Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Say no to boat arrivals, ex-Immigration official

A FORMER top Immigration Department official says Australia must close the door on boat people.

Former first assistant secretary Des Storer has told the Gillard Government's expert panel on asylum seekers that the current system was a confusing and contradictory farce.

Mr Storer, who was highly respected by both the Coalition and Labor governments, said in his submission that the only solution was for Australia to change migration laws to stop boat arrivals applying for visas.

"This can be done by excising Australia for the purposes of migration. This would mean that all unauthorised arrivals would be detained," he said in the submission co-authored by fellow Monash academic Adrienne Millbank.

Mr Storer told the Herald Sun yesterday that asylum seekers should be given options such as being sent back to Indonesia, returned to their home countries or sent to refugee camps of their choice.

"If you really want to stop the boats and protect people's lives that is the best way," he said.

Under the proposal, Australia would legally not be in breach of its international refugee obligations, and High Court challenges to offshore processing would be avoided.

Mr Storer and Ms Millbank said the money saved from processing and detaining asylum seekers could be used to double Australias official refugee intake to up to 25,000, with priority given to people in most need in overseas camps.

Mr Storer, who retired in 2008 and is now an adjunct professor at Monash University, said that many of those reaching Indonesia had the money to pay people smugglers who promised access to Australia's attractive legal system.

"Some may or may not be escaping serious persecution...they're taking advantage of the opportunities to be able to utilise the system better than other people can who are trapped in camps in much more serious conditions," he said.


The  Queensland government's assault on bureaucracy continues

PUBLIC sector workers who cost more than private sector labour can now be sacked with a mere stroke of a pen.

A new directive issued by the Public Service Commission to enable mass cuts to Transport and Main Roads, has effectively stripped job security for all but police and health workers.

The Public Service Commissioner confirmed employment security and contracting out clauses had been removed from "industrial instruments" late yesterday.

"Removing these clauses, allows for the efficient restructure of Government departments which will in turn lead to greater efficiencies and savings for the public sector," Commissioner Dr Brett Heyward said.  "For example, the recent restructure announced by the Minister for Transport and Main Roads."

Unions declared the directive would be challenged in the Supreme Court.

Alex Scott from Together Queensland said the move had given Government free rein to retrench workers and hire private sector labour.

"It means the Government can pretty much decide on a day-to-day basis what their policy is about employment security," he said.    "Given it was introduced with absolutely no consultation we're looking at our options in relation to Supreme Court action around it."

The bombshell came at the end of another shattering day for public servants, who learned almost 2000 jobs would go from Transport and Main Roads before Christmas, including 600 in RoadTek and 70 at Translink.

Another 360 jobs are set to disappear from QBuild with more cuts in coming days.

Transport and Main Roads director-general Michael Caltabiano announced the restructure to staff in an email that did not mention the number of jobs being axed.

Many workers found out from reports of Minister Scott Emerson's announcement in Parliament of 1970 job cuts to save $287 million over four years.

As part of the restructure, 16 of 37 senior executives will go but Translink CEO Neil Scales will be spared, becoming a new deputy director-general.

The TMR and QBuild cuts take the number of "official" job losses in the public sector to more than 6700.

Mr Scott said another 15,000 cuts were expected in the lead up to the September 11 budget.


Queensland government cuts Green tape

THE Queensland government insists new laws that make it faster and cheaper for developers to apply for environmental approval won't lower environmental standards.  The Greentape (Greentape) Reduction Bill was passed in parliament on Tuesday afternoon.

Environment Minister Andrew Powell says "green tape" has been strangling Queensland businesses.

He says the bill is the most significant reform to licensing processes in a decade and will save businesses thousands of dollars.

"It is crucial that we work with industry, particularly with the small business sector, to encourage economic growth and reduce government spending," he said in a statement.

The bill reduces the Environmental Protection Act by 90 pages by removing duplications.

A standard application for environmental approval will save companies on average $20,000, 150 pages in paper work and 68 days in processing time, while the environmental approval process will also be changed to ensure greater flexibility for operators, Mr Powell said.

The government will also save $12.5 million in administrative costs.

Mr Powell said the government had consulted "every step of the way" with industry, the community and government organisations on the changes.

"This in no way lowers environmental standards," he said.  "It merely simplifies the approval process, saving applicants time and money."

The new process will apply from March 2013.


