Monday, June 30, 2014
Disabling rorters: Planned Disability Pension Scheme overhaul could force thousands of Australians into workforce
AUSTRALIA’S disability support pension will be abolished for anyone not suffering a permanent disability and replaced with a working age welfare payment under radical reforms the Abbott Government will now consider.
If adopted, the scheme would involve migrating hundreds of thousands of people off the DSP to a new, temporary, working age welfare entitlement.
Warning the nation’s welfare system is a complex mess of payments, supplements and confusing income tests, welfare expert Patrick McClure will on Sunday outline sweeping changes in a report commissioned by the Federal Government.
It will include calls for tax reform for all Australians, warning the interaction of personal income tax and means-tested welfare payments can reduce rewards for working and diminish incentive to work.
For the disabled, he suggests a new working age payment for people who have some capacity to work and bridge the gap between the DSP that pays people more than the dole.
The report calls for the DSP to be quarantined as “only for people with a permanent impairment ”.
“People with disability who have current or future capacity to work could be assisted through the tiered working age payment to better reflect different work capacities,’’ the report states.
“Within the working age payment, different tiers of payment could take account of individual circumstances, such as partial capacity to work, parental responsibilities or limitations on availability for work because of caring.”
Crucially, the report also suggests adjustments to family payments can be justified on the grounds of extra assistance being provided under the new paid parental leave scheme and in the case of the DSP, the new National Disability Insurance Scheme.
“Reform also needs to take account of recent developments such as the system of lifelong care and support for people with disability being introduced through the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the expansion of paid parental leave and the opportunities offered by new technology,’’ the report states.
Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews will on Sunday call for debate on the options, warning he is deeply concerned that the DSP had become a “set and forget” payment but that changes would be made in consultation with the community.
“I have asked Mr McClure to look at what can be done to simplify the welfare system and get those with a capacity to work back into the jobs market,” he said.
Happy Ramadan signs at 239 Woolworths stores creates a stir with some customers threatening to boycott stores
WOOLWORTHS is wishing some customers a “Happy Ramadan” — but not everybody is celebrating.
The supermarket giant has Ramadan promotions in 239 stores in areas with big Muslim populations.
At Sunshine’s Marketplace Woolworths, posters and a display of nuts and dried fruit greet customers.
The month-long Islamic religious festival involves fasting in daylight hours.
But some customers have complained the promotion is offensive and un-Australian. On the supermarket’s Facebook page, one person accused the chain of “pandering to a minority”. Another said: “I find this kind of advertising OFFENSIVE, as an Australian & as a female!!!”.
And another said the signs were offensive to her beliefs and she would boycott stores where they were displayed.
Woolworths spokesman Russell Mahoney said the promotion was running in 239 stores around Australia. “We celebrate as many international festivities as possible to support the diverse population of Australia,” he said. That included Diwali, Lunar New Year and Passover.
Islamic Council of Victoria secretary Ghaith Krayem welcomed Woolworths’ promotion and said people who opposed such initiatives did so out of ignorance and unsubstantiated fears. “Ramadan is a time of reflection and renewal and maybe it is also a time for all of us to be inclusive rather than push each other away.”
Labor says Tony Abbott’s federation reforms may be path to GST expansion
THERE has been mixed reaction from premiers to the Abbott government’s drive for federation reform, and the Labor opposition has claimed the far-reaching initiative could be used to make further budget cuts and blackmail the states into supporting a GST increase.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott outlined the terms of reference for his long-awaited federation white paper, revealed in The Weekend Australian, at today’s Liberal Federal Council meeting in Melbourne.
“Now is the time to make each level of government sovereign in its own sphere,” he announced.
The commonwealth would continue to take a leadership role on issues of genuine national and strategic importance, Mr Abbott said.
But there should be less federal intervention in areas where states had primary responsibility such as health and education.
The policy white paper was promised during the 2013 election campaign as a way to end waste, duplication and buck-passing between Canberra and the states.
Since then, however, tension between the two tiers of government has bubbled over across the political divide after plans were revealed in the May budget for the states to receive $80 billion less in funding to spend on hospitals and schools.
Speaking at today’s meeting, Queensland Liberal Premier Campbell Newman said he was open to reforming traditional federation arrangements but argued for a greater federal revenue commitment.
However, South Australia’s Labor Premier Jay Weatherill was scathing of the proposal, telling ABC TV it would lead to the “Americanisation” of the health system.
Federal Labor’s shadow treasurer Chris Bowen said he feared the white paper would be a blueprint for further budget cuts on top of the government’s $80 billion “curtain raiser”.
“We are concerned that Tony Abbott will use this … (to) blackmail state governments into accepting an increase in the GST,” he said in a statement.
Senior officials from the Prime Minister’s department will work on the paper in consultation with the states and territories and representatives of local government.
It is due to be released at the end of next year.
Mr Abbott also made a pitch today to the Senate’s new crossbench which will decide the fate of some of the government’s agenda from July 7.
“I say to the new senators, we won’t hector you and we won’t lecture you,” Mr Abbott said, adding that he respected the election of the microparty senators and asked them to respect his mandate.
The federal government faces an uphill battle to get some controversial elements of its budget, such as welfare changes and a GP co-payment, passed by the upper house.
Treasurer Joe Hockey told the party faithful to “stay the course” in the face of budget criticism.
“When the critics grow fierce and when the words appear intimidating, strengthen your resolve,” he said.
The Federal Council narrowly passed a motion urging the government to refrain from introducing the GST on overseas online shopping purchases under the current $1000 threshold.
It’s at odds with the NSW Coalition government’s stance and the work state treasurers have been doing for the past couple of years in trying to reach an agreement.
Meanwhile, the Greens have accused outgoing Liberal federal president Alan Stockdale of letting “the cat out of the bag” on how the party will continue to seek corporate funding to get around restrictions on political donations.
Mr Stockdale flagged that the party should consider introducing corporate membership.
New president Richard Alston said he had not given the idea much thought but was open to sensible suggestions.
Truly dangerous ideas don't condemn girls to death
In a forthcoming article in Quadrant magazine, I argue that Section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act should be repealed so that controversial issues of national importance such as Aboriginal identity and multiculturalism can be freely debated.
Having staked out this position in favour of free speech, criticising the Festival of Dangerous Ideas (FODI) for inviting a member of the radical Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir to explain why 'Honour killings are morally justified' appears to leave one open to the charge of hypocrisy.
Following a public outcry, FODI's management quickly announced the invitation had been withdrawn and the session cancelled. This is not a form of censorship, and questioning the appropriateness of discussing the proposed topic in the proposed forum was never a matter of curbing free speech.
What has finally been corrected is a terrible lapse in judgment (as well as taste) by the organisers.
The first lapse in judgment involved the inappropriate use of a public institution - the Sydney Opera House.
Using this venue to provide a platform for a zealot and ideologue who seeks to justify and excuse murder is not just inappropriate - it's an intolerable violation of the basic principles of a free and democratic society.
No citizen should have to endure the state's resources being deployed against their fundamental rights and vital interests in such a manner. That is to say that taxpayers' money should not be used to help promote ideas that are 'dangerous' (i.e. fatal) for Muslim females who simply wish to enjoy the personal freedoms that others take for granted.
If a private venue or organisation thought it worthwhile to host a public discussion justifying honour killing, this would be another matter. They would bear both the cost and the responsibility, and would run the reputational risk of being associated with the speaker and their repugnant views.
But I suspect that most private venues or organisations would exercise good judgment. They would not want to be seen as responsible for bringing into the public domain the idea that hacking girls to death for having sex before marriage or for not agreeing to a forced marriage is somehow (as the FODI session blurb suggested) a legitimate cultural and/or religious practice that should be respected in a multicultural society.
This identifies the second lapse in intellectual judgment by FODI's organisers. In their misguided attempt to 'push the boundaries' and stimulate discussion of a so-called controversial issue, they do not appear to have understood what a truly dangerous idea, as opposed to a vile and noxious idea, actually is.
The fact is that not all questions are worth asking and not all answers are worth listening too.
A dangerous idea worth discussing is one that challenges a prevailing orthodoxy and which, if implemented, would generate public and/or private benefits, without generating public or private harms to others.
It should go without saying, but honour killings comprehensively fail this test.
It is disturbing that the Sydney Opera House and the St James Ethics Centre - organisations that claim to provide cultural and thought leadership - failed to understand why it was not worth talking about justifying the murder of women just because they happen to be born as Muslims.
Sunday, June 29, 2014
A moral story
In Macquarie Fields, NSW, a 4-flat housing trust property was destroyed by a fire.
A Maori family of 9, all welfare recipients and gang members, lived on the right first floor flat. They died.
An Islamic group of seven welfare cheats, all illegally in the country from Pakistan , lived on the right ground floor flat. They, too, all perished.
Five Aboriginals, all ex-cons lived on the left ground floor. They, too, died.
A white couple lived on the left first floor flat. The couple survived the fire.
Various multicultural agencies were furious!!They flew into Sydney and met with the fire commander. On camera, they loudly demanded to know why 21 Maoris’, Muslims and Aboriginals all died in the fire and why only the white couple lived?
The Fire Commander said, "They were at work."
Old ideas for a medium sized country
The Australian cultural elite seems dangerously disparaging of democracy - particularly when the public dismisses fashionable faiths such as global warming. From last night’s Q&A under the heading: "Big Ideas for a Big Country". The participants in the "debate" were Leftists like Mark Latham, Leftists who haven't had a new idea since Karl Marx. Excerpts:
MARK CARNEGIE: Well, I certainly think that we’ve got to explore other ways of thinking about democracy. I think the silent majority of Australia feel incredibly disillusioned and disengaged…
I’d say is, having been to sort of summits and other things that are meant to be taking the great and the good to get them together to find some way forward, I would - all I would say to you is anything that we try is likely to have a better chance than what we are doing at the moment.
