Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Asylum seeker sent back to Afghanistan

AN asylum seeker is believed to be the first to be sent back to Afghanistan under the coalition government after losing a last-minute legal battle to remain in Australia.

THE 29-year-old Hazara man, know only as SZUYW, said "please help me" when told through an interpreter that the court wouldn't block the government's plan to deport him.

"I can only apply the law as I see it," Judge Nicholas Manousaridis replied during the brief judgment in the Federal Circuit Court. "The application for an order that the applicant not be removed is dismissed."

Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul said the man, who arrived in Australia in 2011, was due to fly to Afghanistan at 9.40pm (AEST) on Tuesday.

He fled Afghanistan afraid he would be harmed by the Taliban, the court heard.  "It will be the first forced removal of an Afghan asylum seeker to Afghanistan," Mr Rintoul said.

Several applications for ministerial intervention were lodged by the man when his asylum claim was being assessed, the court heard.

But only the Refugee Review Tribunal has the power to determine someone's immigration status and it denied the man in December 2012.

Since then conditions in the man's home district, Jaghori, have deteriorated, Mr Rintoul said.

"It makes no sense to send an asylum seeker back to Afghanistan when the country's descending into war," he told reporters after the hearing.

Judge Manousaridis said: "The security situation in that district is reasonably stable relative to other parts of Afghanistan. "There was not a real risk the applicant will suffer real harm in that district."

Another Hazara asylum seeker was last Thursday deported to Pakistan.


Blaming coal is reefer madness

ON Sunday, as NSW residents took stock of a week of torrential rain, The Sunday Telegraph broke the disturbing news that former NSW premier Bob Carr’s mothballed desalination plant was costing $534,246 a day in service charges.

For once it is hard to disagree with NSW Greens MP John Kaye who called the expensive and unnecessary piece of kit “a white ­elephant”.

Carr ordered the plant to be built in 2005, a year after the CSIRO had spooked him with a prediction that the state could be up to 6.4C warmer and 40 per cent drier by 2070.

“Frightening,” was Carr’s reaction. “Even small changes in average temperature have got enormous implications.”

Indeed, but even by the inflated forecasts of the time, the CSIRO’s figures seemed ludicrous. In hindsight, Carr would have done well to stick to Dwight D. Eisenhower’s advice, delivered in his final presidential speech in 1962.

“In holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.”

In October 2011, a coalition of eco-crusaders met in the Blue Mountains to try to build a united front against coal. A leaked strategy document, Stopping the Australian Coal Export Boom, that emerged after the meeting gives an insight into their tactics.

“We urgently need to build the anti-coal movement and mobilise off the back of the community backlash to coal-seam gas,” it reads.

“We are seeking investment to help us build a nationwide coal campaign that functions like an orchestra, with a large number of different voices combining together into a powerful symphony.”

The anti-coal battle would be fought in the courts and boardrooms. Lawyers would be hired to mount challenges designed to frustrate and delay the expansion of the coal industry.

“We are confident that, with the right resourcing for both legal challenges and public campaigning, we can delay most if not all of the port developments by at least a year, if not considerably longer,” the document reads.

They would aim to create investor uncertainty and reputational risk “by symbolically contesting coal industry conferences and annual general meetings, ongoing direct engagement with ratings agencies and key analysts”. Queensland’s Galilee Basin was singled out for special attention. The activists recognised the proposed mines were at the expensive end of the cost curve and could be made un­viable.

In May a group of activists swarmed Deutsche Bank’s annual meeting in Frankfurt and were rewarded with a promise from the bank’s co-CEO, Jurgen Fitschen, that he would not entertain financial applications for port development at Abbot Point [without an assurance from both UNESCO and the government that it wouldn’t damage the reef.]

HSBC and Royal Bank of Scotland made similar ­noises.

This sophisticated campaign of “law-fare” and divestment pressure is biting. Earlier this month Peabody Energy chief executive Greg Boyce urged the coal industry to do more to counter the attacks.

Greenpeace’s focus is not just on the big end of town. The anti-coal strategy document proposes the introduction of US-style community organisers to support and direct grassroots campaigns.

The big campaigners have opportunistically latched on to local issues and turned them into national ones. The impact of the protest against Whitehaven Coal’s Maules Creek mine has demonstrated the power of the country-cappuccino alliance.

