Thursday, October 18, 2012

Boat People arriving in Australia now a flood

IMMIGRATION officials have conceded that more asylum seekers have arrived by boat since the budget than had been predicted, but they refused to be drawn on how much the extra numbers will cost taxpayers.

The government says people smugglers are profiting by as much as $2 million for each vessel that arrives.

The Coalition has seized on budget forecasts in May of 450 asylum seeker arrivals each month - a predicted total of 5400 for the financial year, which has already been eclipsed in the first three months starting in July.

The arrival of almost 500 asylum seekers on five boats at the weekend underlined the pressure on border controls. Nearly 8000 people have arrived by boat since July.

Labor's revised Pacific plan for Nauru and Papua New Guinea will accommodate about 2100 people, far fewer than the number who have arrived since August 13, when the policy was embraced.

The Home Affairs Minister, Jason Clare, said people smugglers were making more money than some drug smugglers and they would fight hard to keep making money. People smugglers earned more than $1 million per boat and sometimes up to $2 million, he said.

Immigration officials were questioned in parliamentary hearings yesterday about the surge in arrivals but deflected the potential cost to the budget, which Labor brought down with only a thin surplus.

The Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, denied offshore processing on Nauru, embraced by Labor in August after months of political stalemate over the people swap with Malaysia, had failed to deter arrivals.

''There is no doubt that there is wide awareness now of our new policies and that they are being noted,'' he told ABC Radio. ''However, as I've consistently said, we have a very significant challenge in that we are tackling the lies and the spin of people smugglers.''

The Immigration Department chief, Martin Bowles, said the number of asylum seekers was higher than expected. He said the costs were a matter for the government to deal with in the midyear budget update.

The Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young asked officials who would bear responsibility for the psychological health of asylum seekers on Nauru.


Indian PM and "loose shoes" Gillard agree to start negotiations on uranium, international students

PRIME Minister Julia Gillard has wrapped up her visit to India falling flat on her face saying the two biggest obstacles in the relationship - a ban on uranium sales and problems for international students - have been resolved.

Ms Gillard held formal talks with her counterpart Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and attended a state dinner in her honour.

The two prime ministers formally agreed to start talks to put in place nuclear safeguards so Australian uranium could be sold to India.

They also decided to boost military ties, have greater intelligence sharing to combat terrorism and piracy and to begin talks on a prisoner transfer deal.

They also announced there would be a formal leaders meeting every year either in each other's country or on the sideline of international forums they attended.

"This is important because having an annual leaders meeting keeps momentum in a relationship, gives high level oversight about how a relationship is developing and what more needs to be done," Ms Gillard said.

An Indian PM has not visited Australia for 26 years. Indian media said Dr Singh pulled out of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth 12 months ago because of the issues of uranium and students.

Ms Gillard said she invited Dr Singh to visit and he "would love to come" but it was a question of finding a time that will work.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the presidential palace at Rashtrapati Bhavan, in New Delhi. Picture: BM Meena/AFP

Dr Singh thanked Ms Gillard for removing the uranium ban, saying it was recognition of India's energy needs but also a sign of confidence in India's "record and credentials".

"I have expressed to Prime Minister Gillard India's appreciation of this development," he said.

Ms Gillard said she believed Australia's image in India is "better than it was" when she last visited in 2009 as deputy PM at the height of claims of racism against Indian students in Australia "when the issue was hot and there was a media feeding frenzy".

India accounts for the second highest number of overseas students in Australia. Dr Singh raised the issue of student safety with Ms Gillard to thank her for protecting the welfare and security of Indian students in Australia.

Ms Gillard said she was pleased with her visit to India.

"I do believe in terms of the obstacles that were there in our relationship, that they have been dealt with, that we have reassured people about the circumstances for Indian students in Australia and we've changed our attitude on uranium and that has been appreciated here," she said before departing.

Dr Singh predicted a new phase of more intense and structured co-operation between the two countries.


Rich public housing tenants evicted in Canberra

The ACT government has begun evicting its wealthier public housing tenants, including one household earning more than $230,000 a year.

To date, 43 Housing ACT residents have been served with a notice to vacate as part of the government's crackdown on middle class tenants, which has caused concern amongs local welfare groups.

Approximately 250 households of the 1000 public housing renters paying market prices have declared household incomes of more than $80,000 a year over one or two financial years. Of these, more than 100 have reported household incomes in excess of $100,000 a year.

Housing Minister Joy Burch said the process, which began five years ago, would deliver housing to those most in need throughout the capital.

"With about 1900 individuals and families on our social housing waiting list, and almost 200 in the most urgent category, we need to ensure that our public housing is allocated to those most in need," she said.

"It is difficult to continue to support a situation where we have some public housing tenants who are in public housing are in a position to buy a house or comfortably rent in the private market when we have families experiencing homelessness on our waiting lists."