MARK LATHAM: ... one of the greatest success stories in this country over the 23-year period, has been a policy model along those lines with the Reserve Bank of Australia independently professionally setting official interest rates and I think there must be scope to extend that model to other contentious areas of public policy. The most important long-term issue for the country is climate change, for the planet, is climate change but it’s the worst level of political debate. Surely there is room, at some point, perhaps under a Turnbull-led Liberal Party, to have an agreement about an independent policy-making authority to look after these contentious issues. Take out the partisanship. Take out the scare campaigns. Take out the low-level party politics. And so, too, in framing the Budget. Tony has been involved in this but the Budget debate in this country is just horrible. Again, full of scare campaigns and political opportunism. You could use a model in macro economics similar to what we have got with the Reserve Bank in monetary policies…
TONY JONES: ...a non-elected body where the power…
MARK LATHAM: To make the decisions.
TONY JONES: ...to make the policy is delegated, as with the Reserve Bank on monetary policy.
These people really want you unable to vote against the carbon tax. Really:
MARK LATHAM: That modern politics doesn’t handle big issues very well and we’ve now got to the point, effectively, of policy gridlock, where you can’t expect an Opposition Party like Labor to put forward carbon pricing at the next election for fear of Tony Abbott’s scare campaign.... That’s why I say that you have to think about alternative mechanisms of policy making that are independent, that are non-partisan…
That’s the first step, for both sides to acknowledge that, really, you won’t get much done in this area if you open it up to political scare campaigns. The Reserve Bank model for monetary policy has been phenomenally successful in this country and Australians now have got accustomed to the idea this is how it’s done. So it can be applied in other areas of policy.
Shock jock Michael Smith dumped for telling the truth about Mohammad
Broadcaster Michael Smith has been dumped from a guest slot on radio station 2GB after he referred to the prophet Muhammad as a paedophile.
Smith had been booked to present Chris Smith’s afternoon program for three weeks starting Monday.
However, he has revealed on his website that 2GB’s program director, David Kidd, phoned him on Friday evening and allegedly said: ‘‘We won’t be needing you, you can’t call a Deity a paedophile.’’ [Mr Kidd is a blasphemer at that rate too. Mohammed is not Allah. 2GB is in the hands of an ignoramus]
Mr Kidd declined to comment when approached by Fairfax Media on Saturday.
Smith’s controversial outburst came during an on-air exchange with Ben Fordham on Thursday. ‘‘The prophet Muhammad was a paedophile, a pederast, a sexual offender, a man who promoted the idea that it was OK to marry a six-year-old and consummate the marriage when the little girl was nine. And that’s written into their books, it’s part of the philosophy ... the Koran. It’s factually correct,’’ he said.
Smith remarked that he was legally permitted to make the comments having previously been cleared by an Australian Communications and Media Authority investigation, following an almost identical rant when he was the 2UE afternoon host in 2011.
But his latest blast triggered a barrage of angry calls from listeners, and led to scathing criticism from veteran presenter Ray Hadley at the start of his program on Friday morning.
‘‘I value the worth of this station in the community ... and sometimes I’ve been guilty of tarnishing its reputation ... for that I’ve apologised,’’ he said. ‘‘... I want to go on record today and completely distance myself from Mr Smith’s comments as well. Yesterday I was insulted by what was said ... and I’ve got to speak out against it.’’
Smith, however, is refusing to apologise for the comments.
He said on his website on Saturday: ‘‘I’ve thought about what I said in answer to Ben’s question. I think it’s wrong for a man in his 50s to have sex with a nine-year-old child. It is wrong, it’s a crime and it should be called out for what it is’’.
Smith told Fairfax he stands by his on-air words and the comments that followed on his website. He said he was unsure whether he had also now lost his guest slot on Fordham’s show in the future.
‘‘The short answer is I don’t know ... but regardless, Ben’s a top bloke and we’ll remain the best of friends no matter what,’’ he said.
Abbott working towards financial deregulation
PRIME Minister Tony Abbott is holding secret trade negotiations to fundamentally deregulate Australia’s banking and finance sector, according to a report citing WikiLeaks documents.
Foreign banks would be given greater access to the Australian market, local bank accounts and financial data could be transferred overseas, and foreign financial and information technology workers would be free to flood the workforce under proposals being discussed by Australian trade negotiators, Fairfax media reports.
Trade Minister Andrew Robb has dismissed experts’ warnings that the proposed changes could harm Australia’s ability to deal with future financial crises independently, saying the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) negotiations are a “key focus” of government policy.
The details have emerged in leaked WikiLeaks documents — specificially a confidential negotiating text provided to Fairfax by WikiLeaks.
Mr Robb reportedly says his department’s policy is to “open as many doors as possible” to encourage the nation’s financial sector to export its services.
“Financial services are a key part of the negotiations for us, given the strength of our sector in areas including banking and wealth management, particularly in the major, growing markets of Asia,” Mr Rob said.
The report says 50 World Trade Organisation members are involved in the TiSA negotiations.
Saturday, June 28, 2014
Friday, June 27, 2014
Slippery Peter thinks he's nuts
He's got a point
Former parliamentary speaker Peter Slipper has lost a bid to have fraud charges against him dropped on mental health grounds.
A Canberra court on Wednesday heard that allegations of dishonesty and sexual harassment had left Mr Slipper feeling he had no way out, and had driven him to try to take his own life.
Yet his application for the charges to be dismissed due to mental illness was thrown out of the ACT Magistrate's Court on Wednesday. It was Mr Slipper's second failed attempt to keep charges he fraudulently used cab vouchers on a Canberra wine-tasting trip thrown out of court. He has pleaded not guilty to the allegations. A six-day hearing set to start on July 21 will now go ahead.
In handing down her decision, Chief Magistrate Lorraine Walker acknowledged the defendant had been diagnosed with a major depressive illness and swift resolution of the legal matters would be in his interests.
She said Mr Slipper's suicidal thoughts were "highly concerning" and told him he should not feel like a "social pariah", because he was innocent until proven guilty.
Although the amount of money related to offences was relatively small, Mr Slipper's position as a federal MP at the time meant they were potentially serious, she said.
Mr Slipper, who served as the speaker in 2011 and 2012, appeared in court on Wednesday with a cast on his right arm.
His treating psychiatrist Christopher Martin said via audiovisual link that Mr Slipper had experienced feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness and "ruminated endlessly on his situation". He said Mr Slipper used alcohol to deal with his problems and had "a sense that he has no way out of his current predicament".
Dr Martin said Mr Slipper told him he had made two attempts to take his own life early last year.
The court heard Mr Slipper had been admitted to a medical facility on five occasions since May last year, for periods of between five days and almost a month.
Crown prosecutor Lionel Robberds, QC, argued Mr Slipper's mental state had deteriorated after the offences took place and it had not affected his cognitive function.
Mr Slipper is fighting three charges he dishonestly used about $1000 worth of vouchers in 2010.
Changes to asylum-seeker repatriation test attacked for risking lives, violating rights
A move to radically reduce the threshold for deciding to send asylum seekers back to possible danger will violate rights and endanger lives, leading refugee lawyer David Manne has warned [He would]
Under sweeping changes introduced to Federal Parliament on Wednesday, those whose protection claims are rejected face return to their country unless it is decided they are "more likely than not" to suffer significant harm.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison says the existing threshold, under which they are not returned if there is a "real chance" of them suffering harm, means they can stay as this risk is "as low as 10 per cent".
The new "more likely than not" test would mean there would have to be a "greater than 50 per cent chance" of a person suffering significant harm for them not to be returned, he said.
The change, covering those seeking protection under international treaties against torture and on civil and political rights, was one of many to toughen the process for seeking asylum. It does not apply to those seeking protection under the refugee convention.
While Mr Morrison insists the new law is in line with the approach of Canada, Switzerland and the US, Mr Manne said it was contrary to accepted practice and could carry grave consequences and "ultimately risk the lives of many".
"What this does is propose a fundamental deviation from the well-established threshold for assessing someone's risk of facing life-threatening harm," he said.
Mr Manne said no case had been made for this and other changes that would "downgrade due process and impose restrictions on fundamental rights".
Mr Morrison said the government was committed to ensuring it abided by its international obligations. "This is an acceptable position which is open to Australia under international law and reflects the government's interpretation of Australia's obligations."
"This bill deserves the support of all parties. We need the tools to ensure public confidence in Australia's capacity to assess claims for asylum in the interests of this country, and against the interests of those who show bad faith.
"These changes uphold the importance of integrity, the establishment of identity, and increased efficiency in our protection processing system," he said.
But the changes shocked human rights lawyers. "These amendments would allow the government to send people back to their country of origin even if there's a 49 per cent chance they will be killed or tortured," said Daniel Webb, director of the Human Rights Law Centre.
Greens spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young said it was a dangerous attack on vulnerable asylum seekers already in Australia.
"If you can't prove that you are more likely to be shot than not, you will be on your way home."
Labor immigration spokesman Richard Marles said the changes were troubling. "We would be extremely concerned if the government attempts to use complex legislation to sneak through shifting the goal posts on what determines refugee status," he said.
Moody's rates Australia's economic strength as 'very high'
Global ratings agency Moody's says Australia's economic strength is "very high" and its susceptibility to financial risks "very low".
In its latest credit analysis on Australia, Moody's predicts that the economy will grow between 2.6 per cent and 3 per cent per annum over the next five years.
Unlike the most recent ABS National Accounts economic growth data for the March quarter which was boosted by exports, Moody's believes that households are likely to drive the expansion.
"Near-term growth appears to be driven primarily by domestic consumption, rather than exports and resource investment," the agency noted.
Moody's says Australian consumers have been remarkably resilient in the face of rising unemployment and an attempt to pay down debt, largely due to continued earnings growth, cheap credit and the feeling of increased wealth from rising housing prices.
However, the ratings agency sees that trend of rising housing prices as also being a key vulnerability, with "medium-term risks as Australia's real estate market may be overheating".
"After considering supply-side constraints, the influx of foreign capital and the fact that monetary policy is set to remain accommodative for the foreseeable future, the housing market appears to be increasingly likely to get caught up in a positive price-feedback loop and eventually could face a correction," Moody's warned.
"Re-accelerating housing credit suggests that monetary factors, especially record low interest rates, are playing a prominent role in fuelling the housing market trends."
The ratings agency says a moderate fall in real estate prices is unlikely to severely damage the broader economy, though, because most borrowers are well ahead on their repayments and Australia's banks are well capitalised.
