Saturday, November 30, 2013

GrainCorp decision: Joe Hockey caught between national and Nationals' interest

This whole affair is a heap of rubbish that ignores the elephant in the room.  There is no version of economic rationality  that requires the join-up of two monopolies -- and much against it.  Graincorp and ADM are not strictly monopolies but they are near enough for the same reasoning to apply.  The economically rational decision would have been to split up Graincorp's tentacles -- perhaps on a state-by-state basis -- and forbid any purchases of the resultant entities such that a monopoly or near monopoly was re-created

Just one letter and a tiny apostrophe were all that were missing from Joe Hockey's reasoning when he scotched the bid by the American giant, Archer-Daniels-Midland to swallow up Australia's top listed agri-business, GrainCorp (GNC).

Whereas the Treasurer explained the 100 per cent take-over was not in the “national” interest, the more pressing concern for the Coalition under threat of massive internal hemorrhaging over the issue, was that the acquisition was not in the Nationals' interests. And therefore not in the government's political interests.

It may have escaped the attention of many city voters in recent months, but the ADM move has been huge news in the bush. Tension within the Coalition has been extreme – a delicate situation for any Liberal-Nationals government, but particularly so for one as young and as chest-beatingly pro-business in its rhetoric.

But the decision before the economically rationalist Treasurer was fraught with danger.

Nationals leader, Warren Truss, and his likely successor, Barnaby Joyce had made no secret of their strong opposition to the take-over. Privately, the Nats were incandescent, threatening all kinds of mayhem if the sale was approved.

Truss of course is also Deputy Prime Minister, so his public indications carried a lot of influence. They also raised a few eyebrows because Hockey was being told in no uncertain terms that the junior Coalition partner would not support the approval of ADM's bid.

The American agricultural giant's $3.4 billion bid was generous and came with the promise of hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure upgrades.

But growers worried that at just 4 per cent of ADM's total worth, GrainCorp would lack the clout within the multinational to see their interests protected. And they worried that they would wind up paying for those upgrades anyway in higher handling fees and perhaps lower returns.

Weighing heavily on Hockey and the entire government though was the signal a rejection would transmit.

Just a day after floating the alternatives for Qantas of greater foreign ownership, or partial nationalisation, the ADM application sends a potentially confusing message to international investors.

Business attracted by Australia's stability, its triple-A credit ratings, and its pro-business rhetoric, will now have to weigh those symbolic aspects against the reality of a government that has just knocked back a solid bid for a company and a sector that is badly in need of capital investment.

Politically, Hockey has chosen the path of least resistance. That doesn't automatically make it wrong, but it lifts the onus on the new government to explain in a detailed way why this particular bit of foreign investment is against the national interest, when other foreign investment is not.

Government, as the Prime Minister has noted, is about making the tough decisions.

This one appears to have been taken on the easy side of the ledger.

The Nationals are happy because once again their particular brand of protected capitalism – sometimes called agrarian socialism – has prevailed.

Hockey said he would not be bullied by anyone in making his final call on the GrainCorp bid.

Many in the business community may now be wondering what happened and what it might say about the character of the Abbott Coalition government.

Former treasurer Wayne Swan tweeted: “No more sanctimonious Hockey lectures about Australia being open for business or strong economic management, weak populist decision”.

Inevitably Hockey was damned if he did and damned if he didn't.


When Aunty turned a blind eye

WHEN important and difficult stories break, you will hear about them on your ABC. We will not succumb to pressure to suppress or ignore legitimate stories to protect those in power. - Kate Torney,ABC director of news, on the Indonesian phone-tapping story.

THIS year, the ABC has studiously ignored every major development in the Victoria Police major fraud squad investigation into the Australian Workers Union scandal. Even the proceedings of Victoria's courts on the matter - the bread and butter of local journalism - have eluded the national broadcaster's local reporters.

Jonathan Holmes spoke at length on the ABC's Media Watch about legitimate reporting of the story back in August last year. The Australian's Hedley Thomas had just broken the news that one of Julia Gillard's former law firm partners claimed that Gillard had lost her job at Slater & Gordon as a direct result of legal advice she gave to help establish a slush fund for her then boyfriend and client, AWU state secretary Bruce Wilson. There were numerous revelations in leaked documents, including a transcript of her exit interview from the firm, and the subsequent disclosure by the firm's then head partner, Peter Gordon, that it was a very serious matter involving an alleged fraud.

Jon Faine, of 774 ABC Melbourne, said: "The conspiracy theorists are having a ball, the blogosphere's running amok, it's all completely out of control ... why is it on the front page of the paper?"

To his great credit, Holmes said of the Faine view: "Well, I think that's nonsense." He went on to say the story was news, and had been presented in a sober and meticulous fashion by The Australian and elsewhere online.

There was a flurry of reporting in November last year from the ABC. It carried all of Gillard's press conferences and a lengthy interview with Wilson and, separately, his union colleague Ralph Blewitt. Then nothing.

Since the parliament rose last year, it's as if the AWU scandal had ceased to be for the ABC. Yet substantial developments have taken place - although not the sort of developments that would sit well in an Anne Summers, ABC live, Gillard extravaganza.

In January, Thomas reported that Victoria police had travelled to Queensland and taken a lengthy statement from a former para-legal executive at Slater & Gordon, Olivia Palmer (nee Brosnahan). That interview marked a turning point in the police investigation, with a significant increase in the number of detectives assigned to the matter as a result of her evidence.

The ABC reported nothing.

On May 15 this year, Gillard was closing in on her third anniversary as prime minister. By 11am, she had introduced the National Disability Insurance Scheme legislation into the House of Representatives.

That same day, detectives from the major fraud squad visited the Melbourne Magistrates Court to give sworn evidence in an application for a warrant to search and seize documents from Slater & Gordon. Magistrate Lance Martin heard their evidence and duly issued the warrant.

The law does not provide for search warrants to seize documents for background information, or to provide leads for further investigation. Before Martin could issue the warrant, he - not police - had to believe on reasonable grounds that a serious crime had occurred and that the things he specified in the warrant would afford evidence of that crime.

We know Martin's warrant directed police to seize all documents held by Slater & Gordon relating to Wilson, Blewitt, Gillard, the AWU Workplace Reform Association (the slush fund) and a property at 1/85 Kerr Street, Fitzroy, bought with the slush fund's money by Wilson, who attended the auction with Gillard, and put in Blewitt's name.

The warrant described further evidence: Gillard's personnel files; her invoices/billings, time sheets and travel records; personnel files in the name of her former secretary; and any record of the exit interview conducted by Peter Gordon with Gillard on September 11, 1995 (redacted portions of that interview were published in The Australian in August and November last year).

Martin included documents pertaining to Gillard and the AWU, the conveyance and mortgage file relating to the $150,000 loan advanced to Blewitt for the purchase of 1/85 Kerr Street and deed registers involving the AWU.

By May 17, police had seized the documents set out in the warrant, leaving the Slater & Gordon premises with boxes of material.

Search warrants are a regular part of police work - the Slater & Gordon warrant was the 1536th issued by the magistrates court in the five months to May. After police execute a warrant and seize material, they are required to bring the material back to the court for further directions. When it's stolen property or drug material, it's routine: the court orders that the material be held by police pending production in evidence.

But with law firms it's different. A client of a law firm may claim "legal professional privilege" over documents containing legal advice. The "privilege" against production and use in evidence is the client's to claim, not the lawyer's. Blewitt waived privilege, releasing any and all documents concerning him into evidence.

As we enter December, Wilson is still considering his position - seven months down the track. Without that delay, the material seized from Slater & Gordon would likely have been given in to the custody of the police for production in evidence within weeks of the raid. That is, by June, while Gillard was still prime minister.

Our critics have employed a series of arguments, each one weaker than the last. The first argument was that there was no story.

- Torney, on the Indonesian phone-tapping story.

THE fraud squad was as tight as a drum with information about the raid. Nothing leaked. Slater & Gordon was similarly motivated to keep the police visit confidential. But with police contacting the clients of Slater & Gordon the story was bound to surface. On June 17 it was front-page news in The Australian. The next day, The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald followed up with a report noting that police expected to have the issues of client privilege finalised within two weeks.

On July 19, the ABC wrote to a listener in answer to a complaint about the ABC not covering the story, that: "The ABC was aware that an alleged raid had occurred. However, we were unable to confirm it had happened and therefore, we did not report it."

Even the most basic of journalistic skills - making a few phone calls - eluded the nation's largest employer of journalists.

That week, the ABC did publish extensive coverage of allegations about a prime minister and slush funds, but it was the Spanish Prime Minister. The ABC headline reported calls for "Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy to resign over ties to slush fund".

On August 26, the Supreme Court heard Slater & Gordon's application for the return of eight documents under a claim of privilege in favour of the law firm. There was much discussion in the courtroom, documents were published and The Australian and other media covered the event. The ABC reported nothing.

On September 2, Victorian Chief Magistrate Peter Lauritsen heard Detective Sergeant Ross Mitchell's application for the remaining 360 documents to be handed to the custody of police.

Wilson was represented at the hearing by legal counsel and he sought more time to consider his position in relation to privilege.

