Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Dirty doctor loophole to be closed

The story below appeared in the Gold Coast Bulletin of 18 Sept. 2006

The [Qld.] State Government will close a legal loophole that allows convicted rapists to work as doctors. Work is already under way on new laws to stop doctors convicted of certain offences from continuing to treat patients in Queensland's health system. A spokesman for Premier Peter Beattie yesterday confirmed processes to create the new legislation were set in motion soon after the Government swept back to power on September 9. "There has already been an exchange of letters and we will be liaising with stakeholders about what needs to be done," he said. "We want to make sure any legislation is effective."

The move comes in the wake of public outrage after the Queensland Medical Board re-registered convicted rapist and known drug addict James Samuel Manwaring in July. After pleading guilty in 2002 to a vicious attack against his then wife, Manwaring was told by District Court judge Brian Hoath that nothing could 'excuse your involvement in these offences'. However, the Health Practitioner's Tribunal last July allowed him to immediately apply for re-registration after he had met a stipulation to submit hair for drug testing. He passed the drug test and was registered to work within days. The tribunal imposed a further 24 conditions on his registration which would be strictly monitored.

The board said its hands were tied by laws which forced them to allow Manwaring to re-register if he met the tribunal's criteria. At the time Mr Beattie vowed to investigate closing the loophole, ordering a report from the Medical Board into the laws and any potential effects.

Manwaring's victim Pat Gillespie, who has agreed to be identified, said there was no way Manwaring should be allowed to treat patients. She welcomed Mr Beattie's announcement, saying it would protect all Queenslanders. "I welcome what the Premier is doing for the patients of Queensland," she said. "This loophole needed to be closed and I am just really pleased and relieved that this is going to happen."

'Fair go' test for migrants

Migrants will need to understand the concept of the "Aussie fair go" before being granted citizenship under beefed-up immigration laws planned by the Howard Government. Newcomers will also need basic English skills and will have to wait at least four years to become citizens. However, while the Government says its proposals are now up for debate it is likely that some knowledge of Australian history, culture, national symbols, and the democratic system will become mandatory.

Parliamentary secretary Andrew Robb launched a discussion paper at a Melbourne citizenship ceremony yesterday, warning that certificates would no longer be handed out "like confetti". Mr Robb said the 100,000 new migrants who sought to become citizens each year would in future need to understand common Australian values, including what he described as the "spirit of the fair go". "These values include our respect for the freedom and dignity of the individual, support for democracy, our commitment to the rule of law, the equality of men and women, the spirit of the fair go, of mutual respect and compassion for those in need," he said.

Failing the test would not hurt a person's current visa status and they could repeat, but failures would be denied the privileges of citizenship, including an Australian passport, right to vote and opportunity to work in the public service. Mr Robb said terrorism and globalisation warranted a revised approach to qualifying for citizenship. "There are a whole lot of issues that are making the broader community feel that those that come and join our community should fully understand and have the skills to quickly and effectively become part of our community," he said. "What I think we are looking at is a level of English skill which would allow people to hold down a job, to converse with their workmates, to read a safety sign, to fill out some forms."

Migrants' groups have warned many new Australians will be intimidated by the test. Victorian Minister Assisting the Premier on Multicultural Affairs, John Pandazopoulos, said the discussion paper was creating "second-class citizens". "On the one hand they are saying we want people to become good Aussies, to settle quickly, but now they are saying they want more barriers," he said. "It contradicts campaigns they have been running for a few years now encouraging people to take out citizenship." Canada, Britain, the US and the Netherlands all have a language and citizenship knowledge test. Australia is considering exemptions, including for those under 18 or over 60.


Clerics 'teaching secret jihad'

Islamic clerics in Sydney and Melbourne are using covert tactics to preach martyrdom and jihad to young followers, recruiting them under the guise of classes teaching the Koran. Singapore-based terrorism analyst Rohan Gunaratna told The Australian that despite their denials and stronger terror laws, religious leaders in the two cities continued to preach violence to impressionable followers, though they now did it away from their mainstream teachings. He said the clerics' influence on young believers increased the risk of a terrorist attack in Australia. "We have seen a number of Australian clerics preaching jihad and martyrdom," Dr Gunaratna said. "The most likely form of attack in Australia is a suicide attack for jihad. You will need to make arrests in time."

