Sunday, August 05, 2012

Leftists can dish it out but can't take it

Calling Tony Abbott the "mad monk" because of his Catholic background was OK but we must not call Julia Gillard an old cow

Australians who think they have permission to make "sexist and silly" remarks about the leader of the country should think again, Attorney-General Nicola Roxon says.

Ms Roxon said cattle company chief executive David Farley no doubt had egg on his face after comparing Prime Minister Julia Gillard to an "old cow".

The comments, reportedly made during a speech in Adelaide on Thursday, were picked up nationally.  They have been slammed on social media and by federal politicians.

Ms Roxon said voters and public figures were free to criticise government policy but political leaders should not be subject to personal attacks.

"There's no need to make these sort of sexist and silly remarks," Ms Roxon told reporters in Sydney on Saturday.

"I am concerned that people think that there is permission to make these sorts of comments about the prime minister ... in the footy parlance, play the ball, not the man."

Federal Minister for Women Julie Collins said the comments were unacceptable. "They amount to destructive prejudices long past their use-by date in our modern, diverse society," she said in a statement on Friday.

Mr Farley was reportedly explaining his business plans for a new abattoir designed to process old cows when he made the comparison.

"So the old cows that become non-productive, instead of making a decision to either let her die in the paddock or put her in the truck, this gives us a chance to take non-productive animals off and put them through the processing system," Mr Farley reportedly said.

"So it's designed for non-productive old cows. Julia Gillard's got to watch out."

Mr Farley's comment was met with laughter.


Premier Newman lashes out at union bosses

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman has come out swinging against union leaders, calling them wealthy Labor operatives who are organising strikes that will hurt workers’ hip pockets.

Mr Newman’s comments on Saturday came a day after a dozen irate school cleaners stormed the state government’s headquarters in Brisbane and two days after unions vowed they would hold a statewide day of strikes in September.

The union officials organising the strikes had large salaries, expense accounts and cab vouchers, Mr Newman said.  "These union officials are also Labor Party operatives," he told reporters at the launch of an anti-graffiti task force in Brisbane.  "They’re not going to lose a day’s pay if people go on strike (but) the hard-working workers will."

Mr Newman said Friday’s action was led by the same man who paid people to protest against him before the election - United Voice secretary Gary Bullock.

"He’s anti Campbell Newman. He always has been, he always will be," the premier said.  "He won’t lose a day’s pay if people go on strike.  "He’s on his fat union salary, with his expense card, with his Cabcharge vouchers."

Mr Newman also attacked Queensland Council of Unions president John Battams.  He said the union leader should declare that he worked on the Labor campaign at the last election before every press conference.  "Don’t pretend to be some impartial person, because you’re not," Mr Newman said.

Mr Bullock said the premier obviously hadn’t seen Friday’s protest.  He said one member present was an 80-year-old female teacher aide who thought Mr Newman’s government was far was worse than anything she’d seen when Joh Bjelke-Petersen was premier.   "They are angry. This isn’t me needing to whip them up," he said.

Mr Battams said he’d worked on the 2009 Labor campaign - not the one in 2012 - and the premier should stick to the issues.

"He would have plenty of associates who represent employer associations who are in the LNP," he said.  "I’m sure he doesn’t question their motives."


Back to school for Queensland teachers who get Ds

UNDER-PERFORMING teachers will be identified and given extra training and development under a new national framework signed off by Education Ministers yesterday.

School Education Minister Peter Garrett said the Australian Teacher Performance and Development Framework, which entitles teachers to annual performance reviews, would be rolled out in Queensland schools from next year.

While Queensland teachers currently undergo performance reviews, not all schools carry them out annually.

"For the first time, teachers will be entitled to a yearly review of their progress, and will receive ongoing support and training throughout their career to help them become even better teachers," Mr Garrett said.

"Once implemented, the new agreement signed off today means that schools will offer their teachers feedback on their performance, based on evidence including classroom observation, parental and student feedback and student results.

"Teachers will have to set goals for the year and will be helped to reach their goals. Those who are found to be under-performing or who need extra support will be given access to more training and development opportunities."

The new framework will assess teachers against the National Professional Standards for Teachers developed by the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL).

Under the standards teachers will be able to apply to become a highly accomplished or lead teacher and receive a one-off bonus in 2014, based on their status in 2013.

