Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Federal government warns Muslim haters of citizenship loss

Dual citizens who work to divide Australia rather than unite it should be stripped of their Australian citizenship, Treasurer Peter Costello said today. "If somebody is an Australian citizen and also, let's say, an Egyptian citizen and that person doesn't support what this country stands for... I think we'd be within our rights to say to that person, well, Australia's not for you," Mr Costello told Macquarie Radio.

The comments come after the uproar started by Australia's Islamic leader Sheik Taj al-Din al-Hilali who compared Australian women to uncovered meat and also claimed Muslim Australians had more right to live in Australia than Anglo-Saxons, the majority of which are descendants of convicts. "You get into a difficult situation if they're not dual citizens, because at that point, if you take away Australian citizenship they're not a citizen of anywhere, they've got nowhere to go."

But Mr Costello said burning the Australian flag should not be outlawed. "I hate people burning the Australian flag," Mr Costello told Macquarie Radio. "It makes me sick in my stomach but then you think to yourself, these people are disaffected people, some of them are just plain bad people, I wouldn't want to make them martyrs."


Queensland lawyers squealing about damages cap

Insurance premiums will be reviewed to ensure that they have fallen in the wake of reforms to personal injury laws which capped compensation payouts, the State Government says. Premier Peter Beattie yesterday stopped short of endorsing Attorney-General Kerry Shine's claim that the laws were unfair, but said the Government was willing to check whether the changes made in 2002 were still working.

However, he warned lawyers they should not expect the laws to be significantly relaxed. "I just want to be really clear that ambulance chasers shouldn't get too excited," Mr Beattie said. "We are not going to go back to the bad old days when we couldn't get insurance to cover our doctors. "(But) the insurance industry had an obligation to reduce their premiums. I don't think it's unreasonable that we should actually have a look at that too, to make sure they have done that."

In an earlier interview with The Courier-Mail, Mr Shine had criticised the laws, saying they had unfairly blocked people with minor injuries claiming compensation, because their court costs could not be covered. He accused insurance companies of profiting from the crackdown, which was aimed at addressing the public liability insurance crisis when soaring premiums were sending community groups and charities to the wall. Under the changes, general damages were capped at $250,000 and court costs limited on payouts of less than $50,000.

Australian Lawyers Alliance state president Ian Brown welcomed the Attorney-General's comments and called for an immediate overhaul. "It is now widely accepted that the so-called insurance crisis was not the result of an increase in claims, but rather inherent problems within the insurance industry and external global financial factors," Mr Brown said. "Of course insurance companies must remain profitable, but not at the price now being paid by Queenslanders - and particularly our most vulnerable, the elderly and children, who have almost completely lost the right to fair compensation for injury caused by the wrongdoing of another."


Arrogant police in South Australia

Read the complaint below and then the police response to it

Elderly residents in Coober Pedy are arming themselves with tyre levers when they do their weekly shopping because there is no local 24-hour police station. Coober Pedy Mayor Steve Baines last week wrote to Police Commissioner Mal Hyde and Premier Mike Rann to express his "extreme concern" at the "despair" of the isolated town's 3500 residents.

He said there was "ineffective" law and order procedures in place for the opal mining town, 850km north of Adelaide. "I am still fielding complaints from residents and visitors of anti-social behaviour and violence that is being experienced in our town after the local (police) station closes at night," Mr Baines wrote.

Figures from the Office of Crime Statistics and Research show Coober Pedy has the second-highest crime rate in the state. It had the most number of recorded assaults after the Adelaide CBD and Ceduna.

Mr Baines' letter calling for permanent 24-hour policing followed a morning of mayhem last Thursday when fights broke out in the main street about 7.50am as locals were doing their weekly shopping. Calls to Coober Pedy police were diverted to Port Augusta, about 540km south of the town, and residents were told they would have to wait for help until 8.30am, when the local station opened.

"An elderly lady in her sixties who was trying to do her weekly shopping had felt the necessity to arm herself with a tyre lever fearing for her own safety," Mr Baines wrote in his letter. "By the time the situation had defused and the main street had returned to some semblance of normality it was 8.30am and still no police had attended."

A police spokeswoman yesterday said police numbers at Coober Pedy had recently been increased by two. Current after-hours call-out service "provides satisfactory 24-hour coverage for the area," she said. Opposition police spokesman Rob Lucas said police had the capacity to provide an additional presence.


Shifting stand will fail Federal Leftist leader

By Christopher Pearson

If Kevin Rudd hadn't committed to a policy of withdrawing Australian troops from Iraq, would enough of Labor's Left have supported him for his leadership bid to succeed? To raise the question is to confront its answer. Rudd's own sympathies may be with the more conservatively minded Laborites who attach great importance to the US alliance. But his backers in caucus included a disproportionate share of the inner urbanites who disdain George Bush and all his works and view the alliance as, at best, a very mixed blessing.

One of Rudd's main priorities between now and the federal election is to appease his colleagues on the Left, while trying to maintain his image as a safe pair of hands on the foreign policy front. That is why, when asked on ABC radio on Tuesday to say what the consequences of a troop withdrawal would be, he repeatedly refused to answer the question. Put on the spot and invited to conjure sweetness and light out of a policy with catastrophic consequences, he was reduced to embarrassed silence. His line that he was "not in the business of providing a rolling external commentary" was so much at odds with his media performance over his career as a shadow minister as to be laughable.

While resolutely refusing to answer the question on the consequences of troop withdrawal, Rudd would no doubt have been mindful of the intelligence briefings routinely given to opposition leaders. The latest, the US National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq of February 2 this year, covers the next 12 to 18 months and was cited in passing by John Howard in parliament last week. "Coalition capabilities, including force levels, resources and operations, remain an essential stabilising element in Iraq. If Coalition forces were withdrawn rapidly during the term of this estimate, we judge that this almost certainly would lead to an increase in the scale and scope of sectarian conflict in Iraq, intensify Sunni resistance to the Iraqi Government, and have adverse consequences for national reconciliation.