Like the wilderness movement a generation ago, today’s Australian environmental activists are borrowing the tactics of America’s Sierra Club and adapting them to local conditions. Having succeeded in shutting down the dam construction industry in the 1980s, they now intend to do the same for coal.

It is against this background that Greenpeace’s contrived and belated campaign to rescue the Great Barrier Reef must be judged.

The reef’s recent deterioration is almost entirely due to the crown of thorns starfish and to storms, but Greenpeace is intent on convincing us that coal is to blame.

It is trying its level best to turn the expansion of the port facilities at Abbot Point to export coal from the Galilee Basin into the next Franklin Dam, despite the paucity of evidence it has to work with.

Dredging three million tonnes of clean sand and depositing it on more sand does not really cut it, particularly since the dumping site is farther from the coral reef than Calais is from Dover.

This is, however, a purely symbolic campaign. The battle for the reef, as the ABC’s Four Corners pitched it last week, is a battle of good and evil between coral and coal.

The recent breakthrough in the eradication of the coral-eating starfish barely rated a mention.

Teams of divers funded by the government have administered needles to hundreds of thousands of these noxious invertebrates. Farmers are being paid to keep rivers free of nutrients in which the starfish blossom.

Rays of hope such as this, however, cannot be allowed to dilute the apocalyptic narrative that is mandatory in ABC documentaries on the environment.

“How much do we really care about our most iconic national treasure?” Kerry O’Brien asked rhetorically. On reflection, that’s not a bad question.


Tony Abbott warned over backflip on hate spoeech

Tony Abbott has been warned by his own MPs that his decision to dump proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act will see Coalition supporters flock to Clive Palmer.

And several MPs have also cautioned the Prime Minister against dealing with certain Islamic groups.

Mr Abbott dumped his long-held promise to repeal section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act after a backlash from ethnic communities earlier this month.

He said he needed the support of the Australian Muslim community for proposed changes to anti-terrorism laws.

The decision to abandon the government's election pledge was raised in the party room on Tuesday by several MPs including Liberal senator Cory Bernardi and Nationals MP George Christensen.

Mr Christensen told the Prime Minister that for many Coalition voters, the decision to abandon making it no longer illegal to insult or humiliate someone on the grounds of race was the last straw. He said many were now planning to vote for the Palmer United Party instead of the government. 

Senator Bernardi told his colleagues he was disappointed the government had ditched its pledge altogether instead of coming to a compromise. He then went on to warn the Prime Minister against dealing with individuals such as the Sydney Muslim community leader Keysar Trad and groups like the Islamic Council of Victoria, parts of which have advocated for some aspects of sharia law in Australia.

Senator Benardi's caution were echoed by Liberal MP Luke Simpkins who told MPs the government shouldn't "give oxygen" to people whose plans are "inconsistent with the values of our country".

Senator Bernardi also formally told his colleagues he would be supporting crossbench senator Bob Day's compromise bill in the Senate, as previously revealed by Fairfax Media.

Another MP complained that the decision to abandon the repeal of section 18c was made via the media and without backbench consultation. However, the Attorney-General George Brandis said backbench dissent on the issue had been "very influential" in the government dropping the idea.


Restaurants claim victory in fight for lower weekend penalty rates

WEEKEND trading will be a bit more affordable for Australian restaurants following a hard-fought decision to reduce casual workers’ penalty rates.

Hospitality industry union United Voice had appealed a Fair Work Commission ruling to allow the reduction in weekend loadings from 175 per cent to 150 per cent.

But the appeal was dismissed by the Full Federal Court with Justice Rares, Justice Bromberg and Justice Griffiths ruling that the lowering of penalty rates should stand.

CEO of Restaurant and Catering Australia John Hart said the decision would provide much needed labour cost relief, and encourage businesses to remain open on Sundays.

“It’s taken 900-days and $1.8 million in legal costs but finally this decision has been made,” said Mr Hart.

“It will save restaurants around $120 million a year, and that saving will allow businesses to open, to provide staff with more hours and customers with more choice.”

Had penalty rates been raised to 175 per cent, restaurateurs would have had to pay casual employees at level two and below, around $32 an hour.  Most of the workers receive a base rate of $18 an hour.

United Voice had challenged the commission’s decision to allow the reduction on the basis that cutting weekend rates would lead to high staff turnover in the industry.

The union represents about 120,000 hospitality workers.

Penalty rates have long been an issue for the restaurant industry with many now opting to close on weekends and public holidays rather than pay staff a premium.


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