But Genevieve Bolton, from the Welfare Rights and Legal Centre, said the process failed to recognise the contribution that market renters made to public housing.

"It's a very short-sighted policy on behalf of the ACT government," she said.

Ms Bolton said people generally left public housing when they felt they could, and continuing tenancies could be due to mental and physical health issues, as well as finances.

"Often people remain in public housing due to a great level of uncertainty," she said. A spokesman for Ms Burch said each matter under review was considered case by case.

"For example, one tenant assessed by the panel will continue to reside at his ACT Housing property because of health reasons, for having a lower income than that reported in 2010-11, and another because he was retiring at the end of the year," he said.

Tenants can also appeal to ACAT against the decision of the panel, as well as ask for a second level review by the Housing and Tenancy Review Panel.

The Sustainable Incomes Multi-disciplinary panel established by the government has so far considered 59 matters relating to household incomes from $115,591 gross a year to $230,058.

Of these cases, 43 tenants are leaving while 11 will remain in public housing. A further four cases have been deferred and one matter has been withdrawn.

The spokesman for Ms Burch said the process had also prompted many public housing recipients to either buy their home or vacate voluntarily. Thirty-five tenants have already left without an order being issued.

As of mid-October, 26 market rent paying tenants had applied to buy their properties through the government's Sale-to-Tenant or Shared Equity schemes.  "Any properties sold will be replaced.

ACT Shelter executive officer Leigh Watson said the government needed to go one step further and increase its public housing stock.

"While ACT's percentage of housing stock is the highest nationally, the need is greater as those on the public housing waiting list are in a double bind due to the very high costs of private rental in the ACT," she said.

"The long waiting list also reflects a longstanding undersupply of public housing generally."


Many Australian homebuyers "underwater" too

MORE than 35 per cent of homebuyers who purchased the properties after 2008 are facing the prospect of being in negative equity.

And analysts warn that those homeowners with negative equity - their house being worth less than they owe on it - are likely to stay in that scenario for up to six years as property values remain "soggy" for some time to come.

The damaging JP Morgan report, released yesterday, comes as the Reserve Bank released the monthly minutes from its October meeting, which points to further rate cuts on Melbourne Cup Day.

The report shows large numbers of aspiring buyers are being locked out of the market as banks lift their lending requirements post-GFC. The level of new monthly mortgages being written has dropped from about 60,000 pre-GFC to about 45,000 this year.

Digital Finance Analytics principal Martin North warned house prices are likely to remain weak for years to come and may even fall as they are still at historically high levels compared to the average income.

The report defines negative equity as any house that has seen its value grow by less than 10 per cent - below inflation - in the past four years.

Queensland is the worst hit state, with 54 per cent of properties purchased since 2008 in negative equity. NSW is least affected with just 24.5 per cent of homes affected.

Since 2008 the national average home price has risen almost 10 per cent from $375,000 to $412,000, according to RP Data.

But in the same period the national level of negative equity jumped almost six-fold, from about 6 per cent of homes bought before 2008 to a whopping 35.6 per cent of homes acquired in the past four years.

JP Morgan banking analyst Scott Manning said despite the Reserve lowering interest rates to their lowest level in three years borrowers are finding it harder to get funds.


Brainless bureaucrats brewing a railway disaster

In response to a small accident they are going to bring in central locking for all train doors -- meaning people may not be able to get out in a crash

A boy fell from the Sunlander train after managing to open an external door. Source: The Courier-Mail

AN investigation into how a five-year-old boy fell out of the moving Sunlander train last December has found a child could have opened the door with little difficulty.

The child told investigators he was playing in the carriage vestibule area when he opened the "slam-shut" door and slipped on the wet floor, falling out of the train south of Aloomba in North Queensland.

Fortunately the Sunlander was travelling at only 15 to 23km/h at the time, and the boy was relatively unhurt, and managed to walk to a nearby road to get help.

Earlier, the boy and his ten-year-old brother were warned against playing in that part of the carriage, noted the Transport and Main Roads' report tabled in Parliament.

Despite the door having a two-stage locking mechanism, investigators found it was "easily opened".

"The first stage is labelled 'pull'. The second stage is a lever pulled down similar to many residential lever door handles," said the report.

"Investigators were able to open the door with one hand with minimal force required for either action. It is considered that a child would be able to open the door using two hands with little difficulty."

The wet floor was attributed to a water fountain, which may have overflowed.

Since the incident on December 21, 2011, Queensland Rail has reported another occurrence on April 17, 2012 in which an external door was found open on a moving Sunlander service.

The report recommended Queensland Rail implement additional engineering controls on current Sunlander rolling stock, and any other trains that use similar locking mechanisms on external doors.

Queensland Rail is now planning to install a modern central door locking system, which means doors remain locked when the train is in motion.

In the time since the boy fell out of the train, more rail safety announcements have been implemented and staff training increased.

Transport Minister Scott Emerson is yet to formally respond to the report.


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