Thursday, August 20, 2015
A double dissolution coming up?
By Miranda Devine
SO let’s get this straight. The biggest scandal in Australia is that trade unions royal commissioner Dyson Heydon, AC, QC, did not speak at a function that was not a Liberal fundraiser.
This beat-up consumed Question Time yesterday, and has filled front pages for days.
Labor and the unions want to destroy the royal commission because it is forensically exposing their criminal extortion racket. And, with Bill Shorten due to be recalled over allegations of hundreds of thousands of dollars of employer donations and kickbacks when he was AWU leader, they face an existential emergency.
Heydon could have picked his nose and they would have turned it into an outrage. His real crime is that he’s doing his job too well.
Less straightforward is the motivation of the media salivating over Heydon’s minor transgression of not immediately reading an email attachment which advertised the $80-a-head Sir Garfield Barwick legal lecture with a Liberal party logo.
Realising the potential appearance of bias, Heydon pulled out of the lecture before the story broke, anyway. But listening to the hysteria, you’d think the Liberal Party was the Ku Klux Klan.
Every royal commissioner has personal views. What counts is that they conduct themselves with scrupulous fairness when carrying out their professional duties. Heydon, a black letter lawyer and former High Court judge, is universally regarded as impeccable on that score, and his management of the TURC has been boringly proper. Let the ACTU test their febrile allegations in the High Court and see how far they get.
No, this confected scandal is not about Heydon accepting an invitation to deliver a prestigious law lecture. It is a proxy for bringing down the Prime Minister.
Six months since the February leadership spill that wasn’t, various media grandees and Coalition strivers have hit the reset button, making up the excuse of opinion poll jitters within the margin of error and an entitlements scandal which cost Abbott loyalist Bronwyn Bishop her job, but let off worse offenders in Labor scot free.
Heydon, frankly, is a victim of the weakness of the Abbott government.
The PM talks about loyalty — to Treasurer Joe Hockey, to chief of staff Peta Credlin and the utterly graceless former Speaker. But his greater loyalty should be to the Australian people and those, like Heydon, he has called to serve.
Passivity and inaction are no longer tolerable. Abbott can’t keep being the dope on the ropes, turning the other cheek over and over, waiting for the killer blow that will finally finish him off.
His best defence is offence. It’s time to pull the circuit breaker and call a double dissolution election on industrial relations issues. With any luck, the Canning by election in WA might even be able to be postponed until then.
This week provided the perfect trigger, with Labor’s attempts to close down the trade union royal commission coinciding with the Senate’s rejection of legislation to make unions abide by the same rules as companies.
Tony Abbott wedges Bill Shorten on coal jobs
Tony Abbott has escalated his attack on anti-coal activists and challenged Labor to stand up for jobs, by moving to ban green groups from using the courts to stop major developments such as the Adani coalmine.
The government used the announcement, which would strike out the provision in environmental laws that allows green groups to challenge development consent for major projects unless they have a direct interest in the project, to declare that only the Coalition was standing up for workers.
Labor and the Greens immediately declared they would not support weakening environmental protections.
The Prime Minister said the issue was a test for the Labor Party. “Are they more interested in the politics of the green movement and are they more interested in the preferences of the Greens Party or do they really care about the workers of Australia?’’ Mr Abbott said.
Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane said the government was concerned that groups with a philosophical opposition to coal were determined to delay and disrupt every coal project using protracted litigation. “It is about time the Labor Party stood up for the workers,’’ Mr Macfarlane said. “We stand up for workers. How about you guys stand up for the workers for a change.’’
Adani’s Carmichael coal project in central Queensland has proven a flash point between green activists trying to stop the development of new coalmines to limit climate change and the Abbott government, which has backed the development on the basis it will bring up to $31 billion in investment and create 10,000 jobs. Mr Abbott this month lashed the Federal Court action that sparked the delay in the approval of the mine, warning against allowing the courts to evolve into a “means of sabotaging projects’’.
Attorney-General George Brandis yesterday announced the government would remove Section 487 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, the provision that he said “allowed radical green activists to engage in vigilante litigation to stop important economic projects’’.
