Friday, November 28, 2014

Children in detention: protesters harass the people solving the problem

A passive-aggressive civil disobedience movement has been underway in Australia for months with activists occupying the offices of federal Coalition ministers and refusing to leave. They demand to be arrested. They use social media to demonstrate their civil sacrifice.

The occupiers have started carrying children's soft toys, as a signal of their noble intent.

They think that caring about children in detention is self-evidently good and pure and noble. Members of the Uniting Church have been foremost in the more sanctimonious aspects of these displays.

The occupying movement is called Love Makes A Way. However, when it really mattered, when the problem of children in detention was getting out of hand, when nearly 2000 kids were locked up and others had drowned at sea, when the federal Labor government was opening detention camps all over Australia, then announced a hell-hole in Papua New Guinea, there was no occupying movement, complete with soft toys.

It wasn't until the problem was being solved, and the peak number of 1992 children in detention, reached in the middle of 2013, had been slashed in half by the incoming Coalition government, that the sit-ins started.

Yet there were no sit-ins while Labor was opening detention centres in Inverbrackie, Pontville, Wickham Point, Curtin, Scherger, Yongah Hill, Blaydin Point, Darwin Airport Lodge, Berrimah House, Adelaide, Brisbane and Port Augusta, after filling Christmas Island, which it had called a "white elephant" to overflow.

Thousands of beds were installed, thousands of strands of razor wire were installed, 50,000 people were placed in detention, including 8000 children. No government offices were occupied by church activists.

The Coalition government then quickly stopped the flow of undocumented arrivals, and started closing detention centres, and reduced the number of detained children by 75 per cent on Christmas Island, and by more than 50 per cent in the rest of the system, and is preparing to release the rest of the children into the community when required legislation has been passed.

Labor and the Greens created a problem which simply did not exist when Labor won power in 2007. Their moral grandstanding led directly to the deaths of more than 1000 people, the incarceration of 50,000, the re-emergence of a gouging people-smuggling trade, a quagmire in the Australian legal system, and a $10 billion burden on the federal budget.

Because the electorate was profoundly opposed to the idea of open borders – the tacit policy of the Greens that they refuse to admit – the Labor government had to institute the worst-of-both worlds, a deterrence policy and an enormously expensive admissions process which let most undocumented arrivals into the country anyway.

So why was this national disgrace not a matter of civil disobedience? Why is the government – which released close to 1000 children from detention – being condemned for a problem it did not create and is quickly solving?

So far the offices of Prime Minister Tony Abbott, federal ministers Scott Morrison and  Julie Bishop, assistant ministers Michaelia Cash and Jamie Briggs, along with the office of Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, have been occupied.

Those who are occupying offices and demanding to be arrested are presumably not idiots. They must know that the placement of hundreds of children into care is a large-scale bureaucratic process. It takes months, and most of the children speak no English.

Caring about children in detention is laudatory. The activists of Love Makes A Way are to be commended for caring and for doing something about it. But I find their belated, selective, passive-aggressive, toy-brandishing, arrest-me, social-media grandstanding to be nauseating. The people who are busy solving the problem are being harassed and blamed.

Labor was hopelessly wrong on this issue both coming into power and going out. It mocked the Coalition's policies to solve the problem. The electorate did not. So successful has the Abbott government been in stopping the boats and reducing the numbers in detention that it has ceased to be an issue of national debate.

The antics of what I regard as Hypocrisy Will Find A Way – which just happens to be targeting a conservative government – affords an opportunity to look at the numbers and commend the federal government for staunching, defusing and dismantling the national detention disgrace. It has done so with quite remarkable speed, given how overwhelmed the Rudd-Gillard government was in fixing the mess it so methodically created.


Controversy over foreigners buying Australian real-estate

After all the hearings and submissions, the House of Representatives Economics Committee Report on Foreign Investment in Residential Real Estate boils down to this sentence on page 86:

"Conflicting evidence has been received by this inquiry, although on balance it is the committee's view that the benefits of foreign investment outweigh the negatives."

It might seem a little odd that this bottom line doesn't feature in the "four key findings that translate into 12 practical recommendations" listed in committee chair Kelly O'Dwyer's introduction to the report, but followers of Yes, Minister  - the British documentary series on the nature of government – would not be surprised.

There is a need for politicians to be seen to be doing something about "barbeque stopper" issues, particularly if such an issue is in danger of becoming socially divisive, is being whipped along by the government's tabloid media of choice and is causing some angst in the government's electoral heartland.

So it is with the suggestion that "foreigners" (code word for "Asians") are invading Australia not via leaky boats, but through real estate agents – buying up vast tracts of Australian housing, pushing affordability through the roof, pricing "real" Australians out of the market and thus denying them their birthright of the Great Australian Dream.

Ms O'Dwyer doesn't spell it out quite that clearly in her introduction, but she goes close:

    "Owning your own home is part of the great Australian Dream. For many it represents the opportunity to build a future, it represents connection with community and security for family.

    "Buying into the Australian Dream doesn't come cheap. According to a recent International Monetary Fund, the current ratio of housing prices in Australia to average incomes is 31.6% above the historical average.

    "Is it any wonder then, that many Australians now worry that home ownership may be out of reach for them, for their children, or for their grandchildren? At the same time, Australians worry about rental and interest costs, and their impacts on the cost of living.

    "There is no one simple explanation for the decline in housing affordability – although lack of land supply, underdevelopment, state planning laws and regulations, local council red tape, and stamp duty and tax arrangements likely all play a part.

    "Over the years, however, many in the community have asked the question – what role does foreign investment play in residential real estate?"

And so, to be seen to be doing something and in keeping with the sage advice of never holding an inquiry without knowing what it will find, Joe Hockey commissioned an inquiry, giving O'Dwyer's committee the task of doing something.

The four key findings amount to the discovery that the government lacks  detailed knowledge about just how much real estate is owned by whom and that the Foreign Investment Review Board probably has not been enforcing the existing perfectly adequate rules.

So, the recommendations include for the establishment of a national register of land title transfers to include citizenship and residency status of all purchasers – something the Nationals and Alan Jones have been after for some years.

(And such a register could make for interesting reading for all sorts of reasons for all sorts of people if it insists on drilling down to beneficial ownership.)

The committee wants FIRB to have access to Immigration Department information on the departure of visa holders, to be across all foreign purchases and to enforce the existing rules.

To finance this large increase in FIRB's workload, the committee proposes a user-pays application fee of $1,500 for foreign purchases. The Parliamentary Budget Office suggests that would raise about $159 million over four years.

O'Dwyer's introduction manages to include the standard few gratuitous swipes at the previous Labor governments, corrects speculation about free trade agreements having an impact on residential impact and supports the adequacy of our existing regulations.

So there, something has been seen to be done, foreign buyers should be reassured as the nation needs their investment to encourage more building and the real conclusion about the impact on housing affordability is what everyone already knew – maybe a little at the margin, but not enough to worry about it.


Green Party leader trying to hang on to renewable energy target

Greens leader Christine Milne has reached out to key crossbench senators to try to save the renewable energy target.

Senator Milne has sent three personalised letters to RET fence-sitters Jacqui Lambie, Nick Xenophon and Ricky Muir, detailing the impact scaling back the target would have on their states.

In one letter, she appeals to fellow Tasmanian, Senator Lambie, to help drive investment in renewable energy or face "economic pain, higher unemployment and social dislocation".

Senator Lambie has pushed for hydro to be included in the RET, claiming the target disproportionately affects Tasmanians - who predominantly run on hydro-electricity.

"I fear you have been misled by industries that have a financial interest in destroying Tasmania's emerging industries," Senator Milne writes.

The government wants to slash the target of 41,000 gigawatt hours to about 27,000, claiming that figure will represent 27 per cent of energy use by 2020 instead of the bipartisan level of 20 per cent.

Senator Milne's letters, obtained by AAP, follow a crossbench plan to include existing hydro and solar projects in the RET.

The proposal - spearheaded by Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm - would mean no significant new investment in renewable energy would be needed to meet the target.

It comes amid industry uncertainty prompted by a breakdown in major party negotiations.

Palmer United Party leader Clive Palmer - with two Senate seats - is committed to maintaining the target, leaving Senator Muir and Senator Xenophon as crucial votes to pass the proposal if the government signs on.

Senator Milne claims including existing hydro in the target would cost households and would not reduce emissions nor drive new investment - a key aim of the policy.

"In other words, it would be all-pain for no gain," she writes to Senator Muir.

The Clean Energy Council believes the proposal would hand $13.5 billion to existing hydro power at the expense of much of the planned $14.5 billion of investment in new large-scale renewable energy.

Senator Milne has requested meetings with each senator next week.


Iced coffee cops:  Victorian police are captured on video sipping drinks while parked in a No Standing zone

Two police officers have been left red-raced after apparently being filmed enjoying an iced coffee on an outdoor table while their marked police car is parked in a No Standing zone.

The two officers from Victoria Police were filmed by a disgruntled member of the public, who then decided to embarrass the officers by posting the clip on Facebook on a page called 'Victoria Police Corruption'.

The video, which was taken on Hawthorn Road Caulfield North, in Melbourne's inner south-east, has already garnered over 230,000 views since it was uploaded 21 hours ago.

The home video shows the two officers sitting at an outdoor table sipping drinks at a café, having parked their car within walking distance to their table, in a No Standing zone.

Clearly upset with the officers' misconduct, the Facebook member uses his phone to film the unlawful act, hoping to name and shame the officers involved in the incident.

'Nice place for lunch,' the man filming the video says, taunting the officers with his camera.

'Parked in a No Standing, you’d give us a ticket for that wouldn't you.' he says, repeating it when he gets no response from the officers. The police officers give the man the cold shoulder, not acting up for the camera.  

'Wouldn't you constable' the man says, referring to the parking ticket,  as he zooms in on the officers name tag.

'Did you get my name?,' the constable asks, as the man decides to turn off his recording device as the policeman answers him back.

As the Daily Mail understands, police vehicles may park in No Standing zones in emergency situations.  Police officers also need to be in close proximity to their car, should an emergency arise.

The Facebook group 'Victoria Police Corruption' states that they are: 'An open platform for documenting police news, misconduct, brutality and abuse of power'  'The practice of Police investigating Police needs to end' the page says.

Over 1,200 people commented on the post, with the majority of commenters siding with Victoria Police in this situation.

Victoria Police told Daily Mail Australia, that all employees are 'required to park police vehicles legally at all times, unless exempt from doing so.'

'An exemption is available under the Road Rules Victoria Regulation Act 2009 for drivers of emergency vehicles. Information on exemptions is available in part 19 of the act,' they said.


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