Monday, September 22, 2014

Qld police keep files on protest groups
Glad that's back.  In my student days I helped the Special  Branch with information about university radicals

PROTESTERS are more likely to embarrass Queensland Premier Campbell Newman than physically harm him, right-to-information files reveal.

THE documents show the Queensland police Security Intelligence Branch keeps files on so-called "issue-motivated groups" (IMGs), including unions and environmental activists.

The branch provides threat assessments to the government before community cabinet meetings, and the documents obtained by AAP show the risks posed by IMGs to the premier's safety are generally regarded as low and any threats are unlikely to include violence.

"It is assessed that IMGs pose the greatest risk of embarrassment to the premier and his government by their continued and varied methods of protest and often intend to embarrass the premier rather than physically harm him," a file from September 2012 says.

In January 2013, Mr Newman changed a lunch plan after being told by police that 25 Queensland Nurses Union members wanted to confront him at a Townsville restaurant.

Nigel Powell, a former Queensland police officer whose exposes on police corruption led to the 1980s Fitzgerald inquiry, said police did not have a duty to protect politicians from embarrassment.

"As soon as you start saying, 'You should change the venue because you might be embarrassed' - as a police officer I shouldn't be concerned about that," he told AAP.

A separate entry from April 2013 names the Together public service union's Mackay organiser Dolph Lossberg for "attempting to gather a large crowd of union members, 500-1000" to protest about job cuts.

"I'm sure there must be files with suspected terrorists as well," Mr Lossberg told AAP. "There are more people than union officials to investigate in Australia."

Queensland Council for Civil Liberties executive member Andrew Sinclair said the naming of a union organiser was inappropriate, and likened the keeping of detailed police files, beyond security threat levels, to the Joh Bjelke-Petersen era.

"They're going down the same slippery slope to the Special Branch days where they become an arm of the government collecting information," he told AAP.

The old police Special Branch was disbanded in 1989 after four decades, following the Fitzgerald inquiry into police and political corruption.

AAP obtained 140 pages of police intelligence files and many of them were blacked out.

Queensland police said its security operations unit enhanced community safety by providing accurate intelligence on politically motivated violence to protect persons "assessed to be at risk".


Australian women desert technology courses, as tertiary IT enrolments fall

Enrolments in Australian tertiary information technology courses have been falling, as local female students recoil from the sector's masculine reputation.

Among domestic students, enrolments have dropped from a peak of 46,945 in 2002 to 27,547 last year, the latest available figures show.

While enrolments have rallied slightly in recent years, the proportion of students studying IT has reached an all-time low. IT courses made up 4 per cent of tertiary enrolments last year, compared with 9 per cent in 2001.

Figures from the Department of Education show just over one in four domestic IT enrolments were female in 2001, but by 2013 girls made up fewer than one in five tertiary IT students.

Three times more Australian female tertiary students were studying IT in 2001 than last year, despite a 50 per cent jump in total tertiary enrolments among girls over the same period.

The courses' dwindling popularity echoes a similar trend in final-year IT enrolments in Victoria, which have reached a 20-year low. But the trend does not apply to international female students who are choosing IT ahead of locals. A total of 4526 Australian female students were studying IT last year, compared with 5381 international students.

RMIT Computer Science senior lecturer Phil Vines said there was a prejudice in the way people continued to see information technology and engineering as not a "feminine discipline".

"Fifteen years ago we were scratching our heads and saying 'what can we do?' so it's not a new phenomenon," Dr Vines said.

University of Wollongong Information Systems and Technology Associate Professor Katina Michael said the lack of female role models for girls contemplating IT was a factor in lower enrolments, as views of the sector were focused on company founders like Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page and Bill Gates.

She said women brought unique perspectives to the industry and were generally better communicators and big picture thinkers. "Women are generally good strategists," she said. "They can think laterally, they can multi-task and be personal at the same time."

On a more general level, she said IT courses faced additional competition from other disciplines such as business and marketing, which were incorporating elements of technology training into their courses. "The purest form of IT is being somewhat ignored but should not be," Dr Michael said.

Australian Computer Society spokesman Thomas Shanahan said he expected total IT enrolment numbers to rebound "once people realise how important digital literacy is going to be" and as the demand for graduates with technology skills increases.

"We can't continue relying on mining and manufacturing," he said. "We have to be building the world's most digitally educated future workforce."

He pointed to the British curriculum, where there are classes in coding for primary school students, as a step in the right direction.


The real threat that dare not speak its name

THE massive anti-terrorism raids conducted across Sydney and Brisbane were the latest wake-up call Australia has received to the very real threat within our border.

Our security agencies have been very professional — and very fortunate — in thwarting other planned atrocities but how many additional wake-up calls will be needed before more Islamic leaders and Australian politicians publicly acknowledge and loudly condemn the warped ideology which inspires the alleged terrorists.

In writing about these raids it has been impossible to avoid mentioning the “I” and “M” words — Islam and Muslim — because Islam is the religion the accused claim to follow and Muslim is the identity they choose.

