Sunday, February 15, 2015

Palaszczuk sworn in as Qld premier

GOVERNOR Paul de Jersey swore in the Labor leader and her interim cabinet at Government House on Saturday morning. Jackie Trad has been sworn in as deputy premier and Curtis Pitt as Treasurer.

It was a closed door ceremony as the Labor government was handed power while a media pack watched through windows.

Ms Palaszczuk has also taken on the portfolios of education, training, employment, justice and the attorney-general.

Health, state development, infrastructure, transport, environment portfolios will be held by Ms Trad.

Mr Pitt will hold the trade, police and emergency services, resources, housing and public works and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander portfolios.

The trio will take control of those ministries until Labor caucus convenes to vote on other ministers.

The new premier rushed from the swearing-in to the funeral of former Labor minister Anita Cunningham, but said the ceremony was good.  "Very good thank you, I have to now attend to funeral in Bundaberg, so thank you everyone, thank you very much," she said.

Ms Trad said the swearing-in of the Labor government was a tremendous honour and the culmination of three years of hard work.  She said the Palaszczuk government's number one priority would be boosting jobs and getting major projects going.

"(The premier) will be absolutely driving jobs growth in this state because Queenslanders need jobs, working Queensland families need that income so that they can live decent lives," Ms Trad said. "I know that Annastacia's passionate about it, we all are."


Palaszczuk letter spells out Labor’s none-too-palatable policy plans for the state

Unions once again to rule the roost

I BELIEVE I have cracked the secret code. The Labor Party’s missing policy agenda for Queensland is revealed – in some gory detail – in a letter that has been under our noses for more than a week.  It’s signed by Annastacia Palaszczuk and provides a window into the socialist thinking that will dominate the Labor Government.

The letter points to profound changes in everything from health, transport and local government, to planning and education.

It also outlines Labor’s blinkered approach to accountability and integrity. And it shows plans to welcome back unions by inviting them to dominate the public service.

I’m afraid it means the speedy surgeries promised by the outgoing LNP government will almost certainly end. In a bid to appease unions, Labor will stop the outsourcing of surgeries to private hospitals.

Contestability will also be banned across government, so expect public service numbers to soar to take up the slack. If that happens, the state wages bill will skyrocket.

As outsourcing comes to a close, it is inevitable that union power will be strengthened in the public service, especially in the massive health, transport and works departments.

Meanwhile, Labor’s pledge for an investigation into political donations will not include an examination of funding from the party’s most generous benefactors – the unions.

It would be laughable to have an official inquiry into donations without including the unions, which bankrolled Labor candidates, as well as providing cars, signs and manpower. The unions clearly have a vested interest and must be included in any inquiry.

Next we see solicitors and barristers will be invited to help frame new gang laws. That’s fine, in theory. However, I’m told some of those involved still represent the criminals the existing laws were designed to catch.  A potential conflict-of-interest minefield awaits the unwary. Some new members who are lawyers will be scurrying to the integrity commissioner for advice.

Labor’s total ban on asset sales will give Palaszczuk a most perplexing problem. The State Government will not be able to sell the defunct Executive Building, or any other obsolete or redundant assets.

The letter, from Palaszczuk to Nicklin independent Peter Wellington, is Labor’s lifeline to power and is historic. It also contains errors.  In the opening paragraph, Palaszczuk writes, lawyer to lawyer, to Wellington: “I also wish to highlight that Labor, which has won the majority of seats in the 55th parliament …”

Wrong.  Labor, of course, does not have a majority. It’s a major gaffe in such an important agreement. And if Labor did have a majority, it certainly wouldn’t pander to the likes of Wellington.

“Labor’s opposition to asset sales remains resolute,” Palaszczuk writes. She included government-owned corporations. Even Labor folk are wondering what will happen to the superfluous staff and assets when Energex, Ergon Energy and Powerlink are rolled into one company and Stanwell and CS Energy into another.

There is a very real risk that many people will be paid to do nothing, just as they were in the Beattie era when railway stations closed.

The letter also says Labor “remains committed to the Fitzgerald principles”.  “This includes a commitment to … make public service appointments in the public interest, without regard to personal, party political or other immaterial considerations.”  Really? I’ll be watching the appointment of the directors-general with much interest.

The letter seems to sound the death knell for hospital boards. “Labor will review all contestability processes within Queensland Health and the hospital and health services,” it says.  “Previously in government, Labor had a policy of employment security and no contracting-out provisions. Labor will restore this policy.”

How it will restore the policy is not spelled out. Will we see a return to the Bligh era and hire an office tower full of bureaucrats? And who will pay for them?

In return for his vote, Wellington has negotiated some tasty little sweeteners for himself.  He has been guaranteed “proper resources for independent members of parliament in minority governments”.  “This includes an extra staff member in an independent MP’s electorate office, and a policy adviser based at Parliament House in Brisbane.”

Wellington also wants the developers of the massive Caloundra South residential project to pay extra infrastructure charges, placing the project in jeopardy.

At the same time, Wellington won a pledge for a Palaszczuk government to stop the associated Halls Creek development known as Caloundra South South.

Neither of these developments is in Wellington’s electorate, so why is he imposing his will over that of the elected members?

Remember that Wellington and Palaszczuk railed against the LNP for interfering with approvals. Now they are happy to interfere, as the letter clearly confirms.

Pot, kettle, black.

Wellington has also won Palaszczuk’s support to sack Crime and Corruption Commission acting chairman Ken Levy, who was referred to police by Labor in Opposition.  Is it right and proper for any government to demand Levy be turfed out before the investigation is complete? Where is the presumption of innocence?

Imagine the outcry from the Labor Party and its friends in the judiciary if the LNP had terminated a statutory official without a skerrick of evidence of any wrongdoing.

