Wednesday, August 31, 2011

High Court rules Malaysian swap deal unlawful

THE Federal Government's Malaysian people swap deal has been ruled unlawful by the High Court. Chief Justice Robert French said the court ordered Immigration Minister Chris Bowen and his Department be restrained from sending asylum seekers to Malaysia. "The declaration made ... was made without power and is invalid," Justice French said.

The Government had wanted to send 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia in exchange for 4000 already processed refugees. The decision effectively stymies the Government's so-called Malaysia Solution.

A 5-2 majority of the Full Bench ruled Mr Bowen's declaration that Malaysia was an appropriate country to which to send asylum seekers was invalid. The court found that a country must be bound by international or domestic law to provide protection for asylum seekers to be an appropriate destination.

"The court also held that the Minister has no other power under the Migration Act to remove from Australia asylum seekers whose claims for protection have not been determined," a summary of the court's judgment read.

Australian National University international law expert Donald Rothwell said the fact that Malaysia was not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention was likely "a key factor" in the court's decision. Professor Rothwell said the decision could not be appealed but that the Government may seek other ways to revive the policy.

Refugee lawyers also argued that sending unaccompanied minors to Malaysia would breach the minister's duty of care as their legal guardian to act in their best interests.

But Commonwealth Solicitor-General Stephen Gageler had argued the Government could lawfully declare Malaysia a safe third country even though it had no domestic or international legal obligations to protect asylum seekers.


Surge in visa success rates 'luring' boatpeople to Australia

SUCCESS rates for refugee claims have leapt from 30 to 70 per cent in just six months, sparking accusations the government is encouraging boatpeople by virtually guaranteeing them visas.

Senior Immigration Department officials conceded at a recent parliamentary committee hearing that the success rate for asylum claims now stood at 70 per cent, not far below its record high of more than 90 per cent.

With the High Court to hand down its ruling on the Malaysia Solution tomorrow, the figures prompted agencies to warn the Department of Immigration's high success rate was acting as an incentive to asylum-seekers to get on a boat.

Senior department official Garry Fleming told a parliamentary committee earlier this month the primary acceptance rate for asylum-seekers who arrive by boat stood at 70 per cent.

Mr Fleming said the speed at which refugee claims were being processed meant that "a good articulation" of people's refugee claims was not being heard at their initial assessment, resulting in a high rate of overturn at review. "That is now seeing primary recognition rates in the order of about 70 per cent," Mr Fleming told the committee.

The figure does not take into account unsuccessful asylum claims that are overturned on review, suggesting the final success rate could be considerably higher.

The rate at which refugee claims for boatpeople are upheld is seen as a key element in the factors driving refugee movements.

Early last year the Rudd government was warned its refugee success rate was "out of whack" with other countries and was acting as a "major pull factor". The warning was contained in confidential advice sent to government prior to the decision to freeze Afghan asylum claims for six months and Sri Lankan claims for three months. At the time the advice was sent the refugee success rate was more than 90 per cent.

According to department statistics the primary success rate was just 27 per cent for the first six months of 2010-11, meaning it has soared more than 40 per cent since the beginning of the year.

Refugee Council chief executive Paul Power said "clearly there have been issues in the quality of the decision-making". "That's the only conclusion one can reasonably draw," Mr Power said yesterday. "The fluctuations of people from the same countries and in similar circumstance being rejected is baffling to anyone outside the department."

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said he found the department's explanation for the wildly fluctuating success rate "unconvincing". "Clearly if your recognition rates are higher than the rest of the world (asylum-seekers) are more likely to say yes to a people-smuggler and get on a boat," Mr Morrison said. "With primary acceptance rates going from the high 90s to the 20s then back up to 70 per cent, it reveals a process that is all over the place."

A spokesman for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said refugee decisions were made on a "case-by-case" basis. "As we have said before, driving forces will vary from time to time and numbers will rise and fall in different parts of the world at different times," the spokesman said.


Tony Abbott signals a return to individual work agreements under revamped IR policy

TONY Abbott has given his strongest signal yet that the Coalition is considering a form of individual bargaining under a reworked industrial relations policy.

The Opposition Leader today called for “more freedom” in Australian workplaces, and mounted a case for non-union agreement-making between workers and their employers.

“I think we ought to be able to trust businesses and the workers of Australia to come to arrangements that suit themselves,” he told 3AW's Neil Mitchell.

Mr Abbott, who declared Work Choices “dead and buried” at the last election, said greater workplace flexibility was required to address the productivity slump that was dragging the economy down.

His comments follow those of former prime minister John Howard, who last night lashed the Gillard government's tightening of workplace rules. “It's blindingly obvious that one of the worst mistakes Julia Gillard has made is to re-regulate the labour market,” Mr Howard told ABC TV. “It is affecting our productivity and it will therefore affect our competitiveness.”

Mr Abbott said Mr Howard was “essentially right”, but he baulked at pre-empting the Coalition's election policy, and said he wasn't signalling a return to Work Choices. “We've got a lot of problems and I want to be a pragmatic problem solver,” he said.

Statutory individual contracts, known as Australian Workplace Agreements, were the centrepiece of Work Choices, with Mr Howard previously admitting he went too far by axing the no-disadvantage test that ensured workers could not be left worse off under the agreements.

Labor's industrial relations regime only allows individual agreements, in the form of common law contracts, for workers on higher incomes.

Liberal frontbencher Malcolm Turnbull today said the Coalition should wait for the government's Fair Work laws to fail before unveiling its industrial relations policies. “There's some merit in holding fire for a little while longer,” Mr Turnbull said.

He said the opposition had argued from the outset that the Fair Work changes would make Australian industries less productive and increase costs for business. “I believe our warnings have been borne out by experience. Others may not be so convinced,” he said.

Mr Turnbull said the opposition would be in a much better position to frame arguments about the need to reintroduce a measure of flexibility to workplace laws closer to the election.

A review into Labor's Fair Work Act will begin early next year amid criticisms of the laws from Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens and the Productivity Commission.


Fair Work clauses 'too risky' for small business

SMALL businesses are too afraid to take advantage of confusing "flexible" contracts, a peak body said.

The Individual Flexibility Arrangements were introduced as part of the Fair Work Act – which replaced the controversial WorkChoices legislation. They allow employees to negotiate changes in their base pay rate to alter work conditions.

Workplace Relations Minister Chris Evans said small businesses were not taking advantage of these clauses which encourage productivity. “I’d suggest we look at how we can take advantage of the provisions that are in the Fair Work act, many of which have not been used properly yet,” he told ABC Radio yesterday.

But Council of Small Business Australia workplace relations Grace Collier said there was a lack of information available to employers about flexibility clauses and award wage requirements. “It’s impossible to find out beyond any doubt what the rules are,” she said.

“A small business cannot ring up the Government and find out exactly what award they should be paying their staff on. The Government will give you an indication but it’s nothing more than an indication, it’s not legally binding.”

Ms Collier said it was “impossible” for an employer to check that they were meeting award wage requirements. “There’s no lodgement or checking service by the Government on these [Individual Flexibility Agreements],” she said. “It’s quite confusing and if you get it wrong not one checks it and tells you it’s fine. You might be prosecuted six years later because you ripped the employee off unknowingly.”

A spokesman for the Fair Work Ombudsman said that employers don’t need to be afraid to use flexible work arrangements. “If advice was provided by the Fair Work Infoline to an employer, and it acted in good faith on that advice and subsequently we found ourselves in the circumstance of auditing or investigating the workplace, then obviously we would take that into account,” he said. “If, however, we were to find that information supplied to us at the time was wrong, then clearly our obligation would be to point that out and expect the matter in question to be rectified.”

He also encouraged small business to speak to industry associations and employer organisations for specific advice.

There is no requirement for employers or employees to lodge IFAs with the Fair Work Ombudsman, but a Best Practice Guide on creating and using IFAs is available under the resources tab on the Fair Work Ombudsman’s website at


New weapon in cane toad fight

SCIENTISTS may have uncovered the 'silver bullet' in the battle against WA's cane toad invasion.

Researchers from the University of Sydney have found that cane toads release a chemical which stunts the growth of competing tadpoles and reduces their chance of survival. Older tadpoles release their poison on new cane toad egg clutches to better their own chance of survival.

Cane toad expert Professor Richard Shine from the University of Sydney said the species ‘speak’ to each other using pheromones which don't appear to affect native animals and this newly discovered toxin could be exploited and used as the latest weapon in the fight to stop the invasion.

“If you wanted to control an invading species the ideal silver bullet might be some major chemical that affects that species but doesn’t have any affect on any others,” Prof Shine said. “It turns out cane toads have spent the last several million years designing such a chemical themselves because competition is such a big deal between cane toads.”

The invaders, which kill native species, are 30km west of Kununurra and moving south after leaving a trail of destruction across Queensland and the Top End.

