Nepalese and Burmese $3300.

Asylum seekers who take up the offer are transported to the Hideaway Hotel in Port Moresby that is paid for by the International Organisation of Migration before being flown home.

Growing pressure is now being put on asylum seekers to return home, refugee advocates say.

It is believed Australian officials made a visit to the Manus Island centre two weeks ago saying: "You will be here a very long time. You will never get to Australia. You should strongly consider going back to where you came from."

This is similar to the message Immigration Minister Scott Morrison gave to asylum seekers in an "orientation video" late last year.

An IOM spokeswoman confirmed asylum seekers on Nauru and Christmas Island were offered payments.

"Part of the amount is given in cash to cover basic needs during first few months of return and the rest as in kind," she said. "Sometimes, their return is organised by IOM and in some cases migration authorities take the lead and IOM only provides the reintegration assistance."

Mr Morrison confirmed packages were being given, but did not comment on reimbursement.

On Friday, the United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, slammed the use of detention centres, saying seeking asylum was not "illegal" under international law. "Seeking asylum is lawful and the exercise of a fundamental human right," said UNHCR's director of international protection, Volker Turk.


Turnbull marginalized in ABC board decision

‘The Australian’ reported this morning that former Liberal Party deputy leader, Neil Brown QC, and The Australian’s columnist, Janet Albrechtsen, have been appointed to the, "Independent Nominations Panel" overseeing Board positions at the ABC and SBS.

It was also reported that, “The Communications Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, had no say in either appointment and was only recently informed. Brown and Albrechtsen were picked for their roles at the highest levels of the Abbott Government.”

This has been brewing for a while now and Libs “at the highest level” have been quietly ropable at ABC bias.

The ABC Board should be chucked out on its ear, holus bolus, but excessively overpaid underlings will cling to their valuable contracts, so don’t expect the sweet smell of impartiality any time soon.

More interesting is that Communications Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has been bypassed in the Government’s decision-making regarding the ABC. Wow!!... Now that’s a real kick in the teeth for Malcolm and a real kick up the bum for the way he has supported the ABC in its Abbott onslaught.

The ABC has been an unabashed sheltered workshop for the ALP, and all things Left for too long, but now it's in the Government’s crosshairs, Malcolm would be well advised to duck.


Carbon pricing: how Labor failed the nation

“My name is Kevin, I’m from Queensland and I’m here to help.” Kevin Rudd loved saying it, and although you could almost hear voters groan, they seemed to love it too. Most Australians heard it for the first time in April 2007, at Labor’s national conference. The leader was conveyed to the spotlight on the wings of a climate change song, “A Change in the Weather”.

Rudd was beaming. The election campaign was building and it was all about him. He would flood the country with exciting ideas and projects. Above all he would fix climate change and in the process craft a modern rallying point for Labor that reminded observers of Ben Chifley’s “Light on the Hill”.

Despite the pain of remembering, Australians should reflect on the excitement of that time as we grapple with the astonishing reality that the Senate in the next few days will almost certainly leave this nation without a cornerstone climate change policy.

There were some brief moments of soaring success in the years afterwards, but ultimately Australia’s political leadership failed the nation miserably. Will we ever believe a politician’s promises as wholeheartedly again? Did innocence die along the way? The experience of attempts to price carbon raises some fundamental questions about the way Australians are governed that must be confronted. It is important to establish what went wrong and to learn the lessons, to try to ensure that as a nation we do better.

Part of the answer lies in the impact of historical forces. As political parties have warped into hollowed-out shells dominated by factional hacks, voters have become less attached to them. This development has made leaders the embodiment of the party and government, and more central to elections. Remember “Kevin 07”? There has been an increase in resources to the executive, allowing leaders and their personal staff to diminish checks and balances and dominate cabinet and the public service.

Reflecting these changes, the media has come to view leaders as celebrities and emphasise stories about personality conflict over policy debates. Readers will be familiar with the approach, which involves an interpretative style of news reporting, sensationalism, cynicism and a preoccupation with the “horse race”.

In April 2010 Rudd, whose command and control leadership was precisely the opposite of what was required to solve a complex problem like climate policy, publicly acknowledged defeat. The shock was profound. We had watched the train crash as it came ever-closer, although without recognising the inevitability of tragedy. We had waited in vain for Rudd to explain the meaning of carbon pricing. We had seen him sideline other ministers who might have helped us understand.

We had been transfixed as he squandered the gift of consensus, employing it as a weapon to destroy Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull rather than as an opportunity to be grasped fully and urgently. Tony Abbott, with his infantile anti-science slogans, was thus Rudd’s creation. We had invested more faith as he flew to Copenhagen, puffed up to save the earth, only to suffer an emotional breakdown that left him empty of the courage needed for a double dissolution election. We had sat bemused as he then strove to blame Julia Gillard for his sad rush to hoist the white flag.

The fact that we got to mid-2010 with a deep black hole where climate policy had been was a result of the erosion of the checks and balances that Australians wrongly believe are embedded in their system of government. We were prey to Rudd’s personality. And what a personality it turned out to be. Australians were victims of his hubris and cowardice. This has become very clear after more than 100 interviews and two years researching the disasters of Australia’s attempt to establish carbon pricing for my book Power Failure.