Yet already our politicians from Prime Minister Tony Abbott to Queensland Premier Campbell Newman and NSW Premier Mike Baird are doing everything they can to avoid associating those at the core of these anti-terrorist raids with ­either word.

The closest Newman came to admitting any link was his admission that some “criminals are using the Muslim religion as a badge to get others on board”. Please. The public can join the dots.

IS, Islamic bookshops, deluded idiots claiming to be imams preaching hatred in mosques, men being arrested in homes in which the women are covered from head to toe in black covers, and no one can openly recognise the link to Islam, no matter how much the ideology may have been distorted?

Get real people. The battle cry of Allahu Akbar is being screamed by combatants from every side in the conflict raging from Syria to Iraq and across the mountains and valleys of Afghanistan. It is not the call to Evensong.

That so many in the Australian Muslim community are now co-operating with the authorities is a sign of maturity and, hopefully, a recognition that the deadly tribal feuds that keep the Middle East drenched in blood should never be permitted to find a home here where so many refugees from religious and ideological wars have found a haven.

While the nation appreciates their assistance, their true acceptance of residence or citizenship must include recognition that this is a pluralistic society.

We can choose (or leave) our own religion and adopt or reject ethical beliefs no matter how repugnant and (the Racial Discrimination Act’s 18C aside) offensive that may be to others.

Islam cannot be treated as a sacred cow. It must be open to the same sort of scrutiny, and indeed even mockery, as the ABC routinely dishes out to Catholics, Mormons and others.

Growing numbers of Muslims call Australia home. They must accept the house rules and reject those who insist on enforcing a set of disputed medieval religious edicts on others sheltering under the same roof.


End of the line for hundreds of NSW workers with nothing to do

Hundreds of rail workers are likely to lose their jobs in the next year after staff agreed to a new workplace agreement that removes key job security clauses.

Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian has hailed the end of a "jobs for life" culture after staff at Sydney Trains and NSW TrainLink endorsed the agreement in a vote that closed on Friday.

For the government, the agreement means it can make more than 200 workers currently without a job redundant if those workers do not find another position.

For the past few years, employees that have been unable to find a position in the railways but have not wanted to take voluntary redundancy have been set up in a unit managed by employment consultancy INS.

Since 2011, when Ms Berejiklian started to break up RailCorp and replace it with two new train entities, more than 400 workers have been managed by INS.

These staff spent an average of about eight months in the unit, and the administrative cost of running the unit last year alone was $8 million.

But the new enterprise bargaining agreement removes two clauses that had made it difficult for the government to impose redundancy on any rail worker that did not want to take it.

"For so long rail organisations in NSW had been hamstrung by this ridiculous clause that does not exist in any other comparable NSW Government agency," Ms Berejiklian said.

Unions, however, which in effect endorsed a new workplace agreement that gives staff an average annual 3.1 per cent pay increase over the next three years, said the INS pool of workers was a reflection of poor management.

"They've refused to redeploy these people," said Mark Morey, a deputy assistant secretary at Unions NSW.

"The question really is why has the government been wasting millions of dollars allowing people to sit there not using their skills."

The workers currently managed by INS are understood to come from across the railways and include engineers, station attendants, transit officers, station managers and ticket sellers.

The average annual 3.1 per cent pay rise offered to rail workers reflected the significance of the removal of the job security clauses.

Under the government's wages policy, it will not offer more than 2.5 per cent annual pay rises unless staff agree to other operational changes.


Even a wharfie can swear too much, rules Fair Work Commission

It is common knowledge most employees would be sacked for swearing like a wharfie. But can a wharfie be sacked for swearing like a wharfie?

Apparently they can.  The Fair Work Commission has upheld the dismissal of a Western Australian dockhand who used colourful language towards his supervisor and colleagues on multiple occasions, even after the final written warning was given.

The commission found when the supervisor asked the dockhand to help another labourer, the dockhand responded: "get f---d" and "get the fat lazy c--t to do it".

On a separate occasion, the leading hand raised a safety issue and the dockhand responded by saying: "you're a dickhead. You are supposed to be a leader of this group. You're a cock."

The employee also had said to another supervisor to "f--k off" and "get f---ed twice" and, on a separate occasion, had said to the security guard to "f--- off".

When the employer Mermaid Marine Vessel Operations dismissed him, the dockhand brought an unfair dismissal claim.

Commissioner Bruce Williams found it was unacceptable for the dockhand to direct the swearing at his colleagues even though swearing was common as part of "everyday descriptive language" at the dock .

"There is a generally appreciated distinction between regularly using swear words as part of everyday descriptive language and swearing aggressively and malicious at another person," Commissioner Williams said.

HWL Ebsworth employment lawyer Brad Swebeck said the generational and cultural change in workplaces meant swearing in a threatening manner was no longer acceptable.

"Australians like to use their swear words but other people might find that really offensive and the employer has to deal with that," Mr Swebeck said.

"There's a new generation of workforce out there, what might have been acceptable 10 or 15 years ago may no longer be relevant," he said.

It is understood the sacked employee is considering an appeal of the commission's decision. He will have until October 3 to make an appeal.


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