Clive Williams, who runs a terrorism and counter-terrorism program at the Australian Defence Force Academy, said young Muslims were being recruited for jihad through "Koran classes". "They are doing it differently now," he said. "They are advertising for Koran classes and then selecting a few people for an inner circle." Mr Williams said the clerics were profiling the followers in the Koran classes and selecting impressionable ones to target separately and privately for indoctrination. "It makes it very difficult to penetrate as an outsider," he said.

Mufti of Australia Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali denounced the claims as having no substance. "None of the qualified imams are preaching martyrdom and there is nothing to suggest that Koran classes are being used to recruit people," he said. "The Koran is very strong in the condemnation of these things."

Sheik Mohammed Omran from Melbourne, who has previously been accused of being one of Australia's most hardline clerics, said he was unaware of any such actions. Sheik Omran said terrorism experts made their living from the counter-terrorism industry and it was in their interests to keep the threat going.

The inaugural Conference of Australian Imams wound up in Sydney yesterday. About 100 Muslim leaders attended the two-day conference hosted by the federal Government's Muslim Reference Group. Parliamentary Secretary on Immigration and Multicultural Affairs Andrew Robb told the conference that imams could play a significant role in minimising the opportunities for extremists to influence vulnerable youth, by speaking English. A communique issued at the end of the conference said the imams condemned all forms of terrorism, hatred and extremism in the past and would continue to do so. It was also agreed that religious leaders should have effective communication skills, including tuition in English with the aim of having sermons delivered entirely in English. They called for religious leaders to get a broader knowledge of Australian society, culture, politics and the legal system and for the training of a new generation of Australian-born imams.


A skewed vision from team green

Australian commentator Alan Oxley says Greenpeace is using misleading claims to cut down logging in PNG -- Australia's near Northern neighbour

Greenpeace is running a campaign that is raising eyebrows. It is accusing one large company of rape, enslaving its workers, abusing human rights, employing police brutality and corruption. In the worst criticism Greenpeace heaped on Shell over oil drilling in the North Sea and on Monsanto for developing and selling genetically modified oilseeds, it never resorted to such abuse. So who is the target now?

It is a company called Rimbunan Hijau, one of the largest foreign investors in Papua New Guinea and its largest forestry business. Greenpeace's attack on the company is a proxy attack on commercial forestry in PNG, which it wants to stop. Greenpeace has been joined by the Centre for Environmental Law and Conservation in PNG and the Australian Conservation Foundation. A recently released CELCOR-ACF report claims to present new evidence of the human rights abuses of the forestry industry. But all that is new are claims of five instances of abuse in nine years, all of which are unsubstantiated.

Conveniently, CELCOR and ACF report the complainants need to remain anonymous for their own safety. This means that none of the claims can be tested for truthfulness. Otherwise, the report repeats old claims, some of which have been made for a decade, about corruption, sexual abuse and enslavement in forestry in PNG. It repeats unsubstantiated reports published by Greenpeace in the past four years and unsubstantiated claims of human rights abuse in PNG aired by SBS, which has since removed the transcript of the program from its website.

To freshen the green campaign, the CELCOR-ACF report carries insinuations that Australian military forces and forestry companies are responsible for distribution of arms throughout PNG. This is a calculated distortion of an ugly reality in PNG. Personal safety in the country has never been poorer. Businesses across the country are calling in help from police forces to keep order. For forestry (and other) companies operating in remote environments, this is crucial. These businesses frequently transport citizens, officials and firefighters.

If Greenpeace succeeds in this campaign, it will be bad luck for the poor. Commercial forestry is an important contributor to PNG's economy. Evidently Greenpeace considers it is better to be poor and green than to reduce poverty and educate children. Rimbunan Hijau is a Malaysia-based group whose activities include the biggest forestry business in PNG. Greenpeace says the company is "acting as ruthless robber barons, plundering the rainforest with impunity" and that most of the company's logging (and therefore most logging in PNG) is illegal.