Julia Gillard had little choice but to oust Rudd in June 2010. After all, someone had to be leader. She came to office cramped by Rudd’s failure to maintain voters’ passion for climate action. Even so, her more collaborative and consultative type of leadership led to legislative success in October 2011, as her policy to price carbon passed the House, to relieved hugs and kisses among the Labor MPs. It soon became clear, though, that Gillard’s own inability to talk to Australians about what she was doing would undermine her achievement.

Between February and July 2011 a scare campaign that many veterans say was the ugliest they can remember, worse even than 1975, claimed her. But just as Rudd had been, she was the architect of her own demise. Despite strong advice she refused to engage, believing she would have time to change perceptions once she had the right policy. But the political capital lost was so great that it created the conditions for the destruction of her legacy.

The question that remains is why the modern crop of Labor politicians has been so inept at communicating with voters. Senior figures in today’s ALP got there through factional deals and branch stacking. Too often this deprived them of the experience of banging on doors, asking for support, arguing about policies and learning how to talk through complex ideas with everyday people. It is an existential challenge for the Labor Party to see whether it can produce leaders with the ability to sustain a rapport with ordinary people over an extended period of time.

The lesson for the future of carbon pricing is this: while Gillard was more effective than Rudd, success requires a restoration of our system of checks and balances and a different type of leader. But for this change to occur Australians must firmly demand it. The immediate prospect of this is not good. We will suffer many more bushfires and floods before we see another serious attempt to price carbon.


Did a call from Gillard’s office turn Latham around?


MARK Latham has been writing inaccurate drivel on the Australian Workers Union matter for some time now. Fair enough, it is his right. But in recent times Latham has begun to slag off the standing of the royal commission into unions. My policy usually is to not criticise fellow commentators, but I won’t stand for this. The royal commission presents our only hope to rid this country of endemic corporatised union corruption, and I won’t stand by and watch anyone diminish it.

For many years I have been speaking out against union corruption and business collusion. Threats, loss of business, a written warning from a previous employer and more have come my way. All this has done is force me to position myself into a spot where I feel independent, untouchable and bulletproof. Each column is a privilege, treated as though it is my last. It is only because I sit in a space beyond financial influence (proudly without the courtesy of a parliamentary pension), with no one to please and no one to disappoint, that I am able to speak so frankly.

Once, Latham spoke like this and I admired him for it. Once, Latham was dead keen to deal with union corruption. Then something happened. I will tell you what that was and you can come to your own conclusions.

Back in June 7, 2012, my debut column appeared in The Australian Financial Review. Latham’s next column referred to mine as a “stunning insight” into how unions had lost members but gained power and resources through “super-financing, training funds and contractor extortion”. He said “the greatest threat to economic growth and productivity is trade union muscle … the strength of their financial leverage and Labor factional control has given them a majority complex. This power imbalance must be addressed by an incoming Liberal government.” He said we should investigate the unions and “follow the money” because public exposure of scandal would “give the Coalition a powerful mandate for IR reform — bringing union governance into line with the corporate sector and bringing our workplace laws into line with our international competitors”. He said “Liberal Party ignorance has saved the union bosses from reform. Few people outside the ALP understand how the Labor movement works … liberalisers need to read and re-read Collier’s column.”

Then someone from Julia Gillard’s office called the office to ask for Latham’s contact details. Now, Latham says the royal commission into unions — which is the only way we can do as he once urged (investigate, follow the money) — is a “comedy routine”, a “show about nothing”, with “ceremonial pretensions”, where you have to “stand and look deferential” when “the beak” (Dyson Heydon) appears to hear from witnesses who are “a parade of ageing Oompa Loompas”. Heydon sits “perched high on his bench” and plays “the role of Judge Vandelay — grey, Dickensian and utterly humourless, even when viewing the rustic clowns assembled before him”.

The “rustic clowns” are people in the public gallery, “political fanatics”, a “worrying collection of social misfits and malcontents” who have “nothing better to do on a Monday morning than listen to claims about a union controversy from last century”. Latham, too, has nothing better to do with himself than sit around with fanatics and misfits scribbling about how they are fanatics and misfits.

The effect of Latham discrediting the royal commission now is to insulate Gillard from any adverse finding it may make about her down the track. Who knows what the motivation for this behaviour is? Latham has bitten the hand of almost every media outlet that fed him and perhaps he is trying to build bridges back to the Labor Party by defending union corruption. Or perhaps he has been asked to run an agenda to protect Gillard. I really don’t know and I really don’t care.

I just think it is a shame that the editorial team at The Australian Financial Review, people I have a lot of respect for, who knew of the phone call and must have noticed Latham’s change of heart since, allow him to use their publication to ridicule and denigrate the royal commission. This body, after all, is our only hope of cleaning up corrupt sections of the union movement and overcoming the obstacles to the Australian industrial relations reform agenda.


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