Monday, March 02, 2015


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG comments on ructions in the Liberal party

Fracking to go ahead in NT

THE Northern Territory lacks the proper regulatory environment to go ahead with fracking, a report has found, as the government moves forward to permit the practice.

THE Hydraulic Fracturing Inquiry report recommends laws to effectively manage environmental risks associated with the practice, which on Thursday was banned for a further five years in Tasmania. "There is no justification whatsoever for the imposition of a moratorium," the report read.

Mines and Energy Minister Dave Tollner said the government would "broadly" adopt all six recommendations in the report, which the NT government released on Thursday.

"Obviously there's been a lot of heat in community debate on the issue and the government is very keen to get the community on board," Mr Tollner told reporters.

The government is considering drawing up exclusion zones around regional centres to allay health concerns by residents.

Mr Tollner said it could take a year or longer to set up the right regulations; meanwhile, there are 24 wells in the works to be drilled this year.

While the regulations are being redrawn, operators will have to abide by a set of "guiding principles", and if they violate them they will be forced to stop work, Mr Tollner said.

But relying on operators to monitor themselves is "completely nonsensical", said David Morris, principal lawyer for the NT Environmental Defenders Office (EDO).

"If you've got a good operator things will probably be done in accordance with the guidelines, and if you've got a bad operator they won't," he told AAP.

Mr Morris said mining often occurred in remote parts of the NT, with the closest populations being indigenous communities who often didn't fully understand the science.

Mr Tollner said mining groups needed to communicate better with the community in explaining fracking processes.  "We expect them to be very upfront and transparent with the community and they have to explain exactly what they're doing," he said.

The report is "a victory for science over scaremongering," said Steven Gerhardy, NT director of the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association.

He said the report offered a "sensible blueprint" for the shale gas industry, which could provide jobs, investment and improved infrastructure in remote and regional areas.


Are there any honest cops in NSW?

The former NSW Crime Commission chief Phillip Bradley has sensationally accused police commissioner Andrew Scipione and his predecessor Ken Moroney of giving "demonstrably wrong" evidence to a parliamentary inquiry examining a long-running bugging scandal.

In an explosive submission to the committee conducting the inquiry, whose final report is being tabled on Wednesday, Mr Bradley says the suggestion by the pair that the Crime Commission "obstructed" an internal investigation into the scandal is "demonstrably wrong and must be rejected".

But Mr Scipione has rejected Mr Bradley's claim in his own last-minute submission to the inquiry.

In it he quotes from an annexure to an official report by the Inspector of the Police Integrity Commission David Levine that says the Crime Commission had "refused to supply" key documents and other material to the internal investigation.

"I therefore do not accept the statement ... that the evidence provided by myself and Mr Moroney was 'demonstrably wrong and must be rejected'," Mr Scipione says.

The dispute opens a new front in the decades-old bugging scandal around an operation codenamed Mascot, which ran between 1999 and 2001.

Mascot - a joint operation between the Police Integrity Commission, the NSW Crime Commission and police internal affairs -  used a corrupt former policeman, code named M5, to target allegedly corrupt police with a listening device.

But it emerged there was insufficient or no evidence of wrongdoing by many of the more than 100 police and civilians whose names appeared on warrants issued by the Supreme Court.

The scandal has rocked the highest offices in the NSW Police as Deputy commissioner Catherine Burn was team leader of Mascot, which bugged her fellow deputy commissioner Nick Kaldas more than a decade ago.

Complaints about Mascot were initially investigated by an internal police inquiry, Strike Force Emblems.

But in their evidence to the inquiry Mr Scipione and Mr Moroney said Strikeforce Emblems had been impeded by the Crime Commission's reluctance to hand over key documents, citing secrecy provisions.

Mr Scipione said Mr Moroney had advised him that this meant nothing more could be done and this was one reason for him not pursuing the matter when he was appointed commissioner in 2007.

However, in a letter from his lawyer, Arthur Moses, SC, published by the committee on Tuesday Mr Bradley takes issue with this version of events.

