Sunday, November 29, 2015

An evil crusade against an innocent woman comes to an end

It finally took a conservative NSW government to do justice. The article below was written by Wendy Bacon and appeared in "New Matilda". The Bacons, Salmons and Gentles were three well known Communist families in the heyday of the now defunct Communist Party of Australia and, as they say, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.  So Wendy appears to have remained true to her political inheritance.  So I would not normally quote her. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day however and I have been following the Catt case since the beginning.  And I can say that Wendy had no need to exaggerate in her story below.  It really was as bad as she says

It looked like another day of dry court proceedings and delays. But then a message from out of the blue turned a 26-year campaign for justice on its head. Wendy Bacon, who has followed the story for 16 years, on the day NSW finally ended its pursuit of Roseanne Beckett:

On Monday afternoon I was on my way home from the NSW Supreme Court when into my inbox popped an unexpected message from the media advisor for the NSW Attorney-General Gabrielle Upton. “Attached is a statement which might be of interest to you.”

I read the first words. “The State has agreed to pay Roseanne Beckett nearly $4.092 million in damages. This relates to two counts of malicious prosecution. Payment for Ms Beckett will be made shortly.”

After 26 years, Roseanne Beckett had finally triumphed. I read it again and immediately rang Beckett who told me she had been downloading an urgent message on her phone. At first she did not absorb the news. But when I said this means you never have to go to court again, she began to sob.

This is highly unusual for a woman who has stood strong under enormous pressure. Like all of us, Beckett’s mood and manner changes with her circumstances. I have seen her angry, elated, charming, steely, irritated, demoralised, and scared. There were grim moments during the fifteen years that I have followed the case, such as when no lawyer could be found to adequately represent her, or when she received tapes of Barry Catt screaming threats against her and another women. Beckett, her family, and other witnesses remained terrified of Peter Thomas – the former detective who framed her for a number of offences – until he died last year.

She was deeply distressed and humiliated when Channel Nine’s 60 Minutes aired false allegations that she was a child abuser after her release in 2001. But only once before have I heard her voice break into sobs and that was when her daughter Julie, who had stood by her side during the 2004 Inquiry into her convictions, became a quadriplegic after a tragic car accident in Canada.

Before the news came through a Monday hearing in the case of Roseanne Beckett against the State of NSW had been an anti-climax. The Crown Law department sent two barristers and a solicitor to inform the Court that the State of NSW would withdraw its application to Justice Harrison to put a stay on his judgment awarding Roseanne Beckett just over $4 million in damages.

Beckett, her lawyers, and supporters left the court expecting that an appeal and possibly an application to stay the judgment would still be lodged in the Court of Appeal. For an appeal that will take several days, the waiting time can be more than a year. If the Crown had appealed, Beckett’s team intended to cross-appeal against the decision in the malicious prosecution counts that she did not win. For Beckett, who is now in her late sixties, it looked like she was looking forward to a future of more tense days of court preparation and hearing. The fact that if the Crown failed to pay the damages interest would start to accrue was not much comfort.

As we left the court the jubilation of the victory several weeks ago was muted.

However, behind the scenes political pressure was building. Supporters had begun sending letters to the Premier Mike Baird and NSW Attorney-General Gabrielle Upton. The feminist online campaigning group Destroy the Joint had posted New Matilda’s story on its site while 2GB broadcaster Alan Jones has been calling for justice for Beckett for some time. A formidable combination if ever there was one.

It was also clear at recent court hearings that the Crown was scrambling to find legal points on which to mount an appeal.

I was mulling over these events when the email came through. Upton’s statement read, “This is the right thing to do. [Beckett’s] case is extraordinary and requires a sensitive response after so long including 10 years of imprisonment for Ms Beckett. Roseanne Beckett has been through enough and should not have to fight the government anymore. She deserves the right to move on.”

Finally the Crown law department, that has so consistently refused to accept responsibility for any of the misdeeds of those acting on the state’s behalf, has been instructed to concede. The fact that the news is welcome should not obliterate 26 years of failure.

Beckett, who soon recovered her equilibrium, told New Matilda: “The hardest thing about the fight was the very fact the people in positions of power such as the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions and the Crown were aware Thomas was a criminal from day one, they had more than enough well-documented evidence to that very fact, yet they restlessly pursued me with the public purse at their disposal. How can any person match that?”