During the proceedings, Lauritsen granted The Australian's request for the release of Mitchell's written application. That document included the details of the search warrant clearly naming Gillard. It closes by saying that, should Wilson make a claim of privilege, police will argue the claim should be rejected because the documents seized from Gillard's former office "were made in the furtherance of fraud".

No lawyer wants to find themselves publicly accused by police of being associated with fraud. That sort of accusation about a suburban solicitor would generally rate a line or two in the news. But when the two lawyers concerned are a sitting prime minister and a Federal Court judge (Bernard Murphy) appointed by her government, the question of whether or not it's newsworthy is answered beyond a shadow of doubt.

The Chief Magistrate reinforced the public interest judgment by publicly releasing the police application. It was rightly front-page news in The Australian; The Australian Financial Review, The Daily Telegraph, other newspapers and radio stations carried the story. It was unquestionably newsworthy - a sitting prime minister was named in a search warrant that directed police to seize evidence of alleged crime connected to her former office.

News, that is, unless you listen to the ABC - whose audiences heard nothing.

Audiences must not be able to reasonably conclude that the ABC has taken an editorial stand on matters of contention and public debate.

- Mark Scott, ABC managing director, October 17, 2006.

ON September 16, with the court documents published online, Adam Doyle from ABC News wrote this email in answer to a listener complaint about the ABC's lack of coverage:

"Thank you for your email regarding investigations being conducted by Victoria Police.

"It is a matter of public record that some form of investigation is under way. We know this because the ABC extensively reported the fact that Ralph Blewitt and others took information to the police.

"Beyond this, there are few confirmed facts which would reach the threshold of ABC editorial standards for reporting. We accept that other media may operate to a different standard, but we do not intend to compromise our own.

"Reporting that the prime minister of the nation is under police investigation is an enormously significant call to make. It cannot be made on supposition, on rumour, or on hearsay.

"You have said that Vic Pol have confirmed this in writing, but we have not cited (sic) this media release or public communication.

"According to The Australian they've been collecting files but you would expect any police investigation to gather up this sort of primary documentation. That does not mean Ms Gillard is under investigation. For all we know, the investigation could be into Ralph Blewitt, or Bruce Wilson or Slater & Gordon or any number of other individuals and entities.

"Rather than mimicking other media reports, the ABC is following fine principles of reporting confirmed fact. When such facts become available, you can be sure the ABC will report them.

"Yours sincerely,

"Adam Doyle,

"ABC News"

No questions, no follow-up, no investigative reports. The ABC would await a media release.

News is what someone somewhere doesn't want you to print; everything else is advertising.

- Torney, on the Indonesian phone-tapping story

TONY Abbott's alleged wall-punches from university 30 years ago met the ABC's standards. The Australian public interest in knowing about unsubstantiated allegations against the Prime Minister of Spain and a slush fund met the threshold.

What was so difficult about Gillard and her involvement in the AWU scandal?

The trigger for Victoria Police opening an investigation into the AWU scandal was Blewitt's statement about a power of attorney document Gillard says she witnessed properly. The police took Blewitt seriously enough to allocate scarce and expensive resources from the major fraud squad to the investigation.

The parliament took Blewitt's statement seriously too, with large sections of it read into Hansard.

But the ABC would hear none of it.

The ABC had decided: Gillard good, Blewitt bad. All of Gillard's defensive utterances were reported by the ABC.

The ABC reported Gillard's disgraceful personal slurs against Blewitt.

Perhaps the best insight into its group-think comes from its Canberra-based news editor John Mulhall, responding to (another) listener complaint about ABC failure to report on Blewitt's statements at the time.

"The ABC is aware of these statements but we do not at this stage believe it warrants the attention of our news coverage.

"To the extent that it may touch tangentially on a former role of the Prime Minister, we know The Australian newspaper maintains an abiding interest in events 17 years ago at the law firm Slater & Gordon, but the ABC is unaware of any allegation in the public domain which goes to the Prime Minister's integrity."

He closed his note by reassuring us that "if any allegation is ever raised which might go to the Prime Minister's integrity, the ABC would of course make inquiries into it and seek to report it".

We're still waiting.


Bogus asylum-seekers sent home from PNG

ABOUT 80 asylum-seekers sent to Papua New Guinea have already returned to their home countries after being found to be "economic migrants" rather than refugees.

PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill told The Weekend Australian that this "quite sizeable number" of people had left for Sri Lanka, Iran and other countries.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said there were plans to build a "removal centre" at the asylum-seeker processing centre on Manus Island to house those whose claims had failed and were due to be flown out.

Mr O'Neill said that so far, the process had been voluntary.

"Processing in Manus is slowly taking place, but we are finding a large number of them are economic migrants, and as such many of them are now willing to leave the centre and return to their country of origin," he said.

Last Friday, there were 1144 asylum-seekers at the centre. None has so far been found to be a refugee.

But if people were assessed as genuine refugees, Mr O'Neill said, "we would have to take our share, and Australia and other Pacific island countries would have to take theirs - something on which we are working with the Australian government and officials".

The PNG Prime Minister said that members of the Manus community felt "they haven't been given an adequate opportunity to participate in some of the developments" at the centre.

This included complaints about Australia bringing in a floating hotel to house staff, rather than putting them in local accommodation.

"We are establishing a permanent facility, and have always stressed that it's important to establish good relations with the community, with people and businesses there," Mr O'Neill said.

He said that although the rate of boat arrivals might slow down now, "it is likely to continue in the future from time to time, as people are displaced in their own countries and seek refuge elsewhere".

That, he said, was why "we are establishing a centre for the region in Manus, with permanent staff".

"So it's important to build continuing relations there, with people who are among the friendliest in the Pacific.

"In their eagerness to get the facility up and running, the Australians have been trying to get it going without much consultation with the local community."

The issues that have arisen over the construction and management of the centre, he said, hinged largely on cultural differences.

Mr O'Neill said that this would be discussed at the annual Joint Ministerial Forum between PNG and Australia, due to take place in Canberra on December 11.

He said that the PNG team there would also "be seeking from the Australian government a clear understanding that there will be no tapping of phones in our country without express authorisation from our courts".

The Prime Minister said Australian high commissioner Deborah Stokes had already been summoned to his Foreign Ministry for discussions on whether Canberra had been listening in to phone conversations in PNG.


Old Adolf is still causing a stir

A SYDNEY auction house has prompted fury in the Jewish community by selling Nazi war memorabilia including an SS dagger, swastika flags and Hitler Youth armbands.

Leading members of the Jewish community condemned the trade in Nazi memorabilia as "glorifying" the worst genocide in history.

Lawsons, which is based in Leichardt in Sydney's inner west, sold the Nazi relics at an auction on Thursday with the SS dagger fetching the top price of $4,250. The Hitler Youth dagger, armband and belt buckle sold for $800.

Other items included Luftwaffe caps, Iron Cross medals and a red Nazi drape flag with a black swastika, similar to those used at Hitler's rallies, which sold for $600.

NSW Jewish Board of Deputies chief executive officer Vic Alhadeff said: "It is always a matter of concern when memorabilia which evoke the Nazi era are promoted and traded.

"One hopes that those who acquired these items will be using them for educational and historical purposes and not to glorify what the Nazis stood for and the worst genocide in history."

Norman Seligman, CEO of the Sydney Jewish Museum, said: "I don't think they should be a trade in this and as a museum we would not be doing anything to support it.

"When you actively trade in this type of material you are glorifying what happened."

It is not illegal to sell Nazi relics in Australia but it is banned in Austria, France and Germany and online auction sites including eBay have developed polices to restrict trade.

NSW President for the Council of Civil Liberties, Stephen Blanks, said auction houses needed to take a clear moral position when selling this kind of memorabilia.

"Sale of these items has got to be handled in a way that does not glorify the Nazi regime," he said.

Auction houses needed to be clear on the motives of both the buyers and sellers and the history of the items for sale. "Auction houses which don't have these kind of policies risk alienating significant portions of the population," he said.

But Lawsons Managing Director Martin Farrah refused to explain if his company had a policy and hid behind a "no comment".


Thursday, November 28, 2013


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is disgusted that Malcom Turnbull is doing nothing to rein in the Leftist excesses of the ABC

Public broadcaster demands licence to be vile

Andrew Bolt

I am not a fan of defamation proceedings, but I’m far less impressed by an ABC now so out of control that it vilifies conservative critics and spends taxpayers’ money defending its right to call them “dog f...ers”:

Lawyers for Chris Kenny, a journalist and commentator with The Australian and Sky News, have lodged a statement of claim in the NSW Supreme Court against the ABC, Chaser presenter Andrew Hansen and production company Giant Dwarf for images and words broadcast on September 11 that referred to Kenny as “a dog f . . ker"…

The statement of claim also alleges the imputation the plaintiff’s “attacks on the ABC were so dishonorable . . . that he deserved to be compared to . . . a person who has sexual intercourse with a dog”.

Kenny is claiming aggravated damages, a permanent restraint on any future publication of the same or similar material and interest, plus costs.

I have never known the ABC to be so stridently partisan and so abusive of conservative critics. It has betrayed its charter and abused the trust - and taxes - of taxpayers.


