Thursday, February 17, 2011

Australia out of step on Muslim immigration

Germany, France and Britain are critical but both major Australian parties are resisting the reality of Muslim difference -- and too bad what the public thinks: They can be "educated"

Scott Morrison's predecessor in the immigration portfolio has condemned as "un-Liberal" suggestions the party should capitalise on Australian fears about Muslim migrants.

Leading Victorian moderate Sharman Stone, who lost her portfolio to Mr Morrison when Tony Abbott replaced Malcolm Turnbull as Liberal leader, said such a move would be unpalatable. “That approach would be most un-Liberal and it is totally contrary to Liberal values and beliefs. Our values and beliefs are non discriminatory,” she told The Australian Online. “It was the Liberal Party that began the breakdown of the White Australia policy in the early 1960s. The Liberal Party has a proud record of being colour blind.”

Dr Stone's comments come after reports that Mr Morrison told a meeting of shadow ministers in December the Coalition should make political capital out of Australians' concern about multiculturalism and fears about Muslim immigration.

Senior Liberals Julie Bishop and Philip Ruddock are reported to have rejected Mr Morrison's suggestion at the time.

The growing debate in Liberal ranks about how to approach immigration and multiculturalism comes as Immigration Minister Chris Bowen offered an impassioned defence of Australian multiculturalism yesterday - rejecting a rising tide of criticism directed at the policy by European leaders - as he unveiled a new multicultural strategy.

Dr Stone emphasised that no-one in the party had sounded her out about taking a tougher line on Muslim migration. “My electorate of Murray is possibly the most multicultural outside the capital cities, we have a 70-year-old mosque here, our Muslims in our community are no different to other faith groups in the contributions they make, in their philanthropy, they are the same as other Australians,” she said.

Coalition frontbencher Greg Hunt denied the opposition was seeking to exploit religion for electoral advantage. “Our position is very clear. That we are completely colour blind, race blind, religion blind on the issue of immigration,” he told ABC radio. “Where we do have a difference with the government is where people are being lured with policies to travel in dangerous leaky boats, then we think that is a great risk to common humanity.”

Mr Hunt said Mr Morrison was a compassionate man. “Unfortunately I wasn't at the meeting, but I know Scott, and his style is deep compassion, he is deeply compassionate, he agonises around the issues of protecting people who are being lured to their deaths,” he said.

Labor senator Doug Cameron says the report shows Mr Morrison urged his colleagues to capitalise on anti-Muslim sentiment. “(Scott) Morrison should be sacked immediately ... (and) join One Nation,” he told Sky News.

Liberal backbencher Steve Ciobo queried the accuracy of the reports that Mr Morrison had called for the Liberals to capitalise about concerns over immigration. “It's great for a headline but I doubt that was actually what was said,” he said.


And the Labor party doubles down on Muslim immigration

And opposition to it is "racist". Not a whisper about the many Australians who died in Bali at the hands of Muslim fanatics. In the flexble worldview of the Left, that did not happen

The Gillard Government will beef up a campaign supporting multiculturalism in the face of what is seen as growing resistance to new arrivals. Immigration Minister Chris Bowen tonight revealed the campaign would salute what he called "the genius of Australian multiculturalism".

The Government will create a new independent organisation, the Australian Multicultural Council, and ACT senator Kate Lundy will be made parliamentary secretary in charge of managing multicultural programs.

The fresh emphasis on the policy comes amid growing public hostility towards asylum seekers, and against significant population growth through immigration.

There also is apprehension that the increasing number of Muslim migrants will produce big cultural changes, and even the introduction of Islamic-based legal codes.

"Australian governments do not defend cultural practices and ideas that are inconsistent with our values and ideals of democracy, justice, equality and tolerance. Nor should we be expected to," Mr Bowen told the Sydney Institute tonight.

"For those fleeing persecution, terror and hatred, they come to Australia in search of peace, justice and harmony. "For many others, they come in the hope of creating, in this new land, a new life for themselves and their loved ones for prosperity and in the knowledge that, in Australia, their children will not be discriminated against for their colour or creed.

"For these men and women, the last thing they want is Australia to change, to become less free, to become less democratic, to become less equal." [Has he listened to any Muslims lately?]

