Sunday, November 17, 2013

Climate tax, aid and fees off table as cabinet toughens stance

The federal cabinet has ruled that Australia will not sign up to any new contributions, taxes or charges at this week's global summit on climate change, in a significant toughening of its stance as it plans to move within days to repeal the carbon tax.

Cabinet ministers have decided to reject any measures of "socialism masquerading as environmentalism" after meeting last week to consider a submission on the position the government would take to the Warsaw conference.

A further document was produced after the meeting that outlines the government's position.

The Australian has seen part of the document and it declares that, while Australia will remain "a good international citizen" and remains "committed to achieving the 5 per cent reduction" by 2020 of the 2000 levels of emissions, it will not sign up to any new agreement that involves spending money or levying taxes.

This rules out Australia playing any role in a wealth transfer from rich countries to developing nations to pay them to decrease their carbon emissions.

The decision hardens the nation's approach to the UN's negotiations amid a renewed push from less-developed countries this week for $100 billion a year in finance to deal with climate change.

Cabinet decided that Australia would consider joining a new scheme after 2015, but only if all the major global economies did likewise.

Senior ministers believe there is absolutely no chance of that happening.

The Abbott government has explicitly decided that it will not agree to any payments or accept any liabilities as part of any carbon agreement.

The government's document also says that Australia "will not support any measures which are socialism masquerading as environmentalism".

The document's commitment that the government "will review its commitment in 2015 in light of the science and international developments" deliberately allows a range of policy outcomes.

In the unlikely event that all major economies move in a concerted way, Australia could join in. However, the language provides that if the science becomes more unclear, and if nations move away from their earlier enthusiasm for action, then Australia also could wind back its efforts.

This explicitly does not mean winding back on the 5 per cent reduction target for 2020, but does mean that after 2020 things are less clear.

The government's document also says Australia's efforts on greenhouse gases will be conditioned by "fiscal circumstances"....

Mr Abbott has been strongly critical of agreements in which Australian funds are used to buy permits that are meant to fund cuts to greenhouse gas reductions in other countries - a key mechanism in the global talks.

The Coalition based its criticism of Labor policy on official forecasts showing Australian emissions would rise over time and that the 5 per cent target was only reached by purchasing overseas permits at an eventual cost of $150bn a year in 2050.

"This is by far the biggest wealth transfer from Australians to foreigners that's ever been contemplated," Mr Abbott said of purchasing offshore carbon permits.

By formalising these concerns in official policy, federal cabinet is preparing to counter any move at the Warsaw talks to accelerate climate change financing deals meant to be worth $100bn a year.

On a per-capita basis, Australia's contribution to the $100bn in global climate change finance would be $2.4bn or more.


MPs warned off Armenia with Anzac threat

Turkey is still in denial.  Just more disgusting Muslim denial

Gallipoli centenary commemoration in 2015. Photo: Mike Bowers
Turkey has warned Australia against any further formal recognition of the Armenian genocide to avoid undermining its relationship and the special centenary commemoration of Gallipoli in 2015.

And NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell has retaliated, saying it was "deplorable" for the 100-year anniversary of the Gallipoli landing to be used for political purposes.

Turkey has also made it clear that NSW MPs are not welcome to attend the ceremony because of bipartisan support for a motion moved in Parliament by Mr O'Farrell in May which recognises and condemns the Armenian genocide.

The warning from the Turkish speaker of the parliament, Cemil Cicek, has come on the eve of a public ballot for 8000 tickets reserved for Australians to attend the special ceremony in Gallipoli on April 25, 2015. The ballot opens at midnight on Friday and closes on January 31.

Speaking to The Sydney Morning Herald through an interpreter, Mr Cicek said:  "One of only two things that could disrupt good relations between Turkey and Australia", he said, was for Australia "to support any claims about genocide without hearing the Turkish side ... this could cause huge rifts between the nations and even jeopardise commemorations around Gallipoli."

Mr Cicek called on the NSW Parliament to withdraw its resolution, saying reports of an Armenian genocide were "still inconclusive".  "We have no problem with Armenian communities in Turkey," he said. "We have a problem with the Armenian diaspora who are still propagating this argument."

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has ruled that only four federal MPs including himself will receive VIP tickets, but they will not be offered to premiers or state MPs.

The NSW Premier said two similar resolutions had been moved in past years without any similar threats being made to disrupt the 100-year anniversary of the Anzac landing in Gallipolli.

"Bipartisan motions concerning the genocide were passed by the NSW Parliament in 1996 and 2012," Mr O'Farrell said. "It's deplorable anyone associated with the Turkish government would try and use next year's centenary of the Gallipoli landing for political purposes."

In opposition, Treasurer Joe Hockey called for formal recognition of the Armenian genocide in Federal Parliament, but is now reluctant to make any further comments that might jeopardise his dealings with Turkey in forums including the G20 which Australia will host next year. In May 2011, he said the Armenian genocide "is one of the least known, least understood and least respected human tragedies of the modern era".

Armenian National Committee of Australia executive director Vache Kahramanian said it was "extremely troubling" the Turkish government had threatened to ban NSW MPs who had recognised the Armenian genocide.