The other major threat to the banking system and economy comes from the near-term possibility that the drop off in mining investment and employment will be in full swing well before resources exports have fully picked up, leading to pockets of unemployment that may push up loan defaults.
Plan to fast-track teacher training to fill gaps questioned
Long-standing American TFA program being transplanted
A proposal to solve a shortage of maths and science teachers by fast-tracking graduates from other disciplines into schools is being questioned by academics, parents and Queensland's peak teaching union.
The State Government said recently it would reconsider plans to introduce Teach for Australia (TFA) graduates into schools as it tries to plug the teacher shortage, despite rejecting similar proposals last year.
TFA recruits high-achieving university graduates and places them in disadvantaged classrooms for two years after six weeks of teacher training.
TFA was founded in Victoria in 2008 by then-federal education minister Julia Gillard and has since also been adopted by the ACT and Northern Territory.
The organisation has come under criticism for placing graduates with less experience rather than those who complete university diplomas and degrees in teaching.
Legislative changes in Queensland would have to be passed to allow the plan to go ahead, which means the program would not be available to be implemented in the state's schools until 2016.
Queensland Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek says he has been approached about TFA and has been considering it, but there were no plans to change legislation at this stage.
"We are always looking at innovative ways to ensure we have the best teachers in the classroom," he said.
"Teacher quality is the most important factor when improving student outcomes.
"To have the Teach for Australia program in Queensland schools we would need to amend existing legislation and consult widely, so if we decide to proceed, it won't happen until 2016."
Queensland Teachers Union (QTU) president Kevin Bates says the program's short preparation for the TFA associates could undermine the status of the teaching profession.
The art of teaching is something that is developed over a period of time.
"One of the fundamental issues is making sure there is sufficient pre-service training to provide students with the foundation skills they need.
"Our concern is obviously to continue to protect that status of our profession by not allowing that type of teaching qualification into Queensland schools."
Kevan Goodworth, CEO of parents association P&Cs Queensland, agrees and says teaching is a complex profession that could not be taught effectively in such a short time.
"The content knowledge and the subject specific knowledge that these people have is extremely valuable and getting high-flying people who have that knowledge is very, very useful," he said.
"However, we would be very interested in teachers obviously having the pedagogical ability to also teach and that is quite complex - normally a four-year course."
An evaluation report of the TFA program by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) in 2012 found its associates were "novices" and needed a significant amount of support in their first few terms of teaching.
However, the report found by their second year, associates were much more confident and were considered by other school staff members to be on-par with other teaching staff.
Jessica McCrae, one of the first TFA associates, says although she felt challenged with her first teaching position, she did cope.
I definitely went into the classroom feeling like I was entering a pretty challenging situation, but I had the tools I needed to be a confident beginning teacher.
Five years on, she is now a teaching and learning leader in maths and science at Hume Secondary College in Melbourne.
However, only 53 per cent of associates continue teaching after they receive their Masters in Education at the end of the program.
Associates also cost $216,500 to train, which is more than double the cost of training a teacher via a postgraduate pathway.
These costs are covered via state and federal government funding, as well as support from the private sector.
Griffith University teaching professor Glenn Finger says its graduate diploma secondary program was a "superior model".
"Those [university] students are highly qualified, cost far less to produce, and build successful careers," he said.
Griffith University students are required to complete a minimum of 10 days of professional experience.
Other universities require more extensive practical experience, such as the University of Southern Queensland, which requires its postgraduate students to complete a minimum of 75 days of professional experience.
However, TFA associates are expected to start teaching without any prior experience.
A Queensland teacher who studied a full education degree at university, Scott Tibaldi, says the more practical classroom experience students get while undertaking a university degree prepares them better.
"The six weeks proposed for the new program may not prepare these prospective new teachers enough, to effectively enter the classroom," he said.
Thursday, June 26, 2014
Clive Palmer will help axe carbon tax but courts Al Gore in push for ETS
Clive Palmer has revealed his party will vote to stop the Abbott Government axing key climate change bodies and will only back the repeal of the carbon tax if lower power prices for consumers are guaranteed.
Flanked by climate change campaigner and former US vice-president Al Gore, Mr Palmer announced his Palmer United Party would vote against the Government's bid to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the Renewable Energy Target and the Climate Change Authority.
The Queensland MP says he is standing by an election promise to support efforts to get rid of the carbon tax but with a significant caveat.
"True to our promises to the Australian people at the last election, Palmer United senators will vote in the Senate to abolish the carbon tax," he said.
"In doing so, Palmer United senators will move an amendment that all producers of energy are required by law, not by choice, to pass on to all consumers of energy the savings from the repeal of the carbon tax."
It is not clear how such a condition could be imposed on companies by the Parliament.
Axing the carbon tax was the major campaign platform and election promise for Tony Abbott during last year's election.
Environment Minister Greg Hunt called a press conference shortly after Mr Palmer's announcement, to hail the "signature" decision to back the carbon tax repeal bill.
He said he was "relaxed" about the PUP leader's plans and appeared willing to meet Mr Palmer's demands on power prices.
"In terms of the question as to whether or not the full cost savings will be passed through to families, there are already guarantees in the legislation, however, we are willing to provide additional guarantees and to work with Mr Palmer and the Palmer United Party on any further legislative amendments," he said.
As the largest voting bloc on the new micro-party cross bench, PUP will hold the balance of power when the Senate changes over next Tuesday.
TWU members forced to join super fund that paid fees to top officials, royal commission told
The Transport Workers Union forced its members to join the industry superannuation fund which paid its directors, including senior union officials, $200,000 in fees each year, the royal commission into trade unions has heard.
The royal commission was told this conduct raised a potential conflict of interest.
The hearing in Perth on Monday was told that it was a requirement of enterprise bargaining agreements struck in 2011 and 2013 that TWU members join the fund.
Jeremy Stoljar, counsel assisting the royal commission into trade union governance and corruption, said four of the nine directors of TWU Super were among the most senior officials of the union.
The head of the negotiating team for the TWU enterprise agreements of 2011 and 2013 was Michael Kaine, an alternate director for the board of TWU Super.
Mr Stoljar said TWU Super was paying the TWU about $200,000 in directors' fees each year, about $500,000 in reimbursement for the salaries and expenses of a number of superannuation liaison officers employed by the TWU and a further $100,000 in sponsorship.
He said evidence to come before the commission would give rise to potential conflict of interest issues.
Mr Stoljar said TWU officials had a duty to get the best superannuation deal for employees, but members including Western Australian truck driver Paul Bracegirdle had complained they were given no choice in which fund they could join.
Mr Bracegirdle, 48, told the commission on Monday that after he began working for Toll Holdings he discovered in 2005 that it was compulsory for his superannuation contributions to be paid to TWU Super.
In his evidence, Mr Bracegirdle said he asked a union delegate in 2009 whether he could choose his own super fund and was told no.
After visiting his local federal member, Stephen Smith, in Perth, Mr Bracegirdle received a letter from Chris Bowen, the minister for superannuation at the time, confirming his only choice of super fund was TWU Super if it was part of an enterprise bargaining agreement.
The commission heard that former TWU Western Australian branch secretary Jim McGiveron allegedly told Mr Bracegirdle to ''eff off'' when he asked about the superannuation fund in August last year.
After years of persistence, Mr Bracegirdle finally joined the fund of his choice because in the 2013 enterprise agreement there was a three-month window of opportunity for employees to nominate a different fund.
"Now that window has closed, we're back to square one right now," he said in a sworn statement.
A spokesman for the Transport Workers Union said superannuation outcomes for members are better when they are achieved through collective bargaining.
''Decades of experience has shown that the retirement savings of members are maximised through the use of not-for-profit industry funds, rather than being eroded by the excess fees and charges imposed by the big banks,'' the spokesman said. ''Industry super funds have consistently outperformed their retail rivals.''
Unrepresentative circus coming to the Senate
AT the end of this week, the current moderately sane Senate will sit for the last time. When next it sits — next month — the Senate will be a circus unmatched in Australian parliamentary history.
Former PM Paul Keating’s oft-quoted observation that it was “unrepresentative swill” will be more than justified.
This situation has been created by the rise of minor and micro parties achieving some success through the clever manipulation of preferences.
Thus we see individuals with little or negligible popular support taking senate seats on the basis of preference deals brokered between parties with no shared values.
While the major parties will usher in a few new senators — some smart, some not so bright — the loud-mouthed Queensland self-promoter Clive Palmer will be welcoming his team of three Palmer United Party senators, led by former rugby league player Glenn Lazarus.
Palmer, who can occasionally be viewed slumped in the Lower House, will call the shots for fellow Queenslander Lazarus, Western Australian Zhenya (Dio) Wang and Tasmanian Jacqui Lambie, and, at the moment, anyway, Motoring Enthusiasts party senator Ricky Muir. Lazarus, whom Palmer nominated as PUP’s leader in the Senate may actually say something of substance when he takes his seat, but so far he has been silent about PUP and its intentions.
Wang has said he agrees with everything Palmer says (much like Opposition leader Bill Shorten rushed to agree with everything Julia Gillard said, even when he didn’t know what she said) and Lambie has said too much already, revealing a profound ignorance of the topics she has tackled.
Veteran broadcaster Mike Willesee needed no tricks to persuade the PUPs to show how ill-equipped they are for parliamentary office when he interviewed them recently.
Ringmaster Palmer has barely been unable to keep his clowns in order to date, and the odds are that whatever instructions he can give while he is recumbent in the House will doubtless be poorly understood by the time they reach his minions in the Senate.
The government has given the Leader of the House Christopher Pyne and Senate Leader Eric Abetz charge of all the cross-benchers but they do not appear at all minded to make special efforts to peel the PUPpies from Clive’s kennel.
The government seems to be prepared to wait until they stray of their own volition — certainly none of the PUPpies has shown the confidence to speak with the government unless Palmer is present.
Lazarus and Wang will probably stay close to Palmer as they have shown no independence of thought so far.
Lambie, a former army corporal who has variously worked for Labor and been a member of the Liberal Party, is at best a loose cannon. She could go anywhere.
Palmer, possibly the least politic individual to self-finance a party into parliament, demonstrated his knuckle-headedness on his arrival in Canberra by demanding (with threats) the government give party status to his lacklustre band and the extra staff that groups which qualify for party status are eligible for, even though PUP did not have sufficient elected members (five) to meet the House rules.