Not long after Beckett’s arrest the Manager of Family and Community Services in Taree Greg Baggs had reported that he had been threatened and stood over by the detective in charge of the case, Peter Thomas. Baggs had criticised Thomas for handing Beckett’s step-children, who had alleged their father Barry Catt had abused them, over to one of his close friends. In a later report to the NSW Ombudsman he noted the sinister under-tones running through the case and recent allegations of a police liaison officer’s involvement in abuse of Aboriginal children. He noted how much Beckett cared for the children and protected their interests. All of this material was available at the trial but was never handed by the NSW Police or Director of Public Prosecutions to the defence lawyers.

Even before her 1991 trial, Thomas had resigned from the police while charges against him had been recommended but not pursued. Right up until the end of the malicious prosecution trial the State was actively working to prevent evidence of Thomas’ numerous wrong doings being presented in court.

Beckett hopes that her “difficult journey, will now make it much easier for many innocent victims to obtain justice – that they don’t have to suffer and fight as I have.”

But that will only happen if there is reform that allows miscarriage of justice cases to be considered by a non-adversarial body that has the purpose of establishing the truth in order to deliver a just result.

Yesterday, miscarriage of justice researcher and campaigner Dr Bob Moles called for national reform.

Moles’ organisation Networked Knowledge has already won reforms giving potential victims of miscarriages of justice more rights to appeal in South Australia and is now campaigning for a new Right to Appeal act in all states, and the establishment of a national Criminal Cases Review Commission. (For more, see his timeline).

Moles has been involved for many years in seeking the release of Henry Keogh who spent 21 years in prison for a murder conviction that was finally overturned last year. The office of the SA Director of Public Prosecutions announced last week that it would drop a further attempt to prosecute Keogh. As in Beckett’s case, senior officers were aware of evidence raising doubts about Keogh’s conviction ten years before his release.

In a letter to me Moles wrote, “What happened to Roseanne is a perfect illustration of the systemic and deeply entrenched ‘mates’ network which can be called upon to protect the perpetrators of such illegal activities.”

Moles also wrote that findings by Judge Davidson, who found after his inquiry into Beckett’s convictions in 2004 that key Crown witnesses were likely to have fabricated evidence against her, “should have sounded alarm bells and brought urgent assistance to deal with this issue. Instead, Roseanne has had to battle with the legal system for just over 10 years since then to attain justice. It is clear that police officers, who were duty bound to assist Roseanne, used their powers to distort the investigatory and judicial process and to secure the conviction on multiple serious charges of an innocent woman.”

“This is the worst possible type of miscarriage of justice – when the legal process is hijacked by the legal officials (police officers) who consciously and deliberately use the legal system to inflict serious harm on innocent citizens. The shame here is that there should be inbuilt checks and balances with systems of peer review to identify such aberrations at the earliest opportunity.”

Moles agrees with Roseanne Beckett that domestic violence was at the heart of her matter. “Barry Catt was a very violent person, he was protected, I was the victim, yet I was the one persecuted,” said Beckett.

Roseanne Beckett’s case will be remembered for the way she was vilified, the amount of compensation she was awarded, the years she spent in prison and the length of her fight for justice. If she had allowed domestic abuse to continue she might well have ended up dead. If she had fled, she would have left Barry Catt’s children in danger. She tried to exercise her legal rights to hold Catt accountable for his actions but she was outsmarted by Barry Catt’s mate Peter Thomas and ended up in jail herself.


Same-sex marriage debate goes to the heart of our democracy

Can state recognition of same-sex marriage be reconciled with religious freedom?

The calculated assault on freedom of religious liberty in Australia is rapidly gaining pace with the focus in Tasmania where the Catholic Bishops of Australia now face formal action on the grounds that their defence of traditional marriage contravenes anti-discrimination law.

This action — an effort to deny the Catholic Church the right to ventilate its social and religious views on marriage as a union between a man and a woman — has become a test case. The issue is manifest: it is whether existing law and current public opinion can censor or partially silence the churches from full public expressions of their beliefs.