"For almost 100 years the Turkish state has continued to deny what is publicly and widely known as a historical reality."

A spokesman for the Turkish embassy said that while it could not respond to the comments, "it is highly inappropriate for foreign parliaments to politicise this matter and pass one-sided judgments on a controversial period of Turkish history".


Child porn suspects slip through net after Australian Federal Police bungle

CHILD sex predators from Queensland, including teachers, a lecturer, nurse and bank manager, were allowed to roam free for almost a year after an Australian Federal Police bungle.

The Courier-Mail can reveal the AFP sat on the names of suspected Australian pedophiles who had been identified as using a Canadian sex abuse website.

Despite trumpeting their success yesterday, the AFP had failed to pass on to state police a tip-off list from Canadian counterparts about Australian customers of the website.

A WA pastor and his former police officer son are among six WA people charged for being involved in an international child abuse ring.

Canadian police were shocked Queensland's crack Taskforce Argos investigators knew nothing of the operation until a chance conversation with a detective earlier this year.

"They hadn't even heard of it ... Once we had that conversation the game completely changed," lead Toronto detective Paul Krawczyk said.

Toronto's Project Spade investigation had found a website advertising "naturist films" was selling videos and photographs of naked boys to pedophiles worldwide.

Sixty-five Australians have been arrested as part of a global investigation into a child porn ring.

Canadian police then passed on customer information to countries including Australia, Spain, Mexico, South Africa, Hong Kong, Norway, Ireland and Greece

Detective Krawczyk said a goldmine of information about Australian customers - including names, addresses, computer numbers and banking details - was forwarded to the AFP in the middle of last year.

However Australia appeared only to act after he mentioned the list to Argos Detective Inspector Jon Rouse earlier this year.

"It just so happened that Jon and I were talking back earlier this year and I mentioned to him how the case was going and actually they hadn't even heard of it," he said.

Upon learning of the operation, Argos asked Toronto to send the list directly to Queensland and immediately launched its own investigation.

Four teachers, a lecturer, nurse, bank manager and tradies were among 33 men who have been arrested in Queensland since May as a result of the information.

Det Insp Rouse confirmed Argos only became aware of the list in February and immediately moved to arrest the men who had most access to children.

Sixty-five Australians have been arrested and 399 charges laid in an investigation into child exploitation.

There are also fears Australian pedophiles interstate may have slipped through the net entirely, with Queensland accounting for more than half of the 65 arrests nationwide.

The AFP said yesterday Canadian police provided information in June last year but refused to say how many names were on the list - leaving open the possibility that many have not been arrested.

AFP Superintendent Todd Hunter denied federal police were slow to act and said his unit received more than 3800 referrals from international counterparts last year.  "In every case our priority is to focus on whether or not there is a child at risk," Supt Hunter said.


How Julia Gillard was ready to censor our free media

JULIA Gillard began to squeeze the trigger of a powerful weapon aimed directly at the media on August 29, 2011. The story she wanted dead and buried that day, and forever after, had the potential to be extremely damaging to her as the then prime minister. It revolved around a secret union fund she had quietly, without even the knowledge of her law firm partners, given advice about setting up for her former client and boyfriend, the allegedly corrupt Australian Workers Union boss Bruce Wilson, who would allegedly use what was later described as a "slush fund" in a serious fraud.

This little-known scandal had been largely concealed since Gillard left her job as a salaried partner at Slater & Gordon lawyers in Melbourne in late 1995, when several of her colleagues discovered facts about her conduct. Her unceremonious departure from the firm would launch her career as a professional political adviser and, subsequently, as an ambitious Labor parliamentarian. But the facts about the slush fund were known to very few people in 2011. The sanitised, official version was misleadingly different.

How Gillard responded on that Monday morning, August 29, 2011, and subsequently, should be a salutary lesson about the lengths that powerful political figures will go to crush a damaging story, neutralise journalists, intimidate media outlets and even attempt to permanently alter the freedom of the media.

My then colleague at The Australian, Glenn Milne, had published in his column that morning a mere handful of paragraphs about his previous attempts to investigate the slush fund. Milne was essentially flagging a deeper story that was being prepared for imminent airing by a 2UE radio host, Michael Smith, a former police officer who had been digging among union scams after his recent success in cross-examining alleged Health Services Union fraudster and federal Labor member Craig Thomson.

Gillard already knew that Andrew Bolt, the conservative and widely read commentator for the Herald Sun (sister paper to The Australian), had flagged the revisiting of the slush fund scandal - he had written of a "tip on something that may force Gillard to resign". "On Monday, I'm tipping, a witness with a statutory declaration will come forward and implicate Julia Gillard directly in another scandal involving the misuse of union funds," Bolt wrote on his Herald Sun blog over that August weekend.

On the Monday morning, early, a furious Gillard called John Hartigan, the then head of News Limited in Australia. News, and Milne's column, were in her sights. "She said they were very damaging accusations," Hartigan told The Australian a few days later. "She wanted some action and she wanted it quickly."