If the extra staff are needed for PUP, and quite obviously, the PUPpies have shown they aren’t up to the task of understanding the processes government without assistance, Palmer might have inveigled Muir into dumping his handful of Motoring Enthusiasts and joining the PUP litter, giving them the critical mass needed to get extra staffers.
Had Palmer not been so brash, it is possible the government may have spoken quietly to independent senator Nick Xenophon and DLP senator John Madigan and brought about some staffing changes.
Having publicly broadcast his demand, Palmer ensured that no party — and certainly not the government — would permit itself to be seen breaching the rules to accommodate his bullying demands in return for some legislative trade-offs.
The government will be able to work more coherently with Family First’s senator-elect Bob Day and incoming independent David Leyon-hjelm as they are patently better equipped intellectually for the demands of office.
The Greens, who hope to win some support from Muir, at least, are still fighting internal battles.
Greens Leader Christine Milne was able to keep the simmering challenge from Melbourne MP Adam Bandt at bay in the aftermath of the lift in support at the disputed WA senate election, but Bandt supporters are now saying that boost was largely a protest vote and not reflective of any personal support for Milne.
Whether any of the PUP senators are capable of meeting the demands of the six-year senate term is another consideration.
Next year’s Anzac Day parades should be colourful affairs, what with the first appearance from our brave fighting boys in the 1st Disability Pension Infantry
Khaled Sharrouf lived on a disability pension in Sydney, but he’s well enough to plan terrorist attacks here and to wage jihad in Syria and Iraq:
These welfare Wahhabis and their holy bludger brigades are currently sweeping through Iraq, laying waste to civilians and soldiers alike in a bid to create some kind of Islamic purity state.
Good luck with that. Let’s assume, for the sake of it, that ISIS (Impaired and Subsidised Islamic Soldiers) achieves its aim of overthrowing governments in Iraq and Syria. What happens next? Well, nothing. Nothing at all. These blokes can’t work, and they’ve got the official medical documents to prove it.
If post-war welfare systems in Iraq and Syria turn out to be anything like Australia’s, they’ll be flooded with compensation claims from every Tom, Dick and Hudhaifah Karim al-Rashid presently murdering their terrified co-religionists.
It says something about just how low the bar is set for disability payments in Australia that people qualify as unable to work even though they are capable of living – indeed, thriving – in war zones.
These must be the only combat veterans in history who arrived at the war on crutches and were able to walk afterwards. Or perhaps we’re witnessing authentic religious miracles; behold Habib, who defied medical science by rising from his sick bed (his fully sick bed) to slaughter other Muslims.
Unfortunately for the future economy of their great Islamic state, however, killing is about all these chaps can do. Thanks to Facebook, we’re already seeing signs of how things might be under the rule of the bludjahideen. Sure, they’re great at putting bullets in the back of captured Iraqi soldiers’ heads. But they clearly can’t find any laborers to bury the bodies.
Life in the compo caliphate won’t be much fun within a generation or two, once everybody is signed up for free government cash. Welfare only works when there are workers. It’ll be a little like Tasmania, except with a slightly less ridiculous electoral system.
Wednesday, June 25, 2014
Sydney Opera House cancels upcoming speech by radical Islamic spokesman on why ‘honor killings are morally justified in Islam’
Uthman Badar, spokesman for pro-sharia Hizb ut-Tahrir, has been stopped from delivering a speech defending honor killings at a cultural festival at The Sydney Opera House. The question should be why was a radical like him invited to speak in the first place?
The event — part of the Festival of Dangerous Ideas — was slammed as a cheap stunt that could have put women’s lives at risk.
The furore comes days after Opera Australia sacked a soprano from performing at the Opera House after an anti-gay slur appeared on her Facebook page.
Federal and state MPs condemned the Opera House for its decision to host Hizb ut-Tahrir spokesman Uthman Badar in a speech titled "honor killings are morally justified”. Honor killing involves murdering a woman who is considered to have shamed her family.
The speech, scheduled for August 30, was removed from the festival’s playlist last night following widespread outrage. The state government is understood to have put pressure on the Opera House with NSW Arts Minister Troy Grant asking for an urgent explanation on why the event was scheduled.
"The NSW government is proud to support programs that enrich our society and culture, but I am concerned this program does not meet that criteria and I have sought an urgent explanation," Mr Grant said. "Where these ideas have the potential to spark racial tension, they move from dangerous to stupid.”
Hizb ut-Tahrir is a banned radical organization in Germany and The Netherlands and, before becoming prime minister, Tony Abbott said he would outlaw it here.
Promotional material for the speech said that historically "parents have reluctantly sacrificed their children — sending them to kill or be killed for the honour of their nation, their flag, their king, their religion. But what about killing for the honour of one’s family?”
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop condemned the event, saying: "It is abhorrent for any person, regardless of faith or ethnicity, to argue in support of murder as a means of protecting the so-called honour of any other individual, family or community.” Federal Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek said honour killing was murder, and "any promotion of or justification for it is completely unacceptable”. Women’s Minister Pru Goward said the event had no place in Australia.
Mr Badar hit back last night, tweeting: "Hysteria wins out. Welcome to the free world, where freedom of expression is a cherished value.”
Schools ditch jargon for plain English in student reports
SCHOOLS have begun ditching jargon from student reports ahead of new rules forcing them to be written in plain English.
The switch aims to make the documents easier for parents to decipher and more personal.
All schools will have to follow suit next year.
Sale’s Guthridge Primary School is among those banishing confusing language in semester reports, to be distributed at most schools this week.
Principal Sue Burnett said she had personally read reports for all 364 students wearing her "mum’s hat” to ensure they were easy to understand.
Technical language from the curriculum had gradually crept into teacher feedback, with some feeling obliged to use the terminology, she said. "It’s basically trying to get away from that," Mrs Burnett said.
"Basically a parent just wants to know, can their child read and write, what are they like at maths, are they well behaved, are they trying hard.”
Park Orchards Primary School principal Georgina Daniel, whose school sent new plain-English reports home last Friday, said feedback from parents had been positive.
Many had raised concern reports were too complex during a recent survey.
"We did some analysis and review of the reports with staff with a view to trying to reduce jargon and educational words that teachers understand but parents may not,” Mrs Daniel said.
"Parents have really responded to the fact the reports really convey meaningful information about their child’s achievements.”
New guidelines, drafted by the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority, will next year require school reports to be written in plain English and gradings made simpler.
"We want to make sure parents and families can understand what their child is learning and how they are progressing, through simple, flexible, individually focused reports," Education Minister Martin Dixon said.
Clive Palmer drops a huge $1b as influence peaks
Clive Palmer's wealth is set to tumble by a cool $1 billion, just as his political influence and power peaks.
Mr Palmer has made his fortune in resources and will retain his billionaire status but his wealth, measured at $2.2 billion a year ago will be considerably smaller when the BRW Rich List is published on Friday.
Now describing himself as a full-time politician and a "retired businessman", his Palmer United Party is set to effectively hold the balance of power in the Senate come July 1, having formed a loose alliance with a number of independent senators.
The government needs six of the eight crossbenchers to repeal the carbon tax and is counting on David Leyonhjelm, Bob Day, the three PUP senators, and Ricky Muir of the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party.
However, Mr Palmer's wealth valuation could get a boost on Wednesday when he reveals his party's voting intention regarding the repealing of the carbon tax, to be considered by the new Senate on July 7.
The fortunes of several other miners, including those with private companies such as QCoal managing director Chris Wallin, will also be hit on this year's BRW Rich List.
Some of those with assets in listed companies have also been hit hard, such as Linc Energy chief executive Peter Bond and long-time prospector Mark Creasy, who has investments in small and medium miners.
Much of the drop in Mr Palmer's valuation is attributed to troubles that have struck Sino Iron, the Pilbara based iron ore mine that forms the basis of his personal fortune, and falling coal prices.
The Sino Iron magnetite project has been hit with huge budget blowouts, significant delays and legal battles between Mr Palmer and China's international investment arm, Citic.
Citic Pacific is building the $10 billion project in Western Australia and, as well as experiencing large financial losses, has battled Mr Palmer's Mineralogy investment company over the terms of royalty payments and control over an export facility.
The investment by Citic in Mr Palmer's project has been described as one of the worst mining investments in Australia in the past decade.
However, considerable royalties are meant to be paid to Mr Palmer as a result of the deal he struck with Citic. Already, more than $600 million has flowed to the billionaire, including $200 million in April last year.
Falling prices have also hit the value of Mr Palmer's coal assets, which includes a $6.4 billion future coal project in Queensland's Galilee Basin. Mr Palmer's Waratah Coal was given approval late last year to build a thermal coal project near Alpha in central-west Queensland, as well as a rail line linking the project to a proposed port extension at Abbot Point.
Palmer has also golf course and tourism assets such as the Palmer Coolum Resort, which has attracted notoriety for his collection of replica dinosaurs.
As has often been the case, Mr Palmer holds plenty of other assets that could one day reap big rewards. It is a strategy he has employed for decades, including the acquiring of mining assets in WA in the 1980s.
One is a gas deposit off Papua New Guinea, which Mr Palmer said last August could be worth $35 billion. There has been no news on the project since.
He has also commissioned the construction of a replica of the ship the Titanic, reputedly to be ready to sail in 2017.
The BRW Rich 200 is out on Friday, inside The Australian Financial Review Magazine and online at BRW.com.au.
Senator Louise Pratt warns of Labor Party 'extremists' in valedictorian speech
Opponents of abortion and homosexual marriage are extremists, apparently
Labor's Louise Pratt has branded members of her party "extremists" and said they exercised a power far in excess of their numbers during her valedictorian speech in Federal Parliament.
Senator Pratt will leave the Senate at the end of the week after Labor powerbroker Joe Bullock claimed the top spot on the party's ticket in last year's Senate election.
She described herself as "proudly" on the left of her party, but said those with her views were characterised as "radicals".
"I have always found it ironic that the very views that lead to me being labelled exactly that are those views shared by the majority of the Australian population, although quite often not by the majority of the Australian Parliament," she said.
She also used the opportunity to reaffirm her commitment to reform of the Marriage Act to recognise same-sex unions and legal access to abortion.