It says that a document was tabled at a July 2004 meeting of the Crime Commission Management Committee which contained "specific references to attempts that had been made by the crime Commission and indeed the Management Committee itself to facilitate the dissemination of information relevant to the investigation".

The letter says the document also sets out the impediments to the handing over of the information and the reasons for the investigation being "ultimately discontinued by resolution of the management committee whose members at the time included Mr Moroney and then police minister John Watkins.

Mr Moses says Mr Bradley - who gave in-camera evidence to the inquiry - regards the document as "crucial because it refutes the allegation that has been repeated many times; to the effect that the Crime Commission obstructed the proper and timely grievance of police officers named in certain affidavits and warrants".

The letter says Mr Bradley believes the July 2004 document represents "a fair and proper understanding of the role of the NSW Crime Commission in this unfortunate matter".

But in response, Mr Scipione has written to the inquiry saying it was "most unfortunate" Mr Bradley's letter was not made available to him by the committee before he gave evidence if it was in its possession.

Mr Scipione says his evidence was based on findings of the Strike Force Emblems report which stated that "investigations could not be progressed as limited material was supplied by the NSW CC" and that the commission had not allowed officers to be interviewed.

He also cites the annexure to Mr Levine's report on the Emblems investigation that says the Crime Commission "refused to supply" material including affidavits underpinning applications for listening device warrants.

Mr Scipione says this led him to believe it was "more than open to conclude"  that the Crime Commission had refused access to material sought by Emblems investigators.

In fact, the July 2004 document was tabled by committee member David Shoebridge on January 29 this year.

In it, Mr Bradley outlines the Crime Commission's willingness to consider requests for information by Strike Force Emblems subject to legal and other considerations.

But he also says he has "concerns" about Strike Force Emblems - which he says were shared by then commissioner Ken Moroney - because confidential details about its work were being leaked to the media.

"Because of those concerns, I cannot provide highly confidential information to that Task Force," he wrote.

On Wednesday the inquiry's report recommended that the state government issue a formal apology to Mr Kaldas over being targeted by the operation.

It emerged during the inquiry that Mr Kaldas was named in 80 warrants for listening devices issued to Mascot.

It also recommends an apology be given to Channel Seven journalist Steve Barrett, who was named on 52 warrants.

It is critical of police commissioners over what it says is a lack of action to resolve complaints over the decade-old scandal.

The report also recommends the NSW government establish "a single, well resourced police oversight body that deals with complaints, quickly, fairly and independently".

In 2012 the government commissioned NSW Ombudsman Bruce Barbour to examine the issue. Concerns over the length of his inquiry sparked the parliamentary inquiry last last year.

Mr Barbour is now due to report by July.


The tyranny of health in Australia

It’s a funny old place, Australia. We have a peculiar love of rules and regulations that sets us apart from other liberal democracies. No other country in the free world imposes such stringent controls on individual behaviour – even when that behaviour puts no one else at risk.

Bicycle helmets are the obvious example. Australia and New Zealand, much to the bemusement of foreign visitors, are the only countries that force you to wear one. The strange thing is, we don’t even like cycling. Only 16 per cent of Australians ride a bicycle every week. In Denmark and the Netherlands that figure is above 40 per cent. The world champions of pedal power don’t see helmets as a necessity, but for some reason we in Australia do.

In 2011, the Australian government introduced one of the most radical anti-tobacco laws in modern history. Plain packaging was not designed to protect innocent bystanders from second-hand smoke, but rather to control individual decision-making. Australia was the first country to do this. And yet we already had some of the lowest smoking rates in the developed world. Of the 34 countries in the OECD, Australia consistently ranks in the bottom five for tobacco use.

Responding to an apparent alcohol crisis in 2014, we introduced the strictest licensing laws this side of Saudi Arabia. The crisis, meanwhile, is a complete myth. We drink far less per head than we did in the 1970s, and our consumption has fallen every year since 2007. Today, 14 countries in the OECD drink more than we do, and that’s not even counting the vodka-drenched lands of the former Soviet Union. You want to see an alcohol crisis? Book a flight to Belarus.