Former director of the ABC Board who appointed Mark Scott calls for his resignation

Janet Albrechtsen

The seriousness of the ABC's decision to publish criminally obtained information that involved such profoundly damaging and entirely foreseeable risks also raises questions about the ABC board.

Did Scott raise the issue with the board, to whom he is responsible? If not, why not? What about ABC chairman Jim Spigelman? Was he included in the decision? If not, why not? If yes, did he consider the ramifications for the public interest?

What is Spigelman's view about Scott's response to questions in senate estimates last week that it was in the public interest to reveal information about Australian intelligence gathering in Indonesia even though he knew that it would "cause some difficulties with the Australian-Indonesian relationship in the short term". Or did Spigelman do what former ABC chairmen lacking spine have too often done - let the MD and therefore the staff - run the show without prudent board oversight?

So far, the only public comment Spigelman has made has been a letter to The Australian about the "considerable personal distress" this newspaper caused to his executive assistant by publishing an incorrect salary figure. Compared with the breach of national security perpetrated by the ABC, his focus on a matter of staff welfare is a disappointing demonstration of where the chairman's priorities lie. A responsible board must surely have concerns about Scott's stewardship of the ABC on this matter. Scott is appointed by and subject to removal by the board.

As section 13 of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act sets out, the managing director holds office subject to terms and conditions determined by the board. The reckless publication of criminally obtained information with the predictable and escalating consequences now unfolding make his position untenable. In short, the ABC board needs to look at its responsibilities here - and its culpability in this matter.

As a member of the ABC board for five years between 2005 and 2010, I can attest to the fact that it has a disappointing history of being ineffective. I can attest to the fact that information that ought to have been provided to the board was not.

And I can attest to the fact that, unlike commercial boards that work together, the ABC board is too often a numbers game. If you don't have the board numbers then the status quo at the ABC becomes untouchable. Moreover, if the chairman's main aim is to be loved by staff, then the MD is untouchable.

Instead of providing genuine oversight and counsel to management, the board gets bogged down drafting policies, codes of conduct and other fine-sounding documents. It's a management driven make-work gig for board members to make them feel important. It justifies them jumping on planes, travelling business class, checking into nice hotels and turning up for a fine lunch at Ultimo - all at taxpayer expense. Meanwhile the focus is taken off what really matters - the output of the ABC. The output this past week by the ABC has let taxpayers down. Badly.


The ABC still hasn’t said why their damage was worth it

Paul Sheehan

There’s not much point in calling into question the judgment of the Prime Minister, and his chief pollster, without calling into question the judgment of the people who started this conflagration [with Indonesia], Katharine Viner, the editor The Guardian Australia, and Mark Scott, the managing director of the ABC.

They made their decision to publish in the ‘’public interest’’, in the full knowledge that it would poison the relationship between Indonesia and Australia, damage Australia’s intelligence gathering, humiliate Yudhoyono and his wife, reinvigorate the people-smuggling trade, goad Indonesian nationalists, give fodder to Islamist xenophobia, and compromise Australia’s trade with Indonesia…

The arguments in favour of publishing the spying leaks are obvious: that the truth will prevent government security agencies from excessive zeal, and the public has a right to know what is being done in its name. It is a strong argument, and I respect it.

But the public interest test can be rigorously contested in this case. The truth is something we all navigate every day, so as not to give offence or create enmity. Governments do the same. Yet neither Viner nor Scott has bothered to enunciate how, in the ‘’public interest’’, the positives outweigh the negatives. They have, with Abbott and the spooks, joint ownership of the toxins flowing through the relationship. And neither has come close to justifying their actions.


Daily Mail to set up an Australian tentacle

I read the DM daily and admire its courage so this could be good -- JR

IN a major shake-up of the Australian digital news market the world's biggest English-language news site Daily Mail Online has teamed with Nine Entertainment Co's digital arm Mi9 to launch a local edition early in the new year.

The deal, which was 3 1/2 months in the making, was unveiled in Sydney this morning by Mail Online publisher and editor-in-chief Martin Clarke and Mi9 boss Mark Britt, who predicted the new site would quickly become Australia's top digital news brand.

"It is our strategy to make Mail Online and Daily Mail a global news brand and this fits into our strategy," said Mr Clarke.  "Our track record speaks for itself. We've succeeded in the UK, we've succeeded in the US, and I have no reason to believe we won't succeed here.

"It's an opportunity that has come along thanks to Ninemsn and we're delighted to be able to take advantage of it. "

Daily Mail Online is the second British news group to launch a major digital play in Australia following the launch of the Guardian Australia website six months ago.

Internationally the Mail is by far the bigger player with 57 million users internationally per month, about one million of them from Australia.

With about 2.6 million visitors a month, Mi9's Ninemsn was Australia's third-largest news site in November after News Corp's (with 2.9 million) and Fairfax Media's (with 2.8 million).

"There's been this great ongoing battle for the last five years on who the national No.1 news site is in Australia ... between and the Sydney Morning Herald and the Nine news site," said Mr Britt.

"All of us sit at around 2.7m to 3m unique visitors a month in an audience population of 17m and an audience population on news sites of 10m. So none of us in that context are actually reaching yet true mass market mainstream news."

In contrast to the strategies of leading local news providers News Corp (publisher of The Australian) and Fairfax Media, which have both started charging for their online content, Daily Mail Australia will be free.

"We've made the decision globally to keep Mail Online free. We are going very nakedly for a scale play," Mr Clarke said.  "We expect this thing to be profitable pretty quickly. We see this as a very positive financial model."

Mr Britt said the migration of readers from print to digital consumption of news "has only just started" and was "probably going to accelerate".  "As more user behaviour moves online . . . we're in a growing market for the online consumption of news," he said.

"We absolutely see a complementary space for Nine News, which is currently the leading video-based news service in Australia, and the Daily Mail, with their traditional text based format."

Mr Clarke said Daily Mail Australia would offer local readers the site's familiar mix of "hard news, soft news, general interest news, human interest news and obviously showbiz, focused on Australians".

"Also, we're not partisan. We don't have a dog in anyone's fight. I think people might find us refreshingly straight," he said.

"We don't edit with an agenda. It's not a question of positioning ourselves to the left or the right of anyone."

The Daily Mail Australia site will be integrated into the Ninemsn suite of sites and its newsroom will sit alongside but separate to the existing Nine team headed by Hal Crawford.

"On the commercial side the Daily Mail site will be sold by the Mi9 sales team and will continue to use all the data and the technology that we use for the monetisation of all the rest of the Mi9 network," said Mr Britt.

Editor candidates are currently being interviewed and the new site would go on to hire about 50 journalists.

"I would envisage producing the first original Australian content very soon in the new year and we will gradually ramp it up as fast as we can recruit journalists to produce it," Mr Clarke said.

"Once we have the content we will be launching an Australian-facing home page that will be the digital destination for Australian visitors to Mail Online. And we'll keep making it richer and richer and richer as we get more journalists coming online.

"I would expect our Australian team to break good Australian exclusives."

The site's existing audience in Britain and the US was "pretty upmarket, slightly more female-leaning than male, highly educated and usually a young demographic, in their 20s and 30s", he said.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013


I am going in later today for more day-surgery so I am taking the day off from blogging

Will be back tomorrow, I hope


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Sydney conference hears Australian Muslims experience higher rates of racism

And that will continue while senior Muslim clerics preach hatred of Australian society -- JR

An international conference on what it means to be an Australian Muslim has heard that most Muslims experience much higher rates of racism than the average Australian.

The two day conference has been organised by Charles Sturt University's Centre for Islamic studies and Civilisation, along with the Islamic Sciences and Research Academy Australia.

The Centre's director, Mehmet Ozalp says the inaugural conference is needed to examine what it means to be an Australian Muslim in the 21st century.

He says there is a focus on young people, including the impact of the internet and radical forces.

"There is an identity crisis that always comes with being young but also being a young Muslim makes it even deeper and more profound", he said.

"There are people pulling in different directions but what we found in our research is that by and large Muslims want to integrate into Australia."

One of the speakers, Professor Kevin Dunn from the University of Western Sydney says while most Australian Muslims have the same issues as everyone else in Sydney about housing, jobs and education, there is one difference.

"In one important respect Muslims are extraordinary or the Muslim experience is extraordinary in Sydney and that is their rates of experience of racism," he said.

"So for instance we know from the "challenging racism" national surveys that about 17 per cent of people will have experienced racism in the workplace, but for Muslims our surveys are showing that's as high as 60 per cent."

He says it is important Australia's political, social and religious leaders acknowledge the damage such racism can do to social cohesion.

"It's why it's very important for our leaders, for our public documents and proclamations that this is a multicultural and multifaith nation."

Sarah El-Assaad, 24, who is a student of Islamic Studies and NSW lawyer, says she never questioned her identity as an Australian until comments were made to her, especially when she decided to wear the Muslim headscarf or hijab.

She said some of the comments involved a client, as well as colleagues.

"I've had a few confrontational moments in my life where it has sort of shocked me to feel that I wasn't a part of what I thought I was a part of," she said.