Prof Shine made the discovery while studying waterborne chemical cues used by tadpoles from the Northern Territory. His team found that tadpoles exposed to the chemical for even a short period of time grew to only half the size of their unexposed counterparts.

"We don't know where they are producing the chemical from, they do have some specialised cells in their skin that produce chemicals... the chemical responsible may be one that we have already been looking at and identified from earlier work we have been doing," Prof Shine said.

Native to Central and South America, cane toads were introduced to Queensland in 1935 to control beetles. While the species was largely unsuccessful at reducing cane beetles, the animals thrived in Australia, evolving into bigger, stronger creatures and wiping out native species as they spread across the country.

Prof Shine said the next step is to work out how the toads make their poison and if it affects native species.


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Bob Carr calls for end to Victorian Charter of Human Rights

FORMER NSW Labor Premier Bob Carr has warned that retaining the Victorian Charter of Human Rights could liken the state to the UK, where public servants are too scared to enforce the law in fear of being taken to court.

Speaking at a meeting calling for the repeal of the charter yesterday, Mr Carr said British public servants were so afraid of breaching the European charter of human rights, they were scared into inaction.

"I'm very worried, as my friends at British Labour Party are, that the term human rights is becoming a bad term, because of the way the European charter is invoked. It's become a term of abuse," he said.

Mr Carr said older people in working class electorates in the UK feared criminal behaviour was not dealt with by police because the culprits would claim their human rights had been infringed.

"They say the police won't do anything about it because it'll be against their human rights," Mr Carr said.

"The cases they refer to are the gypsies, or the travellers as we should call them, who go on to private property and camp there and when the police are asked to remove them, threaten to take action in the courts under the human rights charter. "So the police do nothing."

Mr Carr said having a charter of human rights affected and shaped the behaviour of public servants.

"Public service employees will opt for the easiest course," he said. "They don't want to be smacked over the knuckles by an auditor general or an ombudsman or a parliamentary public accounts committee, but they certainly don't want to be dragged into court, even more they don't want to be dragged into court and embarrassed by action invoked under a rights charter."

Mr Carr said the resources put into enforcing Victoria's human rights charter could be better spent on child protection.

But President of the Law Institute of Victoria Caroline Counsel said Mr Carr's argument was "misinformed and illogical".

"The charter should be self perpetuating, if we all do the right thing by our citizens, lawyers won't need to be involved, courts won't need to be involved, it will just happen that we all act in accordance with what is appropriate in terms or implementation of human rights," she said. [Wow! Just who is it who is being "misinformed and illogical"?]


Call for charter schools in Australia

A NSW Liberal MP has contradicted government policy by calling for the creation of fully publicly funded independent "charter" schools in NSW.

Matt Kean, the Member for Hornsby, said some "radical options" needed to be considered in the federal government's review of schools funding.

A Sydney businessman, David Gonski, who is heading the review, will release tomorrow the findings of four research studies his committee has commissioned.

Mr Kean said NSW should follow the lead of the new Coalition government in Western Australia which oversees more than 100 independent public schools.

He told NSW Parliament that as a Liberal, he did not believe "the radical reforms we need in our education system can come from a centralised system run out of Sydney or Canberra". "Personally, I would like to see a debate about charter schools occur in NSW," he said.

"Charter schools are state-funded community schools, accessible to all for no additional compulsory contribution and run by local boards, while meeting minimum standards set down by the state. In other words, while the state continues the funding, the governance and running of the school remains in community hands."

Mr Kean's proposal echoes that of the chief executive officer of Christian Schools Australia, Stephen O'Doherty, who has also called on the NSW government and the Gonski inquiry to consider adopting the charter school model. The Herald understands the model is being considered by the federal review.

Mr Kean said the school principal and not the Department of Education should choose new teachers to avoid "arbitrary quotas or requirements set by head office".

The Minister for Education, Adrian Piccoli, ruled out the proposal yesterday, saying the state government "is not going down the route of charter schools".

A newly released NSW Department of Education paper called "Raising achievement for all: complex challenges", refers to a Stanford University study of 2403 charter schools which found 37 per cent performed significantly worse than public schools in improving maths performance. It also found 46 per cent of charter schools performed no better or worse than public schools.

Christian Schools Australia and the Anglican School Corporation are lobbying for a fairer share of funding for their schools which receive relatively less funding than many similar Catholic schools.

Catholic schools have asked the Gonski inquiry to increase recurrent funding to help them close the gap between the average income level of Catholic schools and government schools "to ensure Catholic schools remain affordable and accessible to families in all regions and all socio-economic circumstances".


Literary festivals and prizes champion politics over quality

Premiers come and premiers go. But premiers' literary prizes, like state government-funded writers' festivals, do not change much at all.

Last week it was announced that David Hicks's Guantanamo: My Journey (William Heinemann, 2010) has been shortlisted for the Queensland Premier's Literary Awards. The aim of these gongs is to "nurture Australia's greatest talent" and "support outstanding Australian writers". Hicks's book has been nominated in the non-fiction category, which carries a $15,000 prize.

Since his return from Guantanamo Bay, after pleading guilty to providing material support for terrorism, Hicks has become something of a hero for the left intelligentsia. He received an enthusiastic standing ovation when he addressed the Sydney Writers' Festival in May. John Howard also spoke at this year's festival, fulfilling the traditional role, at such occasions, of the token conservative. There was no standing ovation for Howard but two protesters were allowed to attend his session holding a large sign declaring him to be a war criminal.

It is reasonable to assume that those who supported the Howard government's policies on Iraq and Afghanistan, along with the national anti-terrorist security legislation, would be critical of Hicks's book. So let's look at the assessments of three commentators who were not obvious supporters of Howard and who have some expertise on the matters published in Guantanamo: My Journey. Namely, journalists Leigh Sales and Sally Neighbour along with academic Waleed Aly.

Sales, who wrote the well received book on the Hicks case titled Detainee 002, challenged many of the claims in Guantanamo: My Journey and said, "it is best read sceptically". Neighbour depicted the book as "a disappointing and deceptive version of the truth" and declared some of the author's claims "beyond belief". Aly wrote that Hicks's memoirs were "self-serving" and "weakest on the points of greatest political scrutiny".

During his time in Guantanamo, Hicks's family released many of his letters to the media. Some were quoted in the sympathetic documentary The President Versus David Hicks. In these letters, Hicks condemned "Western-Jewish domination", praised the Taliban, endorsed Islamist beheadings, boasted of his meeting with Osama bin Laden and related how he had fired live ammunition into the Indian side of the Kashmir Line of Control.

Yet, in his book, Hicks asserts that he "never hurt or injured anyone" and that "no one requires an apology" from him. He also claims never to have met Bin Laden and to only have "participated in the symbolic exchange of fire" when at the Kashmir Line of Control - whatever that might mean.

Neither Hicks nor his publisher has responded to any of the criticisms. Yet Hicks has been judged an outstanding talent and placed on the shortlist for the literary gongs, which will be announced at next week's Brisbane Writers Festival.

Former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser is another current favourite of the left intelligentsia - like Hicks, he is admired for his hostility to Howard. In Malcolm Fraser: The Political Memoirs (The Miegunyah Press, 2010), which Fraser co-wrote with Margaret Simons, it is reported that he is "applauded" at literary festivals "by the same kinds of people who had once reviled him for his role in the dismissal" of the Whitlam Labor government.

Last May, Fraser and Simons won $50,000 in the NSW Premier's Literary Awards for their book. The judges specifically praised Fraser's "moral leadership" on several political causes favoured by the left intelligentsia.

Yet Fraser's repetitive memoirs are absolutely littered with factual errors, and numerous key moments in his political life are omitted or glossed over. For example, Fraser claims he has won four elections, retained Gough Whitlam's Medibank universal health insurance scheme and always supported immigration. All claims are inaccurate, perhaps due to Fraser's acknowledgement that he has a "notoriously fallible" memory.

I wrote up a list of the errors in the Fraser/Simons book for the July 2010 The Sydney Institute Quarterly. Neither the authors nor the publisher has challenged this critique. Reviewing Malcolm Fraser: The Political Memoirs, Michael Sexton said, "there is too much rose-coloured light in this account". Yet the co-authors walked away with $50,000 of taxpayers' money, along with much praise from the left.

The Melbourne Writers Festival is now under way. There are many leftist and left-of-centre types on the program but barely a conservative writer or commentator. For example, the session on essay writing will hear the views of only Richard Flanagan, Marieke Hardy and Robert Manne.

In Victoria, the Coalition replaced Labor in office in November last year. However, the political complexion of taxpayer-funded literary festivals never seems to change.


Nurses gagged, afraid of management

NURSES at Victorian hospitals are gagged from speaking out against violence perpetrated against them at work and fear management, an inquiry has heard.

Dandenong Hospital emergency department nurse Leslie Graham said she suffers either physical or verbal abuse at work about every second day.

