Thursday, October 22, 2015

Labor finally approves China-Australia free trade agreement

It's a freer trade agreement rather than a free trade agreement, but any move towards freer trade is to be welcomed

The China-Australia free trade agreement will come into force before the end of the year after a compromise deal was finally struck between the federal government and opposition.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has hailed the compromise over the "historic trade deal", declaring it "absolutely critical for Australian jobs in the future".

He said Australia's opportunities in the Chinese market are "limited only by our imagination and enterprise".

"We have 23 million extraordinary Australians and their imagination and their enterprise will ensure that we have access to and benefit from this market in a way that even the architects of this agreement, principally the Trade Minister Andrew Robb, would not imagine," he said.

He also paid a back-handed compliment to Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, noting that he had been "a cork bobbing along in the slipstream of the CFMEU" but that ... "today the Leader of the Opposition has struck out from the slipstream and charted a course that is plainly in the national interest".

Mr Shorten conceded he may have angered sections of his power base in the union movement by reaching the agreement, but said a deal had been struck because "we're satisfied there is a better deal for Australian jobs than before today".

"Labor's always believed that trade should benefit all Australians, not just some people," he said.

"That's why Labor has stood up and expressed our concerns that there was insufficient legal safeguards and protections for Australian jobs."

"Labor now has achieved what we believe to be satisfactory legal protections which weren't previously proposed, which means that Labor can now support the speedy passage of the China-Australia free trade agreement."

Unions including the Electrical Trades union and the Manufacturing Workers union criticised the deal for not doing enough to strengthen labour market testing requirements, vowing to continue their campaign against aspects of the deal.

Last week Labor unveiled three specific amendments to the trade deal it would seek in order to agree to the deal and wave through enabling legislation. The bill will be brought forward for debate immediately in the lower house and is expected to pass into law by the end of the year.

Those changes would have seen a revision to rules that meant there would not have been mandatory labour market testing applied to investor facilitation agreements (IFAs) for projects over $150 million, lifting the base pay threshold for 457 visa workers from $53,000 to about $57,000 and stricter licensing conditions for tradesmen and women looking to come to Australia.

Minister Robb and his Labor shadow, Penny Wong, negotiated the compromise and a special meeting of shadow cabinet approved the deal on Tuesday night, with caucus giving the deal the rubber stamp on Wednesday morning.

Labor believes all three of its concerns have now been addressed and the changes will be put in place by making changes to migration regulations but not, as originally proposed, through changes to the act.

The changes still have the force of law.

Under the deal, labour market testing will apply to people who enter Australia on work agreements, including workers brought in on 457 visas under the China-Australia deal as part of an IFA.

Secondly, 457 visa market salary requirements will be strengthened to reflect wage rates paid under enterprise agreements, a move that means 457 visa workers will be more expensive to hire as pay rates on enterprise agreements are typically higher than the minimum award rate.

And thirdly, there will be new visa conditions for people on 457 visas in licensed trade occupations such as electricians and plumbers.

Satisfied with compromise

Mr Robb said the federal government had been happy to provide assurances to Labor that labour market testing requirements could not simply be changed by government fiat in the future.

During informal conversations with Chinese officials, Mr Robb said, "they were satisfied that it in no way halted what we'd agreed and it didn't discriminate against them".

"We should now be on track to be able to have an exchange of letters with the Chinese before the end of the year."

If passed by the Senate in 2015, two tariff cuts are in prospect before the end of the year and then immediately after on January 1.

Senator Wong described the deal as a "comprehensive package of safeguards for Australian jobs".

"What we've got is policy being turned into legal obligation. So I think that is a substantial strengthening of the safeguards."

The new conditions will require that 457 workers in those occupations cannot work until they get a trades licence, and they will have to get that licence within 90 days of arriving in Australia and report to the Immigration Department if their licence application is refused.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott accused the ALP of running a racist campaign, in concert with the union movement, against the trade deal, but the Turnbull government has taken a more conciliatory approach.

ETU national secretary Allen Hicks condemned both sides of politics for reaching the deal and said "We have no faith that the Department of Immigration as it is currently resourced has the capability to enforce the licensing requirements for 457 workers".

"We will be seeking a public commitment from Bill Shorten and his shadow cabinet that the inadequacies of this deal will be addressed as a matter of urgency under any Labor government."

And AMWU national secretary Paul Bastian struck a more conciliatory note, stating the strengthened safeguards were "a step in the right direction to protect foreign workers from exploitation and ensure local workers are not shut out of local projects".

"The government and Labor should not think that this political settlement is enough. Our campaign will continue until Australian workers can be confident that [the China free trade deal] and trade agreements generally deliver for their interests."


Geert Wilders launches Australia's 'first freedom party' (and  it's anti-Islam)

Far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders has launched an anti-Islam party in Perth, claiming it is Australia's "first freedom party".

The Dutch politician said on Wednesday that the Australian Liberty Alliance (ALA) provided hope in its commitment to "stop the Islamisation of Australia".