The move would return legal action against projects to the common law, meaning litigants would have to have a direct interest in the case to be given standing, such as landholders affected by a resources project.
Senator Brandis said Section 487 of the EPBC Act “provides a red carpet for radical activists who have a political, but not a legal, interest in a development to use aggressive litigation tactics to disrupt and sabotage important projects’’.
The government’s move won the immediate backing of resources groups but was savaged by green groups.
Minerals Council of Australia chief executive Brendan Pearson said a large number of new projects and mine expansions in recent years had been “subject to a calculated campaign of protests and harassment, including vexatious and incessant legal appeals lodged by a small band of extreme environmental groups’’.
“If unchecked, this gaming of legal and approvals processes campaign will exact a significant toll on the Australian economy,” Mr Pearson said. “This strategy has already led to a delay in the Carmichael project in Queensland’s Galilee Basin, posing a threat to 10,000 jobs and billions of dollars in investment.’’
Australian Conservation Foundation chief executive Kelly O’Shanassy said the government seemed “determined to strip Australians of the right to legitimate legal action to protect nature in this country’’.
WWF-Australia chief executive Dermot O’Gorman cautioned that proposed changes to the EPBC Act “increase the risk of corruption by removing checks and balances in government decision-making’’.
Greenpeace accused the Abbott government of “throwing a tantrum” and said the move would “gut national environmental protection laws’’.
Mr Abbott said the Adani issue was “a setback for the reputational risk of Australia’’ and jobs were being threatened by “the militancy of the green movement led by the Mackay Conservation Group’’.
He said the group was located 600km from the mine and was represented by the NSW Environmental Defender’s Office, which was located a 13½-hour drive from the mine.
“There has been a litany of challenges against a mine that in fact is going to power up the lives of 100 million impoverished people in India,” Mr Abbott said. “It represents $20bn of investment in Australia and 10,000 new jobs in Australia. And they are real jobs for truck drivers, train drivers, electricians, engineers, mechanics and geoscientists stretching from Cairns to Mackay, Brisbane to Perth.’’
Ellen Roberts, the co-ordinator of the Mackay Conservation Group, accused the government of seeking to divert attention from its drop in the polls.
“Coal companies should not be above the law and the government should not be doing their bidding by changing the law to remove the rights of the community to have a say,’’ Ms Roberts said.
Opposition environment spokesman Mark Butler and legal affairs spokesman Mark Dreyfus declared Labor would not support weakening environmental protections or limiting a community’s right to challenge government decisions.
“Since being passed by the Howard government 15 years ago, the EPBC Act has been the overriding national environmental protection law, including throughout the mining boom — and environmental groups are required to operate within this law,’’ Mr Butler said.
The government had been caught out for not properly managing the approval process for the Adani mine under the act, he said.
Teacher shortfall looms with influx of Gen Y into the profession
THE NEXT generation of teachers will have little loyalty to their jobs with graduates already leaving teaching after being shocked by the profession’s high demands.
In three years, Queensland will hit a significant shortfall of teachers with mature-aged teachers retiring and generation Y teachers graduating to take their place instead, Griffith University Dean and Head of School of Education Prof Donna Pendergast warned.
But Speaking at a Making Great Teachers forum last night, Professor Pendergast said the workforce would experience a huge culture shift with the new generation of teachers.
“The teacher workforce is about to undergo a literal facelift with an influx of new, mostly Y generation teachers, many of whom will not be career teachers like their predecessors,” she said.
“(They) will engage in portfolio careers with little loyalty to employers and without the tendency to be enticed to stay put for career progression.”
She said things like the high demands of teaching, the overwhelming workload, physical and professional isolation, conflict between expectations and reality and difficult initial teaching allocations could often challenge new teachers.
Around 20 per cent of Queensland teachers leave the profession within the first five years of teaching with Prof Pendergast saying the number of teachers leaving might increase with the next generation.
“That might be a really good thing, having people coming into the profession and bringing energy and interest into the role,” she told The Courier-Mail.
“When they decide it’s not for them then they are prepared to go somewhere else.”
She said the incoming generations were unlikely to “wait in line” for a promotion.