Ms Graham told a parliamentary inquiry into security at the state's hospitals that, in addition to verbal aggression, she and her colleagues get bitten, punched and slapped and have objects thrown at them.

"We have people ... pull their IVs out and throw blood-stained cannulas, sharps, any kind of weapon they can get their hands on, chairs, at the nursing staff," she said yesterday.

"You just press your duress (alarm) and run away."

Ms Graham said despite frequently being subjected to violence she had never reported it to police because she thought it would cause issues with management.

"If I had a serious issue against myself I would report that to the police, but I know that a lot of people are afraid of the management of different hospitals," she said.

"(A nurse who) got strangled never reported it to the police, and we weren't allowed to make any of the public aware of the violence that we ... come up against because then we could end up in court."

Ms Graham said the design of the new $25 million emergency ward at the hospital, which is run by Southern Health, also contributed to violence against staff. There were instances where staff were backed into corners and unmonitored corridors, she said. "We have just had a brand-new emergency department that has been designed and built not by anyone who has ever worked in an emergency department," Ms Graham said.

The inquiry, held by state parliament's drugs and crime prevention committee, was ordered by Police Minister Peter Ryan after criticism of the coalition's pre-election promise to station armed guards at emergency wards.

Ms Graham said armed guards would not help the situation at her hospital and there needed to be more unarmed security staff instead of just one guard working between 6pm and 3am.

Royal Children's Hospital emergency department nurse Peter Sloman said although the hospital's new facility was more secure, there were still design problems.

The hospital's director of emergency services Simon Young said he did not support the introduction of armed guards.

Australian Nursing Federation (ANF) Victorian branch assistant secretary Paul Gilbert said the $21 million the government had pledged for 120 armed guards could fund an extra 235 full-time nurses in emergency departments.

ANF Victoria occupational health and safety coordinator Kathy Chrisfield said introducing armed guards into emergency departments would simply create another hazard.


Monday, August 29, 2011

Liberals say labour laws are adding to the manufacturing sector's dollar woes

LIBERALS have laid the blame for recent manufacturing job losses on Labor and the unions, saying Julia Gillard's re-regulation of the labour market has left the economy unable to cope with emerging challenges.

As the Prime Minister meets with union leaders in Canberra today to discuss the future of manufacturing, Liberal backbenchers seized on calls by Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens for a renewed focus on productivity.

Queensland backbencher Steven Ciobo said Labor had choked labour market flexibility through its Fair Work Act. “The fact is, the proof is in the pudding,” he said. “The re-regulation of the workforce is costing Aussie jobs. As far as I am concerned the 1000 lost jobs at BlueScope last week lie right at the feet of Labor and the unions. “With the high Aussie dollar we need to be even more competitive than our trading partners.”

South Australian backbencher Jamie Briggs said the Australian economy was suffering under the “toxic combination” of a re-regulated labour market and a soaring dollar.

He said Mr Stevens' call for a review of industrial relations laws followed similar advice from the Productivity Commission, the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Industry Group.

“Every galah in the pet shop is now saying labour market re-regulation is causing damage to the economy,” he said. “Of course, it absolutely has to be. And it is.” “I think we are going to see, unfortunately, sadly, a lot of job losses between now a Christmas.”

The endorsement of Mr Stevens' position came as the nation's most senior unionist lashed the Reserve Bank governor as “misinformed and out of touch with working Australians and the real economy”.

ACTU president Ged Kearney has also attacked the composition of the RBA board, saying it was too narrowly focused on business and “captive to the top end of town”.

The manufacturing sector has been undergoing a painful period of restructuring as the soaring Australian dollar leaves many exporters struggling to compete with offshore rivals.

BlueScope Steel, which announced 1400 job losses in the past fortnight, blamed its plight squarely on the value of the dollar.

Ms Gillard last week said BlueScope was confronting a number of pressures, none of them related to the industrial relations environment. “The Australian steel industry is facing a unique set of challenges, including a high Australian dollar, continued weak domestic demand, higher raw material prices and excess supply in international steel markets,” Ms Gillard said.

But Mr Briggs said the rigid workplace relations environment made it harder for employers to put on staff at the same time as they were hammered by the effects of the two-speed economy.

“You've got this perverse situation where I've got small businesses in my electorate saying `how can you even be thinking about lifting interest rates?' “But the numbers (Glenn Stevens) is looking at are saying he has to start to think about it. And you've got an international environment that's all over the shop.

“The worst thing you could do in that situation is re-regulate the labour market. But of course that's what the Labor Party has done, and they won't listen to anyone.”

The opposition's industrial relations spokesman Eric Abetz recently called for a review of Labor's Fair Work Act to be fast-tracked, after the Productivity Commission urged fresh industrial relations reforms to aid the struggling retail sector.

But Opposition leader Tony Abbott is wary of pushing too hard on the issue, fearing a WorkChoices-style backlash by Labor and the union movement.


Homosexual marriage bad for children

A BIGOT is someone who refuses to see the other point of view. Articles by Peter van Onselen and James Valentine in The Weekend Australian smeared opponents of gay marriage as bigots, yet both men refuse to see the other point of view -- and that means the point of view of the child.

Marriage is fundamentally about the needs of children, writes David Blankenhorn, a supporter of gay rights in the US who nevertheless draws the line at same-sex marriage. Redefining marriage to include gay and lesbian couples would eliminate entirely in law, and weaken still further in culture, the basic idea of a mother and a father for every child.

Here is the heart of opposition to same-sex marriage: that it means same-sex parenting, and same-sex parenting means that a child must miss out on either a mother or a father.

Marriage is a compound right under Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; it is not only the right to an exclusive relationship, but the right to form a family. Therefore gay marriage includes the right to form a family by artificial reproduction but any child created within that marriage would have no possibility of being raised by both mother and father.

Obviously there are tragic situations where a child cannot have both a mum and a dad, such as the death or desertion of a parent, but that is not a situation we would ever wish upon a child, and that is not a situation that any government should inflict upon a child.

Yet legalising same-sex marriage will inflict that deprivation on a child. That is why it is wrong, and that is why all laws are wrong that permit single people or same-sex couples to obtain a child by IVF, surrogacy, or adoption.

Take Penny Wong, for example, as van Onselen did. She is an effective politician, but she can never be a dad to a little boy. She and her partner tell us they have created a baby who will have no father, only a mother and another woman. Their assertion is that a dad does not matter to a child.

As ethicist Margaret Somerville wrote in these pages, such assertions force us to choose between giving priority to children's rights or to homosexual adults' claims. Yet trivial arguments frame the gay marriage debate solely in terms of the emotional needs of adults, ignoring the child's point of view.

Such adult-centred narcissism raises the wider question: if gender no longer matters in marriage, why should number? If marriage is all about adults who love each other, by what rational principle should three adults who love each other not be allowed to marry? Academic defenders of polyamory are asking that question, and no doubt van Onselen will soon be slurring opponents of polyamory as binary bigots.

While warm, fuzzy writers such as Valentine can imagine no possible harm to society from gay marriage, the serious minds behind the movement occasionally let us glimpse their wider purpose. US activist Michelangelo Signorile urges gays to fight for same-sex marriage and its benefits and then, once granted, redefine the institution of marriage completely. He sees same-sex marriage as the final tool with which to get education about homosexuality and AIDS into public schools.

Sure enough, we now have empirical evidence that normalising gay marriage means normalising homosexual behaviour for public school children.

Following the November 2003 court decision in Massachusetts to legalise gay marriage, school libraries were required to stock same-sex literature; primary school children were given homosexual fairy stories such as King & King; some high school students were even given an explicit manual of homosexual advocacy entitled The Little Black Book: Queer in the 21st Century, which the Massachusetts Department of Health helped develop. Education had to comply with the new normal.

Beyond the confusion and corruption of schoolchildren, the cultural consequences of legalising same-sex marriage include the stifling of conscientious freedom. Again in Massachusetts, when adoption agency Catholic Charities was told it would have to place children equally with married homosexuals, it had to close. As Canadian QC and lesbian activist Barbara Findlay said, "The legal struggle for queer rights will one day be a showdown between freedom of religion versus sexual orientation". Blankenhorn warned, "Once this proposed reform became law, even to say the words out loud in public -- every child needs a father and a mother -- would probably be viewed as explicitly divisive and discriminatory, possibly even as hate speech."

Our parliament must say these words out loud, because they are bedrock sanity, and must accept that the deep things of human nature are beyond the authority of any political party to tamper with.

Marriage is not a fad to be cut to shape according to social whim. The father of modern anthropology, Claude Levi-Strauss, called marriage a social institution with a biological foundation. Marriage throughout history is society's effort to reinforce this biological reality: male, female, offspring. All our ceremonies and laws exist to buttress nature helping bind a man to his mate for the sake of the child they might create.

Not all marriages do create children but typically they do, and the institution exists for the typical case of marriage. Homosexual relations cannot create children or provide a child with natural role models; such relations are important to the individuals involved, and demand neighbourly civility, but they do not meet nature's job description for marriage.