"If such a rapid withdrawal were to take place, we judge that the Iraq Security Forces would be unlikely to survive as a non-sectarian national institution; neighbouring countries - invited by Iraqi factions or unilaterally - might intervene openly in the conflict; massive civilian casualties and forced population displacement would be probable; AQI (Al Qa'ida in Iraq) would attempt to use parts of the country - particularly al-Anbar province - to plan increased attacks in and outside of Iraq; and spiralling violence and political disarray in Iraq, along with Kurdish moves to control Kirkuk and strengthen autonomy, could prompt Turkey to launch a military incursion."

The Iraq Study Group Report in December 2006, which Rudd has claimed as something of a model for his hastily conceived "staged withdrawal" policy and likes to quote selectively, was just as bleak. "Because of the importance of Iraq, the potential for catastrophe and the role and commitments of the United States in initiating events that have led to the current situation, we believe it would be wrong for the United States to abandon the country through a precipitate withdrawal of troops and support ... the near-term results would be a significant power vacuum, greater human suffering, regional destabilisation and a threat to the global economy. Al Qa'ida would depict our withdrawal as a historic victory. If we leave and Iraq descends into chaos, the long-range consequences could eventually require the United Stated to return."

Neither of these American assessments is an ideologically driven exercise in special pleading. Rudd can't afford to canvass the consequences of his policy because, if it were part of the wider withdrawal so many Democrats in Congress are now demanding, there is very little doubt about the likely outcomes.

Nor can he afford to engage in a forthright discussion of the immediate regional implications of an Al-Qa'ida triumph. There can, for example, be no doubt that if the West withdrew from Iraq with a view to focusing its energies in Afghanistan, the global jihadists would do likewise. Israel has offered no guarantees that it won't go to war against a resurgent Iran on the verge of possessing nuclear weapons. Radical Islamists everywhere would be immensely fortified in their resolve by our conspicuous lack of it and Southeast Asian terrorist networks such as Jemaah Islamiah would be doing their damndest to destabilise moderate, democratically elected regimes such as the present government of Indonesia and replacing it with proto-Islamist ideologues.

Howard has been accused of blundering in the management of alliance politics by all the usual suspects in the press gallery. Even when they conceded him the right to disagree with Barack Obama, they were united in deploring his widening of the reproach to include the Democrats as a party. It doesn't seem to have occurred to any of them that Obama's winning the nomination and the Democrats winning the presidential election are both necessary preconditions for the disaster Howard was warning against.

If Howard still seems strident, consider what Senator Joe Lieberman told the Congress on the subject of a comparable kind of irresolution, debating the Warner-Levin measure on February 5. "The resolution before us, its sponsors concede, will not stop the new strategy from going forward. As we speak, thousands of troops are already in Baghdad, with thousands more moving into position to carry out their commander's orders. This resolution does nothing to alter these facts.

"Instead, its sponsors say it will send a message of rebuke from the Senate to the President, from one end of Pennsylvania Avenue to the other. But there is a world beyond Pennsylvania Avenue that is watching and listening. "What we say here is being heard in Baghdad by Iraqi moderates, trying to decide whether the Americans will stand with them. We are being heard by the leaders of the thuggish regimes in Iran and Syria, and by Al-Qa'ida terrorists, eager for evidence that America's will is breaking. And we are being heard across America by our constituents, who are wondering if their Congress is capable of serious action, not just hollow posturing. "This resolution is not about Congress taking responsibility. It is the opposite. It is a resolution of irresolution. "For the Senate to take up a symbolic vote of no confidence on the eve of a decisive battle is unprecedented, but it is not inconsequential. It is an act which, I fear, will discourage our troops, hearten our enemies, and showcase our disunity."

Lieberman, it will be remembered, was the pro-war Democrat who lost his party's Senate endorsement in Connecticut and nonetheless retained his seat at the recent elections. Is there anyone left in the federal Labor caucus with the courage and gravitas to take a similar stand?

OVER the past fortnight Julia Gillard has repeatedly claimed that it wasn't the Work Choices legislation but the mining boom which was responsible for the fall in unemployment. The shadow treasurer, Wayne Swan, who's generally credited with being more numerate and savvy than Gillard, has been saying the same thing. As recently as last Wednesday she told parliament: "When you look at the pattern of employment growth, it is abundantly clear that it is the resources boom that is driving employment growth. It is the states of Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory that are leaping ahead."

On Monday the Reserve Bank issued a statement of monetary policy which flatly rejected Gillard's argument. It said: "Employment growth has been broad-based, with the goods and services sectors both making strong contributions to year-ended growth. While mining employment has gained much attention, over the past year employment growth was also high in construction, finance and insurance, and wholesale trade."

The RBA also expressly rejected Gillard's claim that the jobs boom was narrowly concentrated. "Employment growth has been firm across the states, and recently there has been some convergence in outcomes, with annual employment growth in NSW increasing and that in WA slowing as employers have found it harder to find suitable labour. There has also been a broad-based reduction in unemployment rates in recent years. Similarly, the composite measure of business conditions in the NAB survey - which reflects firms' responses on trading conditions, profitability and employment - shows that conditions in the non-farm economy remain above average in all the mainland states."

Joe Hockey, the new Minister for Workplace Relations, put it more succinctly in Wednesday's Matter of Public Importance debate. Of the 230,000 jobs created between February and November last year after WorkChoices was introduced, 46,000 were in wholesale trade, 43,000 in construction and 34,500 in finance and insurance. Mining directly accounted for only 14,000 new jobs.


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