Prof Pendergast said beginning teachers who were “unrealistically optimistic” when heading into the classroom could often be overwhelmed by workload and inadequate inductions.
“One of the biggest things is student behaviour and part of that is because teacher graduates aren’t familiar with children,” she said.
“Some get into schools and realise they don’t really want to be surrounded by hundreds of children.”
Queensland Teachers’ Union president Kevin Bates said students did not always appreciate the complexities of being a teacher.
He said it was important students were given the right practical experience. “It’s about how to teach and preparing for the curriculum, as much as it is about classroom management,” he said.
“Pre-service education is not about how to produce a completely well-rounded professional but it is about how to provide a good start to a career in education.”
Push to scrap nuclear power plant ban in Australia
A push to scrap federal laws that ban nuclear power plants in Australia is due to be voted on today, amid calls for MPs to support expanding the uranium industry ahead of the findings of a royal commission.
An amendment to the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Bill was tabled in the Senate yesterday by Family First senator Bob Day.
The change would abolish section 10 of the ARPANS Act which bans construction of certain nuclear installations, including nuclear fuel fabrication plants, nuclear power plants, uranium enrichment plants, and reprocessing facilities.
Senator Day said the change was needed to position the country — and his home state of South Australia — to take advantage of a potential nuclear industry.
A royal commission is underway to investigate the state’s role in the nuclear fuel cycle, with industry invited to submit business cases for building a value-added uranium sector.
“At the moment there is a legislated blockade — you can’t even start because an act of parliament says no nuclear,” Senator Day said.
“Let’s remove the barrier. If it does become viable then South Australia needs to be well-positioned in order to take advantage of that.”
If the amendment is adopted, a licence would still be required from state and federal regulators to establish nuclear facilities.
The federal government has made a submission to the royal commission highlighting the benefits of Australia’s nuclear activities.
“Australia has a strong reputation as a global supplier of uranium for peaceful purposes and we already benefit from our nuclear research and the provision of life saving radiopharmaceuticals that help diagnose and treat serious illnesses,” Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane said.
However, the government is not expected to support the change.
The current restriction under the ARPANS Act was established in 1998 after an amendment moved by the Greens, which was supported by both major parties.
Aboriginal actor Alec Doomadgee furious after "racist" airline banned him from taking his boomerangs as carry-on luggage
He expects weapons to be allowed on a plane??
An Aboriginal cultural leader is furious after Qantas refused to let him take ceremonial boomerangs on a flight as carry-on baggage. Alec Doomadgee, an actor, broadcaster and cultural ambassador, was stopped from taking the boomerangs on a flight while at Brisbane Airport.
He was further annoyed when they were handled by Qantas staff, who could be affected by blessing or curses placed upon the culturally important boomerangs.
Qantas Corporate Communication adviser Courtney Treak told Daily Mail Australia staff members were following standard 'dangerous goods' procedure.
Qantas had not stopped him from taking the boomerangs on the plane but asked him to place them in checked baggage rather than carry on, she said.
Mr Doomadgee said he had often travelled with the boomerangs as carry-on baggage, and had never had problems before, the Brisbane Times reported. He ended up leaving the boomerangs with a friend as he was concerned they would be damaged in checked baggage.
Ms Treak said the Aviation Transport Security Act described a number of items prohibited from aircraft cabins, including blunt objects.
'We appreciate they are very significant items to him but at the end of the day they [staff] considered it was safer for them to be checked.'
The airline was not suggesting Mr Doomadgee would use them as weapons, Ms Treak said.
Qantas had issued a public apology, but she was not sure if Mr Doomadgee had been contacted by the airline's customer care team. 'There was never any intent to offend.'
Mr Doomadgee took to social media on Monday and Tuesday to make numerous posts about the incident, sparking much discussion on his Facebook page.
He told the Brisbane Times the incident was an example of racism in Australia - instead of 'in your face KKK sh-t', 'snide, smartass remarks'.
Ms Treak said Qantas had a number of initiatives in action involving the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and the airline was committed to them. Aboriginal artwork on some Qantas planes, providing internships and trainee programmes were an example of that.