As van Onselen notes, homosexual couples now enjoy equality with male-female couples in every way short of marriage. It must stop short of marriage, because the demands of adults must end where the birthright of a child begins. Marriage and family formation are about about something much deeper than civil equality; they are about a natural reality which society did not create and which only a decadent party such as the Greens, so out of touch with nature, would seek to destroy.


Victorian Police have power to demand Muslim women remove face veils

VICTORIAN police have the power to demand that Muslim women remove face veils, the State Government has ruled. And anyone who refuses to show their face can be arrested, a review of the Crimes Act has found.

The Herald Sun revealed in July that the Baillieu Government was seeking legal advice following a move in NSW to introduce special laws which meant people refusing to remove a burqa at police request faced up to a year in jail.

Police Minister Peter Ryan sought advice on the state of the current law from the Victoria Police and Department of Justice - finding police are already empowered to issue the order.

The ruling means Victorian police may make the demand of motorists when checking licences, or of those suspected of crime. There are no exceptions in the law for niqabs or other religious garb, balaclavas or motorcycle helmets.

"The Victorian Government has decided that the current laws are adequate and there is no current need for proposed changes to legislation," spokeswoman Justine Sywak said yesterday. "The Victorian Government will monitor the NSW legislation once it comes into effect."

The review came after a Sydney judge quashed a six-month jail sentence given to a burqa-wearing Sydney mother of seven, Carnita Matthews, who falsely accused a policeman of forcibly trying to remove her headdress.

A summary of the Victorian Government's legal advice, seen by the Herald Sun, shows that the law requires the face to be seen to verify identity.

"Current broad Victorian legislative powers are sufficient to allow police to request a person remove headwear for identification purposes," it says.

Under the Crimes Act, if a person is suspected of committing a crime, police may ask for name and address details. In order to be able to identify the person at a subsequent court appearance, the police officer needs to see the person's face once.

"This would therefore require a person to remove their headwear," the summary says. "If a person refuses to reveal their face, the police currently arrest the person until they can prove their identity."

The same rule applies to motorists. "Police must establish that the person whose name and image appear on the licence is in fact the person holding the licence," the summary says.


Leftist antisemites meet opposition

PEOPLE brave enough to venture out into the wet at Brisbane's South Bank yesterday found themselves caught in the crossfire of very abusive protesters.

What started out as a protest against chocolate store Max Brenner turned into a heated face-off with those who turned out to support the company.

Pitted against each other outside the chocolate shop, the two opposing groups screamed at each other for 45 minutes before police moved one of the groups on.

The aim of the protesters, made up of the Socialist Alternative and the Justice for Palestine groups, was to highlight the support of Max Brenner's parent company, the Strauss Group, for the Israeli military and its sale of provisions to it.

Chanting "Max Brenner, come off it; there's blood in your chocolate", the group held up placards accusing Max Brenner of supporting apartheid.

The counter-protesters, made up of students, Israeli community members and politicians, screamed at their opponents: "Go home, Nazis!"

Logan City councillor Hajnal Black was repeatedly restrained by police as she pushed through the barricade line yelling: "We don't want Nazis in this country!"

There was a big police presence at the protest yesterday after a demonstration outside a Max Brenner store in Melbourne last month led to 19 arrests and three police officers being injured.

A law student, Danielle Keys, organised the student contingent of counter-protesters on Facebook after seeing footage of the Melbourne protest.

"I don't have a particularly strong opinion either way on Israel or Palestine. What's more important is dealing with freedom of enterprise and freedom of association and freedom of religion in this country," Ms Keys said.

"This is really about the innate anti-Semitic attitudes of extremist groups like the Socialist Alternative. We're all turning up to say, 'No, in Australia we support tolerance.' "

The Queensland Liberal National Party senator, Ron Boswell, said Max Brenner was a popular and "legitimate business" that should not be targeted in this way. "I think it's absolutely outrageous," he said. "I don't mind if people don't want to buy Max Brenner chocolates, but there shouldn't be pickets and intimidation and rallies to stop people.

"I think people that are trying to hit it with a boycott and picketing it, particularly a Jewish business, reminds me of some of the things that happened in the early 1930s."

The Socialist Alternative website says protesters will target Max Brenner Chocolates because it is owned by the Israeli-based Strauss Group.

It says the corporate responsibility section of Strauss Group's website – since amended – pledged the company's support to the Israeli army, including providing soldiers with food for training and missions.

The Socialist Alternative says the company has supported a platoon "infamous for its involvement in the 2006 invasion of Lebanon and other atrocities".

Senator Boswell, who spoke about the boycotts issue in Federal Parliament last week, said the protest was driven by the "super-left".

He said anyone wishing to protest on the issue should do so outside the Israeli embassy. "But don't pick on someone that comes to a chocolate shop; seriously, that's petty," he said.


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Federal politicians unlikely to support homosexual "marriage"

THE mounting evidence is that the Greens-led "bandwagon" strategy to introduce same-sex marriage backed by wide sections of the Labor Party has provoked strong resistance and is unlikely to prevail in the current parliament.

In a conspicuously under-reported event this week 30 MPs reported to parliament on the earlier motion moved by Greens MP Adam Bandt for community consultation, with 20 signalling their rejection of same-sex marriage and only seven MPs giving support to change the marriage law.

While it cannot offer a definitive guide, the omens are apparent. The same-sex marriage campaign is running into heavy weather guaranteed to get worse. Senior Labor ministers pledged to the same-sex marriage cause concede it is most unlikely to pass this term. This means further polarisation around the issue with Greens spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young telling The Weekend Australian she will proceed next year with her bill and aims to get a co-signatory from both Labor and Liberal.

The battlelines are now entrenched. The Greens will not cease their campaign from one parliament to the next and have made this cause pivotal to their identity. The Labor Party is dangerously divided, probably for the long run, over same-sex marriage, with a strong push at the coming ALP national conference to change policy to a conscience vote.

And Tony Abbott, in response to questions, said he viewed the issue as a policy matter. That means the Coalition will vote against same-sex marriage on policy grounds without a conscience vote (individuals have the right to cross the floor). Abbott's is the critical decision.

Frankly, it is hard to see parliament legislating same-sex marriage while Abbott is Liberal leader. Hanson-Young said she believed the new law "is achievable this term" but her proviso was a Coalition conscience vote.

Parliamentary sentiment at present would be opposed, with enough Labor MPs joining the overwhelming numbers on the Coalition side to vote against same-sex marriage. Despite the bandwagon effect driven by the gay lobby, the Greens, Get Up! and media organs led by the ABC and The Age arguing that religious prejudice is the main roadblock, a parliamentary majority may prove more difficult into the future than many assume.

There is, however, no doubt that opinion has moved and moved fast. This week's reports to parliament reveal strong backing for same-sex civil union recognition, notably from the Coalition side. This was simply not the case several years ago. The reality is that civil union recognition is there for the taking, but what was once seen as a significant advance for the same-sex cause is now largely dismissed as inadequate because the over-arching ideological goal has become same-sex marriage. Only time will tell whether this constitutes a serious tactical blunder.

Consider the position of former Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull, one of the most socially progressive Liberals in the parliament. He is sympathetic to the same-sex cause, repeatedly urges his constituents to push for civil unions but stops short of advocating same-sex marriage.

The politics are long familiar but rarely learned: with the Labor primary vote less than 30 per cent this issue, like the republic or indigenous recognition, can be carried only by winning some conservative support. Yet the campaign from the Greens, Get Up! and much of the same-sex lobby only alienates conservatives. Anybody who doubts this should read this week's speeches from a range of Liberal, National and Labor MPs. These people, having voted in recent years to remove more than 80 items of discrimination against same-sex couples and being willing to back civil unions, are unimpressed at being branded as homophobic or religious nuts because they think marriage is a union between a man and a woman.

Within the Labor Party, the dawn of political realism is arriving. The past year has seen a succession of journalists and celebrities telling Labor as a "no-brainer" to back same-sex marriage. Indeed, a number of state ALP conferences have called for the ALP at the national level to change its policy. It is now obvious, however, that same-sex marriage is a flammable issue for a weakened Labor government. Julia Gillard has been aware of this from the start.

The first risk for Labor is that it will be seen, yet again, as following the Greens agenda, a perception now poison in the electorate. The second risk is that Labor would elevate an issue on which the party is irrevocably divided. How smart is that? If the ALP national conference backed same-sex marriage, as many want, the Labor Party would split because a significant number of MPs would not accept such direction on their vote. In addition, this policy switch would constitute such a repudiation of Gillard's declared personal opposition to same-sex marriage that it would shake her leadership. The idea is political madness. That it has been entertained for so long within so much of the Labor Party and its forums is a commentary on its present malaise.

The conscience vote alternative will anger both sides but its sponsors, such as senior minister Anthony Albanese, a backer of same-sex marriage, seek to defuse and manage Labor's divisions while striking a formula that can be presented as allowing the parliament to legislate same-sex marriage in future years. An interesting feature of the debate is that the Labor Left, like the Greens, has moved beyond civil union recognition and will accept only same-sex marriage as the goal.

This week Bandt said the "report back" debate was a "very important step along the road to full equality". He said the universal sentiment in feedback to him was: why shouldn't someone marry the person they love?

Yet sentiments reported by MPs varied widely according to the disposition of the local member and the electorate with huge differences, for example, between Melbourne and Bundaberg. Bandt said yesterday with only 30 MPs involved the numbers were "not necessarily an accurate poll" of parliament's stand.


Queensland police will no longer investigate their own as more power handed to CMC

But why the 2 year delay?

CIVILIAN teams will be in charge of investigating rogue police under sweeping reforms that will stop Queensland police from eyeballing their own.

The biggest shake-up to the police disciplinary system in decades will give the crime watchdog more power, public complaints will be dealt with more quickly and the police executive will no longer be able to delay an officer's sacking.

Business cases will be developed for a surveillance unit to spy on police accused of serious crimes and alcohol and drug-testing for officers.

The Bligh Government's response to an independent report into the police disciplinary system, exclusively obtained by The Sunday Mail, has ordered the new policies be implemented by 2013.

Almost 3000 complaints were made against police in 2009-10.

Premier Anna Bligh said 56 of the independent panel's 57 recommendations would be supported or supported in principle. "Our response to the independent expert panel outlines a new regime that will make the police complaints system simpler, more effective, more transparent and stronger," she said.

Civilians, such as lawyers, will take the blowtorch to serious misconduct inquiries and, in some cases, police officers from interstate may be used. The reforms also include:

* Police will no longer be able to be cautioned or reprimanded and will either be punished or have to undergo further training.

* Local stations will no longer be able to investigate lower-level complaints and a new regional complaints team will be established.

* The CMC will be able to override decisions by assistant commissioners. [Not the Commissioner?]



No one within a 100-kilometre radius of Barnaby Joyce will ever die wondering what he thinks. The Queensland Nationals' senator is happy to give his opinion on everything and will answer whatever question he is asked. Loudly and expansively.

During dinner he holds forth on a range of topics, including men in Parliament (too politically correct); life on the road (lonely); government debt (too big); Coalition leaders, past and present (loquacious and kind, respectively); Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights (moving); gay marriage (strongly opposed) and the biological clock of his interviewer (ticking).

Some opinions were solicited, others weren't. All were given in a spirit of warmth and honesty.

Joyce wanted to have lunch in his home town of St George, Queensland, 500 kilometres inland from Brisbane, but the distance and scheduling proved too difficult.

Instead, we end up - during a parliamentary sitting week - at l'Unico in Kingston, south Canberra, a family-run Italian restaurant where Joyce comes to "chill out", often eating alone, when he's working in Canberra. He knows the proprietor by name and has a favourite table.

"I don't like it," he says of the amount of time he spends away from his wife and four daughters, aged between nine and 15.

"I worked out last year I spent 200 days on the road and in Parliament. I spent more days on the road than anyone else in the Coalition … it's not a natural life."

The reason, he says, is that he is so often asked to appear at rallies, fund-raisers and sundry political events.

People know he can pull a crowd. His peculiar mix of down-home country blokedom, combined with his lively intelligence and tub-thumping oratory, never fails to entertain, even if his logic can be difficult to follow at times.

Conversation with Joyce jumps from topic to topic. He speaks quickly and his mind moves fast. While trying to make a point he will pepper you with questions about your own opinions and he can be confrontational. But once his point is made, he moves on swiftly.

We order a calabrese pizza to start, and a bottle of cabernet sauvignon. For main course, we share another pizza, a capricciosa.

Joyce says he puts up with the difficulties of life on the road because he is driven by the kind of issues where he thinks people are "going to get ripped off", such as the rights of farmers versus coal seam gas miners; the proposed carbon tax; the duopoly of Coles and Woolworths, and foreign ownership of Australian companies.

Joyce always wanted to be a politician. At primary school he told classmates he wanted to be prime minister ("I've lowered my sights a bit since then") and at secondary school he recorded his aspiration to be a "grazier/politician".

He attributes this early interest in politics to his childhood in rural NSW. His parents were well-educated and opinionated, as were his four brothers and sister. "You weren't surrounded by fools, so your debate had to stand on legs or you would fail miserably," he says.

"I was growing up on the land and you're very affected by politics. How wool was classed, it's a government decision. Services that were provided to you, it's a government decision. If industrial relations' provisions meant people were on strike all day so you couldn't move your produce, it's all government policy.

"So the discussion around the dinner table is a charged political discussion. From a very young age you're inspired by it. If all the problems are political, than a good place to be would be in politics, so you can change it."

Joyce, a commerce graduate from the University of New England, was working for a bank in Charleville in south-west Queensland when he walked next door to join the National Party in 1994. He became active at branch level, eventually rising to acting treasurer of the Queensland Nationals, and had three cracks at a Senate seat before winning at the 2004 election - reclaiming the seat the Nationals lost to One Nation in 1998.

Once elected, Joyce was far from docile. He soon established a reputation for being independent or recalcitrant, depending on your point of view. He crossed the floor "about 28" times, by his own count, on issues as diverse as voluntary student unionism and trade practices' legislation. He fought with the former prime minister John Howard over the government's treatment of accused terrorist David Hicks.

His independence made him deeply unpopular with some in the Coalition. How did he cope? "Anger," he says, "and you try to just say, 'I don't give a shit'. You have dinner by yourself and lunch by yourself."

Many conservative politicians deride the independent rural MPs Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor for forming minority government with Labor, despite what they say are the wishes of their electorates.

How did Joyce justify crossing the floor so many times, given he was elected to represent the Nationals? "You've got two angels that sit on your shoulder," he says of his decision-making process. One says, 'It's not about you, you've got to play the team game'. The other angel says, 'You know what is right, you're being a coward. Stand up for yourself and say what you really think.' Twenty-eight times, that's the angel that won the argument."

He says he would cross the floor again, although he would resign his shadow portfolio if he did (he is spokesman for regional development, infrastructure and water, having lost the shadow finance portfolio in a reshuffle in 2010).

This is less likely under a Tony Abbott-led opposition. "Tony is a very decent human being," he says. "Sometimes I get annoyed that the general public don't actually see what I think are the qualities of the person. He is genuinely a kind person … he's a fighter, he's disciplined but he's not a nasty person."

Asked his opinion of the former Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull, Joyce becomes uncharacteristically careful. "I don't talk about people's bad sides. I talk about their good," he says. "Malcolm is loquacious, is charming, he's intelligent and he's strong."

Not kind? "No. It's not an attribute he has. There's no point endowing a person with an attribute they don't have, otherwise you make a mockery of all the attributes you just gave them."

Joyce's honesty extends to himself. He wants to lead the Nationals but says he would never challenge the incumbent, Warren Truss.

He plans to run for a lower house seat at the next election, either in his adopted home state of Queensland, or against Windsor in New England, where he grew up and attended university.

As a former accountant Joyce holds strong opinions on debt and gets very exercised when it is suggested Australia's deficit is (globally) a comparatively low percentage of its gross domestic product.

He pulls out his smartphone to access the Office of Financial Management's website and shows the "big black number" that represents federal government debt. He delivers a long speech about the sorts of people who used to come to his office when he was a humble rural accountant, who were about to lose their shirts because of onerous debts, side-tracking to talk about the sorts of people who think an Amway scheme is going to make them rich.

"People are suckers," he says emphatically when asked how this relates to Labor's deficit, "especially when you get people who listen to the spin and believe it. The only way you can see it is to rise above the issue and really think about it."

As much as he disbelieves Labor's promise to return the budget to surplus in 2013, and no matter how idiotic he considers many of their policies, not least the carbon tax, he still likes the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, as a person. "Oh yeah, I'd be only too happy to sit next to her on a plane and have a yarn," he says. "I find her warm and engaging. I've got her phone number [but] … I think she's struggling in finding her soul. Now she's isolated and under the pump.

"My job in the political arena - not in the personal arena, but in the political arena - is to bring her down. She knows that. "You play a hard game on the field; you're out to win. But you don't play football in the change rooms. As soon as you walk out the door you treat people civilly."

When not metaphorically tackling his political opponents, Joyce likes to bushwalk. He loves botany and becomes rapt and quasi-spiritual when talking about nature, or the way the English landscape artist John Constable painted clouds. He listens to the Stones, Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Buckley.

He loves to spend time with his family, and reading. He has just read Empire by the British historian Niall Ferguson; he loves T.E. Lawrence and poetry (he singles out Alfred Tennyson and Sylvia Plath).

He finds fiction "frustrating" but recently read Wuthering Heights. Did he like it? "I couldn't stop crying. I was hopeless," he says. It's impossible to know if he's joking or not.


'Second-chance crime wave' in Victoria as 884 offenders freed and then commit 4177 crimes

VICTORIA Police is concerned that suspected violent criminals are being freed by the courts - despite facing serious charges - and then allegedly committing murder, rape and armed robbery.

An investigation by the Sunday Herald Sun has revealed 6096 suspects were granted bail last year and then went into hiding, missing the date of their court hearing. And, before arrest warrants for failing to appear in court were executed, 884 of them went on to commit an alleged 4117 new offences.

But Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius said there were "clear expectations" on officers to remand anyone in custody who posed a risk to society or was a risk of absconding and he was "confident" this was done in all police cases. "Ultimately, it's the court's decision and sometimes the courts don't go our way," Mr Cornelius said.

"There are times when we are concerned because of the risk to the public. There are plenty of cases where it might be said they've (the courts) got it wrong."

But Chief Magistrate Ian Gray hit back, suggesting police may have let some of the bail-jumpers go. "Offending while on bail is a serious issue and the decision to grant bail is made carefully," Mr Gray said. "It's not clear from these figures how many of these are police bails or court bails - but where it's shown in court that an offender poses an unacceptable risk of reoffending bail will be denied.

"Courts are obliged to apply the law. There is a presumption in favour of granting bail unless an accused needs to show cause or show exceptional circumstances."

Mr Cornelius cited the release of captured drug kingpin Tony Mokbel, who subsequently fled to Greece while on bail and was on the run for more than a year before being rearrested and extradited back to Melbourne. "I hope that Mokbel would be one case that would provide a source of reflection for our judicial colleagues," he said.

The statistics were obtained under Freedom of Information requests over several months. Police would not reveal the identities of the alleged murderer and other criminals who reoffended while at large.

Mr Cornelius revealed a newly published six-month performance report flagged outstanding warrants as an issue and that police statewide would now be conducting regular operations. "If a suspect has made a decision to skip bail and not turn up to court it's likely they have also made arrangements to go to ground and not be found," Mr Cornelius said, explaining why suspects were not located straight away.

"The volume of warrants is going up because courts are dishing out more each day, while we are still trying to find the ones we already have. It's on our radar. Our focus is on outstanding warrants and we need to pay a great deal of attention to it."

All officers are notified of a warrant if they happen to stop a person for any reason and run a check on their name.

The police's job becomes harder if the suspect moves to another suburb, interstate or even overseas. "The impetus and motivation is very much there to catch everyone who is wanted on a warrant," Mr Cornelius said. "For every crime there is a victim and if we don't have the accused there is a victim out there not getting justice. "The 4117 figure is a number that serves a reminder to Victoria Police to pay attention to this matter."

The Justice Department refused to comment on the issue this week after being asked on Wednesday.


Saturday, August 27, 2011

Leftist antisemites in Brisbane too

It may be a popular haven for chocolate lovers but the Max Brenner store at Brisbane’s South Bank will also attract anti-Israel protesters today.

A Queensland senator last night branded a planned rally outside the Israeli company-owned chocolate cafe as “absolutely ridiculous”.

The Socialist Alternative and the Justice for Palestine groups are among those urging protesters to march to the store at 1pm, highlighting the parent company’s support for the Israel military which campaigners accuse of human rights abuses.

The website of the Socialist Alternative promotes the Max Brenner protest with the title: “Boycott Apartheid Israel! Boycott Max Brenner!”

Queensland Liberal National Party Senator Ron Boswell said Max Brenner was a popular and “legitimate business” that should not be targeted in this way. “I think it’s absolutely outrageous,” he said. “I don’t mind if people don’t want to buy Max Brenner chocolates but there shouldn’t be pickets and intimidation and rallies to stop people [visiting freely]. “I think people that are trying to hit it with a boycott and picketing it, particularly a Jewish business, reminds me of some of the things that happened in the early 1930s.”

The Socialist Alternative could not be reached for comment yesterday. A phone number listed on the website was not working and an email to the Brisbane office went unanswered yesterday.

However, the Socialist Alternative website says protesters will target Max Brenner Chocolates because it is owned by the Israeli-based Strauss Group. It says the corporate responsibility section of Strauss Group’s website – since amended – pledged the company’s support to the Israeli army, including providing soldiers with food for training and missions.

Socialist Alternative says the company has supported a platoon “infamous for its involvement in the 2006 invasion of Lebanon and other atrocities”.

In a statement issued earlier this week, Justice for Palestine activist Kathy Newnam said the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement aimed to bring an end to occupation of Arab lands. “When people know the truth then they will support the BDS Movement, just as people in Australia supported the boycotts and sanctions against apartheid South Africa,” she said, backing the Max Brenner protest.

Senator Boswell, who spoke about the boycotts issue in Federal Parliament this week, said the protest was driven by the “super-left”. He said anyone wishing to protest on the issue should do so outside the Israeli embassy. “But don’t pick on someone that comes to a chocolate shop; seriously, that’s petty,” he said.

Max Brenner Australia’s media relations company was contacted for comment, but did not provide a response.

The Brisbane store opened late last year. It is understood a Brisbane conservative student leader is organising a counter-protest in support of Max Brenner today.

It is not the first time Max Brenner’s chocolate cafes have been targeted by protesters complaining about Israel’s human rights abuses. A protest outside a Max Brenner store in Melbourne last month reportedly led to up 19 arrests and three police officer injuries.

The Victorian Government asked the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to examine whether the protest breached federal laws, causing “substantial loss or damage” to the Max Brenner business.

Proponents of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel say it is designed to make a legitimate political point about human rights.

But the issue has caused tensions within the Australian Greens. New NSW Senator Lee Rhiannon supports the campaign but Federal Greens leader Bob Brown says the federal party does not officially back it.

Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd last month sat down for a coffee at Max Brenner Melbourne to voice his opposition to the boycott. “As an individual citizen - that is me, K. Rudd - I am here because I object to the boycotting of Jewish businesses,” he said at the time.


Taxpayers fund $20 million court fees for asylum seekers

MORE than $20 million has been spent on legal fees for asylum seekers in the past year, with the cost expected to hit $26 million in 2012.

The taxpayer-funded service providing legal advice and help with visa applications spends about $175,000 on every boat that hits Australian waters.

But the border protection legal bills, released by the Department of Immigration, do not include money spent by the Government fighting court appeals by asylum seekers.

The department revealed $19.4 million was spent through the Immigration Advice and Application Assistance Scheme to provide 6523 illegal arrivals with free legal advice and help with visas in 2010-11.

The law firm run by David Manne, fighting the Government's Malaysia policy in the High Court, is also one of the Government's approved providers under the IAAAS - introduced by the Howard government in 1997.

The department expected the cost of legal advice to asylum seekers to be $26 million in 2012 because of "projected numbers of cases as a result of the High Court decision of November 11, 2010".

The High Court last year found two Sri-Lankan asylum seekers held on Christmas Island were denied procedural fairness.

The Government has been accused of running "air asylum" after spending $37.5 million on refugee transport in the past year while thousands throw away passports before boarding boats to Australia.

Figures show about 99 per cent of asylum seekers, who need passports to fly into Indonesia, arrive by boat without documents. In the past three years 4949 of 5003 who flew into Indonesia arrived in Australia without paperwork.


Review industrial relations laws to stop decline, says top official

RESERVE Bank governor Glenn Stevens has called for a review of Julia Gillard's industrial relations laws, warning that Australia's prosperity is making the country lazy about productivity reform.

Addressing the House of Representatives economics committee in Melbourne yesterday, Mr Stevens said he did not expect the world economy to enter a new downturn and added that the bank would hold interest rates steady until clear evidence emerged of the effect on consumer and business spending of recent turmoil on the markets.

However, he said persistent inflation at a time when much of the economy was slowing made the Reserve Bank's task more difficult. He laid the blame on rising business costs caused by weak productivity.

"We do tend when times are good not to press as hard on some of those reforms as we might," Mr Stevens said.

"I don't think there's any doubt that the period of maximum focus on productivity-enhancing reforms was in the period when the banana republic issues were debated," he added, referring to Paul Keating's years as treasurer in the 1980s.

"We felt we had to do it better and we did do it. It perhaps proves harder to do that when affluence has been better for a period of time."

Mr Stevens said the government had a ready source of advice on what to do from the Productivity Commission. Its agenda included the efficient pricing of utilities and infrastructure, improving competition, reducing inefficient regulation and reforming zoning and planning rules.

However, pressed by Coalition and government members on the committee, Mr Stevens said the business people he spoke to believed that the government's industrial relations reforms, imposed to replace the Howard government's Work Choices regime, had reduced the flexibility of the workforce.

"They might be wrong in their assessment of the system, but I think there are people who feel that," Mr Stevens said. "If they are wrong, then it would be good to get the heads together and show how the system is actually very flexible, because I think there are people whose instinct is that it has gone back the other way.