Mr Ozalp says while there a small minority of Australian Muslims become radicalised because of overseas events and other issues, generally such events actually bring the broader Muslim community together and help them find their place in Australia.

"It pushes other Muslims to define who they are as Australian Muslims - it has ironically a galvanising effect," he said.

Roy Morgan poll

Meanwhile, the anti-islamist group the Q Society has published the results of its commissioned survey done by Roy Morgan research.

The Q Society was responsible for bringing right wing anti-islamist Dutch MP Geert Wilders to Australia earlier this year.

The poll found 70 per cent of those questioned believe Australia is not a better place because of Islam.

The survey, completed in late October, found 50 per cent of those questioned also wanted full face coverings banned from public spaces.

A spokesman for the Q Society says around 600 people were questioned nationally in the poll.

The poll included questions asking participants' opinion about statements such as: "Australia is becoming a better place as a result of islam" to which 70 per cent responded "no".

Other questions included: "As you may be aware, some countries' governments have implemented bans on wearing clothing in public that fully covers the face, like the islamic burqa. In your opinion, should Australia introduce similar laws?"

53 per cent responded "yes".


Cops to use licence to disqualify anyone guilty of anything

 TENS of thousands more Victorians each year stand to lose their drivers' licences under a new law police are vowing to exercise in court.

Sweeping legal changes which came into effect on September 30 allow courts to suspend or cancel the licence of any person convicted or found guilty of any offence - regardless of whether that offence has anything to do with driving.

Victoria Police has exclusively revealed to the Herald Sun that it will seek to use the new powers in up to 50,000 court cases each year.

It has already briefed its prosecutors on the law.

"If you're convicted or found guilty of any offence, a court may suspend or cancel and disqualify your licence," said Acting Senior Sergeant Richard Bowers, of the Victoria Police Prosecution Division.

"The legislation does not govern or put a limiting factor on which cases it applies to. It's any offence, and it's completely open to the magistrate as to whether or not they impose it.

"Unless a superior court gets hold of one of these cases and says 'Well, this is an inappropriate exercise of discretion,' it will remain open for use for a magistrate to use in any way they see fit."

But the move has angered civil libertarians.

"We are very disturbed at the lack of consultation, given this is such a sweeping and draconian measure," Jane Dixon, SC, the president of Liberty Victoria, said last night.

"To deprive someone of their driving licence can often also deprive them of their livelihood.

"We believe, for well-being, there should be a strong foundation between driving and the offending."

Victoria Police said it would advice its prosecutors to use the legislation in any case where the offending can be linked to using a vehicle, which it estimates at around 50,000 cases a year.

"We will raise the legislation in circumstances where driving had been part and parcel of the offending," Sen-Sgt Bowers said.

"It may be an offence where the accused used a car to commit the offences; for example, residential burglaries, using the car to get around."

In another change to the law, anyone disqualified from driving may be forced to fit an alcohol interlock device in their vehicle when the licence is reinstated, if the original crime can be linked in any way to alcohol or drugs.

First-time offenders, and those guilty of even the most minor offences, will not be exempt from the new law.

There are no set suspension or disqualification limits, giving magistrates free rein to cancel a licence for as long as they see fit.

Sen-Sgt Bowers also highlighted drug trafficking and family violence cases as likely ones for the exercise of the law.

"You have to look at each case on its merits and determine where is the best use of this legislation. We have left prosecutors with a fair bit of discretion," he said.

"It's a deterrent and a preventive measure. From our perspective, anything that has the potential to prevent further offending is a good thing," he said.


Education Minister Christopher Pyne refuses to meet Gonski panel on school funding

Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne has said he is too busy to meet the expert panel that devised the so-called Gonski school funding model to discuss how it works before he discards it.

In a move that has angered the nation’s two most populous states and concerned a member of the panel, Kathryn Greiner, Mr Pyne has declared the Gonski needs-based model a "shambles" and has promised to go "back to the drawing board" to create a new system.

Mr Pyne told ABC Radio on Tuesday the government would "stick with what we’ve got" for the 2014 school year but wanted to move to a "flatter, simpler, fairer structure" after that.

He said the Coalition was committed to the same quantum of funding as Labor over the next four years.

But despite saying before the election that the Coalition and Labor were on a "unity ticket" on school funding, Mr Pyne said the Abbott government was not committed to the escalation of funding Labor had promised over six years.

"Our election policy was that we would support a four-year agreement ... we won’t be honouring a six-year agreement," he said.  "There’s no year five or year six in the Coalition’s funding agreement."

Mr Pyne said there was no reason for schools to fear they would receive less funding over the next four years and he defended the Howard government’s socioeconomic status funding model – which remains in place – which he said was also needs-based.

Asked whether he was prepared to meet the Gonski panel, Mr Pyne said he was too busy.  "No, I’ve studied the Gonski model closely and I have to get on with the job of being the education minister," he said.

"I think we’ve had a lot of talk, a lot of conferences, a lot of reports, a lot of analysis of those reports, we’ve had an election campaign, we’ve had election policies from both sides. It’s time for the government to be allowed to get on with the job and that’s exactly what I intend to do."

Gonski panel member Ms Greiner said she was disappointed that Mr Pyne would not meet the panel, and was concerned that the Coalition would not commit to six years of funding.

She contradicted Mr Pyne’s characterisation of the socioeconomic status model, which she described as "very broken".  "It was opaque, it was not transparent, it was confusing. It was, in fact, a beggar’s muddle," she told ABC radio.

She said the "flatter, simpler, fairer" structure Mr Pyne said he wanted could not meet the individual needs of students.  "It’s much more complicated than that," she said.

NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli rejected Mr Pyne’s criticism of the Gonski model, which he said was "fair and transparent". "It is a much fairer way of funding schools," he told ABC Radio on Tuesday.

"People have agreed to it and we don’t want to go through another three-year process of unravelling it all."

Mr Piccoli acknowledged the federal budget was under pressure but said NSW had committed to additional funding over six years in return for the Commonwealth’s promise of greater resources over the same period.

"We’re all under the same financial pressures," he said.

The Victorian government has also urged the Commonwealth to honour the schools funding deal it reached while federal Labor was in power.

A Victorian government spokeswoman insisted on Monday that a $12.2 billion deal had been reached guaranteeing "record levels of funding and an unprecedented six years of funding certainty" for schools in Victoria.

"Victoria made it clear that, along with Victorian schools and school communities, we expect the Commonwealth to honour this funding, which was agreed to on 4 August 2013," the spokeswoman said.

Meanwhile, Melbourne Catholic Education Office executive director Stephen Elder said he was still involved in "arduous" negotiations about funding for Catholic schools with the Victorian government.

"In addition, the Victorian government has foreshadowed another funding review on the back of two years of Gonski negotiations," he said.

Victorian Education Minister Martin Dixon said 2014 would be a year of "limited change".  "The Victorian government, over many years, has worked with the non-government schools sectors to update local school funding arrangements and this long-standing process will continue," he said.


Anti-Vaccination body loses appeal against name change order


The Australian Vaccination Network has again been ordered to change its name, after losing an appeal against a ruling that its current name is misleading.

The New South Wales Administrative Decisions Tribunal has upheld a ruling by the state's Fair Trading department that the anti-vaccination group's current name could mislead the public.

The AVN can elect to make a further appeal against the ruling, but Fair Trading Minister Anthony Roberts has warned the organisation risks a hefty legal bill because the department will seek legal costs.

"The AVN must change its name now," Mr Roberts said.  "We're awaiting advice from the AVN as to what they consider an appropriate name would be.

"We reserve the right to reject any names we consider inappropriate, but again my clear message to the Australian Vaccination Network is be open and up-front about what you stand for."

The Australian Medical Association was among those that complained to Fair Trading about the AVN's name.  AMA NSW president Brian Owler says the AVN has a right to exist but not to mislead.

"The State Government should be commended on its efforts to improve the health of children through its support of vaccination and its stand against the anti-vaccination lobby," associate professor Owler said.

"The importance of vaccination cannot be understated in helping to keep children free from harm.  "Ultimately, your family GP is your best source of advice about vaccination."

The AVN has also issued a statement about the decision.

"We believe that the Administrative Decision Tribunal, in finding against the AVN, exemplified the current climate of government-sanctioned abuse and hatred of anyone who steps away from mainstream medical dogma," the statement said.

The statement gives no indication whether the AVN will launch a further appeal against the decision.

The AVN currently has a disclaimer on its website informing visitors of the name change order.


Monday, November 25, 2013


From the Hillston Spectator and Lachlan River Advertiser, Friday 16 October 1908

A former resident of Nowra writes: — I am still in the 'black north,' as some call it, I can hardly find words to express the pleasure I had in travelling in these regions.

My journey ended at the Barron Falls, where I made a turn for home. Such a pleasant  Sunday, amongst old cannibals in the coffee plantation, climbing the cliffs at the Falls, pulling bananas and paw paws, and oranges — all this was a new life to me.

You know nothing of paw paws. Well they are a fruit as large as a rock melon and somewhat similar in flavor. You can eat them all day. The grenadillo [granadilla] (a fruit much nicer than passionfruit, but much after the same style, and as large as a small rock melon), is simply delicious. Then there are the mangoes and custard apples, pineapples and other fruit unknown to southern soils.