Ministers also endorsed the Australian Charter for the Professional Learning of Teachers and School Leaders.

AITSL chair Anthony Mackay said the endorsement reinforced that developing teachers was the best way to improve student learning.

Education Ministers also agreed to continue working on improving the regulation and oversight of non-Government schools to ensure public funds are spent appropriately and a national curriculum for the National Trade Cadetships scheme Years 11 and 12.


The jury's out - and could stay out, judging from trends

Are we seeing the quiet, steady disintegration of the 800-year-old jury system? There are telltale signs that it may be going the way of the dodo, another victim of the creative-destructive forces beyond our control.

A few local examples are interesting pointers.

The Lloyd Rayney murder trial in Western Australia is being conducted without a jury. Justice Brian Martin, a judge imported from another jurisdiction, has the task of deciding alone the facts and the law.

It's a high-profile case. The accused is a former criminal prosecutor accused of murdering his glamorous wife, who was a Supreme Court registrar. It's a trial that has gripped media consumers beyond the boundaries of Perth.

What it shows is that those who determine how the system functions do not have sufficient faith in juries when it comes to a long trial of some complexity that might be difficult to protect from "prejudice".

It could be interpreted as insulting - that jurors who can keep their minds on the task and remain undistracted by whatever the rest of the world thinks cannot be mustered for the trial of a man for murder.

Juries for murder have been one of the bedrocks of the criminal justice system and to see them shunted is an extraordinary indication of the delicacy of their condition.

Steadily, jurors have been expunged from the civil trial process, but cling on in a strange one-foot-in, one-foot-out manner in defamation trials.

They can decide the basics, whether something is defamatory, but when it comes to the money, they are not to be trusted. They might award either too much or too little, so the damages decision goes back to the judge.

It is here that judges can recast the findings of juries in a way that better reflects the judicial perspective.

We can see this in a Sydney case decided last month in the Supreme Court called Holt v Channel Nine. A jury found found that four meanings pleaded by Andrew Holt, a Gold Coast carpenter, were not true, and they all related to the way he was said to have treated his wife, who was dying of cancer: that he abandoned his wife to die in hospital; he behaved disgracefully by refusing to allow his wife to return home from hospital; he treated his wife like a dying animal; and that he wanted his wife to die.

Channel Nine also succeeded with some meanings of its own drawn from the program: that Holt callously withheld insurance money from his dying wife and that he misused thousands of dollars paid to her as part of her insurance.

Justice Christine Adamson could not have been impressed with the jury's verdict and that was reflected in her awarding the plaintiff a miserable $4500.

She took into account a number of factors adverse to Holt, which she spelt out in her judgment - including an acceptance that he took $75,000 of his wife's money and used it in a "morally despicable" way.

Appeal courts quite systematically overturn jury findings and replace them with their own verdicts. This was done in another famous defamation case in which this newspaper was sued by restaurateurs who ran the Coco Roco establishment at King Street Wharf. The High Court affirmed that appeal judges can supplant a jury's interpretation of the meaning of words with their own version.

We've also seen some big murder verdicts overturned by the criminal appeal courts, with no order for the case to go back before another jury for retrial. Most recently this was a unanimous decision in the Gordon Wood case.

So you wonder, what is the point of the extravagant luxury of juries when their findings can be cast aside by judges? In the end, to whom would you prefer to trust your fate, a judge or a jury? There can be bad juries and some god-awful judges - so in some situations each can be a check on the other.

But what ultimately will bury the ancient system is digital technology. Already suppression orders, the sanctity of pending trials, the law of contempt, and internet take-down orders are all routinely ignored by thousands of citizens who have become instant publishers, courtesy of open media platforms.

This can be seen in the case of Kieran Loveridge, accused of the murder in Kings Cross of Thomas Kelly. The social media landscape blossomed with opinions about the accused and the police, all outside the boundary of the courts traditional cordon sanitaire.

The old model where everyone dutifully did what they were told by courts is finished. While the legacy media generally abide by the rules, on Twitter and Facebook people have other ideas and are able to generate large alternative waves of defiant opinion.

We saw recently in Britain privacy superinjunctions heroically squelched by twitterers. Orders here to take down potentially prejudicial online news stories that might affect a criminal trial are also widely ignored or are beyond jurisdiction.


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