"While I do not have a silver-bullet policy to fix the problem, I can do no other than say as a public official that we should be giving careful consideration to these matters but, by all means, on as rigorous evidence as we can find."

The Prime Minister yesterday defended her record on productivity, including dumping Work Choices. She said that rather than compete with the world on low wages and conditions, "I put in place a plan to compete with the world on knowledge and skills . . . to unlock the real drivers of future productivity."

Delivering a speech in Canberra last night, Ms Gillard said Australia's economy was drawing strength from the rapid growth in Asia, while the turmoil in Europe and the US was making Australia a more attractive destination for foreign investment.

Although the resulting rise in the value of the Australian dollar was putting pressure on many export industries, she said, calls for protectionism must be resisted. "Our challenge, as exposure to the global market grows, is to build new capability which allows us to prosper."

She cited the National Broadband Network and national training programs as examples.

Mr Stevens said the best time to tackle productivity reform was a period such as now, when export prices were strong.

He said that, although the gap between the high- and low-performing parts of the economy was getting wider, the benefits of the resources boom were being spread broadly.

"I know that people say they do not feel the effects of the mining boom - not everybody feels it directly, that is quite clear - but these income flows do flow around the economy," he said. Reserve Bank estimates show that of every additional dollar of mining revenue, 10c goes on local wages, 25c is spent on buying domestic services, between 15c and 20c goes to the state and federal governments in royalties and company tax, and Australian shareholders get between 5c and 10c.

The Reserve Bank expected that China and the rest of Asia would continue to enjoy good growth, despite the economic problems in Europe and the US.

However, if Australia did encounter a new downturn the budget would automatically fall deeper into deficit and this would help to stabilise the economy. "Let us suppose you saw weaker than expected activity and the budget took longer to go to surplus, that would be the automatic stabilisers working," Mr Stevens said. "There is nothing particularly wrong with that, actually. "Most countries and most economists, I think, would accept that."

He rejected a suggestion from the Coalition's Steven Ciobo that this would lead to higher interest rates. "Are we going to go and jack up rates were that to occur? No, I do not think so," Mr Stevens said.

He said discretionary stimulus spending, such as that embarked on in 2008 and 2009, should only be used at times of extreme crisis.

He added it would be futile for the Reserve Bank to try to lower the value of the Australian dollar.


Labor Party sagging in Queensland too

CAMPBELL Newman is riding a growing wave of anger and discontent with the Bligh Government that threatens to wipe out Labor at the looming state election.

A new Galaxy Poll, conducted exclusively for The Courier-Mail, has revealed the Liberal National Party is cruising towards an election victory with Labor slipping back to the position it held before the summer's disasters.

Not even the Greens will be able to help Labor MPs over the line with the minor party's vote stagnant for the past 12 months.

The results will severely deflate Anna Bligh and her acolytes who have thrown everything at trying to damage Mr Newman and his unorthodox bid to become premier from outside of Parliament.

According to the poll of 800 Queenslanders this week, Labor's primary vote had slipped back to 28 per cent, a repeat of what it achieved in November which was a record low at the time.

The LNP remain on 52 per cent of the primary vote while the Greens hold 10 per cent.

Voters backing other parties and Independents rose to 10 per cent, an increase that could be linked to Bob Katter's new Australian Party.

On a two-party-preferred basis, the LNP holds the most dominant lead it has achieved all term against Ms Bligh's administration which has not recovered from the controversial asset sales.

The LNP's 63 per cent to 37 per cent lead would leave Labor with just 10 seats, less than what One Nation snared at the 1998 state election.

However, the poll shows neither side is considered appealing with more than half voting for a party because they dislike it least.

Sixty-four per cent of LNP voters favoured Mr Newman because they didn't like Labor, while 55 per cent of Ms Bligh's backers couldn't bring themselves to vote conservative.

The poll found Ms Bligh had suffered a rapid reversal of fortunes in the way voters had perceived her efforts since she was hailed as a hero for her handling of the summer's disasters. The number satisfied with her efforts had fallen to 40 per cent while the number dissatisfied rose to 56 per cent.

Mr Newman received an endorsement for his efforts from 55 per cent of voters while 28 per cent were unimpressed.

The former Brisbane lord mayor was also seen as a likely better premier with 55 per cent backing the LNP leader compared to Ms Bligh's 38 per cent.


Friday, August 26, 2011

Soft line spurred on people smugglers, says Kevin Rudd aide

A SENIOR Labor strategist admitted to US embassy officials as long ago as 2009 that Labor's decision to dismantle the Howard government's Pacific Solution was partly responsible for the resurgence of the people-smuggling trade.

A diplomatic cable sent from the US embassy in Canberra in the wake of a 2009 boat explosion off Ashmore Reef that killed five asylum-seekers, has provided a unique insight into Washington's take on the Australian asylum debate. The cable, released yesterday by WikiLeaks, said while the number of asylum-seekers venturing to Australia remained "relatively small", the numbers were rising steadily and that the asylum debate in Australia was "highly emotive".

"Border protection was widely credited as a major factor in the conservative Coalition's 2001 election victory," the cable states.

The cable quotes the views of a "leading ALP strategist" on what was causing the revival in boat arrivals, which dropped sharply after the Howard government introduced the "Pacific Solution" of offshore processing in Nauru and on Manus Island.

"A leading ALP strategist told Consulate Perth that he thought the increased incidence of asylum-seekers resulted from a combination of Australia's softer immigration policy and a global increase in refugee movements," the cable reports.

The views of the strategist, whose identity is not revealed, largely contradict the official government line at the time, which refused to acknowledge that the Rudd government's decision to dismantle the Pacific Solution and abolish temporary protection visas may have played some role in luring asylum-seekers.

Instead, then immigration minister Chris Evans attributed the revival of the smuggling trade to instability in source countries, such as Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.

Citing briefings from Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, US embassy officials also describe the transformation of the people-smuggling scene, in particular the proliferation of smaller operators.

"Small, independent smugglers are replacing the larger operators in part because of Indonesia's success - bolstered by help and training from the Australian Federal Police and Australian Customs - in stopping the major people-smugglers, who exerted the most corrupting influence on the military, politicians and police," the cable says.

"Asylum-seekers have the money to pay/bribe the small providers, and the boats are leaving from many more coves and inlets than before, greatly complicating the coastguard's task."

The cable, dated April 17, 2009, was written a day after the explosion of an asylum-seeker boat near Ashmore Reef off the northwest coast of Australia. The blast occurred after asylum-seekers sabotaged the boat, pouring petrol into the bilges.

The cable paints a picture of the asylum debate as it stood in early 2009. It says the Coalition, at that point lagging "far behind" in the polls, was seeking to reignite the border security debate to emulate the success it had enjoyed in 2001.

But US officials played down the significance of the debate, which at that stage was just beginning to unfold. They said the economy, rather than border security, was "foremost in the minds of 'working families' " at the time.

"It is difficult to envisage Rudd significantly hardening immigration policy," the officials observe. "This would alienate the Left of his party, and possibly undermine Australia's bid for a UN Security Council seat."

The authors of the document even go so far as to say the issue could "backfire on the Coalition" by alienating Liberal moderates who were uncomfortable with the hardline stance of the Howard years.

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said yesterday the WikiLeaks disclosures highlighted the government's culpability for the chaos their policy changes had wrought.

"For more than two years, the ALP has known that their soft policies were a pull factor drawing boats to Australia and doing nothing about it," Mr Morrison said.


The gouge is on for NBN users

Henry Ergas

WHEN Ralph Willis announced his telecommunications reforms in 1989, he delivered immediate price reductions and a price cap under which prices would fall steadily in real terms. Willis's reforms ushered in a long period of productivity increases that allowed price declines up to the present day.

In contrast, it is now clear this government's national broadband network will involve a huge slug to consumers. Indeed, Australia will become the only advanced economy where telecommunications prices rise steadily over time.

That is, if NBN Co's proposed special access undertaking is accepted by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission.

Once approved, that SAU would determine the prices NBN Co could charge. And an NBN Co discussion paper shows those prices could be very steep indeed.

Inevitably, there is a sweetener. NBN Co proposes a five-year freeze on prices for basic services, followed by a further five years in which they would increase at half the consumer price index. But like many teaser rates, those promises hardly provide adequate protection.

To begin with, consumers will still face rising bills. This reflects an important difference between the NBN's proposed charges and current regulated prices. To rent Telstra's copper lines, competitors pay a flat fee, regardless of how much data their consumers transmit or receive.

But service providers will pay the NBN both a monthly fee and a volume-related charge, even though data volumes barely affect the NBN's line costs.

And according to NBN Co's corporate plan, average consumer usage grows 30 per cent a year. So even were the current price per bit kept constant, the average monthly usage payment to NBN Co per household would rise from $1 in 2013 to more than $100 in 2028.

Moreover, the truly high speed services, NBN's raison d'etre and the source of its touted social benefits, are excluded from the price freeze.

