Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Corrupt Victoria again

A MAJOR inquiry has been launched into the Office of Public Prosecutions and its embattled head over events that have split the state's most powerful prosecutors.

Attorney-General Robert Clark will today announce the inquiry into the functioning of the office of Director of Public Prosecutions, Jeremy Rapke, to be undertaken by former Supreme Court judge Frank Vincent.

This follows months of public allegations of an inappropriate relationship between Mr Rapke and young lawyer Diana Karamicov, one of three solicitors he promoted to the post of assistant crown prosecutor last July.

Mr Rapke and his deputy, Gavin Silbert, have been involved in a public spat for months and, although the two issued a statement vowing to work together in October, the inquiry has been launched to determine if the matters are effecting the administration of justice in Victoria.

Despite the fact his staff may be called to give evidence -- and could make allegations about his personal relationships -- Mr Rapke will remain in charge of the office, at least until Mr Vincent reports to the Government in March. Former attorney-general and current Deputy Opposition Leader Rob Hulls may also be asked to give evidence.

Mr Clark said the high-level inquiry was imperative so Victorians could be assured justice was not being undermined.

"It is vital that this office is operating at the highest possible standards of effectiveness in conducting prosecutions and appeals, and in securing appropriate sentences for convicted offenders," he said.

But the investigation has already been criticised because it will not require anyone to give evidence under oath -- meaning those invited to speak out will have no immunity to protect their jobs or guard against litigation for any statements made concerning some of the state's best lawyers.

"There's a big difference between people being asked to come forward and being subpoenaed to give evidence on oath," said one OPP lawyer yesterday. "It is difficult to put your job on the line." Another source inside the OPP said employees would be running for legal advice: "The worry is they'll probably be told not to talk."

At least 10 current and former lawyers from the office have indicated they would give evidence against Mr Rapke if the probe was given the power to take evidence under oath. Instead, their only protection may be if Mr Vincent decides to accept evidence and withhold their names from his final report, which he is entitled to do.

Mr Clark said the standing of a retired Supreme Court judge, acting independently at the request of the Government, should be more than enough assurance for anyone wanting to provide evidence.

Mr Rapke issued a statement saying he had been informed of the inquiry late yesterday afternoon but would not comment until he had a chance to consider its terms of reference.

Shadow attorney-general Martin Pakula said the operation and independence of the DPP must not be undermined by the inquiry. "When the Coalition were last in government they hounded the DPP from office," he said. "In line with their commitment to be open and transparent, the Attorney-General should commit to release the full report publicly."


Tasmania's legal opium trade

The legitimate opium trade is now one of Tasmania's most profitable businesses

WHILE governments around the world struggle to contain the illegal opium trade, hundreds of farmers in Tasmania are preparing to cash in on a multimillion dollar trade in legal opium.

The poppy is Tasmania's biggest export crop, and the industry regularly brings in millions of dollars for Tasmania.

While the trade is entirely legitimate, it is also tightly regulated, and farmers must undergo annual police checks if they want to have their licences renewed. "If we have a drug offence or anything else to our name, you will not get a license to grow", grower Mike Badcock told Sky News.

Poppy is a key component in pharmaceutical painkillers such as opium, morphine, and heroin, and the tiny island currently supplies almost half of the world's medicinal opiates.

Tasmania has a climate that is particularly conducive to poppy cultivation, and the poppy plants are harvested and processed on the island.


Anti-harassment laws considered

STUDENTS could be formally protected from cyber sexual harassment as the Federal Government this year examines ways to strengthen discrimination laws.

Breastfeeding women and people meeting family responsibilities may also be better protected.

The Independent Education Union of Australia said communications technologies including mobile phones, Facebook and emails play an important role in youths' social lives. "Yet too often these technologies are used to sexually harass and bully others," the union said. "The extent of cyber bullying is not currently contained by conventional notions of boundaries such as 'the workplace'."

The comments are contained in a submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, examining sex and age discrimination legislation with a view to strengthening laws.

In its submission the IEUA noted present laws did not protect students or staff at educational facilities from harassment by persons at other facilities.

The IEUA supported proposed amendments which would cover sexual harassment at inter-school activities, such as sporting carnivals or joint theatrical productions.

It also called for specific laws to deal with internet harassment and bullying. "IEUA believes it is imperative for legislation to provide strong protection by specifically making references to cyber harassment."

The IEUA also supported amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act to better protect people from discrimination on the grounds of family responsibility. "Discrimination because of family responsibility is one of the major issues facing both men and women in the workforce. There must be clear and direct protection from it in all forms," the submission said.

Breastfeeding women both at work and in other areas of public life also needed better protection, the union said.

The Australian Family Association supported proposed amendments broadening legal provisions regarding family responsibility. "Both men and women need to be protected in areas of their employment in caring for their children and relatives," it said.

The Family Association said sexual harassment was unacceptable and in the past had led to suicides and physical and mental illnesses.


Futile fight against fat

On New Year’s Day, as the Victorian and Northern Territory governments followed NSW, WA and the ACT by implementing laws preventing cigarettes from being put on display to the public, the Australian Medical Association (AMA) called for a $25 million TV and newspaper advertising campaign showing “damaged vital organs or people drinking liquefied body fat” to shock Australians into giving up junk food and sugary soft drinks.

The good doctors based their call upon a belief that the fear-based advertising campaigns used by the TAC (in Victoria) and Quit have been effective in changing behaviour around driving and smoking. The mistake that they are making is that there is much more to the change of behaviour in relation to driving and smoking than the shock advertisements that have formed part of these long social marketing campaigns.

The advertisements that the AMA are suggesting are based on similar advertisements launched by the New York Health Department in October, 2010, highlighting how much sugar is in a bottle of soft drink. A video that was released as part of the "Pouring on the Pounds" campaign aimed to “educate New Yorkers about the potentially serious health effects of consuming sugary drinks.”

One of the videos in the campaign showed a man drinking fat poured from a soft drink can with the tag saying, “drinking one can of soda a day, can make you 10 pounds fatter a year,” while another showed a man consuming sixteen packets of sugar to demonstrate the amount of sugar in an average-sized soft drink.

And at the far end of the obesity shock spectrum, a viral execution called “Break the Habit” developed as a community service by The Precinct Studio in October, 2010, featured a mother preparing to inject her son with heroin before the scene changed to show him eating a hamburger. The end tag read, “You wouldn’t inject your children with junk, so why are you feeding it to them?”

At face value, and amongst those who think that consumers are rational, thoughtful creatures that just need to be reminded of their vices to persuade them to change their behaviour, this seems like a reasonable approach.

Frighten the masses. Give 'em the facts. Change their behaviour.

But shock advertising, on its own, is unlikely to have the desired effect of getting people to stop eating junk food and eating more healthily. Research in marketing and consumer behaviour suggests that some forms of shock advertising can have the opposite effect of increasing attitudinal loyalty to the brand or the product category, particularly amongst regular users. One explanation is related to the need for the ego to protect itself against any attacks on previous decision-making, thus avoiding or combating feelings of guilt. Advocacy groups need to recognise that shock for its own sake does not change behaviour. An emotional creative execution is useful, because it helps the brain to form memory connections when our emotions are heightened, but we need to be careful not to activate the “reject” or flight response.

In a paper published in April 2010 in the Journal of Marketing Research, Nidhi Agrawal and Adam Duhachek found ads that were designed to trigger guilt amongst the target market actually triggered a defensive processing mechanism. This mechanism, they argued, was explained by the notion that people tend to think things will go much better for them than for the average person. In other words, we think our own personal greatness buffers us from all potential negative consequence, whether it’s driving, smoking, or eating junk food


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