Palaszczuk’s letter might leave historians pondering all sorts of questions.


Revealed: Gillian Triggs’s agenda

THE Human Rights Commission’s report into child detention was engineered as an “advocacy tool” for policy change and focused­ on children for political effect, internal documents ­reveal.

The commission documents were released last night as ­Attorney-General George Brandis refused to deny claims he ­had offered commission president Gillian Triggs an inducement to stand down a fortnight before her report, The Forgotten Children, was released on Wednesday.

Professor Triggs, when she ­advised former immigration minister Scott Morrison of the inquiry in January last year, wrote that it “will assess whether the laws, policies and practices relating to children in immigration detention meet Australia’s international human rights obligations”.

But a draft project plan, dated April 2013, assumes “Australia’s immigration system fails to comply with Australia’s obligations” under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

It anticipates a “report is used by Commission and NGOs as an advocacy tool in meetings with key government decision-makers and in relevant national and international forums to build momentum for change”.

“The underlying assumption of this project (and our broader work in this area) is that faced with enough domestic and international criticism and pressure regarding its practices relating to children in immigration detention, the Australian government will reform those practices.”

A draft workplan, also from April 2013, reveals that the commis­sion focused on children for political ­effect.

“Focusing on children allows the best opportunity to engage the general public, and to reach bipart­isan political agreement on making policy and legal changes to the system of mandatory and indefin­ite detention,” it reads.

The Coalition will seize on these documents, released by a Senate committee examining Professor Triggs’s motivations for the inquiry, as evidence of a conspir­acy to discredit Australia’s bipart­isan child-detention policies.

Social justice groups — including Amnesty International, Caritas, World Vision, UNICEF, Save the Children and Plan — have called on the government to implement the commission’s recommendations, including a royal commission and releasing all detained children within four weeks.

The Coalition has rejected those recommendations, with Tony Abbott branding the report a “transparent stitch-up” and a ­“blatantly partisan politicised ­exercise” of which the commission should be “ashamed”.

Many MPs, some of whom have spent months privately ­agitating for Professor Triggs’s ­removal or the abolition of the commission, are now saying openly that her position is “untenable”.

Senator Brandis’s office would not deny yesterday a report that a representative of the Attorney-General made Professor Triggs an offer last month of “some other opport­unity” if she stood down.

Labor’s legal affairs spokesman Mark Dreyfus said last night that the government “cannot hear criticism”, and its attacks on the commission “show all the signs of a government in meltdown”.

“The reports of inducements offered by the Attorney-General to the president of the Human Rights Commission to resign are even more concerning,” he said of the Fairfax Media report.

Professor Triggs, who declined to comment, has more than two years remaining in the role and can be removed only for reasons such as bankruptcy or misconduct.

Giving evidence to the Senate inquiry on November 20, she admitte­d to discussing the idea with then Labor ministers Tony Burke and Chris Bowen, including a meeting with Mr Burke during the election caretaker period.

Professor Triggs later retracted this after being told that the meeting would have been “entirely inappropriate”.

The documents contain no evidence that she discussed the inquiry with either minister.

However, they show she did meet Mr Burke during the caretaker period “as a consequence of his invitation to brief the president on the newly announced regional resettlement arrangement” with Papua New Guinea.

In her testimony, Professor Triggs said the inquiry was ­delayed to coincide with the 10-year anniversary of a previous inquiry into the detention system, and it would have damaged the commission if the hearings were held during an election campaign.

In the foreword to her report published this week, Professor Triggs claimed that she made the decision in February last year because­ there were then more than 1000 children detained “for longer periods than in the past, with no pathway to resettlement”.


Fair Work Commission relaunches civil case against former MP Craig Thomson

Former federal MP Craig Thomson will be hauled back before a court after the national industrial umpire reopened a civil lawsuit alleging rampant union credit card misuse.

The Fair Work Commission will pursue the ex-secretary of the Health Services Union on multiple charges that collapsed during his criminal trial due to incorrect wording by the prosecution.

The commission's general manager, Bernadette O'Neill, announced she has filed documents in the Federal Court seeking to "re-enliven" parts of the case against him for allegedly swindling union money on fine dining and sex with prostitutes.

Mr Thomson was convicted of several charges but spared a jail term last year when a County Court judge imposed a $25,000 fine for using union money on "self-indulgent" spending.

The former Labor member for the NSW seat of Dobell was found guilty of 13 counts of theft, related to the withdrawals of $5650 from ATMs while using HSU credit cards, money he was not authorised to use on himself.

He was found not guilty of 49 fraud charges because Judge Carolyn Douglas found the prosecution had worded the charges incorrectly.

In the re-launched civil case, which was put on hold during the criminal trial, the Fair Work Commission is now chasing Mr Thomson for $243,000 in compensation plus penalties for breaches of federal law and union rules.

"In Mr Thomson's recent criminal trial it was not found that he did not engage in this conduct, rather, it was found that the framing of these charges did not support a conviction," Ms O'Neill said.

"It is in the public interest for Mr Thomson to be held to account for his alleged conduct."

Mr Thomson's lawyer, Chris McArdle, said on Wednesday the previous charges against his client had failed due to a "lack of substance because they are not true".

"The only incorrect wording in the charges was that 'he did it'," Mr McArdle said.

"We were looking forward to this being out of Mr Thomson's life sooner rather than later ... This matter will have to be assessed all over again. And all the rude bits will be addressed and will be found wanting in this jurisdiction as they were in the other."

Mr McArdle said he had "utter confidence" in the Federal Court of Australia.

Ms O'Neill said she believed her agency had "good prospects of success" in the proceedings. The Federal Court trial is scheduled to start on March 30.


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