Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Slippery Peter caught

Former parliamentary speaker Peter Slipper has been found guilty of acting dishonestly in using taxpayer-funded Cabcharge vouchers to pay for trips to Canberra region wineries.

Commonwealth prosecutors spent a four-day court hearing last week attempting to prove Slipper dishonestly used almost $1000 worth of government-issued vouchers for trips to regional wineries on three dates in 2010.

Slipper pleaded not guilty to all three charges and the hearing followed three failed attempts in the past eight months to have the charges dismissed.

He was found guilty in the ACT Magistrates Court on Monday, and is due to be sentenced on September 22.

Chief Magistrate Lorraine Walker found Slipper had acted dishonestly when he used the vouchers to pay for the three trips, and that he had knowingly caused a risk of loss to the Commonwealth.

Ms Walker said Slipper was travelling outside his travel entitlements, and knew he was doing so, during the three trips.

She said Slipper had intentionally filled in the dockets with false information, including using general terms such as "suburbs" to describe his pick up and drop off locations, to conceal the fact he was not on parliamentary business. 

Ms Walker said the vouchers Slipper filled out did not did not "realistically reflect" the journeys he took on any of the trips.

She said to use the term "suburbs" to describe trips to the regional wineries was "implausible" and there was no reason not to use a more specific term.

Slipper had his head bowed during the appearance and did not react when the decision was handed down.  He did not speak to waiting media as he left the court.

During the trial, the court heard the former Queensland MP used the vouchers to pay for three hire car trips to the wineries between January and June in 2010.

Slipper's defence lawyer, Kylie Weston-Scheuber, told the court it needed to determine whether there was any evidence Slipper had knowingly caused a risk of loss to the Commonwealth, or had acted dishonestly on any of the occasions.

Slipper travelled to six prestigious wineries on the trips, including Clonakilla, Poachers Pantry, Doonkuna Winery, Yass Valley Wines, Shaw Estate Vineyard and Gallagher Wines, the court heard.

On two of the occasions he was accompanied by former political staffer Tim Knapp, and on the third trip he was accompanied by his wife and former staffer, Inge Jane-Hall.

In his closing submission, counsel for the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, Lionel Robberds, QC, argued Slipper had entered false information and used multiple vouchers to make it appear the trips were for parliamentary business.

Mr Robberds said Slipper had filled in the dockets for the trips with false details of the destination and amounts paid, and had broken up the trips in "quite unrealistic" ways.

"He was acting in a personal capacity, he was having a good time on these trips, which had nothing to do with parliamentary business."

Slipper had filled the dockets in using general terms such as "suburbs", even though the wineries were outside of Canberra, Mr Robberds said.

In her closing submission last week, Dr Weston-Scheuber said prosecutors had failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Slipper was not on parliamentary business when he visited the wineries.

Dr Weston-Scheuber said the court had no clear definition of what constituted parliamentary business to guide it.

She said the court needed to look at Slipper's Cabcharge voucher use in a broader context.

He was "simply following his usual practice" when he used multiple dockets to pay for trips and filled them out with general descriptions of his pick-up and drop-off destinations, she argued.

The hearing followed three failed bids to have the charges permanently stayed and dropped, including one attempt last month on mental health grounds.


Scott Morrison claims asylum seekers brought to mainland Australia are economic migrants

The 157 asylum seekers brought to Western Australia are economic migrants, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has claimed.

After spending weeks detained on the Customs ship Ocean Protector, the 157 people were transferred by plane to the Curtin detention centre on Sunday night. They will now have their identities checked by Indian officials.

Minister Morrison defended the government's intention to return the asylum seekers to India, telling ABC radio that if people could not be taken to India "what is next? New Zealand?"

"These people have come from the safe country of India ... a passage here is nothing more than an economic migration seeking to illegally enter Australia," Minister Morrison told ABC radio.

"The suggestion that people who have left a safe country are somehow fleeing persecution, I think, is absurd."

Mr Morrison called India a "vibrant democracy" that has received praise from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for its support of Sri Lankan refugees. Most of the 157 are understood to be Tamils who fled Sri Lanka during, and after, the country's decades-long civil war.

The decision to transfer the asylum seekers to Australian soil pre-empts the outcome of a High Court challenge to their detention at sea.

A court hearing is scheduled for Monday afternoon.

