Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Authorities escort asylum seeker boat off WA coast from Australia waters

Refugee advocates believe a suspected asylum seeker boat being escorted away from the WA coast by the Australian Navy was carrying women and children among a group of Vietnamese Catholics escaping persecution.

Refugee Rights Network spokeswoman and activist Victoria Martin-Iverson told Fairfax Media on Tuesday "at least 25 to 30 people" were on board the vessel.  "It's very, very, very sketchy," she said.

The asylum seekers who made to an oil rig about 150 kilometres from the Dampier coast in WA's Pilbara region on Monday were among a "second wave" of Vietnamese Catholics fleeing religious persecution, she said.

"There's been this rise in persecutions of [Catholic] believers and following there is this exodus of young Catholics from Vietnam which we are calling a second wave," Ms Martin-Iverson said.

No official information has been released regarding the suspected asylum seeker boat which was detected by crew members of the oil rig.

She said Australian members of the support network were communicating with Vietnam-based contacts of the refugees. "Those advocates who are closely connected with the Vietnam community think there's women and children [on board].

It's looking more and more likely they'll be pushed back [rather than taken into detention]."

Customs and border protection officers were understood to have accompanied WA Water Police who arrived at the asylum seeker boat about 3pm on Monday, Channel Seven reporter Grant Wynne told Radio 6PR on Tuesday morning.

The police boat returned to Dampier about midnight and an Australian Navy vessel is understood to be escorting the boat out of Australian waters.

WA Police and Department of Immigration and Border Protection told Fairfax Media it would not comment on operational matters.

WA refugee advocates told Fairfax Media they were concerned passengers on board the boat would be transferred to government lifeboats and turned back.

Ms Martin-Iverson said the passengers could be transported to Manus Island or Nauru but the network's key concern was the use of life rafts to send the asylum seekers away from Australian shores.

"We're very worried," she said. "We're trying to access [the passengers] to see if everyone is OK," she said.

The Abbott government introduced the bright orange life rafts in 2014 in a controversial move to stem the flow of asylum boats making it to Australian shores.

In Canberra on Tuesday, Prime Minister Tony Abbott refused to answer questions about the suspected asylum seeker boat off the WA coast, insisting it was the "iron law" of his government not to discuss on-water operational matters.

"We do not discuss things in ways which would give comfort to the people smugglers," he said.


Government-dominated tax deductibility inquiry out to get green groups, says Bob Brown

Environmentalist Bob Brown has accused the Abbott government of a vendetta against green groups, describing threats to strip the groups of their charity status as "an assault on the rights and freedoms of Australians to defend their environment".

A Coalition-dominated House of Representatives inquiry into environment groups and their tax deductible status is under scrutiny after committee member, Nationals MP George Christensen, tweeted that it was time for marine conservation groups to get their donations in, adding: "I can't see it continuing longer once we report".

The committee chair, Liberal Alex Hawke, said Mr Christensen was expressing a personal view, and he later offered a qualified apology.

But Dr Brown said at a hearing in Hobart on Tuesday that, along with its inquiry into "green tape", the committee had examined no environmental issue since the last election.

"I'm aware that the committee is looking into the work of environment groups but not into the infractions on the environment by the corporate sector, and by people who are invading the environment," the former Australian Greens leader said.

"I'm left with the view that the committee's work is an outcome of the Liberal Party federal council motion last year to get environment groups, and to cut their tax deductibility."

Dr Brown said tax deductibility was available for registered environment groups as a service to taxpayers.

"We get the donation, they get the tax deductibility, not us," he said.

"I think that is an assault on the rights and freedoms of Australians to defend their environment, and to support environment groups which are upholding the tenets of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act."

Mr Christensen was absent from the hearing during Dr Brown's evidence.

Nationals MP Andrew Broad told Dr Brown the committee was not conducting a witch-hunt, but was examining the legitimacy of environment groups.

"The question we've been grappling with is: should an organisation receive tax deductibility, is it crossing the line doing something illegal?" Mr Broad said.

He cited a 2011 case near Canberra when CSIRO trial crops of genetically modified wheat were destroyed by Greenpeace activists.