Mr Bowen said multiculturalism was under attack in France, Germany and Britain, but that Australia had a different and successful system. "But it is a unique, Australian multiculturalism, built differently to other models around the world," he said.

He said Australia had social unity, and a requirement that people become citizens to enjoy the full benefits of living here. "In my view, this is the most beautiful citizenship pledge in the world," said Mr Bowen.

He said: "English is the national language here, its use in our public and private institutions is to be respected, and the learning of English is to be encouraged.

"Ours is a citizenship-based multiculturalism. To enjoy the full benefits of Australian society, it is necessary to take a pledge of commitment as a citizen."

The minister said the new multiculturalism council would "act as a champion for multiculturalism in the community, will advise the Government on multicultural affairs and will help ensure Australian Government services respond to the needs of migrant and refugee communities". "We will also establish a National Anti-Racism Partnership and Strategy to design and deliver an anti-racism strategy."


Give bosses right to fire and they'll hire

Former Labor party politician Gary Johns talks some sense. He is an economist and a former Assistant Minister for Industrial Relations

If I owned a business, I would fear losing a good worker. But I would want an unfettered right to dismiss an employee I no longer wanted to employ. Apparently, this is a tad radical. Instead, I can only sack someone fairly.

Sacking someone is never pleasant. Benign terms such as "let someone go" are in vogue. When an employer is not free to let someone go the likely unintended consequence is that they are less likely to employ another.

Unfortunately, the unfair dismissal laws harden the arteries of the labour market. They are unhealthy for those who have to work with bad or "surplus to requirement" employees and those who cannot find a job.

Defining fair and unfair has opened an entire industry in the conciliation and arbitration of unfair dismissal claims. An unfair dismissal can occur where a dismissal is "harsh, unjust or unreasonable", is not a "genuine redundancy" or is not consistent with the Small Business Fair Dismissal Code, under which the employee was employed by a small business.

These broad concepts encourage speculative claims. For example, an employee is caught stealing televisions from an aged-care facility. The employee's union refuses to take the case but a law firm does, on a no-win no-pay basis. A violent and abusive employee is sacked for being drunk at work and starting a fight. He convinces his friend (also an employee) to resign due to "stress". A law firm is taking both cases.

Applying for unfair dismissal is simple. The employee fills out a three-page form on the internet, pays a $50 filing fee and spends two hours on a phone conference. Conciliators push hard for a settlement. They rarely test the evidence or the merits of the case, inevitably starting with the employee's top ask, settling when the employer throws up their hands exasperated. As one employer advocate has stated during a conciliation: "This is Fair Work Australia, not the casino."

The most common outcome is a settlement of "go away money" of anywhere between $5,000 and $30,000, of which the lawyer takes half. It is easy money for the applicant and their lawyer. In private, law firms have expressed delight at this new lucrative income stream. In addition to "go away money", the legislation encourages reinstatement. It is the equivalent of a marriage law that would have marriages reinstated. The cost of an employment reinstatement does not go away; it spreads to other workers.

There is a better way, whereby employers can regain the right to keep the best workforce and employees can receive some protection. Grace Collier, an industrial relations consultant, has recently suggested the concept of "no fault" dismissal. Collier makes the analogous point that no-fault divorce accepts the inevitability that some adult relationships end. Employment is one such relationship.

Governments no longer determine whether a divorce is fair or unfair. As she argues, "The notion that the government could forcibly 'reinstate' a marital relationship is laughable."

The Collier no-fault dismissal system includes a reasonable paid notice period, an assistance package and job transition support. The system would remove the legal argument over whether it is fair, unfair, a redundancy, a dismissal or constructive dismissal and the costs of mounting these arguments.

The premise of the no-fault system is the fundamental right of both parties to dissolve the employment relationship. No reason for the decision should be required. At present, it is becoming common for an employee to resign because they are unhappy with the workplace and by taking up an unfair dismissal action seek to gain more than their fair notice contained in the award or contract.

The process of employment separation has become far too legal. The government does not scrutinise the methods of an employee resignation; there is no reason it should scrutinise the methods of an employee dismissal. The system should oblige both parties to accept any decision of either party to end the employment relationship.