It's great to have a conscience, now tell us how we'll pay for it

You may not have noticed, but last week was among the most significant of the Gillard government's term. The commitments made may do great good, but they will also cause much pain and gnashing of teeth in the years ahead.

Last week the nation made it crystal clear to its political leaders - federal and state - it wanted them to get on with implementing the national disability insurance scheme. After decades of turning a blind eye to the difficulties faced by the disabled and their carers, last week conscience struck.

Fine. You're a believer; so am I. But the scheme is very expensive: when fully implemented in 2018, an additional $8 billion a year. Or, as the politicians and the media usually prefer to put it, $32 billion over four years.

To give you an idea, $8 billion a year is more than will be raised each year by the carbon tax or more than twice what will be raised by the new mining tax.

So how will the disability scheme be paid for? No one has any idea. The pollies were arguing about that very question when - urged on by the same radio shock jocks who on other days rail against "debt and deficit" - the electorate put a rocket under them: Just do it!

That's why I have reservations. We behaved like a teenager with his first pay packet who goes out and buys a car on the never-never, without a moment's thought about how he'll fit the repayments into his budget.

Perhaps this was the only way an increasingly self-centred nation was ever going to commit to something so caring but expensive. Had we dwelt on how much it would cost and how we'd be paying for it, we might have made an excuse and passed on.

Even so, the accountant in me remains uneasy. Sometimes in politics, good deeds aren't born of the purest motives. The Productivity Commission report that recommended the scheme called for the pilot programs to begin in 2014.

I suspect Julia Gillard brought it forward a year because she wanted to be seen doing something worthwhile - and something that didn't have Kevin Rudd's fingerprints on it. She committed to spending just $1 billion over the four-year trial phase.

If Gillard has a clear idea of how she would afford the scheme when fully implemented, she's given no hint of it. All we know is that, contrary to the commission's advice, she expects the states to bear some of the cost.

I suspect she's fingered the states as a red herring, intending to draw attention away from her own lack of forethought. That's where we got to last week. She put the wood on the premiers to make a small contribution to the cost of their state's pilot scheme, but many declined. This could have been the usual story - whenever the feds require the premiers' co-operation, their hands go out: What's it worth to you?

If that was the premiers' motivation, I'm sympathetic. Though the states are responsible for provision of many costly public services - law and order, roads and transport, schools and hospitals - their taxing powers have been greatly constrained by the High Court, leaving them heavily dependent on the feds.

John Howard's decision to grant them the full proceeds from the goods and services tax was intended to solve their problem, but it's no longer the "growth tax" it was. Our consumer spending no longer outstrips our income the way it did, and an ever-growing proportion of our spending goes on items excluded from the tax, particularly private education and health.

So the premiers can't reasonably be expected to stump up for anything much. And, indeed, it's the feds who'll have to come up with a solution to their chronic revenue problem. This week a poll shows 84 per cent of respondents oppose increasing the rate of the GST to 12.5 per cent.

But only the Liberal premiers jacked up last week. The remaining Labor state and territory leaders played along. So maybe it wasn't the standard premiers' money-motivated bail-up.

There isn't a politician in the country with the courage to openly oppose the disability scheme. Gillard's lack of courage comes in telling us how she proposes to pay for it. Maybe she's decided she'll worry about that only if she wins the next election.

Tony Abbott's more likely to win it, of course. I suspect the hard-heads on his side had been intending to relegate implementation of the full scheme to the status of an "aspiration" to be afforded only when finances permit.

That now would be a lot harder to do, following the surge of public pressure that forced the premiers of NSW and Victoria to back down after just a day or so. Such forceful expressions of the public's will stay burnt on politicians' brains long after you and I have forgotten them.

Abbott's shadow treasurer, Joe Hockey, is saying it would be cruel to offer hope to the disabled when there was no guarantee the money could be found. In contrast, his more slick-tongued finance spokesman, Andrew Robb, says the full scheme would be introduced in 2018, but this "probably would require the removal or scaling back of other programs".

Don't forget Abbott would first have to cover the cost of abolishing the carbon tax and the mining tax. This is a man who professes to believe taxes must go down and may never go up. Now he's got to find a further $8 billion a year in spending cuts.

I find it hard to believe this would happen. But whatever happens, I foresee much pain and gnashing of teeth.


No comments: