Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Tony Abbott: Australians 'sick of being lectured to' by United Nations, after report finds anti-torture breach

United Nations special rapporteurs are regular producers of anti-Western rubbish

Australians are "sick of being lectured to by the United Nations", Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said after a report found Australia's treatment of asylum seekers breaches an international anti-torture convention.

Mr Abbott's criticism of the UN follows his attack last month of Australian Human Rights Commission President Gillian Triggs, in which he called the report she commissioned on children in detention a "political stitch-up".

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has rejected a report from the UN that says Australia has breached its obligations on the anti-torture convention.

The United Nations report, by the UN's special rapporteur on torture, finds Australia is violating the rights of asylum seekers on multiple fronts under the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Special rapporteur on torture Juan Mendez found the detention of children, escalating violence in offshore processing centres, and the detention and proposed deportation of two groups of Sri Lankan and Tamil asylum seekers were in breach of Australia's international obligations.

The report, which will be tabled at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday, has been rejected outright by the government.

In extraordinary comments on Monday afternoon, Mr Abbott attacked the UN and said its representatives would "have a lot more credibility if they were to give some credit to the Australian government" for stopping boat arrivals.

"I really think Australians are sick of being lectured to by the United Nations, particularly, particularly given that we have stopped the boats, and by stopping the boats, we have ended the deaths at sea," Mr Abbott said.

"The most humanitarian, the most decent, the most compassionate thing you can do is stop these boats because hundreds, we think about 1200 in fact, drowned at sea during the flourishing of the people smuggling trade under the former government."

Mr Abbott said the best thing the government could do to "uphold the universal decencies of mankind" was to stop boat arrivals. "And that's exactly what we've done," he said.

"I think the UN's representatives would have a lot more credibility if they were to give some credit to the Australian government for what we've been able to achieve in this area."

Last month, the government made a series of personal attacks on Professor Triggs, the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission – Australia's human rights watchdog.

Mr Abbott branded a commission report on children in detention that revealed alarmingly high rates of sexual and physical abuse a "transparent stitch-up" and Attorney-General George Brandis said he had asked Professor Triggs to resign.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said on Monday the government "rejects the views of the special rapporteur that the treatment of illegal maritime arrivals in detention breaches international conventions".

"Australia is meeting all its international obligations and with other regional nations provides a range of services to people who have attempted to enter Australia illegally," Mr Dutton said.

Mr Mendez says in his report that the Abbott government had failed to adequately address concerns raised under the convention about four specific incidents.

Among the concerns raised was that escalating violence on Manus Island, and the "intimidation and ill-treatment of two asylum seekers" who gave statements about last year's violent clash at the centre was in breach of the convention.

The report also finds that recent changes to the Maritime Powers Act to give the government the power to detain asylum seekers at sea and return them violated the convention.

Mr Abbott said on Monday that the needs of all asylum seekers on Manus Island "for food, for clothing, for shelter, for safety are being more than met".

"The conditions on Manus Island are reasonable under all the circumstances. All of the basic needs of the people on Manus Island are being met and, as I said, I think the UN would be much better served by giving credit to the Australian government for what has been achieved in terms of stopping the boats," Mr Abbott said.

As a result of the government's failure to "sufficiently" answer questions, Mr Mendez concludes in his report that "the government fails to fully and expeditiously cooperate" with the Human Rights Council's mandate.

He said Australia was not complying with its international legal obligations to promptly investigate and prosecute acts of torture or cruel or degrading treatment.

Labor said on Monday the Prime Minister was "absurd" for attacking a globally respected organisation for not giving more credit to his government.

"Instead of launching a cheap attack on the report's author – Tony Abbott should be providing an assurance that all the processing facilities Australia funds are run in a safe, humane and proper manner," Labor's immigration spokesman Richard Marles said.

"A critical part of that is ensuring Australian-funded facilities process people's refugee claims without delay."

Human Rights Law Centre director of legal advocacy Daniel Webb said the report made it clear Australia's policies and actions were in breach of international law.

"The government always assures the Australian people that it complies with its international human rights obligations. But here we have the United Nations once again, in very clear terms , telling the government that Australia's asylum seeker policies are in breach of international law," Mr Webb said.

"Australia signed up to the Convention Against Torture 30 years ago. We did so because as a nation we agreed with the important minimum standards of treatment it guaranteed. Yet here we are 30 years on, knowingly breaching those standards and causing serious damage to our reputation."

Human rights lawyer Greg Barns says he is working with Tasmanian independent MP Andrew Wilkie on seeking that the International Criminal Court launch an investigation into crimes against humanity by members of the Abbott government in relation to the treatment of asylum seekers.