Gillard demanded a public apology, the immediate expunging from the website of Milne's column, and undertakings that the allegations never be repeated again in The Australian. Leaving nothing to chance, the PM extended this demand to cover all News Limited newspapers and their websites. The Australian's editor-in-chief, Chris Mitchell, who was told to call Gillard that Monday morning, described her reaction at the time as "apoplectic". Paul Keating's rages were nothing compared with this one from Gillard, Mitchell noted.

Almost all of Gillard's demands were met. Seeing what was happening over at News Limited, Smith's bosses at the Fairfax-owned 2UE then lost their nerve and pulled his carefully researched story, too. Smith protested but lost his job over it. Bolt, appalled at the censorship and the cave-in, considered resigning. Milne lost his column and his place at The Australian.

But this ugly, self-serving assault by a prime minister on the Australian media was not over by a long shot. The Gillard government's announcement of a public media inquiry just a couple of weeks later, in September 2011, was the next blunt instrument to ensure we were more poodle than watchdog.

The slush fund story had been torched and reduced to ashes. But it could not be permitted to flare up again. The media inquiry, headed by former Federal Court judge Ray Finkelstein QC, was a precursor to the government's threats of unprecedented media regulation.

Gillard had said in 2011 that News Limited's journalists in Australia had "questions to answer", apparently arising from the unlawful hacking of telephone voicemails by journalists at the News of the World in Britain. There was never a skerrick of evidence of any hacking by any staff of Rupert Murdoch's newspapers in Australia.

As a government strategy, the crackdown in 2011 was ruthlessly effective.

My colleagues were intimidated by Gillard's and the government's extraordinary overreactions to Milne's and Smith's ill-fated attempts to report without fear or favour on the slush fund.

The media steered a wide berth around the ruins of the slush fund story - except to mock Milne and Smith for being foolish enough to think it ever was a story worth pursuing. This pusillanimous conduct continues today among the more naive and partisan commentators, despite numerous documents, witnesses and other evidence being subsequently produced and reported in The Australian, and by Mark Baker in The Age, in 2012 and this year.

And in the dying days of Gillard's government, earlier this year, draconian proposals for media regulation were warmed up again. Would this incredible attempted stifling, aimed squarely at News, have even been put back on the agenda if The Australian had not published revelations in leaked, and extremely damaging, slush fund-related documents in 2012? The seriousness of the disclosures made Gillard's disproportionate protests about a relatively innocuous column by Milne in 2011 appear confected and absurd. We may never know for certain, but the attempted regulation this year reeked of payback.

When leaders in journalism across the media landscape in Australia fight the good fight against attempted censorship and intimidation by politicians and other powerful figures, great and lofty arguments are rolled into the public arena about the vital importance of the fourth estate.

We know these arguments well: in a nutshell, inquisitive journalists who uncover the truth without fear or favour are a cornerstone of democracy, and their efforts must be defended at all costs, particularly from governments that deploy vast powers and taxpayer-funded resources in craven attempts to stymie media scrutiny.

Why, then, have so many media-freedom-loving leaders in the Australian journalistic community, and in academe, been silent and, worse, sneeringly critical of two journalists who have been censored, intimidated and seen their reputations trashed for disclosures in late August 2011, about Gillard's conduct?

Now, in the new light of hard, documentary evidence from exhaustive investigations during the past 11 months by Victoria Police fraud squad detectives, who will be back in court early next month, it is difficult to avoid one disturbing conclusion.

It is that Milne, Smith and their employers were subjected to a shameless, unprecedented, unfair and disproportionate counterattack by Gillard, who wanted their attempted reporting about her role in setting up the slush fund killed off for all time. A conga line of media critics (for whom party-political preference and ideology appeared to trump the principles of a free press) joined in to make sure the credibility of the two was shredded. Despite the rhetoric we often hear about the importance of repulsing overt intimidation of the media, Milne and Smith were cut down, and lampooned as conspiracy theorists. Attempted media regulation followed.

For those unsure of where things are at, the police interest remains high. The police are due to go back to court in a couple of weeks. A month ago, lawyers for Victoria Police explained to the Melbourne Magistrates Court why they have been taking the slush fund fraud investigation so seriously. The police, who have numerous incriminating statements, want to peruse more than 360 documents seized from Slater & Gordon relating to Gillard's former client and lover, Wilson. He is fighting to prevent the police from having access to this material.

Ron Gipp, for lead investigator Senior Sergeant Ross Mitchell, told the court last month that police were confident in their case so far. "The evidence is very strong," Gipp said. "What we are talking about here is not merely Mr Mitchell saying: 'Look, I've got a suspicion.' This is going way, way beyond just mere suspicion."

Earlier this year, police seized hundreds of documents under the warrant, which specifically sought files held by Slater & Gordon relating to Wilson and Gillard, including her personnel files, invoices, travel records and documents from the firm's partner meetings relating to Gillard and the AWU.

Perhaps those who still don't get it - who still lampoon The Australian, Milne, Smith, Baker and other journalists, including this one, who have been involved in exposing these issues - should explain to the fraud squad detectives and the police lawyers why they, too, are barking up the wrong tree.


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