They get the heat here it is true, but they have many compensating advantages in tropical fruit. There is also the cotton (I am bringing some back in its native state) and cocoa, and indiarubber. All these are exceptionally interesting.

The creeks around here swarm with alligators but I am sorry I cannot afford time to go out. They are in the pools below the Barron Falls, and many a Chow has been swallowed holus bolus.

It is this way. The Chow goes down to the creek to wash his clothes. He goes down often. The 'gator, no doubt, saw him when he went down first. But he doesn't act then. He allows the Chow to come down often, and when the yellow-skin feels that everything is safe there at the particular spot the 'gator steals silently from the water, and there is one chow less in Redlynch — that is the name of the creek. 

There is a great hullabaloo in Redlynch that night among the Chinamen. Next day, or the day after, or a week after, that alligator comes looking for more Chow, but instead of that he gets a dog! (poisoned with strychnine). Then the hilarious Chows shout with joy as the 'gator jumps frantically out of the water in the middle of the stream, in his endeavor to form the letter G. All is soon over. The 'gator is cut open, and a few brass buttons are found, but no bones to send home to China.

The alligator is now and again seen in the ocean, but very seldom, as the shark beats him every time. If a 'gator wants co go from one creek to another he crawls along the beach inside the surf so that the shark can't get at him. The 'gator as a rule, but not always, immediately feeds off his catch, and then buries it for a week or more. He will bury a dog for that time, and then go up and devour him.

He will drag a horse or a bullock into the water and hold him under till he is drowned. A favorite, method is to rush anything into the water with its tail, then all is Over. He doesn't always grab with his claws.

Hundreds of cattle and horses here show marks of struggles with alligators. If an alligator grabs a horse which is out of the water, the horse runs away with him, the 'gator holding till the horse's flesh gives way. You next find the horse with a great piece taken out of him, but he usually recovers.

Alligator shooting with a dog tied on the water's edge as a bait, is common sport, The 'gator likes a dog better than anything else, except a Chow. It is cruel sport, but as it is somebody else's dog, Queenslanders don't mind.

There is a black' mission station at Cairns, where the blacks print a newspaper, maintain a band, have water and gas works, and grow everything known to a tropical country. They marry and bring up children, and generally spend a useful life.

The Chinaman is everywhere. Whole streets, like Junction street, with every shop Chinese, are common. In Geraldton [Innisfail] they own the sugar and banana plantation. Their joss-houses face the street. Chinese women and their families are in the streets just like white people.

All the pictures you see of Chinese in China are reproduced here. The big-rimmed hat and the umbrella — they are common. In going to Cairns, we had a special carriage on for them. Even the railway stations and villages bear Chinese names.

I only heard of one Chinese publican who refused to employ a Chinese cook 'What do you chink?' he used to say, 'that chow wants me to give him a job as cook. No fear, me keepee white cook!

Nearly everybody in Geraldton carries a blue umbrella.- When I inquired the reason, they told me the white ants eat up all the black ones. Geraldton is the wettest place in Australia; if not the world. Tney measure the rain by yards,' said a prominent townsman ; 240 inches a year — that is a record— 20 feet. What do you think of it?' 150 inches have already fallen this year. lt was raining all. the time I was there...

Well, I am leaving the north with very great regret. Although I travelled right through inland Queensland— 400 and 500 miles from the coast, there is still much I would like to see. It is all so very, very interesting. I have never enjoyed a trip better.

And it was a revelation. There are cities up here and thousands of people, white, black, yellow, and copper. Every town of any size has its two daily papers. All is reported here in the telegrams in the daily papers of the northern towns.

Every place is a centre, depending on itself. They don't send to Brisbane if they want anything — at least not necessarily. Rockhampton, Townsville, Cairns, Maryborough, Buudaberg-they are all centres.

They think more of Sydney than any other place outside their own towns. . .. The fact that I am from Sydney helps me in business, because they know Sydney can beat Brisbane. Of course, Brisbane is necessarily their political centre hut but necessarily their trading centre.

I have met no one up here from Illawarra, but my word, if a man liked to brave the heat, this is the place. Cairns, has Atherton behind it, 3000ft  up on the hills, a place like the scrub country of the Richmond River.

It is still in the primitive state, and likely to undergo a boom like the Richmond River. The climate is beautiful and land cheap. Atherton has railway communication and is about 60 miles from the sea. You mark my words; there will be a big rush as the land is thrown open There is plenty of timber on it and an inexhaustible supply — an Illawarra really in a tropical country.

I forgot to tell you the Barrier Reef is 30 miles from here and runs along the coast for over 1000 miles, consequently there are  no breakers of any size along the shores. The water is nearly always smooth.

Picnic parties go out and camp on it for a week or a fortnight. Plenty of fishing, and thousands of turtles. The Japanese fish all along it for beche-de-mer — something that resembles a sausage in appearance, and is dried and eaten — by Chinamen principally 


I have posted the old newspaper article above to show what the world was like before political correctness.  You will see that minorities were identified by mildly derogatory nicknames but the attitude towards them was amused rather than hostile.  What would now be identified as "hate speech" was in fact innocuous.  The Anglos and the Chinese just lived their own lives and did so in peace.  The area described is the Cairns/Innisfail area of Far North Queensland, where I was born. 

As I was born only 35 years after the above was written, I can recognize the accuracy of most of what is written there.  I even remember the Chinese joss-house that he describes in "Geraldton" (now known as Innisfail).  When I was a little boy, I occasionally went in there and banged the drum.  One day an old Chinese man who was a custodisan of the temple caught me doing it.  Did he abuse me, chase me or attack me?  No.  He gave me a mango.  Pretty relaxed race relations I think -- JR

A small revival

Over 90% of what appears on my blogs are words written by others that I find some merit in.  But I also write a great deal myself.  And I have been writing for a long time.  So sometimes when I want to refer back to something in my previous writings, I can't find it.  I have written too much to keep mental track of when and where I wrote it. 

So in such circumstances I use good old Google to find my own writings.  I add the term "John Ray" to a subject search and I can usually find what I want.

An odd thing I notice however is that my discontinued blog "A Western Heart" seems to be in some way preferred by Google.  Quite often I have put up a post in more than one place and when that is so the post on Western Heart is the one that comes up first  -- with the other sites not mentioned at all or being given way down in the list.

I don't know why that is but I think I should take advantage of it.  So posts that I would not like to get "lost" I am going to put up on Western Heart  occasionally -- JR.

Environment Protection Agency sidelined after warning of high risks at AGL coal seam gas project

The NSW government has sidelined the Environment Protection Authority in pushing ahead with a coal seam gas project despite advice it is high risk, threatening valuable agricultural land.

In a submission that has been confidential until now, the EPA warned the Department of Trade against approving the disposal of waste water at AGL's Gloucester project as it would lead to dangerously high salt levels and the potential destruction of farmland.

Fairfax Media has learnt the EPA has been excluded from the approvals process for irrigation trials at Gloucester, after effectively being sidelined by the newly created Office of Coal Seam Gas.

The EPA was asked by the Department of Trade to undertake a review of AGL's Gloucester coal seam gas project in February last year. It made its submission in April but the report has been confidential since then, even though the irrigation trials have begun.

In its report, the EPA says the project is high risk and is likely to produce dangerously high salt levels under the present AGL proposal to "irrigate", or spray. the water from its mining onto surrounding farmland.  It also warns of the damaging effects on local wildlife.

The submission says the government needs to ask for more information from AGL and that it is not possible to evaluate the effects on soil and water unless "adequate" information is provided by AGL.

Should the project continue as planned, 2500 tonnes of salt a year will be sprayed over the surrounding farmland, an outcome that independent geo-technical engineer Professor Philip Pells said could be disastrous for the environment.

Professor Pells is not anti-CSG. He approves of the AGL operations at Camden but said the geology at Gloucester was more sensitive as the basin structure beneath the project means the underground aquifers are "intimately connected" with the surface water.

Further, he said, AGL had no proper procedures for disposal of the saline waste water.

For its part, AGL has said the disposal of waste water from its CSG mining will have a "neutral or beneficial effect on water quality".

It has also disputed the EPA's findings that the soil was "strongly sodic", saying that referred to the natural soil quality at the location, which was no longer relevant as the company had treated the soils.

"AGL has added many hundreds of tonnes of compost, lime (calcium carbonate), gypsum (calcium sulphate) and zeolite minerals (which enhances the water retention quality of soils) and therefore the soil characteristics of the upper soils are now very different to the natural soil quality. These amended soils are now much more suitable for irrigation activities."

An EPA spokeswoman said the authority was assessing the application from AGL for an environment protection licence for the total Gloucester coal seam gas project, but not the trial.

"The EPA will take water and soil impacts and other relevant environmental considerations into account as part of its assessment."

EPA chief environmental regulator Mark Gifford said the irrigation trial was approved and was being overseen by the NSW Office of Coal Seam Gas.

"The EPA is being ignored," Professor Pells said. "No one appears to be in control.  "The trials were approved by the Department of Mineral Resources but now the process seems to have been taken over by the Office of Coal Seam Gas."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Industry said the water approved for irrigation was "two to five times less salty than water in the surrounding surface aquifers that also flow into the Avon River".

"It is the responsibility of AGL to conduct the trial within the approved guidelines," she said. "The risks are minimal and the monitoring and reporting is showing that the project is proceeding within the parameters of the approval."


Call to strip ABC of Australia Network

THE government has been urged to review the ABC's contract to provide the Australia Network international television service in the wake of the outrage sparked by its revelations of Australian phone tapping in Indonesia.

The Gillard government scrapped a competitive tender for the $223 million, 10-year contract for the right to provide the service, Australia's most important vehicle for soft diplomacy, in controversial circumstances and handed it to the ABC in a move later lashed by the Auditor-General.

The original request for tender documents issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade described the service as "enhancing the government's ability to pursue its broader foreign and trade policy objectives".

They went on to say "DFAT is responsible for advancing the interests of Australia and Australians internationally. This responsibility guides all DFAT's work".

As Australians were warned about travelling to Indonesia and a large group of protesters burnt replicas of the Australian flag in Jakarta, Liberal senator Cory Bernardi yesterday called on the government to review the Australia Network contract.

"Given the ABC's preparedness to publish stolen top-secret documents that impact upon our national security, one needs to question whether they are a suitable organisation to be operating an important diplomatic outreach," he told The Australian.

"The ABC were awarded the contract in what many refer to as dodgy circumstances and, based on their recent actions, there is a good case for the contract to be reviewed. The ABC now seem to be operating as a law unto themselves."

An ABC spokesman denied the phone-tapping story and its fallout undermined its responsibilities under the Australia Network contract.

"At the heart of the partnership with DFAT is the respect in the region for the ABC as a trusted independent news organisation," the spokesman said.

Former foreign affairs minister Alexander Downer threw his weight behind calls for a review of the contract.

And long-time ABC-watcher Gerard Henderson of the Sydney Institute questioned the original decision to hand responsibility for the Australia Network to the public broadcaster when all the evidence from the tender process indicated Sky News Australia, in which News Corp Australia (publisher of The Australian) has an indirect stake, had twice emerged as preferred bidder.

Dr Henderson said there were issues with the ABC's decision to air the report claiming Australian intelligence agencies tapped the phones of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his wife and senior colleagues.

"There are problems, particularly in the region, when to many people a government funded public broadcaster has a degree of government embedded in it even if, as we know in Australia, the government has no control over it whatsoever, people think it does," he said. "The view within the ABC management appears to be despite the fact that it's getting this special money to project Australia into the region is that it should behave like any other media institution that chooses to act in this way, that it should run stolen documents in the public sphere without any concern whatsoever of the consequences."

Dr Henderson said "anyone" in the media should have considered the "propriety" of publishing the leaked material.

"There's no great national interest in knowing that four years ago, allegedly, DSD interdicted the phones of the President and his wife," he said. "It doesn't tell us anything about the operation of our government.

"I can't think of a national interest, I can't think of a public interest, I can't think of anything at all of importance."

He added it was unclear who made the decision to proceed with the story, but said it should have gone to ABC managing director Mark Scott.

Former communications minister Stephen Conroy, who presided over the decision to hand the Australia Network contract to the ABC, did not respond to a request for comment.


Tony Abbott quietly shifts UN position to support Israeli settlements, upsetting Palestinians

The Abbott government has swung its support further behind Israel at the expense of Palestine, giving tacit approval to controversial activities including the expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories.

Acting on instructions from Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop, government representatives at the United Nations have withdrawn Australia's support for an order to stop "all Israeli settlement activities in all of the occupied territories".

While 158 countries supported the UN in calling for an end to Israeli settlements, Australia joined eight other countries, including South Sudan and Papua New Guinea, in abstaining from voting. Labor governments under Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard condemned the settlements.

Many within the international community regard the expansion of Israeli settlements as an act of hostility towards Palestinians, hampering the likelihood of peace.

The UN resolution calls for "prevention of all acts of violence, destruction, harassment and provocation by Israeli settlers, especially against Palestinian civilians and their properties".

The Abbott government has also indicated it no longer believes Israel, as an "occupying power", should be forced to comply with the 1949 Geneva Conventions.

At the UN meeting, 160 countries supported ordering Israel to "comply scrupulously" with the conventions. Australia was one of five countries to abstain. Six countries voted against the resolution, including Israel, the US and Canada.

A section of the Geneva Conventions, which Australia no longer supports in regard to Israel and Palestine, states "the occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies".

The UN votes have largely gone unnoticed during the past fortnight as the Australian media has fixated on the Indonesian spying crisis.
Bob Carr.

"A shame, in the deepest sense": Bob Carr comments on Australia's decision to vote against the resolution. Photo: Marco Del Grande

In keeping with the Abbott government's tight hold on information, there have been no news conferences about these changes in Middle East policy.

Nor did the Abbott government consult the Palestinian community before making the changes, according to the head of the General Delegation of Palestine to Australia, Izzat Abdulhadi.

"It is very regrettable," Dr Abdulhadi said. "There was no transparency in their approach."

Former foreign affairs minister Bob Carr described Australia's withdrawal of support for Palestine as "a shame, in the deepest sense".

The executive director of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, Colin Rubenstein, said he "emphatically [welcomed] the government's principled leadership in changing these votes, reverting to the Howard/Downer position".

Ms Bishop's spokeswoman said the minister was on a plane and could not respond to questions.

Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek said she was surprised to hear about the changes to Middle East policy through the media with no formal confirmation from the government.

"It's quite extraordinary that [the government] would make such a large change without reporting back to Australians," Ms Plibersek said on the ABC's Insiders program on Sunday.


Sunday, November 24, 2013


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is profoundly unimpressed by the Governor General's intervention into party politics

Review of Federal Australian hate speech law

Critical comments below by Mark Dreyfus.  Mr Dreyfus is the federal opposition spokesman on legal affairs. He is Jewish. 

His article below is a typical bit of Leftist cherrypicking.  He quotes a couple of instances where the hate speech laws were arguably used to proper effect and completely ignores the Bolt case  -- the case which has motivated the intended change in the law.  And it was a Jewish judge who made the immoderate judgment that led to Andrew Bolt's conviction. 

Judge Bromberg had plenty of room within the act to find Bolt not guilty but he chose to go for the jugular -- possibly because of his Jewishness.  Jews have good historical reasons for a horror of defamation.  Bromberg should really have recused himself from the case.

So Dreyfus would have been much more persuasive if he had deplored the misapplication of the law by Mordechai Bromberg but he totally ignores that.  Is he endeavouring to add substance to the old accusations of Jewish "clannishness"?  He is a disgrace.  Even some Leftists found Bromberg's verdict "profoundly disturbing"

If Dreyfus had been arguing responsibly, he might have said that the provision of an appeals court to review judgments such as Bromberg's would be more appropriate than watering down the act.  In the case of another Leftist-inspired  kangaroo court  -- the Fair Work tribunal --  the present government is doing exactly that.

But what Dreyfus will not admit is that there is just one man responsible for the review of the law being presently undertaken:  Mordechai Bromberg.  Bromberg's zeal to persecute any suspicion of defamation will soon be seen to have facilitated defamation

FOR almost 20 years, since the Racial Discrimination Act was enacted by the Keating government in 1994, section 18C has embodied Australia's condemnation of racial vilification, and protected our society from the poisonous effects of hate speech.

Labor strongly believes in the continued need for laws that prohibit racial hatred in Australia.

The new Attorney-General and his Prime Minister have made clear their intention to repeal section 18C in its current form, which makes it illegal to vilify people because of their race, colour or national or ethnic origin.

The Attorney-General claims that the prohibitions in section 18C are a threat to "intellectual freedom" and "freedom of speech" in Australia.

One can only assume that he has an extremely poor grasp of history, of the appropriate limits imposed on free speech in all Western democracies, and of the dangers of giving a green light to hate speech under the preposterous claim that racially vilifying individuals in public is necessary to support intellectual freedom in our nation.

Section 18C has functioned well for 18 years in our community, without being criticised as some kind of affront to freedom of speech.

Rather, the provision has been used to respond to egregious examples of hate speech, such as the publication of false statements by infamous Holocaust denier Fredrick Toben, who wrote, among other offensive lies, that there was serious doubt the Holocaust occurred and that Jewish people who were offended by the denial of the state-sponsored murder of their families and communities were of limited intelligence.

Using section 18C, the Federal Court ordered these deeply offensive public statements be removed from the relevant website.

The Coalition's policy would allow Toben to publish material of this kind, and would take away the power of our courts to stop such racist hate speech being disseminated.

In another infamous case, an indigenous woman used section 18C to defend herself against a neighbour who had waged a campaign of intimidation against her family by attacking them with offensive racist insults such as "nigger" and "black bastard".

It is disingenuous to attack section 18C as a threat to freedom of speech by presenting it in isolation from the linked provision, section 18D.

Following extensive public consultations at the time the provisions were crafted, the drafters were well aware of the need to appropriately protect freedom of speech.

That is why section 18D provides extensive protection for free speech and political communication in our society.