Fracking Under fire in taxpayer-funded film

According to a recent article in the Australian Financial Review, Screen Australia, Screen Queensland, and Screen West, and you too, are contributing hundreds of thousands of dollars to an anti-fracking documentary called Frackman.

The documentary tracks Queensland resident, “pig shooter and accidental activist” Dayne Pratzsky on his escapades, including trespassing on private land, and getting arrested at anti-fracking protests.

So far, Screen Australia has invested $200,000 of your money in the film, plus giving it a $435,000 tax credit offered to films with significant Australian content and expenditure.

Screen Queensland has invested $220,000 of taxpayer money, while Screen West has contributed $156,000.

Former Queensland Arts Minister, Ian Walker, pointed out that Screen Queensland was an independent body, and its decisions were not based on political criteria, but on artistic merit, but we still have a few questions.

WasteWatch is neither for nor against fracking; we will leave that debate to people who know more about it. And we are not suggesting for one second that the film ought not to be made or screened.

But forcing the taxpayer to fund it, when it has already taken a side in a controversial question of public policy? We wonder if that might not be a bit much.

Steve Wright, a director of the Energy Resource Information Centre, seems to have already made up his mind. He calls the film “an anti-industry campaign tool,” and “a big element of the activist toolkit” in the anti-fracking campaign.


Guardian’s WasteWatch slam needs a fact checker

By William Shrubb writing on behalf of The Centre for Independent Studies

The honour of WasteWatch has been maligned.  We are now, according to a recent article in the Guardian newspaper, part of a merry band of anti-intellectual “right-wing inquisitors” grinding evidence-based policy-making into the dust with our “crib guides to Hayek, von Mises, and Milton Friedman.”

The trigger for this outburst seems to be the latest product of the Canberra rumour-mill: the suggestion that there may not be enough money in the upcoming federal budget to pay for the 2016 census to be conducted in the same way past censuses have been conducted.

The Guardian article is stirring stuff. Censuses are celebrated as the foundation of everything good, from “sewered streets and lights” to sociology and, apparently, Christianity.

In the naughty corner are the usual suspects — the CIS and the IPA — who are supposedly aligned with the Abbott government in an unholy trinity of conservatism, “blind to the value of others’ intellectual endeavours when they do not accord with [our] firm prior commitments,” and “chuckl[ing] luridly at any sense of genuine inquiry.”

Our sin, it seems, dates back to last October, when we dared to publish a story about the $110,000 of your money that the Australian Bureau of Statistics has spent building and advertising a free app, called Run That Town, where players can make imaginary planning decisions in various neighbourhoods, based on data from the 2011 census.

WasteWatch never advocated abolishing or radically revising the census, but we did suggest that this game was possibly not the best use of taxpayer money.

Naturally, the Guardian became hot under the collar, and courageously leapt to the ABS’ defence, ruing the day we ever “cloak[ed ourselves] in borrowed academic robes” and strode forth to destroy the origins of Christianity and sewerage.

If we weren’t allegedly so busy indulging in the “privileged giggling of the unimaginative”, we might point out to the Guardian that evidence-based policy is one of the cornerstones of the CIS. WasteWatch might even dare to point out that the proposal to change the way the census runs came from the ABS itself, and not our unholy hands.

And we would agree with the ABS that spending $440 million of taxpayer money on a census, just because King Herod might have appreciated it, doesn’t qualify as a good example of evidence-based policy, if there is a cheaper, more efficient way of getting similarly reliable information.

But the Guardian knows all this already, they just didn’t want to let the evidence base get in the way of a good story.

So we will take our “desiccated attitude towards government and governance” back to our favourite task of apparently undermining “the basic foundations of the modern state.”

We’ll let you know when we’re done.


NSW Government slams Labor's plan to defer stamp duty for first home buyers

Another Leftist scheme that looks good -- but only if you don't look too deeply

The Baird government has rubbished a proposal by Labor leader Luke Foley to allow first home buyers to defer stamp duty payments, saying it could create a financial trap for young families.

Under Labor's plan, first home buyers purchasing a property to the value of $750,000 would be able to spread stamp duty over five years, rather than paying the tax in a lump sum at the time of purchase.

Responding to the idea, Treasurer Andrew Constance said a similar scheme was in place in the mid-1990s. But it was abandoned by the then Labor government because it was placing a burden on home buyers.

"Under Labor's plan, new home buyers who purchase a $750,000 home and defer paying $29,240 in stamp duty will then be slugged every month, when they can least afford it," Mr Constance said.

Mr Constance drew attention to former Labor Treasurer Michael Egan's 1998 budget, in which he dropped a similar scheme. Mr Egan told Parliament the scheme was not working party because first home buyers "find that they are creating a later financial trap, with almost 48 per cent of them in arrears."