"Despite attempts to characterise views such as mine as ‘radical’, every piece of research in this country demonstrates that these views are shared by the majority of Australians," she said.
"They are mainstream views and it is those who deny them that are extremists in our country.
"It remains a great disappointment to me that my Party still contains a small rump of those extremists, who exercise, in my view, power far in excess of their number, and most certainly far in excess of their support among our Party’s members and the among our Party's unions."
She spoke about the need to ensure public confidence in Australia's electoral processes.
She said the 2013 election, recount and subsequent re-run had undermined public trust in the electoral system, and urged her colleagues to work to restore that confidence.
"My own personal disappointment is a minor thing when set beside the potential for those events to undermine that trust and confidence in electoral processes which underpin the legitimacy of our Parliaments and our Governments," she said.
"Fair, transparent, and democratic processes within political parties are as important for the integrity of the system as are fair, transparent and democratic elections.
"I won't be here in this place to be part of the discussions and debates about what steps need to be taken to ensure that what happened in 2013 never happens again."
Speaking at a function arranged by the Dawson Society in November last year, Senator Pratt's election running mate Mr Bullock described her as a poster child for causes such as gay marriage and accused her of canvassing votes against him.
After details of the damaging speech were aired in the media this year, Mr Bullock issued a public and "unreserved" apology to Senator Pratt and the Labor Party.
Tuesday, June 24, 2014
ABC hit by $50m of new cutbacks
THE Abbott government is planning to strip an additional $40 million-$50m from the ABC’s budget, following recommendations from an independent efficiency review of the taxpayer-funded national broadcaster.
Last month’s federal budget cut $43.5m from the budget of the ABC and SBS over four years through a 1 per cent annual efficiency dividend, representing what Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull described as a “down payment” on further savings to be identified by the Lewis efficiency review.
It is understood that having seen the review, which was conducted by former Seven West Media’s chief financial officer Peter Lewis, the government will now seek to implement a “second wave” of cuts that would amount to a 4 per cent hit to the broadcaster’s annual budget of $1.28 billion.
The Australian understands that the ABC will be forced to reach the 4 per cent target through a combination of cuts and asset sales that will be redirected to the government in as little as a one-year period.
ABC managing director Mark Scott has argued that the ABC should reinvest the proceeds from any sales back into the broadcaster.
But Coalition sources have said it was a “laughable” suggestion, which would defeat the purpose of making savings.
A second senior Coalition source has indicated some ministers could push for harsher cuts, saying it would be disappointing if the cuts were not at least 4 per cent.
The ABC has previously indicated it expects to make announcements of big efficiency savings between August and October, with more savings to be found over coming years.
Mr Turnbull and Mr Scott were due to meet last Wednesday to discuss the Lewis review but were forced to delay their meeting because of heavy fog at Canberra airport. The two will meet in the coming weeks.
Mr Scott has said programming could be at risk but it’s understood the Lewis study has found more than ample savings in back of house operations. When asked about the Lewis efficiency review last week, Mr Scott said: “The first matter of business is for us to resolve the Australia Network funding and what that means for redundancies and the future of our international service.”
Last night, a spokesman for the ABC said: “The Lewis review is confidential. Discussions between the ABC and the Communications Minister about the review are ongoing.”
The review was ordered in January by Mr Turnbull “to ensure ABC and SBS fulfil their charter responsibilities at least cost to the community’’.
Mr Lewis’s draft report says there are “opportunities for greater operational co-operation between the ABC and SBS, while retaining their ... unique programming identities”.
ABC insiders say a cut of near 4 per cent will lead to a tangible effect on programming, most likely in drama, documentary and children’s TV, and not in the news division so disliked by some Coalition members.
SBS insiders are unhappy several of their efficiencies being implemented were adopted in the Lewis review, meaning money it was going to reinvest from savings will go into federal coffers.
Insiders claim many of the “savings” identified were impractical or even “harebrained.”
Abbott offers asylum seekers $10k to go home
The Abbott government is offering asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru detention centres up to $10,000 to abandon their hope of resettlement in Australia and voluntarily return to the country they fled from.
The revelation comes as the High Court on Friday issued a stunning rebuke to the Abbott government's border protection policy, striking down its decision to to refuse to issue permanent protection visas to boat arrivals found to be refugees.
In two unanimous decisions, with implications for thousands of boat arrivals, the court ruled that Immigration Minister Scott Morrison's decision to impose a cap on the number of places in Australia's refugee intake for boat arrivals was invalid.
The sudden boost in payments is the latest tactic being used by the Abbott government to cement its hardline stance against asylum seekers who come to Australia without a visa.
In what are dubbed as "return packages", the Coalition has dramatically increased monetary incentives for asylum seekers to return home that range from $3300 to $10,000 based on "individual circumstances", compared with Labor's offering of between $1500 and $2000 last year.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees on Friday showed Australia's efforts to help alleviate the crisis have stagnated or worsened, with the country sliding backwards in the global rankings, according to some measures.
Australia now ranks 17th in the world to resettle refugees, according to the Refugee Council of Australia.
Asylum seekers who take up the cash offer are transported to the Hideaway Hotel in Port Moresby that is paid for by the International Organisation of Migration before being flown back to their country of origin.
Fairfax Media understands Lebanese asylum seekers are being paid $10,000 if they voluntarily return to Lebanon, while Iranians and Sudanese are being offered $7000, Afghans are being given $4000 and Pakistani, Nepalese and Burmese asylum seekers are receiving $3300.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison confirmed that 283 people had voluntarily returned home since September 2013.
It is understood the payments, which are administered by the IOM but funded by the Australian Immigration Department, are made once the asylum seeker has returned to their home country.
Mr Morrison said the packages were tailored to each individual case. "The process of voluntary return is conducted in direct partnership with the International Organisation for Migration which has extensive experience in such matters worldwide," a spokesman for Mr Morrison said. "All such returns are voluntary. The IOM does not facilitate involuntary returns," he said.
Yet in a motion before the Senate, the Greens are urging the government to put a moratorium on sending asylum seekers back to Iraq, where a violent uprising continues to swallow the country.
It is not known whether any money has been offered to Iraqi asylum seekers to leave the centres. Only two days before the violent clashes in the north of the country, an Iraqi man on a bridging visa was forced back to Basra, Iraq by the Australian government, it was revealed on Friday.
Human rights groups and advocates are outraged at the incentives being offered, saying Australia should not be paying people to return to the countries that they fled from.
The Australia Director of Human Rights Watch, Elaine Pearson, said Australia was not alone in facing the problem of increasing global migration.
"By making the conditions in Manus and Nauru so awful that people are encouraged to go back to active conflict zones, you are putting them in danger and quite likely, they'll simply have to leave," she said.
Surge in frontline numbers in Queensland police, school and hospitals
MORE than 2600 public servants were employed in frontline services in Queensland in the last three months with the biggest boosts to hospitals, schools and police, according to figures obtained exclusively by The Courier-Mail.
The surge showed the Government was winning the battle of the bureaucrats, with more police, teachers, nurses, doctors, and ambulance officers replacing bureaucrats made redundant, Premier Campbell Newman said.
A staggering $95 million was saved in a single year by halving the number of pen-pushers at the Department of Health head office.
“These figures show we are delivering on our plan to revitalise frontline services,” Mr Newman said. “We are investing in more doctors and nurses, teachers and police, boosting services for Queensland families.”
Mr Newman said a “disciplined, methodical approach” had saved taxpayers money. “Funds are being rightly targeted to our key areas of health, education and keeping our streets safe,” he said.
The figures compiled by the Public Service Commission show an increase of more than 2600 public servants in the March quarter.
According to briefing notes to the Premier the biggest winner was Queensland Health where an extra 656 nurses were engaged along with 235 doctors, 274 other medical professionals and 117 Queensland Ambulance operational staff.
The Department of Education, Training and Employment workforce added 677 teachers and 221 teacher aids. “There is continued growth in the overall size of the department due to the implementation of the Great Results Guarantee Initiative,” the report said.
Health Minister Lawrence Springborg said the figures showed the LNP was cleaning up the “mess”. “When Labor gave up on Queensland Health, its only solution was to cut it in two – to make two bureaucracies instead of one,” he said.
“My job is to reverse the mess – to transfer the impact of these massive resources from backroom paperwork to frontline service. “We have a simple plan to put patients first.”
Mr Springborg expected the number of bureaucrats to decline further and frontline nurses and doctors to increase by a total of 2911 over two budgets to 2015.
Mr Springborg said money saved was reinvested. “In Rockhampton, for example, this dividend will deliver the rooftop helipad that Labor cut from the new hospital design in 2010,” he said.
“Labor’s big-spending bureaucracy left patients flying into Rocky to be transferred from the airport by ambulance. That risks negative health outcomes and costs even more money.”
He said halving the number of bureaucrats in Brisbane head office saved $96 million in a single year. The savings enabled the delivery of a PET scanner for Cairns worth more than $5 million and a mobile surgery van to service outback Queensland towns.
Police Minister Jack Dempsey said the extra police meant a safer future for Queensland families. “As part of our continued revitalisation of frontline services we’re already put more than 900 new police cadets through our academies and are well on the way to our commitment of having 1100 additional officers on the beat,” he said.
“The new officers come from a variety of backgrounds and bring a wealth of life experience to a job that requires lots of community engagement.”
Will defunding school chaplains mean smaller government?
It's hard to come up with a good reason why the federal government should fund chaplains in schools. Even if you feel the program has merit, why should taxpayers fund the general provision of religious services anywhere (like belief itself, this should be up to individuals)? Moreover, services delivered in state schools are unquestionably a state government responsibility.
However the recent High Court decision that effectively ends federal funding for the national school chaplaincy program does not address the merits of the program. Nor does it rest on separation of state and church; that argument had already been rejected in the first case on this issue in 2012.
Instead the High Court's latest decision confirms that the government can only fund and run programs where legislative authority is given under a specific head of power in the Constitution. While this limitation sounds obvious, there are more than 400 programs that have been identified that may not meet that condition.