For Australia and its alleged open spirit of debate, this is an unprecedented situation. It reveals an aggressive secularism dressed in the moral cause of anti-discrimination justice but with a long-run agenda that seeks to transform our values and, ultimately, drive religion into the shadows. The vanguard for this drive is the same-sex marriage campaign.

The Tasmanian action before the state’s Anti-Discrimination Commission highlights what many parliamentarians and journalists have preferred to deny: that the campaign for same-sex marriage threatens to infringe the rights of the church and religious freedom. Sustained denials of this proposition by many pro same-sex marriage politicians are untenable given the evidence to the contrary.

Their denialism is based in several different notions — a desire to make the same-sex marriage transition as fast and smooth as possible, a naivety about its meaning and a more disreputable sentiment, namely, a quiet acceptance that same-sex marriage as an ideology must strike against freedom of religious conscience.

With the Turnbull government upholding the previous pledge of the Abbott government to conduct a national plebiscite on same-sex marriage the immediate issue is whether advocates of traditional marriage will be inhibited and intimidated in making their case in a campaign. This would be an extraordinary situation for the country. Yet it has a logic flowing from the Tasmania case.

The greater danger, however, lies elsewhere. It is whether the terms and conditions under which same-sex marriage is legislated in this country is founded in a new intolerance against religious freedom. The refusal of many federal parliamentarians to confront this issue honestly is a conspicuous feature of the public debate.

The churches, belatedly, are rallying on this issue. The Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, said in his recent Acton Lecture that Pope Francis had identified “respect for the democratic ideal of religious liberty as an essential precondition of peaceful coexistence”. Going to the heart of the issue, he quoted the Pope that “religious liberty, by its nature, transcends places of worship and the private sphere” and must be preserved in the public square. Yet this is the exact point of the ideological attack.

Fisher’s lecture sketches the cultural crisis the church sees as a potential outcome for Australia — that in 10 years religious schools will be forced by law to teach a gay-friendly concept of marriage in conflict with their beliefs, that clergy will face fines and possibly imprisonment, that faith schools and teachers will be mired in legal threats for “hate speech”, that religious organisations will be compelled by law to extend spousal benefits on a same-sex basis and will have lost their charitable status and that all businesses will be compelled to provide services for same-sex marriage, regardless of their beliefs.

Referring to the decision of the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commission, prominent Jesuit and law professor Frank Brennan, who accepts same-sex marriage will be legislated, tells Inquirer: “To date, the bishops have spoken cautiously and respectfully. They know their views are not in fashion. It is ridiculous to have a national debate on a plebiscite stifled by assertions that church teaching on marriage is offensive to some individuals and likely to cause offence to a reasonable person.

“Debate should not be put on hold while the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Board decides whether it is arguable that a reasonable person might be ­offended. The board is not the thought police or, at least, it shouldn’t be. Those who take ­offence are those who think churches should butt out of all moral debate in the public square. On this one, we should all let a thousand flowers bloom.”

This is a contest over power, ideas and law. With the Catholic Church deeply compromised and unpopular because of the child sexual abuses and cover-ups, it is vulnerable to a calculated strike by parliaments and anti-discrimination boards using the cover of same-sex justice to achieve a quantum reduction in religious freedom and a pivotal change in the norms of our society.

The complainant in Tasmania, transgender Greens political candidate, Martine Delaney, said the church’s 15-page pastoral letter, “Don’t Mess with Marriage” authorised by the Catholic Bishops of Australia was “insulting” and “offensive”. Tasmanian law has an exceptionally low threshold for unlawful conduct under anti-discrimination law and therefore is the ideal jurisdiction to intimidate expressions of faith.

Australian Marriage Equality, the main lobby group for same-sex marriage, has given robust support to the complaint. “This booklet denigrates and demeans same-sex relationships and will do immense harm to gay students and students being raised by same-sex couples,” AME national director Rodney Croome said in June.

“The Catholic Church has every right to express its views from the pulpit but it is completely inappropriate to enlist young people as the couriers of its prejudice. Any principal or teacher who exposes vulnerable children to such damaging messages not only violates their duty of care but is a danger to students.”

Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commissioner Robin Banks found the Catholics bishops and Archbishop of Hobart Julian Porteous have a case to answer. Procedures are under way that could involve a conciliation process and, if that fails, then a hearing before a tribunal.