For the four weeks they were held at sea, the asylum seekers were kept in windowless rooms for 21 hours a day with only three hours outside. Families were separated and they didn't have access to translators.

Mr Morrison did not say what would happen to the asylum seekers if they were not accepted by India. After talks with Australia, the Indian government has only committed to accepting the asylum seekers that are Indian citizens. They have agreed to consider the non-citizen Indian residents.

"It's a fundamental principle of refugee law that no one, no person, should be made to deal with the authority of the country from which they have fled," said the Refugee and Immigration Law Centre's David Manne.

Minister Morrison says that India's processing of these people is "something for any government to do, who is the host government who is determining their citizenship or residency and it's not for Australia to do that".


Greenhouse follies must end

THE carbon tax may have gone, but the players have not moved on. For the Greens, its resurrection is only a matter of time. Labor, ever reluctant to face realities, pretends to maintain the rage, much as it did with the GST. Meanwhile, the lessons of the fiasco, and its implications for the Abbott government, are ignored.

At the heart of those lessons is a simple fact: the electorate is unwilling to bear crippling costs for the purely hypothetical benefits of decarbonisation. Despite all their apocalyptic rhetoric, the climate change advocates cannot secure and sustain popular support for the taxes needed if large-scale reductions in emissions are to occur.

Yet Labor’s scheme was based on a carbon tax that rose ever higher, with the government’s modelling envisaging an increase from an initial $23 to $60 (at today’s prices) by 2030. Moreover, that increase was vital if the scheme was to achieve its goal of reducing emissions to 80 per cent below 2000 levels by 2050.

Steeply climbing carbon taxes might have been acceptable had they been part of a credible international agreement. But with support for costly climate change policies as brittle overseas as it has proven to be here, there was never much prospect of such an agreement being reached. And there was even less prospect of a concerted global effort to impose carbon taxes rising to the levels Labor’s scheme expected.

Labor was therefore trapped between its promises to the Greens and political realities. Already at the time of the tax’s introduction, a Morgan Poll found that over 60 per cent of Australians agreed that “the carbon tax will have no significant impact on reducing the total worldwide volume of carbon dioxide put into the atmosphere”, while an even greater majority thought the tax should not rise any further.

Little wonder the Gillard government quickly descended into a tangle of half-truths, untruths and contradictions. Promising salvation without sacrifice, its rhetoric of “you won’t feel a thing” implied the “greatest moral challenge of our time” could be tackled without discernible pain. But even the government’s own analysis showed each tonne of abatement the scheme achieved reduced Australia’s GDP by $48, several times the headline tax rate, for a cumulative cost to 2020 of nearly $35 billion.

With claim after claim coming apart, Labor’s backsliding began almost as soon as the scheme had taken effect. Less than two months into its operation, the government announced that there would not be a price floor after 2015-16; instead, there would be direct linking with the EU cap and trade scheme. Seemingly untroubled by the inconsistency, Greg Combet, who only weeks earlier had justified a floor price on the basis that it was needed to “reduce the risk (to investors) of sharp downward price movements”, now claimed abolishing it, and linking to the extremely volatile EU scheme, would provide “investors with long-term certainty”.

But with public hostility to the scheme mounting, those were merely harbingers of a torrent of absurdities. The direct linking, for example, should have slashed projected carbon prices to the very low levels prevailing in futures markets in the EU. But so as to reduce Labor’s deficit, Wayne Swan’s last budget envisaged carbon prices rising rapidly after 2015-16, and going even higher in 2019-20 than originally fore­shadowed.

The farce reached its peak with Kevin Rudd’s decision to scuttle the tax and move immediately to an emissions trading scheme. Like the character in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, whose proposal is “only a notion” but who hopes for the chance “to make it into a concept and later into an idea”, Rudd’s new scheme was scant on details; and even murkier was the magic by which the low carbon prices Rudd touted would achieve his ambitious emissions reductions pledges.

All that may seem behind us; but the harm done to Australia’s international competitiveness is not. And with the Renewable Energy Target still in place, our electricity prices, which have soared far above those in other countries with abundant resources of coal and gas, will remain much higher than they can and should be.

Nor are the costs of the RET likely to decline. On the contrary, modelling by ACIL-Allen finds that over the period to 2040, it will increase the costs of electricity generation by nearly $13bn; and accompanying those costs are massive transfers to the renewables sector, with estimates by Deloitte Access suggesting each $1 in additional renewables investment the RET stimulates is bought at the price of nearly $2 in payments to producers.