This decision is a marked turnaround from several decades of expanding involvement of the Commonwealth in all aspects of government. This expansion has been justified in a number of ways - from the states 'dropping the ball' and providing subpar services, to the need to implement international treaties (under the Tasmanian Dams case), and even the importance of local government to the community (in the recent failed constitutional amendment).
In reality, the expanded involvement of the Commonwealth boils down to one thing. The states may provide the services, but the Commonwealth has the money - politely this is called a vertical fiscal imbalance.
The massive duplication of regulation at the state and federal level is a side effect of the vertical fiscal imbalance. The Commonwealth has to see outcomes (though outcomes here really means positive news stories), and can't be seen to be funding failures, so they attach strings to their funding.
But things have changed. The recent federal budget flagged the end of spiralling Commonwealth funding for state government responsibilities in hospitals and schools. And while the budget may have upset the apple cart; by reminding the Commonwealth government they are limited by the Constitution, the High Court is threatening to shut down the whole market.
Some have called this High Court affirmation of states' rights a 'sinister cause,' but it can instead be a pathway to better government. If politicians can't do an end run around federalism any more, they might finally be compelled to fix it.
Monday, June 23, 2014
Will Queensland's Leftist crooks of the 1990s be finally brought to book?
The Heiner affair is the long-running controversy surrounding the Goss [Leftist] cabinet's 1990 shredding of documents relating to child abuse - including the rape of a 14-year-old Aboriginal girl - after it aborted an inquiry into the former John Oxley Youth Detention Centre. The documents had been compiled during an inquiry headed by former magistrate Noel Heiner that was set up in the final days of the Cooper conservative government in 1989.
On 1 July 2013 Commissioner Tim Carmody SC found that the shredding of the Heiner Inquiry documents and tapes represented a prima facie breach of the section 129 of the Criminal Code against all the surviving members of the 5 March 1990 Goss Cabinet.
This was hardly a surprise to anyone with knowledge of this scandal. For years, some of this nation’s most eminent jurists have long publicly advised of this prima facie breach but the respective Goss/Beattie and Bligh regimes, CJC/CMC, police and DPP turned a blind eye to the glaringly obvious.
The serious prima facie crime Commissioner Carmody found was the same offence which whistleblower Kevin Lindeberg took to the CJC in 1990 and to the police in 1994. Back in 1990, the offence attracted a 3-year jail term; now in 2014, it attracts a 7-year jail term. By any measure, the crime of destroying evidence, if proven, is a serious one.
The two decades of alleged cover-up still remain unaddressed.
On 19 July 2013, Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie referred the finding to the Queensland DPP to decide whether or not it was in the public interest for those surviving Cabinet Ministers to stand trial.
In exercising his legal right, former Goss Attorney-General, Dean Wells, lodged a Supreme Court appeal on 29 July 2013 seeking to have the finding rendered null and void on various grounds, including a charge of apprehended bias against Commissioner Carmody.
It was this appeal (6906/13) which has delayed matters with the DPP.
On 13 February 2014 the hearing took place before Justice Glenn Martin AM in the Supreme Court. Counsel for Mr Wells was Mr Dan O’Gorman SC, and, in one of his final appearances as Queensland Solicitor-General before resigning, Mr Walter Sofronoff QC, together with Mr Adam Pomerenke QC, appeared for the Attorney-General. The case was argued all day.
On 4 April 2014 the Supreme Court rejected the appeal against Commissioner Carmody’s Findings
Lawbreaking Leftist politicians are hard to nail
Border control on alert for Muslim terrorists
AN unprecedented security intelligence-sharing arrangement between spy agencies and customs will lock down Australia’s borders to potential jihadists either trying to return to Australia or leave our shores to join Syrian and Iraqi terror groups.
The Daily Telegraph understands customs officials will be given higher-level intelligence briefs in the wake of the failure that enabled convicted Sydney terrorist Khaled Sharrouf to slip out of the country last year using his brother’s passport.
An urgent review initiated by Immigration Minister Scott Morrison and Attorney-General George Brandis following the border blunder, known as the Cousins’ review, is believed to have found holes in the security net from the airport barrier all the way up to ASIO.
Australian-born “Terror Nine” member Khaled Sharrouf who slipped out of the country unnot
Australian-born “Terror Nine” member Khaled Sharrouf who slipped out of the country unnoticed on his brother’s passport.
The Daily Telegraph yesterday revealed Sharrouf, a convicted terrorist from south-western Sydney, is in Iraq with the militant group ISIL, which is trying to overthrow the Iraqi government.
Yesterday Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the border protection agencies were on high alert for up to 150 Australians believed to be fighting in either Syria or Iraq seeking to return to Australia and for associates trying to leave Australia to join them.
More than 50 passports had been cancelled, the Daily Telegraph revealed yesterday.
But a draft report of the Cousins’ review is believed to have uncovered a 9/11 “silo mentality” scenario in Australia — a reference to US intelligence failures uncovered after 9/11 — where vital intelligence which could have stopped Sharrouf at the gate was not shared.
Senior government sources revealed new intelligence-sharing arrangements were being rolled out to ensure customs officers at airport gates had greater access to data that could help them identify people on watch lists.
Mr Morrison said the Sharrouf incident had been “an early wake-up call” that had exposed weaknesses in the chain, which were now being addressed.
He said the government was also “rebuilding capacity” into the system after budget cuts to customs under the previous government of almost $700 million.
Vic mosque approved amid local protest
A VICTORIAN council has approved the construction of a $3 million mosque amid fierce protest from local residents.
BENDIGO City Council received more than 350 objections to the development, which would include two prayer rooms, a shop and a community sports hall.
The development was approved at a heated council meeting on Wednesday night, during which residents shouted "Shame on you, shame", Fairfax reports.
Council documents show the majority of complaints related to concerns over the influence of Islam, citing the threat of terrorism, the introduction of Sharia and the dilution of "Christian values".
The project also received about 40 letters of support.
Bendigo Mayor Barry Lyons said in a statement there are many conditions on the permit to ensure the impact on neighbours was acceptable.
"Now a decision has been made, the applicants can move forward with the next stage in the development process," Mr Lyons said.
A Facebook group Stop the Mosque in Bendigo with more than 7400 "likes" posted photos of the eight Bendigo counsellors, branding them "traitors".
Some people have posted comments calling for the group to take the matter to VCAT.
Planning Minister Matthew Guy says people are entitled to oppose planning applications, but they must do so sensibly and respectfully, particularly for religious institutions.
"People needn't fear the growth in our Islamic community's population," Mr Guy told reporters on Thursday.
"If people want to appeal it, they should, but it should be on the grounds of planning law, not on emotion."
Language studies to be overhauled in NSW schools
This seems pointless to me. Very few students gain a useful command of a foreign language
All primary school students will be exposed to at least one language before starting high school and there will be more bilingual public schools across NSW under plans to overhaul the way languages are taught in the state's schools.
In bid to increase the number of students studying languages until year 12, bilingual primary teachers would be retrained as language teachers and schools would be encouraged to collaborate with community language colleges to meet the needs of the 350,000 NSW students who speak a second language at home.
More than 30 languages, including Arabic, Armenian, French, Japanese, Indonesian, Vietnamese and Swedish, are offered in NSW schools but less than 10 per cent of the more than 75,000 students enrolled in the HSC studied one last year.
NSW is not alone in wanting to dramatically boost the interest in languages under the new proposals to be released on Monday. The federal government wants 40 per cent of year 12 students studying a language within a decade and is funding the Asia Education Foundation to investigate why so many Australian students drop languages before the end of school.
The NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli said there needed to be a greater recognition of the value of learning a language so he last year tasked the Board of Studies with developing recommendations for a "dynamic, inclusive languages education policy".
It will be the first time NSW has a formal languages policy and will elevate languages to the same level of importance as subjects such as maths, English and science.
“One important way of doing this may include encouraging students to capitalise on their home language and continue to develop it at school,” Mr Piccoli said.
“And if those students are taking language classes on weekends then schools should be valuing that learning."
Under the proposals, high school students would have to complete their compulsory 100 hours of language study in one continuous year, preferably in year 7, and vocational language courses would be available for students studying hospitality, retail and tourism subjects.
“In commissioning the review by the Board of Studies, I deliberately sought recommendations that avoided the over-promised, underfunded language education wish lists that have often been announced by governments," Mr Piccoli said.
"Language teaching and learning has been in decline for some time and improvements won’t be achieved overnight."
Liz Ellis, a senior lecturer in linguistics at the University of New England, who is researching bilingualism in the bush, said students with a second language often did better academically than students who could only speak one language.
"There lots of research which shows that shows that kids who grow up with two languages actually have cognitive benefits over monolingual kids," Dr Ellis said.
"Two languages frame the world differently and kids learn the skills of dealing with two social sets of norms in different languages, so they are learning, for example, that to be polite in Polish is different to being polite in English ... it's increasing the knowledge they have about the world and that seems to lead to an increased cognitive flexibility."
Dr Ellis said Australia tended to ignore languages in primary school and then expected students to be interested in them in high school.
"Unfortunately we don't have a good history of teaching languages in Australia, we tend to start late unlike Europe and Asia," Dr Ellis said.
The Board of Studies' proposals will be considered by an expert languages advisory panel who will report back to Mr Piccoli.
Sunday, June 22, 2014
High Court rules against Scott Morrison's refugee protection visa cap
The High Court has issued a stunning rebuke to the Abbott government's border protection policy, striking down its decision to refuse to give refugees who arrive by boat permanent protection visas.
In two unanimous decisions, with implications for thousands of boats arrivals, the full court ruled that Immigration Minister Scott Morrison's decision to impose a cap on the number of places in Australia's refugee intake for boat arrivals was invalid.
The government's determination to deny permanent protection visas will now rest with the Senate, where the Palmer United Party will control the balance of power from next month.
The party's leader, Clive Palmer, has spoken out strongly in support of refugees, but told Fairfax Media the party would study the High Court judgment and any decision on allowing temporary protection visas would be made by his party room.
Mr Morrison re-imposed the refugee intake cap in March after the Senate voted down his attempt to re-introduce temporary protection visas (TPVs) for boat arrivals, declaring that the Coalition would "not give an inch when it comes to protecting our borders".
He vowed then to take "every step necessary to ensure that people who arrive illegally by boat are not rewarded with permanent visas". Mr Morrison, who has presided as minister over six months without a boat arrival, was travelling when the judgment was handed down and was unavailable for comment.