Something is clearly out of whack here. Our public health policies lack any sense of proportion or balance. You would expect the harshest laws to be reserved for the greatest crises, but in Australia the opposite is true. We apply draconian, heavy-handed treatment to what are comparatively minor issues. In doing so, we trample the right of adult individuals to make their own lifestyle choices.

Is Australia exceptional? Do we actually need all these crazy rules? Are we really so different from our cousins in Europe who get along just fine without them?

I don’t think Australians are that exceptional. I think the public-health lobby has sold us a great big lie. Our political debate has been hijacked by a gang of moral crusaders and neo-prohibitionists. They’ve convinced us that we can’t be trusted to act responsibly – that we need protection from ourselves.

So where does it end? Once we accept that the government can nullify our basic rights in the name of making us healthier, we set ourselves a very dangerous precedent. Imagine all the health problems that could be fixed if we simply stopped giving a shit about individual liberty.

Take skin cancer. Australia has the highest rates of melanoma in the world. So why not enforce the use of sunscreen, in the same way we enforce the use of bicycle helmets? It wouldn’t be hard to do. The police could set up RSTs (Random Sunscreen Tests) on our popular beaches.

Most of us don’t visit the GP as often as we should. That could be fixed with a compulsory check-up every six months, for every person in the country. Miss your appointment and you get a fine – just like when you fail to vote in an election. If we can force people into a polling booth, we can force them into a doctor’s office.

But why stop there? To tackle obesity, we could have mandatory exercise programs. Everyone is legally obliged to burn a minimum number of calories per week. A simple device like the Fitbit could record our workout sessions and report the data to the health authorities. If your calorie-count starts slipping, you can expect a letter in the mail.

Now this all sounds a bit far-fetched, I agree. And that’s precisely my point. A few decades ago, most of our current health-and-safety regulations would have seemed equally ridiculous.

Think about it. When Malcolm Fraser was Australian prime minister, who could have imagined a $150 fine for not wearing a bicycle helmet? Or a ban on children doing handstands and cartwheels and bringing birthday cakes to school? Today’s absurdity is tomorrow’s reality.

Which brings us to the final question. What will Australian society look like in 30 or 40 years? On current trends, we’ll be living under some kind of public-health dictatorship, where clean living is not a choice, but an obligation – a sacred national duty. You won’t even have to think about your own health and safety anymore, because Big Brother has already made the hard choices for you.

It’s time we had a serious conversation about where the public-health lobby is leading us.


Parents face childcare centre ban if immunisations are not up to date

PARENTS will be turned away from childcare centres next year if their child’s immunisations are not up to date and they refuse to be counselled by a doctor.

State health and education departments have begun drafting new laws so the Andrews Government can enforce its no jab, no play policy in 2016.

The Department of Health and Human Services is consulting with NSW officials about their scheme, which was introduced in January last year.

In NSW, parents who object to vaccinations must consult with a doctor about health risks, and get an exemption certificate if they fail to heed advice.

Childcare centres can be fined $4000 if they enrol a child who has not been vaccinated and who does not have an exemption certificate.

The Sunday Herald Sun understands the Victorian Government wants new laws in place by the start of school term 1 next year.

Health Minister Jill Hennessy said the aim was to ensure people who don’t vaccinate children “receive the best medical advice so that they are fully informed about the risks of their decision”.

“People are entitled to their opinions, but let’s be very clear: not vaccinating a child puts them and other children at risk of dangerous diseases and illnesses,” she said.

“The Department of Health and Human Services is consulting with its counterparts in NSW about their introduction of no jab, no play laws last year, to ensure we adopt best practice and benefit from their experience and the experiences of childcare and immunisation providers and families.”

A Sunday Herald Sun investigation this year found that immunisation rates in some council areas have dropped well below 90 per cent.  Victoria’s chief health officer is aiming to get immunisation rates above 95 per cent.

Virologist and vaccination campaigner Dr David Hawkes said Labor’s plan was a “fantastic idea”.  “It’s a really good way of ensuring that if people are busy, or if you missed a vaccination because you were overseas or sick, then you can get up to speed,” he said.

Tasha David, president of the Australian Vaccination-Skeptics Association, said the policy was unfair.


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