Greenpeace is also trying to orchestrate global pressure against the company. Recently, activists climbed on top of the Cabinet Office in London and called on British Prime Minister Tony Blair to stop imports of timber from PNG because Greenpeace has labelled them illegal. In Australia it is lobbying the Government to do the same thing. The organisation also wants a global consumer boycott. It has accused the chief executive of one of the largest timber importers in Britain of complicity in the destruction of PNG's forests by importing PNG timber. The company has buckled and agreed not to buy any more.

The PNG Government vehemently denies that most forestry activity in its country is illegal. Our consultancy has completed an exhaustive analysis of these claims and concluded the PNG Government is right. There have been irregularities in forestry administration, as expected in a low-income developing country, and they have been corrected.

The way Greenpeace decides what is illegal is a set-up. It contends logging is illegal if, at the time it occurs, not all relevant government laws and regulations have been fully applied, not all provisions of all relevant international treaties have been implemented and not all relevant (presumably according to Greenpeace) human rights and labour rights have been provided. Consider what this means. If a government agency doesn't do its job properly, any transaction made by a business operating under regulations administered by that agency is illegal. In our system of law, everybody enjoys the presumption of innocence. The way Greenpeace seems to want it, someone is automatically guilty if a government official is incompetent. This is a ruse. When applied in a poor, developing country where all government administration is rickety, it reflects a callous calculation.

Greenpeace's rhetoric stands in stark contrast to the hollowness of its claims. PNG is lush with forests; they cover 65per cent of the country. Greenpeace claims these forests could be cleared within a decade. That is impossible. Only 31 per cent of PNG forests have been marked for commercial use; that is, forestry and clearance for agriculture. Among the remaining forest, 5 per cent has been reserved to protect biodiversity and 37 per cent remains unallocated. PNG's forests are not endangered, nor is its natural biodiversity.

We also examined every one of Greenpeace's allegations of rape, police brutality and abuse of labour rights and corruption made against the company. We concluded they are baseless or cannot be properly substantiated. Greenpeace says the company practises slavery. The PNG labour department reported that the targeted company pays its work force 2.7 times the PNG minimum wage. Slavers don't do that. The allegation of police brutality is based on claims by one former police officer who has left the country. Forestry companies in PNG work closely with the police. Greenpeace well knows that law enforcement breaks down regularly in parts of PNG. Forestry businesses regularly transport police to remote areas because they have aircraft, while the police don't. They are performing a public service.

Greenpeace wants commercial logging in PNG's native forests replaced with eco-forestry or subsistence forestry. Yet the consequences would be immense. The commercial forestry industry in PNG employs about 10,000 people, generates about 5 per cent of the economy, earns about $250 million year in exports and adds $100 million to tax revenues. In addition, companies such as Rimbunan Hijau provide roads, airfields, air services, wharves and schools and medical clinics in remote areas.

Not only would this all be lost if the industry were closed down, but the PNG Government would have to subsidise the replacement eco-forestry. For 10 years there have been efforts to demonstrate the commercial viability of eco-forestry in PNG and all have failed. Even WWF (formerly the World Wide Fund for Nature), Greenpeace's partner in its forestry campaigns, says eco-forestry can succeed only if government pays for it. PNG needs more growth and revenue, not less. Seventy per cent of people in PNG live on less than $US2 ($2.66) a day. Three out of four children in rural areas do not go to school. The Asian Development Bank reported in 2004 that, per capita, gross domestic product in PNG was 10 per cent lower than in 1975. Recently, Patrick Pruaitch, PNG's Minister for Forests, said that if Greenpeace had its way, "the people of PNG would pay the price". He said the Government would resist efforts by international green non-government organisations to weaken PNG's economy.

What is driving Greenpeace to propose such a strategy? It opposes commercial forestry in natural bush, yet there is no environmental science that tells us this is necessary. Native forests can be sustainably logged, as they are in Australia. PNG has plenty of forest to get the environmental balance right. To Greenpeace, PNG is just a pawn in a bigger campaign. For more than 15 years, Greenpeace and WWF have hankered for a global forest convention to implement their goal of replacing commercial forestry with eco-forestry worldwide. Only some European countries support this. Developing countries mistrust their motives and the US does not support it. So the strategy is to whip up concern about illegal logging and goad governments into using trade sanctions to bring developing countries to heel.


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