Perpetuating those policies is not only economically irrational; it also lends credibility to the carbon tax. After all, if the RET is legitimate, despite the distortions it imposes, why not consider an emissions trading scheme as a less distorting alternative? How can the Coalition, having conceded the goal, simply rule out a particular instrument?

But it is not the instrument that is flawed; it is the goal that makes no sense. What conceivable purpose is served by policies which have no effect whatsoever on global emissions but damage our prosperity? And were dangerous climate change indeed in prospect, how could making us poorer facilitate the adjustments Australia will have to undertake?

Tony Abbott understands all that. But he needs to say it: for as Enoch Powell put it in admonishing the British Tories’ endless lip-service to ill-conceived economic policies, “it is impossible to go on behaving sensibly while constantly talking nonsense”. And having said it, Abbott must start cleaning out the Augean stable of climate change follies, beginning with the RET. If the carbon tax has been repealed it is because voters know those policies are less than useless. The longer it takes the Coalition to catch up with that repeal’s lessons, the greater the risk of squandering the opportunity it creates.


Long Bay guards dished out jailhouse justice to ‘smart-arse’ rapist Bilal Skaf and ‘scumbag’ paedophile Dennis Ferguson

THE notorious paedophile walked in. He was a man who needed no introduction; his heinous crimes had been splashed in print and had headlined the 6pm news. He winked at the guard who awaited his arrival.

Knowing full well of the crimes this new inmate, Dennis Ferguson, had committed, the guard fumed. ‘You are a f***ing scumbag,’ he shouted straight into the criminal’s face. ‘And you will be treated as one.’


‘I smashed him,’ said the guard, now retired. ‘The heap of shit fell to the floor telling me that I didn’t understand “this beautiful love”. Ferguson was a f***ing monster and I do not regret doing what I did. Not one bit. But I was lucky to get away with it because it happened a long time ago. There’s no way a guard today could do it.’

Or could they?

The guard stormed down the landing and snarled at the gang rapist through the locked cell.

‘Clean that f***ing shit off now,’ he screamed. Bilal Skaf puffed out his chest, grinning. ‘F**k off,’ he said. ‘Or I’ll rape your wife too.’

The guard pulled the key from his belt, opened the door and calmly walked towards the inmate. He looked at the wall he had been called to inspect before locking eyes with the skinny smart-arse.

‘I rape prison’s officer’s wives,’ read Skaf’s graffiti, which was scrawled in black texta across the wall.

‘Piece of s**t,’ the guard said, standing over the smiling criminal’s face.

‘What are you going to do?’ Skaf shouted back. ‘Nothing. That’s what!’

The guard smiled. Then —  Whack!

First came the heavy right.  Crack!

And then the left.  Splat!

The guard picked up the 22-year-old and threw him into the concrete wall.

‘Then I grabbed his head,’ recounted the guard. ‘And I used his face to clean off the texta.’

Bilal Skaf did not enjoy his Long Bay stay. First he was bashed.  ‘I gave him a real good touch up when he came in,’ said the guard.

‘Skaf was nothing and he had only just arrived. Someone asked me to give him a hand with this rapist bloke who was playing up. I went in there and saw this really little bloke with a big mouth.

It was Skaf, and he was standing there, all pumped up, looking at me, with the graffiti on the wall behind him. I towelled him up and wiped the wall down with his face. He had no remorse whatsoever for the crime he’d committed. He never said sorry for anything he did in jail either. He was quite happy to cop a hiding, and that’s exactly what he got.’

Next, Skaf learned his Lebanese brothers would not protect him. He was now alone.

‘He thought he was going to be some sort of Lebanese hero,’ said another guard. ‘That he’d become part of their gang and be sweet. But Michael Kanaan [a Lebanese Australian triple murderer. Kanaan is serving three life sentences, plus 50 years with no possibility of parole] had put the word out for him to be bashed. The Lebanese hated Skaf as much as anyone because he’d tarnished their whole race and made innocent Lebanese people targets because of his disgusting crimes.’

Skaf was jailed for 55 years after being convicted on 21 counts of aggravated rape, assault and kidnapping. In 2000, he’d led 14 Lebanese Australian Muslims on a series of gang rape attacks on Australian women. One of their victims was raped 25 times at Bankstown, in an attack that lasted six hours. It’s alleged she was called an ‘Aussie pig’ and told she’d be raped ‘Lebanese style’.

‘What this trial showed was that he was the leader of the pack, a liar, a bully, a coward, callous and mean,’ said Judge Michael Finnane in his sentencing remarks of Bilal Skaf. ‘The worst of all offenders who conducted himself as if the proceeding were a joke.’

Skaf began his sentence, which was later reduced to a maximum of 28 years on appeal, in Long Bay. He was placed in protection in 2 Wing after receiving death threats from fellow inmates.

‘He would be in his cell, crying every night,’ said an inmate. ‘My mate did the plumbing in that wing, because the shitters were blocked up all the time. He’d go in there and unblock them, and I would carry his tools for him. I would walk past Skaf’s cell and he’d be crying.

He thought he was a tough c**t when he went in — he believed all the Lebos were under the impression he was a legend because of what he’d done to the Aussie girls, but they hated the c**t. They wanted to kill him as much as anyone else, maybe more. He drove me mad with his crying, and I’d scream at him, calling him a little girl. He was just a little punk. A nothing.’

His mother was barred from visiting him for two years in 2002 after she was caught on video attempting to smuggle out a letter to his then fiancee.

Skaf’s only ally in Long Bay was his brother Mahmoud, a member of his rapist gang.

‘I probably had more dealings with Mahmoud,’ said a guard who currently works at Long Bay. ‘He was a vicious little shit. I worked in the hospital before it became the Medical Training Centre. Any maximum-security prisoner who needed medical treatment was moved in there. That’s where I had plenty of dealings with Mahmoud. He had a mouth like his brother, but he was nothing too. They both ended up in protection because everyone wanted them dead.’

Skaf did not back down despite the bashings and the death threats. He claimed that he started a gang while in jail called W2K — Willing To Kill — and threatened to shoot court officers and prison guards. He drew pictures depicting rape and sent white powder that looked like anthrax to prison boss Ron Woodham.

But Skaf also sobbed in his cell and attempted to commit suicide.

His Long Bay horror ended when he was transferred to Goulburn Supermax after prison authorities said three prisoners were plotting to inject him with a needle containing HIV/AIDS drawn from an infected prisoner.

‘That might have been bulls**t,’ said a guard, disputing the claim. ‘I think the politicians just made it up because they wanted an excuse to send him to Supermax. I worked in his wing and didn’t hear of any such plot, neither did the other guards. Regardless, he was a piece of shit and we were happy to see him leave.’

Another guard revealed a few protections have had near misses while being locked away in Long Bay Jail.

‘There have been some very close calls,’ he said. ‘I’ve seen several that have been stopped at the last moment. I jumped on a bloke just after he slashed a dog’s [informer's] eye. He would’ve been killed if we hadn’t got to him in time.’

The same guard witnessed three men murder an alleged dog while working at Silverwater Jail.

‘I was in the MRRC (Metropolitan Remand and Reception Centre) when they killed Johnny Tram. He was a DOG and they killed him over the John Newman assassination. They stabbed him 27 times, with industrial scissors, in front of everybody.

He was in there, doing his work, and these three Asian guys just walked up to him and started stabbing. The officer grabbed him, but the attackers didn’t stop. It was brutal. He died on the spot. As soon as I heard about it, I rushed in to help. I saw the last one go through and watched Tram die.

I believe we had some information on the Newman murder and that’s what got him killed. They’d put a hit out on him and got him. He was sewing linen sheets at the time. It was the worst thing I have ever seen in all my years working in jails.’

Former prisoner Abo Henry said a paedophile was brutally bashed while in Long Bay.

‘There was a bloke who did 16 years for raping and killing a kid,’ Henry said. ‘He had a couple of weeks to go. He said he wanted to get out from the main jail and finish his time in protection. He was warned against it, but he thought he’d be sweet after 16 years. He thought that no one would know him. Anyway, they found him in the weights room with his head caved in. A mate of Neddy Smith’s was the main suspect, but he beat the charge.’

Four sex offenders and one dog were murdered in Australian prisons between 1980—1998.

‘The general prison population f***ing hated the protections,’ said an inmate. ‘If they got hold of them, they’d kill them. Now and then there would be a little bit of a slip-up and they would grab one. Say, one of them had been on protection for a while and they thought the circumstances had sorted themselves out.’

In that period, Long Bay recorded the second highest number of prison homicides in Australia with five men killed while in custody.


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