Section 18C is also entirely consistent with the objectives of the London Declaration on Combatting Anti-Semitism, which was signed on behalf of Australia by former prime minister Julia Gillard in April, and was subsequently signed by Coalition MPs including Tony Abbott and George Brandis.

In May this year, I wrote to Mr Abbott calling on the Coalition to respect the pledges in the London Declaration, and to reverse the Liberals' plan to repeal section 18C.

I pointed out that section 18C is precisely the kind of legislated protection against anti-Semitism and racial discrimination that the London Declaration calls on its signatories to enact, and that repealing it would unequivocally contradict the spirit and the terms of that important declaration.

In an interview two weeks ago, the Attorney-General made clear that he intends to persist with the repeal of section 18C regardless of deep community concerns.

However, in senate estimates this week, he at least withdrew from arguments earlier suggesting that the protections provided by section 18C were somehow covered by the Criminal Code Act.

Sections 80.2A and B of the Criminal Code Act create serious criminal offences for individuals that urge the use of force or violence against a group or a member of a group distinguished by race, religion, nationality, national or ethnic origin or political opinion.

These provisions prohibit criminal incitement to violence and do not operate to prohibit the civil wrong of racist hate speech as section 18C does.

In response to questions at senate estimates, Senator Brandis revealed that his "engaging in community consultations" would be limited to "private conversations" with "community leaders" to be selected by him.

He then refused to elaborate on which community leaders he was speaking to or the nature of those discussions.

There is an unpleasant irony in the spectacle of an Attorney-General who claims to champion free speech refusing to answer questions regarding secret consultations he is conducting in a bid to remove legislative protections of great importance to communities across our nation.

It is essential that the communities affected by any potential change in this area of the law have the opportunity to put their views to Senator Brandis, not just the private group of unidentified individuals that he deigns to have a conversation with.

Public discussions regarding proposed legislative changes on matters of concern to the community such as this are essential for any government that claims to value freedom of speech.

This is a further example of how, in the short time since the election, this government is prepared to shamelessly hide their actions from the scrutiny of both the people who elected them and from the media.

Mr Abbott and Senator Brandis have refused to back down on their proposed watering down of hate speech laws in our nation, reflecting their ignorance of history and the dangers of permitting racially motivated hate speech.

In contrast, Labor is committed to supporting the rights of all Australians to dignity and protection from racially motivated hate speech ahead of enabling bigots and extremists to say in public whatever they want.


Where's this photo been hiding?

You probably won't remember a Melbourne Late Show and Victorian Premier - Joan Kirner's rendition of Joan Jett's - "I Love Rock and Roll". But look closely at the leather mini-skirt clad  go-go dancer  girl ogling her, star struck!

     What's more scary? Joan Kirner in a leather jacket or Julia Gillard in a leather mini-skirt?

Leftist church gets one thing right

It's only a pretend church.  If it were a real Christian church, it would heed the Bible -- Romans chapter 1 on homosexuality, for instance

GOSFORD might be an unlikely location for Australia's most politically-minded and forward-thinking Church, but the NSW Central Coast community's Anglican congregation is the talk of the town.  Oh, and the internet.

After its often comedic messages began making the rounds on social media, the Church has scored fans and followers from all walks of life, and lifestyles.

The Church has taken a stand on various hot topics of modern society, including marriage equality, asylum seekers and women's rights.

"From a theological perspective, Jesus was on about one thing and one thing only, and that's what he called the Kingdom of God," said Father Rod Bower, the man responsible for all things sign-related.

"This Kingdom of God manifests itself in compassion and justice and true humility and there are lots of things going on in our society at the moment that aren't about those things, like the way we treat gay people by not allowing them to be married, the way we treat our planet and the way we treat asylum seekers.

"These are the things Christians should be seeking - justice and compassion. We contribute to that."


The Industry Department's new secretary gives warning to climate change employees: Labelled 'unusual'

Whether it's unusual or not, it's certainly realistic.  The bureaucracy seems mostly to be comprised of people with heavily Green/Left views

Hundreds of public servants from the Industry and Climate Change departments have been told to quit their jobs if they do not want to implement the Abbott government's policies.

The warning was issued just days after the former Climate Change chief and Industry boss were sacked by the Coalition government on its first day in office and the opposition says the "extraordinary'' comments were part of a concerted effort to "intimidate" the public service.

The Industry Department's new secretary, Glenys Beauchamp, gathered about 1500 of her workers in Canberra on September 20 for a briefing and told them to reconsider their positions if they were not prepared to serve the government of the day.

The tough talk to the workers, many of whom had been moved from the abolished Climate Change Department, was leaked to former industry minister Kim Carr, leading to a grilling of Ms Beauchamp at an estimates committee hearing on Thursday in Canberra.

Under the questioning, Ms Beauchamp told the senator she had responded to a question from a worker about how they would administer climate change policy, with a reminder of their duties as public servants.

"I said a range of things, what a secretary of a new portfolio would be expected to say, there were questions from the floor," Ms Beauchamp told Senator Carr.

"There was a question around what I thought of some of the arrangements around the formation of the new portfolio and I responded in the way a professional public servant does, as in 'we are here to serve the government of the day and public servants, like any other employees have choices whether they would like to abide by code of conduct and APS values and continue the journey'."

Senator Carr said he was surprised the secretary had felt the need to make those remarks to a group of professional public servants.

"Whatever the secretary's intention, these were unusual comments to be making," Senator Carr said.


Cut waste by cutting departments

The federal government has expanded significantly over the past half century, taking on more roles and responsibilities, and adding new departments and agencies. While some of these may be needed, many are not. Some simply duplicate functions already designated for the states.

The Agriculture portfolio is a prime example. An approximate $2 billion is spent by the taxpayer on the department annually, with over 5,000 public servants employed.

Each state and the Northern Territory has their own agricultural portfolio tasked with industry regulation and assistance. So there is no need for the federal government to get involved. But that is exactly what they do.

Duplication across state and federal governments adds more regulation on to industry, creates inefficiency, and raises costs for taxpayers. It also removes workers who would otherwise be more productively employed in the private sector, and consigns them to needless tasks for the government.

The federal Department of Agriculture has six agencies doling out subsidies for 'research and development.' There's one each for cotton, fisheries, grains, grape and wine, rural industries, and sugar.

Government funding for research and development is often a front for corporate welfare. It's easy to extract funds from the government if you can claim that you are contributing to innovation and keeping the industry ahead of your global competitors.

But much of the R&D funding is directed to projects in which companies would invest anyway if government wasn't involved. If companies can reasonably expect to make a profit from investing in new technology, there is a clear incentive for them to do so.

But even if you assume the R&D projects are not profitable or too risky, and that government should be funding them, there's no need for both the state and federal governments to be involved.

There is no justification for an Australian wine marketing body which is tasked with the development and promotion of Australia's winemakers to be subsidised by the taxpayer.

The Department of Agriculture contains two important regulatory agencies that need to be preserved - the Australian Fisheries Management Authority and the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority - but these two agencies could easily be transferred to the Department of Industry.

The Agriculture portfolio could then be abolished, along with the taxes and fees they collect from the industry, at a saving of approximately $1.3 billion every year.


Friday, November 22, 2013

Plan to raise retirement age to 70

While one understands the beancounting in this, it seems rather harsh.  Something like a half of males die before they are 70 so would have had zero years of retirement before they died.  Since many people in routine employment rely on the prospect of a pleasant retirement to keep going, that could be pretty destructive.  It takes away the reward for keeping on

AUSTRALIANS would be forced to work until they turn 70, under a radical late-retirement plan from the government's top policy agency.  Pensioners would also have to hand the taxman a slice of the family home to help pay for aged care.

The Productivity Commission will today propose lifting the pension age from 65 to 70, to save taxpayers $150 billion in welfare and health spending as the baby boom generation hits retirement.

The PC calculates that taxes would need to rise 21 per cent to pay for the extra health and aged care costs of a population that will have more 100-year-olds than babies by the turn of the century.

Children born today will live well into their 90s, it says, and the number of Australians older than 75 will increase by 4 million - roughly the population of Sydney or Melbourne - over the next 50 years.

However the most provocative suggestion contained in the report is to raise the retirement age to 70 - saving taxpayers $78,000 in pension payments to every retiree.  The pension age is already on track to increase to 67 years by 2023, while the "preservation age" for accessing superannuation will jump from 55 to 60 years by 2024.

Taxpayers spent $36 billion last financial year on pensions for the nation's 2.4 million retirees, who receive $376 a week for singles or $567 a week for couples.  Two out of three Australians aged 65 or older rely on the aged pension.

The report says the GFC wiped out a third of Australians' superannuation savings - pushing more people onto the old age pension.

It also reveals that generation Y stands to inherit a massive $400 billion worth of housing over the next 15 years - even though one in three baby boomers will leave nothing to the kids.  A third of baby boomers expect to spend all their money and assets before they die.

The report also proposes tapping into pensioners' greatest asset - the family home - by making them hand the government half the yearly increase in their home's value.

A pensioner with a home worth $500,000, for example, could expect to see its value rise by $10,000 a year.

Once a pensioner needed assistance at home - or if their partner had to enter an aged care home - then half that capital gain, or $5000 a year, would be earmarked for the government.