Dr Brown said the courts had dealt with that case, "and so they should", but went on to defend Greenpeace's campaign against coal mine expansion in Queensland.


Builder lost jobs for defying union demand

A BUILDER has told a royal commission he lost job contracts in the ACT after refusing to pay "bribes" to the construction union he labelled as liars and thugs.

CLAW Constructions owner Troy Armstrong says he was warned by CFMEU organiser Tony Vitler in 2012 that he would not win jobs if he didn't sign an enterprise bargaining agreement with the union, or alternatively, make donations or sign-up members.

"I took this to mean they were leaning towards wanting a bribe," Mr Armstrong said in his witness statement to the royal commission into trade union corruption.

During a meeting at a McDonalds outlet in Fyshwick, Mr Armstrong said Mr Vitler told him the union could guarantee him work if he signed an EBA with them.

"We make sure IC and Pacific take the big jobs in town and we will make sure the little jobs go to you," Mr Vitler allegedly said.
When Mr Armstrong told Mr Vitler he could not afford to pay the labourer rates within the EBA, he replied: "I don't give a f*** about small businesses".

"He definitely threatened to kick me off sites if I did not sign an EBA," Mr Armstrong told a hearing of the commission in Canberra on Monday.

Numerous worksites were disrupted by the CFMEU over safety concerns soon after his refusal to sign the EBA.

"As a result of not signing EBA's ... I believe I have missed out on a number of jobs and have been subjected to an unfair level of scrutiny on sites as payback."

"I never want to sign an EBA with the CFMEU or anything else because they are liars, thugs and not worried about safety.  "They just use the safety as a method of blackmailing business and people to sign up with them."

Mr Armstrong denied accusations from the union's lawyer John Agius that he was "anti-union", rejecting calls to withdraw claims of bribery and blackmail.

"I suggest that (Mr Vitler) never said anything to you that would make you believe that he was inferring a bribe," Mr Agius said.

"I believe he did," Mr Armstrong replied. But he agreed that his competitors IC and Pacific were bigger and more established in the ACT than his company and therefore more likely to get bigger jobs.


In defence of `dumb Australians'

The Australian government is a world leader in nannying, nudging and nagging. The land supposedly home to understanding, sensible people, who know how to have a good time, currently finds itself the victim of increasingly trigger-happy rule-making.

Official attitudes toward the habits of the general populace verge on the disdainful. According to existing regulations, Australians cannot be trusted to drink shots after midnight in King's Cross, Sydney, cross the road without waiting for a green light, ride a bike without a helmet, or enjoy a beer on the footpath outside of a pub.

Nudge-happy policies are hitting Australians in the pocket, too. Cigarettes now cost in the vicinity of one Australian dollar each - as in per cigarette - and all, of course, are sold in plain packaging.

Recently, a kickback against the illiberal status quo has started to gather pace. Journalist Tyler Br–l‚ addressed a sold-out event in Sydney in May, drawing cheers from the audience as he denounced the booze bans and petty regulations blighting Australia's cities.

However, while it's great that many Australians are starting to realise the extent to which their lives are being shaped by pointless and illiberal rules, the mainstream debate is often uninspiring. Too often, the argument is made that, as one writer put it, `Australians are idiots who bring these rules upon themselves'. Apparently, the reckless, boozy excesses of your average Aussie are forcing the government to regulate all our lives for our own good.

But this argument places the blame for the current predicament Down Under in the wrong hands. The problem is not untrustworthy, dumb Australians. Call me naive, but I think Australians can be trusted not to inflict undue harm on themselves or others, and to manage any risks that they may choose to take.

The real blame lies with the safety advocates and health campaigners in public organisations, alleged `charities' and other government-funded bodies that are hell-bent on imposing their puritanical worldview on the rest of us. Rather than generate public support for their public-health cause, these people rely on often spurious evidence to cajole governments into adding more and more illiberal regulations.

It's time to challenge the idea that Australians need a rigid and illiberal set of rules to live by, lest the country descend into a pen of unenlightened swine. Australians can be trusted to look after themselves. What we need is restrictions on those who claim to know what's best for us.


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