Both parties could be required to provide a reasonable notice period, with the employer having the option of paying out the notice period or the employee forfeiting statutory entitlements in lieu of notice.

By taking the pain out of the process of sacking, employers are much likelier to hire new workers. By ensuring employees have certain rights to notice and some transitional assistance (much of which is already available), the labour market can perform better.

Legislation already obliges employers who are about to dismiss more than 15 workers to inform Centrelink of the impending dismissals. Modern awards provide employees undergoing disciplinary processes with rights to representation and support.

Australians are entitled to free mediation services to assist in community disputes and counselling is available at low cost to people who need it. Medical attention is free for many and mental health can be treated for those who require it. It would be a simple enough to consolidate and extend the delivery of these rights and services to those about to undergo an employment separation.

Government intrusion could be limited to providing assistance and support to employees to help them recover from the hurt, to identify and treat any deficiencies that led to the event and helping them move into more suitable employment.

A no-fault dismissal system could provide for dignity in dismissal by allowing people to focus on managing departure with some financial security. This is the system the best employers use and is also the way Australia has determined to manage the breakdown of the marital relationship. Our political leaders should give this proposal serious consideration.


Woman tells of miscarriage neglect in a Victorian hospital

A PREGNANT woman was made to wait nearly two hours at a Melbourne hospital emergency department before she miscarried her baby in a toilet. And it was more than four hours before Tracey Lake - who was 10 to 12 weeks pregnant - even saw a doctor at Frankston Hospital, her family says.

Health Minister David Davis has ordered an immediate investigation. Frankston Hospital has apologised to Ms Lake, 41, and is reviewing the case.

Her horror unfolded after she visited a GP in pain and bleeding, and was sent to the nearby hospital emergency department for urgent care on February 9.

Her partner, Darren Hall, said the GP rang ahead to the emergency department to let them know of their arrival, and sent a letter with them, explaining she had a "threatened and incomplete miscarriage".

Ms Lake waited at the emergency department for more than an hour before a nurse took her blood pressure, and despite asking for painkillers she was given none. Two hours later she left the waiting room to go to the toilet because her bleeding was getting worse.

"I felt it come out ... I knew I had lost my baby," Ms Lake said. "I started crying, I didn't know what to do, I was pretty upset. "I would have thought, if someone was miscarrying, they would send you straight through. "I don't believe anybody should sit there and lose their baby waiting to be seen to."

When the distressed couple told the triage nurse they had lost their baby down the toilet, the nurse failed to recognise them and started recording their details as if they were new patients. She then told them to sit in the waiting room again, and minutes later the same nurse approached Ms Lake asking for a urine sample, only for the couple to repeat that they had lost their baby, so it was too late.

Ms Lake was then given a bed, and finally saw a doctor at 2.30am, nearly five hours after arriving at the emergency department. She was told her blood pressure was low, and if she lost any more blood she would need a transfusion. Ms Lake had a curette at 4.30am and was discharged later that morning.

Mr Hall admitted the couple may have still lost their baby had Ms Lake been cared for immediately, but he said she did not need to suffer the distress and indignity of losing it in a hospital toilet. "I am angry and disgusted this could happen in this day and age in the health system we are supposed to have," he said.

The referring GP declined to comment.

Hospital executive director Brendon Gardner said the hospital, and especially the emergency department team, "deeply regret" what happened. The nurse unit manager had apologised to Ms Lake, and staff were being interviewed as part of a thorough review of the case, he said. "Processes and procedures at triage will be changed if necessary to prevent such an incident from occurring again," he said.

Health Minister David Davis said he was distressed to learn of the case and his thoughts were with Ms Lake and Mr Hall. "I have ordered my department to ensure that Peninsula Health leaves no stone unturned in an immediate investigation into what happened," he said.


Inquiry call as Building the Education Revolution firms crash

Kevvy's carelessly administered "stimulus" goes from bad to worse

THE nation's most powerful building union has called for a federal government inquiry into a string of corporate collapses on Building the Education Revolution projects, which have left 300 sub-contractors with about 1000 employees owed about $20 million.

The Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union is stepping up pressure on Julia Gillard to launch a public inquiry into the collapse of three construction companies contracted by Bovis Lend Lease on 22 NSW school sites and three NSW public housing projects.

The calls came amid complaints to police over alleged false statutory declarations and threats by Coffs Harbour sub-contractors to launch a class action to recover the money they are owed.

A spokesman for Workplace Relations Minister Chris Evans said he would refer the complaints to Brad Orgill's BER Implementation taskforce. But the NSW government had responsibility for BER projects and Senator Evans was working with NSW to resolve the issue.

Opposition education spokesman Christopher Pyne said the reference to the Orgill inquiry was "not good enough". "What the minister needs to do is not hide behind yet another government-appointed filter, he needs to take real action to ensure sub-contractors are protected from inept management of the program," Mr Pyne said.

Angry sub-contractors will meet in Sydney today as creditors for Maintek Projects Pty Ltd, owed up to $6m, will meet to discuss the liquidation of the company, which collapsed last week.

CFMEU NSW organiser Andrew Quirk told The Australian yesterday Bovis Lend Lease's administration of the contracts needed to be investigated by the federal government amid suggestions the company failed to act on complaints from sub-contractors that the builders were having problems making payments. "One's an accident, two is embarrassing, but three is an emerging pattern," Mr Quirk said.

"In each case, Bovis have said they will take the concerns on board but nothing has actually happened. And the net result is now $15m and climbing of money owed to small business across NSW, from Coffs Harbour to the Illawarra region.

"It's unconscionable that decent, hard-working small businesses are placed in a position of being unable to meet their obligations to their workers and to their suppliers because Bovis has, at the very least, incompetently managed these contracts.

"Quite frankly, the Australian taxpayer is entitled to expect that a company of this experience and size should conduct itself in accordance with the reputation it has and not carry on like some backyard shonk building a four-storey walk-up in the suburbs."

Last night, a Bovis Lend Lease spokesman defended the company's management of the BER projects, saying all work had been done in accordance with government procurement requirements and that a sub-contractor pre-qualification process was in place across all projects. "This includes independent financial assessments and evaluating experience and capacity to deliver the required works," the spokesman said.

He said the company required builders to submit regular reports that they were paying their sub-contractors in accordance with contractual obligations and would seek to assist the workers. "Where possible, we will seek to have existing sub-contractor deliver the remainder of works," the spokesman said.

Bovis had completed projects in 90 per cent of schools it had been engaged on and only nine schools had been affected by builders entering administration.

Maintek, which had been working on 10 BER projects in Sydney's northern suburbs, became the third builder to collapse in as many months after being contracted by Bovis Lend Lease.

It joined Project Kendall, which collapsed in December leaving four Sydney Catholic schools in limbo, and Perle Constructions, which collapsed last month after failing to pay sub-contractors on two BER schools projects and three NSW housing projects.

The NSW Housing Minister Frank Terenzini told The Australian last night he had referred to police allegations that Perle Constructions directors had signed false declarations asserting that sub-contractors had been paid in order to receive up to $1.6m in progress payments.

The liquidator for Project Kendall, which collapsed owing $4m, is investigating whether similar false declarations were signed to obtain government funded progress payments.

The creditors committee for Project Kendall will meet tomorrow, hours before its principal director, Aaron Kendall, is due to be examined by the liquidator, Mark Franklin, of Worrells Solvency and Forensic Accountants.

Creditors of Perle Constructions, which collapsed owing as much as $10m, will vote today on a deed of arrangement which would return them 27c in the dollar.

However, The Australian understands that Perle administrator Geoff Reidy, of Rodgers Reidy, will recommend against the deed but warn that a liquidation could return as little as 5c in the dollar to creditors.

NSW National Party MP for Coffs Harbour Andrew Fraser backed the calls for an inquiry and said Bovis should be joined to any class action being considered by sub-contractors who were not paid for work on NSW housing jobs in the district.


Note: I have two other blogs covering Australian news. They are more specialized so are not updated daily but there are updates on both most weeks. See QANTAS/Jetstar for news on Qantas failings and Australian police news for news on police misbehaviour

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