Porteous has said the federal debate about marriage “has significant implications for the future of our society” and tells Inquirer his intention is to ensure the Catholic community “understood where we stand on the issue of marriage’’.

“It was not my intention to ­offend,” he says. “Rather, it was and is, to express the teaching of the Catholic Church. I regret if ­offence has been taken by individuals and will work with the commission to resolve the matter.”

The pastoral letter was distributed to parents of Catholic school students. It defends existing Australian law, including the Marriage Amendment Act of 2004 and the Catholic sacrament of marriage. The letter begins with a declaration that the Catholic Church opposes all forms of unjust discrimination. It says gay people must be treated with “respect, compassion and sensitivity” and “every sign of discrimination” against them “should be avoided”.

The letter says a struggle is now under way “for the very soul of marriage”. It says “the union of a man and a woman is different from other unions — not the same as other unions”. Accordingly, it is “unjust” to assert there is “nothing distinctive about a man and a woman, a father or a mother”. For the church, marriage is both a natural and holy institution. It ­argues the importance, as far as possible, of children having both a mother and father.

It says if the law changed, then our culture would teach marriage was merely an emotional bond rather than a union founded on sexual complementarity. It warns that in this situation, people who adhered to the natural definition of marriage “will be characterised as old-fashioned, even bigots, who must answer to social disapproval and the law”. Finally, it lists a series of examples from abroad showing that even if same-sex marriage law has an exemption for ministers of religion, freedom of religious conscience is gradually being eroded.

AME’s repudiation of this letter as an acceptable “public square” document reveals the sheer extent of the deadlock in the same-sex marriage debate. The consequences far transcend the definition of marriage itself. Same-sex marriage is provoking an upheaval about freedom of conscience, religious liberty and the norms that govern our democratic discourse.

The same-sex lobby believes such an authorised letter of church teaching constitutes prejudice, an offence against gays, a danger to children, denigrates same-sex relationships and should not be tolerated under anti-discrimination law.

In short, it is unacceptable for the Catholic Church to make its case because that case is offensive. Ultimately, this is the bedrock position. In Tasmania the church is now fighting for the right to expound its beliefs in the public square. The culture of repression sanctioned by anti-discrimination law continues to grow.

Its impact is already marked. Many people will not defend existing law or the centuries-long traditional concept of marriage precisely because they are accused of prejudice or offending others. Brennan’s point is correct: in its essence this is a campaign to force the voice of the churches from the public square on the grounds of ­offensiveness.

Anti-discrimination laws vary across the states. The extent to which they can be harvested once same-sex marriage is legislated is difficult to assess and, in some states, the churches may still sit on solid ground. But there can be no doubting that among same-sex marriage activists, the political will exists and the pathway is apparent to silence opponents. One upshot is that Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman has said he will review Tasmania’s law in the light of recent events.

What is required, however, is a new approach to the same-sex marriage debate. That approach has been best articulated by Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson, who said some time ago that in this transition, support for same-sex marriage and support for religious freedom should enjoy equal status. This would be the response of a tolerant society. It has not been the approach of the Australian parliament.

The legislation of same-sex marriage means the laws of the state and the laws of the churches (at least most churches) will be in conflict over the meaning of marriage. This leads to the question: how tenable will this historic difference be? And it prompts another question: is the push for same-sex marriage founded in tolerance or intolerance? The evidence is mixed and varies from person to person, group to group.

What is undeniable, however, is that marriage equality is a powerful ideology and ideologies rarely stop short of complete victory. Can state recognition of same-sex marriage be reconciled with religious freedom or is the erosion of freedom of religious conscience an integral step on this journey?

These are the real issues at stake. The country deserves more than weasel words from its politicians and hollow crusading from its media. Don’t be fooled, yet again, by phony assurances that Tasmania is a one-off, means nothing and will be easily settled. It is, rather, a signal that issues without precedent for our democracy are being put on the table.


Bill Shorten’s carbon hit to cost of living

Former Reserve Bank board member Warwick McKibbin warned that the Labor plan went too far beyond the commitments being made by similar nations.

Bill Shorten has sparked a polit­ical fight over the cost of living after setting a climate change target that could impose a cost burden 10 times greater than Julia Gillard’s carbon tax.