Charges for these and for business services would be allowed to rise by the inflation rate plus 5 per cent a year. This contrasts with Telstra's copper, whose price has fallen 7 per cent annually in real terms since 2000.

On top of that, NBN Co, whose early years will be a sea of red ink, proposes to roll forward losses; that is, accumulate them for later recovery. That is fine, but it wants to apply to that accumulating amount a cost of capital - effectively a compound interest rate - whose starting rate exceeds 20 per cent.

NBN Co would later be allowed to raise prices, including for basic service, to recover the total amount outstanding.

Another element then magnifies the scope this gives NBN Co to gouge future consumers. With Telstra, the ACCC defers depreciation costs to the network's later years and then effectively writes them off. But NBN Co's approach brings more of the depreciation charge up-front. That increases the early losses, tipping added dollars into the pool where they compound at those high interest rates.

To justify those high rates, NBN Co points to the returns an ordinary business would require. But ordinary businesses are not granted monopoly privileges, including exemptions from competition laws. Sure, NBN Co wants the high returns; but they reward risks the government has ensured NBN Co doesn't face.

Moreover, central to the government's case for the NBN was that it "would not need to make the rate of return that the telco sector is used to". "This project", Stephen Conroy promised, only requires "a modest return of 6 to 7 per cent". And no less an authority than Julia Gillard said a return a smidgen above the commonwealth bond rate would be "a viable rate of return" for the NBN, "recovering all its funding costs".

Yet NBN Co now wants to charge consumers on the basis of rates of return that start at seven times the bond rate, and that even when the network is fully mature, remain far above it.

Reconciling the government's repeated claims with NBN Co's ask must put the ACCC in a difficult position. And those difficulties are all the greater because the Garnaut report and now the NSW regulator argue that allowing government utilities returns well above the bond rate causes serious distortions, including over-investment. Tight controls, those reports say, are therefore needed to ensure those returns are only sought on investments that pass a strict cost-benefit test, so that consumers would freely choose to see them undertaken.

Nowhere is that need stronger than in the NBN, where politics dominates over economics. But NBN Co's approach specifically rules out such scrutiny of its spending. Rather, it proposes that the investments made to provide fibre access to 93 per cent of premises be "deemed efficient" and hence excluded from regulatory review.

It seems difficult to believe the ACCC could do anything but reject that exclusion outright. And if it then assessed how much of the investment would be justified in cost-benefit terms, 40 per cent or more of NBN Co's proposed spending could be written off. The government might proceed with those outlays; but it would have to finance them through on-budget subsidies to NBN Co, instead of by taxing captive consumers.

That, of course, won't happen. Rather, the government has demonstrated its willingness to sacrifice every principle of sound public policy to get its way. It can, and likely would, try to direct the ACCC to accept the most offensive aspects of NBN Co's SAU.

That exposes consumers to huge risks. Not according to NBN Co of course, which points to price declines promised in its corporate plan. But that plan can be changed at will, and consumers have no recourse if NBN Co's actions belie its promises. In contrast, the SAU is legally binding. And once it is in place, NBN Co can do whatever it permits.

So now is the time for the ACCC to stand up for consumers. No one else will. And that is why it exists as an independent statutory body. It has made its share of mistakes. Here's a chance for its new chairman to show it remains an institution well worth feeding.


Federal government hasn't got a clue about Aborigines

The only thing that would help is to treat them exactly the same as everyone else

THE head of the Productivity Commission, Gary Banks, has backed a Finance Department finding that the $3.5 billion the Commonwealth spends on indigenous programs each year yields "dismally poor" returns.

The Finance Department strategic review, released this month under freedom-of-information laws, found strong commitments and large investments of government funds had "too often" produced results that were "disappointing at best and appalling at worst".

Launching a biennial report that says results have deteriorated in seven of 45 measures monitored by the commission, Mr Banks said "plenty" of policies were not working. "A recent finance department strategic review of indigenous expenditure has made that clear," he said. "I don't think we should be too critical - it is a very hard area to get right. But the key is to be open about failure and to learn from it."

The report found a widening of the gap in the rates of child abuse between indigenous and other Australians, and that the imprisonment rate for Aboriginal men soared 35 per cent over the decade; for women it rose 59 per cent.

The Productivity Commissioner, Robert Fitzgerald, said one of most important things the government could do would be to ease overcrowding in indigenous homes.

The proportion of indigenous houses with more than twice as many people as bedrooms has remained unchanged at 27 per cent for five years. In the Northern Territory the proportion exceeds 60 per cent.

"What is absolutely unquestionable is that easing overcrowding helps educational outcomes, health outcomes, the home environment and makes communities safe," Mr Fitzgerald said.


Some things worked better in the past

Lawrie Kavanagh

I GET a big laugh when I hear or read of today's intellectuals and dumb lefties screaming blue murder when they hear oldies like me calling for much tougher court penalties for young criminals, and the reintroduction of corporal punishment in schools.

You see, I happened to grow up in those long-gone, terrific days when the punishment fitted the crime . . . well most of the time . . . with me at least, anyway.

I'll tell you about those early days in a moment, but let me first make a suggestion that could curb a lot of youth violence and serious crime in this great state of ours. It's called National Service - or as we knew it back in the 1950s, "Nasho".

National Service taught a lot of us young blokes right from wrong, particularly where it concerned respect for other people.

You see, most of the blokes I served with at Wacol in Brisbane's outer southwest in the first intake of 1954 were pretty apprehensive about becoming Nashos. They didn't know what to expect.

This was particularly so in my hut because, whereas I had arrived at Wacol with a bunch of Maryborough mates, including my older brother, Marty, I was separated from them because I was taller than my mates, and put into a hut with tall blokes, mostly from north Queensland.

I had no worries about going into national service, because I'd been in the cadets at my school, St Brendan's College, Yeppoon, and even had a couple of weeks of army training in Sellheim Army Camp, west of Townsville, with heaps of other young blokes from all over the state.

So I was pretty surprised to hear my new Nasho mates expressing a bit of trepidation about being forced into army service for three months first up, then two weeks each year for the next two years.

But all that changed after the first few weeks of army training under a lot of very tough, but very fair, professional soldiers.

Things weren't going so well in the hut next to us, in A Company, because in that hut there was a very big and very aggressive bully who simply took what he wanted from the other blokes in the hut. You might be sitting on a stool polishing your uniform brass work or cleaning your SMLE .303 rifle, maybe with some food or soft drink beside you, and this jerk would just pick up your biscuit or sandwich and eat it, then grab your bottle of soft drink and swill it down. If you objected he would give you a push and walk off.

That went on for the first few days of the camp before one of the blokes came up with a brilliant idea. He had one of his hut mates sitting down polishing his brass work, with a half-full soft-drink bottle beside him, when the big bully walked up, grabbed the bottle and swigged down a couple of mouthfuls before turning red and almost spewing the fluid out of his mouth and all over the hut.

Why, you ask? The bottle was half-full of urine, placed there to bring the bully into line.

And as for those blokes who expressed trepidation in the early days of the camp, most went home with many happy memories of being in Nasho.

As far as corporal punishment at home and at school is concerned, for God's sake, bring it back. I copped it in both places and deserved it most of the time. A couple of times I didn't, but that was mainly from a young Irish nun, who hated being in Yeppoon and took a lot of that hatred out on me because I couldn't spell and was a very poor reader. Still am.

She once hit me on the head and the knuckles with a blackboard pointer stick for bad spelling. I had a big lump on my head but it was nowhere near the size of the swelling on my knuckles.

She sent me outside crying and while I was sitting on the steps still crying, another nun, Sister Laurence, who saw what had happened, came out and sat beside me. She put her arm around me and started crying too. I was about seven or eight at the time.

I sometimes got the cuts from other nuns, once for swimming in the nuddie with a couple of mates in a creek behind some houses from which people saw us and complained. Why swim in the nude? Because Mum and Dad wouldn't let us go swimming unless we had an adult with us, so they would hide our togs.

One time I was playing with some mates, swinging on a crane in the Yeppoon railway yards when it gave way, flinging me on to the railway line.

The station master, who had been talking to the local cop on the platform, trotted over, picked me up and led me by the ear over to the cop. The cop gave me a swift kick on the bum then dragged me across the road to the Railway Hotel, where he knew my old man was the manager. He told Dad I had broken the crane. Dad took off his leather belt and gave me what for.

The Christian Brothers at St Brendan's were pretty good, but if you stepped out of line it would really hurt because, unlike the nuns who used canes, the Brothers used leather straps with about six leather strips stitched together and about 30cm long. You either got those cuts on the open hand or, even worse, across the bum.

How did school punishment change my life? Well, after 76 years I have never had any trouble with the police except for that time at Yeppoon railway station. I've never been in jail or court.

I truly believe today's crime rate would tumble if they brought back National Service and re-introduced corporal punisment at school and at home. But I sure ain't holding my breath.