"At the end of the day it's all worth it as we have the truth on our side," Mr Wilders said, amid a loud protest.

He said his supporters in Holland were concerned citizens and "not extremists, they are not bigots".

'A totalitarian ideology'

The new party has been inspired by the Mr Wilders-led Party for Freedom which is currently polling strongly and holds seats in the Dutch parliament.

The Australian party's "manifesto" has detailed policies on several issues, such as support for privatising the SBS and "non-core" sections of the ABC; however it is its anti-Islam policies that dominate its political ideology.

Its manifesto reads: "Islam is not merely a religion, it is a totalitarian ideology with global aspirations. Islam uses the religious element as a means to project itself onto non-Islamic societies, which is manifest in the historical and ongoing expansion of Islam."

Mr Wilders noted that "like minded parties" were having great success in Austria, Sweden, France and Switzerland. Heated debate over immigration policies in Europe  appears to have resulted in increased support for some of the far-right parties.

The ALA is preparing to run several candidates in the next federal election.

Mr Wilders, who travels with heavy security protection, was the main speaker at the launch of the ALA conference held at a secret location in Perth on Tuesday night. Supporters met in Perth city before getting on a bus, organised by the ALA, to be taken to the event.

"Everywhere in Europe, the people, not the political elite, not the governments, but the people are saying enough is enough, let us reclaim our country," Mr Wilders said on Tuesday night.

"Stop the mass immigration from Islamic countries. No more, we say no more to the governments and the Islamisation process."

The prominent Dutch politician said he was pleased to be at the "birth" of the country's "first freedom party".


Which planet are our MPs living on?

THE words Islam or Islamic were uttered six times in federal parliament before it rose for the week on Thursday — but not once in reference to terrorism.

The only “I” word being embraced by the Turnbull government is “inclusive”, which makes one wonder — just which planet our parliamentarians living on?

It’s over a year since the Government raised the national terrorism public alert level to high, last September 12, and it has not been shifted since.

The system rates four levels of risk. They are: low — terrorist attack is not expected; medium — terrorist attack could occur; high — terrorist attack is likely; extreme — attack is imminent or has occurred.

Yet two innocent people were killed in an Islamist terrorist attack in the heart of Sydney last December when shotgun-wielding Man Haron Monis made hostages of patrons of the Lindt Café, and Curtis Cheng was ruthlessly murdered by a 15-year-old boy in front of the Parramatta police station as he was leaving work on October 2.

As it happens, that same morning, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull publicly signalled his much-heralded break with his predecessor Tony Abbott’s hard-line approach to Islamism.

After discussions with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Justice Minister Michael Keenan, who both urged him to take the fresh approach, he wheeled out his new, more inclusive tone for future dealings with the Islamic community.

Needless to say, it was warmly embraced by the ­country’s Muslim spokesmen, and according to GP Jamal Rifi, the “larger Muslim community” would “respond with open arms”.

Dr Rifi told The Australian newspaper that the Muslim community was “elated” at Mr Turnbull becoming prime minister, as the relationship with the government under Mr Abbott had become “extremely tense and hurtful”.

Though clearly not as hurtful as the lethal relationship between Mr Cheng and his teenage murderer was to be just hours later.

Since then, police officers have been told not to wear their uniforms to and from work, just like servicemen and women, out of fear they may be targeted when they are not carrying their service-issue weapons.

But not a flicker of the ­terrorist threat meter, just more baloney about Islam as a religion of peace from a gaggle of self-important so-called Muslim community leaders and clerics and apologists who want to blame anything but absolutely barbaric Koranic verses as reasons for the ­constant global incitement of Muslims to murder the ­non-believers.

The federal Government had been moving for months to introduce laws that will lower the age at which control orders can be applied from 16 to 14 years of age — even as we learn that a 12-year-old was among the 17 extremists named in court papers as a close-knit Western Sydney group, lured into the Islamist death cult and willing to commit murder or die for the ­Islamic State.

Extremist hate preachers and fake sheiks speak at mosques and Islamic schools and Canberra assembles a congregation of multi-faith ministers to sing kumbaya and have a group hug.

Mr Turnbull has confirmed that over the past five months the federal Government has trained more than 300 “specialists” who will be embedded within the nation’s frontline departments and agencies to intervene and divert individuals from radicalisation.

He didn’t mention the particular group which the agencies were concerned about but you can be fairly certain it is not the Amish.

He said that individuals and extremists “seek to denigrate other groups in the community, often within their own ­religion, other religions and other ethnic groups, and they seek to turn us against each other”.

Which religion, Mr Turnbull — Buddhism, Christianity or Judaism?

Guess again, because he didn’t say.

There were plenty of omissions from Thursday’s debate in Canberra, not least being Labor MPs Maria Vamvakinou and Melissa Parke, who managed to totally ignore the ­current wave of terrorist stabbings and shootings targeting innocent Israelis and the torrent of hate speech pouring out of the West Bank as they ­talked up the cause of Palestinian statehood.