The differnce in the mid-1990s scheme, however, was that home buyers could choose between defering stamp duty payments or taking a one-off discount.

Labor says its $60 million "Help for Homes" package, which has been costed by the Parliamentary Budget Office, would help about 37,000 home buyers.

In the Central Coast on Monday, Mr Foley said: "The barriers are greater than ever before for first home buyers, particularly in Sydney."

Mr Foley said the size of the stamp duty debt would increase over the five years in line with inflation.

"There will be no less revenue to the state, but there will obviously be a deferral of the revenue received," Mr Foley said.

Current policies target stamp duty relief at people buying new properties, rather than existing homes. The state government in effect waives stamp duty on new properties valued up to $550,000 and offers concessions on homes between $550,000 and $650,000.

Speaking in Parramatta, Premier Mike Baird said Labor's plan "was a policy proposal that has been around for a considerable period".

"There is a huge array of doubt in terms of how much that sort of policy will cost, what sort of benefit it will deliver," Mr Baird said.

He added: "I think that we have looked after first home buyers every day that we have been in government by providing incentives for new dwellings."


It's still a happy meal in Australia for McDonald's

McDonald's offers some of the world's best value food, and it's yummy too.  It's mainly snobs who scorn it

McDonald's sales and visits have increased in Australia over the half year, proving a bright spot for the world's biggest restaurant chain as it is racked by falling global sales and food shocks in Asia.

McDonald's released its sales figures this morning, which showed global comparable sales fell by a deeper-than-expected 1.7 per cent in February, but there was another "positive result" for Australia.

Analysts had expected global comparable sales to fall by 0.3 per cent, according to Bloomberg. The results makes it nine straight monthly falls. 

Comparable sales in the US were down 4 per cent in February, Europe bucked the trend with a 0.7 per cent rise, and Asia/Pacific, Middle East and Asia (APMEA) sales were down 4.4 per cent.

The US-based fast-food giant says Australia is one of four priority markets. It does not break out sales for its 940-odd Australian stores, about 80 per cent of which it says are franchised. 

But the last annual accounts for McDonald's Australia Holdings show a 25 per cent increase in profit to $234.4 million, despite receipts from customers edging down to $1.06 billion.

McDonald's Australia Holdings paid $40 million in dividends in the 2013 calendar year, from $14 million the year before, and invested $177.6 million in new property, plant and equipment. 

And as McDonald's seeks to "reset" its business after a "disappointing" 2014, it has declared Australia to be a "great spot in our overall turnaround with positive comparable sales and guest counts since September of last year."

"The team has re-energised the business with strong promotions and relevant menu items and they are fuelling this momentum with additional excitement around digital initiatives and the rollout of Create Your Taste across the majority of the market this year," Kevin Ozan, chief financial officer, told analysts last week.

Create Your Taste, burgers made fresh to order, is in 16 Australian stores and McDonald's plans to roll them out across 800 - except for those in shopping centres - by the end of June. This expansion will soak up some of the $US2 billion McDonalds plans to spend this year.

By contrast, Create Your Taste is in just 15 stores in the US and McDonald's said it "may" help Australian and US franchisees with rollout costs estimated at between $US100,000 and $US150,000 a store.

In the competitive $11 billion Australia fast-food market, in which market darling Domino's Pizza is seeking to increase its 8 per cent share, McDonald's in January offered free fries and soft drinks with Big Mac purchases. It has also offered a "Loose Change Menu" for years, selling small items for $3 and under.

And after expanding its menu to include items such as steak and aioli rolls, smoothies, frappes and grilled warm chicken salads, McDonald's is now looking to reduce the number of products it sells.

Chief administrative officer Pete Bensen said: "Part of it is frankly looking at low moving items and taking them off the menu, but some of that is looking at how we actually display and market it.

"So it could be something like maybe in the drive-thru you ... only display the items that make up 80 per cent of our sales and you could significantly reduce the clutter."

McDonald's this week reported continued troubles in Japan, after a series of food scandals: the rationing of fries, and the finding of a human tooth in fries and plastic in chicken nuggets.

"APMEA's February comparable sales decreased 4.4 per cent due primarily to the broad-based consumer perception issues in Japan, partly offset by a benefit from the shift in timing of Chinese New Year in China and certain other markets, as well as positive results in Australia," it said.

"Rebuilding brand trust by strengthening McDonald's quality and value perceptions is one of APMEA's top priorities for 2015.

APMEA accounted for $US6.3 billion of McDonalds $US27.4 billion global sales in 2014.

Last week's official retail figures show spending on cafes, restaurants and takeaway food rose 0.3 per cent in January, or 2 per cent seasonally adjusted, to almost $3.4 billion.


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