His March decision effectively imposed a freeze on the grant of permanent protection visas to about 1400 asylum seekers who had already been found to be refugees and has implications for many thousands more whose claims have not yet been decided.
"This is a very significant victory for the rule of law being brought to bear on the plight of refugees in our country," said lawyer David Manne, who led the legal team representing an Ethiopian teenager who arrived in Australia without a visa last year, after stowing away on a cargo ship.
A second decision upheld a challenge on behalf of a Pakistani national who arrived by boat at Christmas Island in 2012.
In both cases, the court ordered Mr Morrison as minister to consider and determine the asylum seekers' applications for a protection visa according the law as it stands.
NSW Environment Protection Authority to be investigated following string of controversies
A parliamentary inquiry is to be held into the performance of NSW's Environment Protection Authority after a string of controversies that have dogged the agency, including botched prosecutions, accusations of cover-ups, mismanagement and a referral to the corruption watchdog.
Labor's environment spokesman, Luke Foley, successfully moved for the inquiry in the NSW Upper House on Thursday after warning that the EPA appeared more focused on protecting polluting industries than looking after the community and human health.
It also follows the introduction of a private member's bill last year by opposition MP Ron Hoenig calling for the EPA to be stripped of its powers to prosecute serious environmental offences because it was "incompetent" and does not have the "guts" to go after environmental criminals. Mr Hoenig wanted the powers to be given to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
EPA chief executive officer Barry Buffier said the inquiry would be an "opportunity to increase public awareness and understanding about the important role we play in protecting the communities and environment of NSW".
The inquiry comes after months of revelations by Fairfax Media about controversies over the EPA's performance, including its management of coal dust pollution in the Hunter, the mercury and other toxic chemical contamination in the Botany Hillsdale region and its alleged failure to protect koala habitats in the Royal Camp State Forest.
It also follows the EPA's abandonment of its biggest ever prosecution case, which was launched against the chemical company DuPont for allegedly polluting the ground and killing trees and plants around its Girraween site. DuPont had maintained it was not responsible for the pollution.
Community groups around the state, which have led the complaints about the EPA, have welcomed the inquiry saying it is in the best interests of the people.
The Hunter Community Environment Centre spokesman Dr John Mackenzie said they were pleased it would focus on the agency's repeated mishandling of coal dust monitoring in the region, which was referred to the Independent Commission Against Corruption earlier this year.
“We are hopeful that the inquiry will improve the EPA’s ability to be a strong and effective environmental regulator," said Dr Mackenzie. "This inquiry is also vital for restoring community confidence in the EPA, given that its performance in recent years has fallen well shy of community expectations."
Botany resident Sharon Price said: "We look forward to a long-awaited, positive outcome."
The inquiry will specifically look into the land contamination issues at Botany and Hillsdale, the coal dust pollution in the Hunter, and the ground water contamination in the Piliga by Santos. Mr Foley has raised concerns about exploration company Santos being given a ''pathetic $1500 fine for the contamination of a water aquifer with uranium at levels 20 times higher than safe drinking water guidelines''.
It will also look into the regulation of cruise passenger ships at the White Bay Cruise Terminal and the regulation of forestry practices in Royal Camp State Forest.
Pressure on Opera Australia to sack soprano over homophobic comments
Free speech? Tolerance? Not for people who hold views that were normal just a few decades ago
Opera Australia is facing pressure to sack a Georgian opera singer due to perform with the company next month over comments in which she compared gay and lesbian people to faecal matter.
The soprano, Tamar Iveri, has been rehearsing with Opera Australia in Sydney for several weeks ahead of a performance in Opera Australia’s Otello in Sydney in July and August.
Iveri is also scheduled to sing in Tosca in Melbourne in November and December.
Asked whether Iveri would still perform in both productions, an Opera Australia spokeswoman said the company had no comment.
The spokeswoman confirmed Iveri had taken part in Otello rehearsals in Sydney for the past two to three weeks. ‘‘Rehearsals are proceeding,’’ she said.
Iveri’s comments about the LGBT community surfaced recently from a letter she posted on Facebook in May last year to Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili.
Her letter followed a protest in the Georgian city of Tbilisi by LGBT activists on the International Day Against Homophonia and Transphobia. During the protest, activists were assaulted - some beaten severely - by Orthodox Christian demonstrators.
The violence was condemned by Margvelashvili, which prompted Iveri’s letter to the president.
In the letter, Iveri pleads with Margvelashvili to ‘‘stop vigorous attempts to bring West's ‘fecal masses’ in the mentality of the people by means of propaganda.’’
‘‘Do not try to wrap this mass in beautiful packages, pour Chanel perfume on it and present it to people as if it was something of medical, recreational qualities,’’ she wrote.
‘‘No matter how unhappy ‘friendly West’ might become, fortunately, the Georgian people are well aware of what fruits, offered by the West in their menu, to eat and what to discard. Just like my small dog guesses it.’’
Her post has since been removed from her Facebook page.
"Chaser" sketch on Chris Kenny breached ABC editorial policies: ACMA ruling
The battle between the ABC and conservative commentator Chris Kenny is officially over – and the verdict is unequivocal. Game, set and match: Kenny.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) ruled on Friday that the infamous Chaser sketch depicting Kenny having sex with a dog breached the ABC's editorial policies, overruling an earlier ABC verdict that the segment was legitimate. ACMA found the sketch, aired on The Hamster Decides program last September, breached the ABC's "harm and offence" standard, which states: "Content that is likely to cause harm or offence must be justified by the editorial context."
The authority said the sketch was clearly satirical but the digitally altered image of Kenny fornicating with a dog was not justified. The segment was "intrinsically likely to have caused high level of offence".
ACMA also suggests in its verdict that the ABC board should reflect on whether its code of practice is operating effectively when it comes to harm and offence.
The present standards on harm and offence serve to "complicate and obscure rather than simplify or clarify", it found.
Complaints about whether the segment carried appropriate classifications and warnings were dismissed.
The ACMA verdict overrules the ABC complaint department finding last October that the segment did not breach the broadcaster's editorial policies. The ABC's audience and consumer affairs division found the skit would have offended many viewers but was legitimate satire.
In April, ABC managing director Mark Scott issued a formal apology to Kenny for the sketch. Earlier this month, the ABC reached a settlement with Kenny, who sued the broadcaster for defamation, that involved paying him $35,000 in damages and apologising to him on-air.
Kenny said earlier this month he sued the ABC to show that the broadcaster should not be able to silence or intimidate its critics.
Friday, June 20, 2014
This is why the Queensland legal profession hate their new Chief Justice
Whatever Mr Carmody is accused of during his tenure, it won’t be elitism or failing to grasp the reality of working class life. He originated light years away from the privileged background of many senior jurists. Born in 1956 in Millmerran, he was still a boy when the family moved to Inala in 1963, taking up residence in a Housing Commission home.
His father was a publican, bookmaker and sometimes boarding house contractor at the Katherine Meatworks. “He was a wonderful bloke but when you are a publican … and a bookie … there are going to be problems.’’
Carmody attended several schools including Nudgee College, where he interrupted his education after Year 9 to work at the Katherine Meatworks, mostly sweeping up the remains of dead livestock.
That experience put him on the road to an extraordinarily successful legal career which has included adjunct professor of law at QUT, Counsel Assisting at the Fitzgerald inquiry, Junior Counsel in the Connolly-Ryan inquiry, Queensland Crime Commissioner and Family Court judge in between.
Mr Carmody said he was working with his father in Katherine when they both, simultaneously, found themselves looking at a man who was clearly down on his luck.
“He was brown as a berry, wrinkled and dirty and dad looked at me and said: ‘Don’t end up like that’.’’
Mr Carmody joined the police force. He was stationed at West End, put on the beat in the city and even served as head of security at Government House before working as a Public Defenders Office clerk until 1982.
In his new role he is steeling himself for criticism. He says he welcomed the advice of his old boss Tony Fitzgerald, who warned him not to allow ambition to compromise his ideals. “I completely accept what I took to be Tony’s caution – it is very good advice.’’
More on the controversy
Premier Newman, CJ Carmody and AG Bleijie (L to R)
SCIENCE Minister Ian Walker has warned critics of new Chief Justice Tim Carmody’s appointment to “put a sock in it” – while stopping short of declaring his own confidence in him.
Responding to calls for Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie to consider stepping down by Australian Bar Association president Mark Livesey QC, Mr Walker – a former solicitor - said it was time for all sides to stop fuelling the dispute.
“All of these issues surrounding the appointment of the Chief Justice have come to this – the war of words that’s out there has got to stop,” he said.
“People have got to put a sock in it, they’ve got to shut up and they’ve got to let Justice Carmody get on with the job.
“He deserves a fair go at the job, the debate should stop and Justice Carmody should be allowed to get on with the job that he’s been appointed to do.”
Mr Livesey had urged Mr Bleijie to consider the move following allegations that he leaked the details of a confidential discussion with Queensland barrister Peter Davis QC.
“People’s comments from the sidelines aren’t helpful now and they should cease,” Mr Walker said.
He said he the legal community needed to give Mr Carmody a “fair go”, adding that he would not be “getting into the commentary”.
When asked whether he would be happy to step in as Attorney-General if Mr Bleijie were to step aside, he said: “None of these contributions to the debate are helpful at the moment.”
Asked for his personal view on Mr Carmody’s appointment, Mr Walker would only say the new Chief Justice deserved a “fair go”.
“I’ve just said a number of times, the debate and the war of words has got to stop , Chief Justice Carmody’s been appointed, let’s give him a fair go, let’s get him get on with the job that he’s been appointed to do,” he said.
When directly asked whether he had “confidence” in Justice Carmody, Mr Walker again pointed to a need for the “war of words” to stop, but did not explicitly say he did.
OVERNIGHT, The Sunday Mail reported that a row between members of the legal fraternity and the Newman Government over the appointment of the State’s new Chief Justice Tim Carmody is continuing to deepen with calls for Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie to resign over the furore.
Australian Bar Association president Mark Livesey QC yesterday called on Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie to consider stepping down amid allegations details of a confidential meeting he and a staffer had with Queensland barrister Peter Davis QC over the appointment of Mr Carmody were leaked to other parties including Mr Carmody.