But the extraordinarily high number, per capita, of young Australians who have chosen to join fellow jihadists in Syria and Iraq would indicate that relying on local Muslim leaders to cooperate with the ­security agencies has not been entirely successful.

The motherhood view was outlined by Muslim MP Ed Husic on Friday, when he said the aim of terrorists was to ­divide communities with fear.  “We need the broader community to feel secure,” he said.

Just imagine.

The broader community won’t feel secure until those who follow Islam show they wish to assimilate and adopt Australia’s liberal democratic values just like earlier new Australians from northern European, southern Europe and south-east Asia.

Having embraced the nonsensical policy of multiculturalism, the federal Government is stuck with the problem of dealing with a growing group of individuals who show little sign of observing their oath of loyalty to ­Australia.

Congregating in essentially non-English speaking ghettos clustered around a profusion of mosques in which English is not heard, taking satellite news from Arabic-language broadcasts, will not help this migrant group become part of the broader community and it will not make Australians feel more secure.

Millions have now been spent, and tens of millions more are earmarked to go to Islamic projects, but it is difficult to see how a single cent of the money will help remove the cultural barriers that are core to Koranic teaching.


Democracy tested by same sex-marriage plebiscite, Archbishop Anthony Fisher warns

The Catholic Archbishop of Sydney has warned of a future in which bishops are jailed, political dissent is all but silenced, scripture lessons are banned, and religious tax exemptions are eroded, should same-sex marriage be legalised.

In an address to the Centre for Independent Studies on Wednesday night, Anthony Fisher suggested "religious freedom" in Australia's democracy is at a turning point, and hinges on the upcoming plebiscite on gay nuptials.

In the next decade, Australia could potentially become a bleak place for people of faith, Archbishop Fisher said.

"Many clergy and teachers in faith-based schools have been cowed with threats of prosecution for 'hate speech' if they teach that divine law limits marriage to people of opposite sex," he said in a prepared speech.

"There are also actions pending against evangelical Christian and Maronite​ Catholic business owners for failing to provide photography, stretch limousine and hospitality services for 'gay weddings'."

Archbishop Fisher started his speech by transporting the audience to a hypothetical 2025. But said this imagined future that he feared need not come to pass. Australians could instead opt for a future where terms such as "man and wife" and "mother and father" remained the norm.

"A robust but courteous debate continues, but most agree the decade-long exercise of patience and respect in pursuit of a moral consensus in this area has demonstrated democratic maturity and strengthened, not diminished, common life," he said.

In the 2015 Acton Lecture, titled "Should Bakers Be Required to Bake Gay Wedding Cakes?", Archibishop Fisher said proponents of same-sex marriage had failed to listen to detractors.

"Closed-mindedness is, of course, no monopoly of people engaging on same-sex marriage. "But I think the refusal to listen is presently mostly on one side," he said.

"Advocates of gay marriage seem to think no reasonable person could think other than as they do; that not only are they right on this issue, but that their opponents are irrational and operating out of blind traditionalism or, more likely, hatred."

He warned that "ordinary believers and their businesses are given no leeway, and even religious institutions such as schools, hospitals and welfare agencies are expected to toe the PC line" on gay marriage.

Earlier this year, the owners of a bakery in the US state of Oregon were ordered to pay almost $200,000 in damages after they refused to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple.

"The baker couple faced vilification, boycotts of their business, violent protests and even death threats, and were forced to close their shop and work from home," Archbishop Fisher said.

He said this was a test of democracy itself.

"Even if it would not have been unethical for bakers to assist a same-sex wedding in so remote a way, democracy degenerates into despotism when it licenses such vilification of people's conscientious beliefs."


The old hater is still at it

Abuse is Keating's forte, as it generally is on the Left.  But he has a point.  Prince William would be much more popular as the next monarch.  The Queen's mother, however, lived to 101 so it may be a long time before the issue has to be addressed

Former prime minister Paul Keating has urged Malcolm Turnbull to save Australia from Prince Charles becoming head of state, calling the prospect "deeply sick".

In a conversation with ABC journalist Kerry O'Brien at the Sydney Opera House on Tuesday night, Mr Keating reiterated his call for Australia to become a republic.

"No great country has a monarch ... of another country as their head of state," he said. "And no great country has a flag of another country in the corner of their flag."

The former Labor prime minister said he expected Mr Turnbull to win the next election and said the issue should be addressed in his government's next term.  "It requires a prime minister to take it on," he said.  "You can have all the republican movements you like, but if a prime minister doesn't want to take this on, it won't happen."

He said the idea of ending up with Prince Charles as Australia's head of state after the reign of Queen Elizabeth II ended was "deeply sick".  "What are we going to end up with?" he asked.  "Charles and Camilla, for God's sake."

He said Mr Turnbull faced other problems within his party after wrestling the leadership from Tony Abbott. "The real question is, can he take the now very right-wing Liberal Party anywhere back near the centre?" he asked.  "That'll be the real test ... or whether he's stuck with the Loony Tunes show on the right."


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