The new Labor target was branded “way out of range” of other countries as world leaders prepare to meet in Paris on Monday to try to agree on a united plan to address global warming.

Labor is defending its goal of a 45 per cent cut in Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by insisting­ it will not need an expensiv­e price on carbon that drives up household energy bills.

In a break from bipartisanship on previous targets, Labor’s ambition is almost twice the size of the government’s offic­ial goal of cutting carbon pollution by 26-28 per cent, which Malcolm Turnbull will reiterate when he attends the Paris talks.

The Opposition Leader’s move prompted concerns yesterday that a partisan brawl over competing targets would damage the prospects for real action on climate change, frightening investors and making a consensus more difficult.

Former Reserve Bank board member Warwick McKibbin, the author of a detailed economic study of climate change targets, warned that the Labor plan went too far beyond the commitments being made by similar nations.

Professor McKibbin estimated that the Labor goal would need a carbon price of $200 a tonne without access to inter­national credits — almost 10 times the $23 fixed price in Ms Gillard’s carbon pricing scheme four years ago.

While only an early estimate, the $200 figure is a like-for-like comparison in today’s dollars based on the fact that the carbon tax only needed to achieve a 5 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

Mr Shorten said yesterday that Labor would set up an “internationally linked” emissions trading scheme, suggesting it could allow the purchase of permits that might keep the price down. The new Labor and Coal­ition targets aim to cut carbon emissions by 2030, compared with the base year of 2005.

Professor McKibbin, who holds the chair in public policy at the Centre for Applied Macro­economic Analysis at the Australian National University, said Labor’s target was “far more than any other country” was planning at Paris.

“Why would you go much harder than everyone else when it’s the global target that matters?” he asked.

“At the moment, Australia is contributing a greater economic loss than other countries with the 26-28 per cent target. To be going further out in front is not good policy.”

The Labor target compares with commitments by Japan (25 per cent), the US (41 per cent) and Europe (34 per cent).

Frontier Economics director Danny Price said the real impact on Australians was greater on a per-capita basis and showed that Labor was too far ahead of other countries. “The problem with such tough targets and high costs is that they generate objections to clim­ate change policies,” said Mr Price, an expert in the carbon pricing debate over the past decade.

“You can see why Labor’s doing it, because they want to appeal to Labor/Green voters. But in appealing to those voters it makes the actual­ implementation of the policy less likely.”

The Business Council of Australia and the Australian Industry Group welcomed the chance to consult with Labor on the new target, but the Minerals Council of Australia dismissed it as an “ambit claim” and favoured the government plan instead.

Climate Institute chief John Connor said the Labor target was “stronger and more credible” and would achieve the agreed inter­national goal of preventing global temperatures rising by 2C — something he said the government target would not do.

The Climate Change Author­ity, set up by Labor, recommends a cut of 40-60 per cent.

Labor is yet to reveal how its ETS would work or what price it would set, the key factor in shaping the cost impact on households.

Professor McKibbin’s economic analysis with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade this year found that a 26 per cent target would trim 0.6 per cent from gross domestic product in 2030 while a 45 per cent target would trim 1 per cent from GDP instead.

Given that the government’s Intergenerational Report forecasts GDP to reach about $3 trillion in 2030, Labor’s target would in theory cost $30 billion in forgone economic output in that year. The government target would cost $18bn. Economic growth continues under both targets.

Mr Shorten countered the idea that his target would hurt the economy, saying “this modelling took no account of the ­economic consequences of not adopting this sort of target”.

Setting out his policy in a speech to the Lowy Institute in Sydney yesterday, Mr Shorten made it clear there would be help for families to deal with the costs.

“We will undertake this process mindful of the consequences for jobs, for regions and for any impact­s on households,” he said.

Labor also argues it will not have to rely only on an ETS to reach its target because of its commitment to make renewable energy account for half of all power by 2030.

Scott Morrison warned of the economic damage from the Labor plan while Industry Minister Christopher Pyne said the policy would “smash household budgets” and the economy by re­introducing a carbon tax. Labor rejected­ the claim that its ETS would be a carbon tax, citing a comment from the Prime Minister in September that drew a distinction between a carbon tax and an ETS and other mechanisms to reduce emissions.


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