Mr Bleijie denies the allegation he or anyone in his office leaked details of the meeting, dismissing it as “rumour and innuendo”.
“The well-accepted practice is that consultation before an appointment, any appointment, is confidential, and kept confidential,” Mr Livesey said.
“The present position is untenable. The Attorney General of Queensland must consider whether the breakdown in trust can be repaired. If confidentiality in the judicial appointment process cannot be assured he must reconsider whether he can continue in his position.”
Queensland Law Society president Ian Brown also raised concerns about the alleged confidentiality breach in an email to his members yesterday.
“The matters raised by Peter Davis QC are of singular concern as they go to the process of judicial appointment which, if tainted, runs the very great risk of undermining the confidence of the profession and the community in individual appointments which then flows onto the larger institution of the courts. Such an outcome cannot be contemplated,” Mr Brown wrote.
“The issues raised must be addressed if we are to preserve confidence in our system of justice.”
The US-Australia Military Alliance against China
Some rather paranoid Leftist comments below but there is information there too. Concern about China appears to be dismissed by the author but is well justified in the light of their huge recent and ongoing naval buildup
US President Barack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott have announced a series of agreements that will open up more Australian bases for American forces and further integrate its military into the US preparations for war against China.
No details were provided after a brief meeting at the White House on Thursday, but there is no doubt that the agreements mark another escalation of the Australian government’s involvement in Washington’s military and strategic “pivot” to Asia to confront China.
Abbott underscored the total commitment of his government to US war plans. “I want to assure the president that Australia will be an utterly dependable ally of the United States,” he declared.
Within hours, Abbott offered to provide whatever the US needed for military intervention in Iraq to try to shore up the Baghdad regime after its defeats at the hands of Islamic fundamentalists. Abbott, who was a member of the Howard government that joined the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, made clear his government’s readiness to again assist Washington’s criminal operations.
Briefed by “defence sources,” the Australian Financial Review reported today: “Australia could send jet fighters, warships and transport aircraft to support US air and drone strikes.”
Obama said that alongside the expanding rotational deployments of US Marines to Darwin, in northern Australia—due to reach 2,500 by 2017—“we actually have arrived at additional agreements around force postures that will enhance the bilateral cooperation between our militaries and give us additional reach throughout this very important part of the world.”
The US president provided an ominous indication of the militarist agenda involved. “Aussies know how to fight and I like having them in a foxhole if we’re in trouble,” he told the media after the meeting with Abbott.
Arrangements under discussion behind closed doors since Obama formally declared the “pivot” on the floor of the Australian parliament in 2011, under the previous Gillard Labor government, have been finalised.
The US-Australia Force Posture Agreement reportedly provides an open-ended mechanism for wider US military operations in Australia. According to the Australian: “The legally-binding agreement, approved in principle but yet to be concluded by officials, sets out the responsibilities of each jurisdiction for the US personnel based on Australian soil.”
As indicated by recent Pentagon-funded reports, which identified Australia as a crucial platform for operations against China, these agreements are certain to include base upgrades to facilitate US air force operations from northern Australia, use by US fleets of the Stirling naval base near Perth in Western Australia, and the deployment of surveillance aircraft and drones on the Cocos Islands in the Indian Ocean.
One such report, by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said the Stirling base was critical for US nuclear submarine operations and nominated Australia as the US military’s “Gateway to the Indo-Pacific”—a launching pad for US naval and air strikes. (See: “US think tank report: Australia central to American war plans against China”).
The Australian today indicated that one option now being considered was to base more US Navy destroyers and other vessels at the Western Australian base, “giving the US the capacity to project force further into the region.”
No coverage in the Australian media mentioned another far-reaching commitment. A White House Fact Sheet on the Obama-Abbott meeting, spoke of “working together to identify potential Australian contributions to ballistic missile defense in the Asia-Pacific region.” The Pentagon’s ballistic missile shield program is designed to neutralise China’s capacity to respond to a US nuclear attack.
This collaboration was referred to in the Labor government’s 2013 Defence White Paper and last November’s AUSMIN communiqué issued in Washington. According to the Lowy Institute, a pro-US Australian think tank, this will accelerate under the Liberal-National government, involving the Australian Defence Force “mounting advanced missiles on its Aegis-equipped air warfare destroyers.”
The Wall Street Journal highlighted the significance of this initiative, under the headline “U.S. and Australia to Cooperate on Asian Missile-Defense Plans” and noted that it was directed against China. “Australia is building a new fleet of warships that could be equipped to shoot down hostile missiles, as part of an ambitious military buildup that includes investments in new stealth-fighter aircraft, cruise missiles, amphibious carriers and submarines. The revamp will cost close to $A90 billion ($US85 billion) over a decade,” it stated.
Obama specifically thanked Abbott for ramping up Australian military spending. The Lowy Institute said this indicated that Canberra had agreed to foot the bill for the new military facilities across northern Australia, an issue that had been outstanding since 2011.
Acutely conscious of public opposition to plans for war, the Abbott government has so far kept secret this issue, along with proposals for the hosting of US warships and amphibious groups in Perth, which have been discussed in detail during recent US congressional hearings. The Lowy Institute urged the government to find ways “to bring the public along with what officials have been privately discussing for years.”
Abbott and Obama avoided any explicit reference to China, but the White House Fact Sheet denounced “the use of intimidation, coercion, or force to advance maritime claims in the East and South China Seas.” Washington is actively instigating territorial conflicts with China by its regional allies, notably Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam, as a pretext for confronting China. While Abbott was in the US, his government also boosted its military ties with Japan.
Before meeting Obama, Abbott told the Sydney Daily Telegraph he would call on the president to deepen intelligence cooperation within the “five eyes” network—involving the US, Australia, the UK, Canada and New Zealand—in the wake of Edward Snowden’s damaging disclosures of the mass surveillance being conducted by the US and its partners. No reports of this discussion have appeared, however.
In Washington, Abbott extended the term of Australia’s ambassador, former defence minister and Labor leader Kim Beazley, a long-time defender of the US alliance. This highlights the bipartisan support in Canberra for US militarism.
During his trip, Abbott also sought to enhance already close economic ties with the US by including large corporate delegations in his travels, from companies such as BHP Billiton, Lend Lease and Macquarie Group. He rang the bell on the Wall Street stock exchange, told corporate audiences that Australia is “open for business” and stressed the half trillion dollar or so investment stakes that each country had in the other.
On his way back to Australia over the weekend, Abbott will stop off in Hawaii to visit the US Pacific Command, where senior Australian officers have been inserted, further underlining Canberra’s integration into the US war machine.
Cape York’s Wild Rivers victory
Greenies 0; Blacks 1
QUEENSLAND’S Wild Rivers legislation has been declared invalid in Cape York, ending a five-year struggle by indigenous groups to preserve the right to pursue economic opportunities in the region.
A Federal Court judge yesterday ruled that a Queensland minister erred in law five years ago in declaring three rivers on the cape as “wild”.
The main objection of indigenous groups was that the legislation stopped potential economic development of the region in far north Queensland by “locking up” the rivers and the areas around them. They claimed the previous state Labor government had undertaken the Wild Rivers plan to win green preferences in city seats it needed to retain power.
The Federal Court decision centred on the Bligh government’s action in declaring the Archer, Lockhart and Stewart rivers on Cape York as wild rivers on April 3, 2009, only weeks after the state election that saw the ALP government returned.
Federal Court judge Andrew Greenwood found yesterday that the decision was made too quickly and without enough consideration of the views of the traditional owners.
“The decision to make the declarations was a function of urgently delivering on an election promise ... the declarations got ahead of the formulation of the material addressing the preconditions upon which the exercise of the power rested,” he wrote in his judgment.
The government had received 3062 submissions about the declarations, but 2577 of these were pro forma submissions made through the Wilderness Society’s website.
Indigenous leader Noel Pearson, who led the opposition to Wild Rivers by arguing that it deprived indigenous people of economic opportunities, said yesterday that the five-year legal struggle had diverted attention from key areas such as health and education on the cape.
He said new projects that could provide jobs for indigenous people in areas such as horticulture and tourism could now begin.
“Traditional owners should decide whether they want conservation or a mixture of both,’’ Mr Pearson said.
“We don’t want this unilaterally imposed on them by political deals in Brisbane.’’
“It’s a just process, but it really shouldn’t have taken five years to reach this point.”
The Archer, Lockhart and Stewart rivers were the most prominent of the 12 rivers gazetted under the legislation. Most of the others are in western Queensland such as Coopers Creek and the Georgina and Diamantina Basins, but some are on the east coast of Cape York, such as Hinchinbrook near Ingham.
While the Newman government has set in train a process of regional land plans on Cape York that would supersede Wild Rivers, the legislation still exists elsewhere in the state and is not due to be debated until August, when it is expected to be extinguished.
“So they have made promises, but after two years, it still hasn’t happened,” Mr Pearson said.
“At the end of the day, the court victory came before anything else.” Mr Pearson was scathing in his criticism of former Labor premier Anna Bligh and former natural resources minister Stephen Robertson, who made the Wild Rivers declarations.
The Cape York leader said yesterday: “They should hang their heads in shame having put our people through five years of struggle.’’
The action was brought forward by traditional owner Martha Koowarta, the widow of 1980s Cape York land rights campaigner John Koowartha who successfully challenged Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s government over a land rights claim in 1982.
Mrs Koowarta, who lives in the Cape York town of Aurukun but was in Brisbane for the judgment yesterday, was elated at the outcome.
“I’m so happy,’’ she said outside the court.
Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney said the court outcome vindicated the Liberal National Party’s opposition to the Wild Rivers scheme when it was in opposition. The court awarded costs against the government.
“I can’t say we’re happy about it, but otherwise it would be the indigenous groups who paid,” Mr Seeney said.
The main supporter of Wild Rivers was the Wilderness Society. It said that the river catchments on Cape York would now be exposed to “risky industrial development such as open-cut mining, in-stream dams and intense irrigated agriculture”.
“Queensland is blessed with some of the last remaining free-flowing rivers left on the planet and they need to be treasured,” said Queensland campaign manager Tim Seelig.