The money would be paid to the government once the house was sold.

"Having individuals contribute even half the annual real increase in their home values towards aged care services could reduce government expenditures by around 30 per cent," the report says.

"An equity release scheme of this kind would still leave older households with an appreciating asset base and provide a means to increase the quality of services provided over the long term."

The report says Australia will have to spend an extra 6 per cent of national income to support an ageing population over the next 50 years.

It warns that governments will need to raise taxes or cut other spending to pay the bills.


W.A. cop threatens cyclist with rape  -- but that's OK says Police commissioner

WESTERN Australia's top cop has backed the Perth policeman who has become an internet viral hit after being filmed swearing at a cyclist during a confrontation over a ticket.

Video footage of the confrontation posted on Facebook by John Martin attracted more than 21,300 likes in 24 hours, and was shared nearly 6000 times.

In the clip, the man argumentatively asks what crime he has committed and tells the officer to go "stop some criminals".

The policeman then walks close to the man and says: "If you swear one more time I will put you in the lock up for disorderly, just like last time".

"I will deny your bail and some big fella is going to play with your a....... during the night.  "If that's what you want, say one more swear word."

The police revealed the officer had admitted to overreacting, and Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan said he would be counselled.

But an outpouring of public support for the officer also prompted the commissioner to back his man.

"He was under pressure from someone who is extremely cocky, had a very bad attitude ... the policeman was trying to do his job and he gets this tirade back. He lost his cool," the Commissioner told 6PR.

"This guy has accepted no blame for the escalation of the situation whatsoever. His total view of the world is it is somebody else's problem, they did the wrong thing and I was OK.

"The public have had enough of this general lack of respect for people in authority, and not just police."

The commissioner also said he would be asking investigators to inspect the Facebook page where the video was posted.  "Maybe he wants to run home from work and pull it down before we see it," Mr O'Callaghan said.

The incident occurred on Fyfe St, Forrestfield at about 2.30pm on Tuesday afternoon.

Yesterday, Mr Martin, 24, told Nine News he was considering pressing charges against the officer.  "It's unacceptable, police shouldn't be allowed to treat the public like that," he said.  "You shouldn't threaten anyone with rape, especially if you're a police officer."

Yesterday police Inspector Dominic Wood said the officer had admitted he acted inappropriately, but that the snippet of footage does not show the whole event.

"We have thousands of interactions every day with police officers talking to members of the public. This is rare," Insp Wood said.

"It's a tough job and that officer has come across somebody that's obviously pushed his buttons and tried to get a reaction.

"The officer wouldn't have known he was being recorded under those circumstances."

Police union president George Tilbury said officers dealt with the public 24 hours a day and were often involved in "frustrating and stressful situations."

"As the full video has not been uploaded and the entirety of the circumstances are unknown, it is very difficult to comment on the actions of the officer," Mr Tilbury said.

"However, police officers should always do their utmost to portray a professional image, which can be difficult given that they are under more scrutiny than any other profession.

"Our members need to be aware that in this modern age of technology their actions and interactions with the public will be filmed, often without their knowledge or permission."

Police Minister Liza Harvey indicated to reporters that using foul language was inappropriate but she would leave the matter to police to investigate internally.


Zoe's Law passes in NSW Parliament lower house

Controversial foetal rights legislation known as Zoe's Law passes NSW Parliament's lower house on a conscience vote but won't be seen by the upper house until next year. Nine News.

The controversial foetal rights bill known as Zoe's Law has been passed in the lower house of the NSW Parliament despite opposition by some government ministers and MPs.

Prompted by the stillbirth of Brodie Donegan's daughter, Zoe, after Mrs Donegan was hit by a car while she was 36 weeks pregnant, the bill for the first time recognises a crime of grievous bodily harm against an unborn child as a person.
Brodie Donegan with her 2 year old son Lachlan Ball and her 5 yr old daughter Ashlee. Brodie was hit by a car when she was 8 months pregnant and lost the baby who she named Zoe.

The bill was put to a conscience vote and carried, 63 votes to 26.

Ministers who voted against the bill in the lower house on Thursday included Health Minister Jillian Skinner, Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian, Environment Minister Robyn Parker and the Minister for Women, Pru Goward.

MPs from both sides of politics who opposed the Crimes Amendment (Zoe's Law) Bill said its definition of a foetus at 20 weeks, or 400 grams, as an unborn child, taken to be a separate living person, was arbitrary.

Liberal MP for Hornsby Matt Kean was among government MPs who spoke against the bill, saying it would "open the door to unintended consequences".

"I strongly believe that the current laws adequately address and deal with criminal incidents involving the death of an unborn child," he said.

"Intentionally causing grievous bodily harm carries a penalty of up to 25 years, and recklessly doing the same carries a maximum penalty of 14 years.

"If the mother of the child is injured, and the foetus is destroyed, both harms can be taken into consideration as aggravating factors, as outlined in section 21A(g) Crimes (Sentencing and Procedure) Act."

The National Party MP for Bathurst, Paul Toole, supported the bill, saying the "eyes of the law" should recognise unborn children like Zoe.

Premier Barry O'Farrell spoke in support of the bill.  "For me this is a simple question," he said. "If a woman is injured in some way, that woman is pregnant, there ought to be a recognition in the law of that fact."  "Anybody who has met or has heard Brodie Donegan's story could not help but be moved."

Shadow Treasurer, Michael Daley, said he was pro-choice and would also support the bill.

"If I thought this was a bill that did pit the rights of an unborn child against the rights of the mother, I would not be supporting the bill," he said. "But rather, I see this as a bill that pits the rights of an unborn child against the actions of an alleged or potential wrongdoer."

The NSW Law Society has criticised the law as unnecessary, saying it will lead to unjust sentencing, with its definition of an unborn child likely to spill into murder and manslaughter cases.

Women's groups fear the legislation will interfere with a woman's right to have an abortion.

Zoe's Law seeks to define a 20-week-old foetus as a living person, so that charges of grievous bodily harm can be laid if a pregnant woman loses her unborn child in a motor vehicle accident or assault.

The law recognises grievous bodily harm to the mother, with a maximum penalty of 20 years' jail, if her foetus dies in these circumstances.

Chris Spence, the Liberal MP for The Entrance who introduced the bill on behalf of Ms Donegan, his constituent, said the death of Zoe had touched many people.

"This bill will ensure that the law recognises and acknowledges [an unborn child] in rare cases where the death of an unborn child comes about by the criminal actions of another," he said.

Mr Spence said the bill will not open the way to prosecutions in relation to lawful abortions and treatments.

However, the NSW Greens status of women spokeswoman, Mehreen Faruqi, said her party would fight against the legislation in the upper house.

"It is extremely disappointing that so many MPs from both Labor and the Coalition would vote to support a law that has been opposed by many legal and health bodies, such as the NSW Bar Association, the Australian Medical Association NSW, and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists," she said.

"The Greens, with many women's and community groups, have been campaigning to expose this law for what it is, an unnecessary and dangerous law that will restrict women's rights and access to reproductive health."


Sea Shepherd defeat highlights pointless regulator

The High Court of Australia has refused to hear an appeal from Sea Shepherd Australia, which had been suing the Australian Tax Office over its decision not to award the organisation deductible gift recipient (DGR) status under Commonwealth charity law. This marks the end of a long legal battle for the controversial marine conservation group, whose aggressive harassment of Japanese whaling ships was earlier this year condemned by a U.S. court as 'the very embodiment of piracy.'

Sea Shepherd had based its appeal on a clause in the Income Tax Assessment Act which says a charity qualifies for tax-deductible donations if its principal activity is 'providing short-term direct care to animals...that have been lost, mistreated, or are without owners.'

This clause is usually applied to shelters that find homes for unwanted pets, or rescue hospitals for pets and wild animals that have been hit by cars or injured in natural disasters.

Three years after the ATO ruled that Sea Shepherd's harrying of Japanese ships did not qualify it for this tax exemption, the courts have now conclusively affirmed that decision. Fortunately, this appeal will not cost the taxpayer anything, since Sea Shepherd has been ordered to pay the ATO's legal costs.

In late 2012, the Gillard government established the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission (with an annual budget of $15 million) as a new federal regulator for the not-for-profit sector. Its responsibilities include determining which organisations qualify for charitable status, a task formerly handled by the ATO.

During the last election campaign the Coalition pledged to abolish the ACNC as an unnecessary addition to the charity sector's regulatory burden, but abolition will require an act of Parliament. The ACNC's commissioner has been assuring the public that it will be 'business as usual' for the organisation until such an act is passed. Last month, the charity-watchers at the law firm Makinson d'Apice speculated that 'the ACNC is likely to survive due to the complexity in unwinding the legislation connected with it.'

The ATO's sound decision on Sea Shepherd's DGR status and its successful defence of this decision in the courts prove that it is perfectly ready to resume responsibility for determining which organisations should receive charity tax exemptions in the event the ACNC is abolished.

The Coalition should use the occasion of Sea Shepherd's legal defeat to trumpet the ATO's record as a responsible and conscientious adjudicator of charitable status, and press ahead with its plan to abolish the ACNC.