Monday, October 19, 2015

Fiji targets Australia for more tourists after ending diplomatic cold war

Sanctions against Fiji were always absurd.  Fiji has had several coups but none of them shed blood. Fijians are fine people.  Sanctioning a whole range of Muslim states would be more rational

Fiji prime minister Frank Bainimarama seemed to put a decade of diplomatic tensions with Australia behind him on Friday when he looked out from a conference in Sydney and anticipated a simple walk on the beach.

"I can't help thinking how times have changed. The so-called pariah is now a welcome guest and is able to parade along the Manly Esplanade with the surfers and the seagulls," the one time military strongman said to laughter at the Australia Fiji Business Council gathering.

The conference represented a coming out parade for Fiji after the boycotts and travel bans by Australia and New Zealand following the 2006 coup with key ministers and senior officials turning up in force to rebuild relations with Australian businesspeople.

And Bainimarama then used a speech to the Fijian community in Sydney at the weekend to go on to even apologise for hardship caused by the serial political upheaval in the country – although he seemed to put the blame on the government turmoil in 1987 and 2000 rather than his own later effort.

Switching from an ineffective boycott to a policy of engagement has been one of Foreign Minister Julie Bishop's signature moves in the South Pacific. And the new international development minister Steve Ciobo was keen to reinforce the message to Bainimarama from the new Turnbull government telling him: "Your presence here today is a marker of Australia and Fiji's progress in rebuilding this important Pacific relationship. We want to let bygones be bygones, and ensure that our official relationship reflects the warmth of the relationships between our people."

Australian businesspeople and Fiji officials say that business relations between the countries survived the political tensions quite well and Australian tourists kept coming.


But with Australia still Fiji's biggest foreign investor, aid donor and source of tourists, the basic economic rationale for a reconciliation was clear at the conference with the Fiji officials talking up a more stable economic climate for tourist operators and manufacturers..

In an interview with The Australian Financial Review Trade and Tourism Minister Faiyaz Koya said Fiji was focused on the potential for pulling in even more tourists from Australia and had no intention to trying to reduce its dependence on Australia by turning more to emerging tourists from places, such as China and India.

"We will not be taking our emphasis away from our big traditional tourist market. We simply will not cannibalise what we have."

In fact Fiji officials outlined plans to double their share of tourism spending by Australians from the existing 3 to 4 per cent prompting some debate at the conference about the affect of the weaker Australian dollar on the outlook for travel to Fiji.

"Certainly the weakening of the Australian dollar means more Australian travellers are more focused on where to travel," Virgin Australia chief commercial officer Judith Crompton said.

She warned the Fiji government and travel industry representatives that Indonesia and Thailand were getting more competitive and Fiji had to be cautious about any new tourism industry taxes.

But Koya said he was confident that Fiji would be able to maintain its image as a short haul overseas destination, which was much closer than the big Asian holiday destinations.


With soft lending from aid agencies back on track after last year's election, Fiji is touting about $500 million in new infrastructure spending on hotels and airports as paving the way for tourism to be a $2 billion a year industry by 2020, compared with $1.4 billion now.

But some traditional Australian food suppliers to the tourism sector may be about to face a squeeze with Koya flagging a push to replace food imports with a bigger emphasis on domestic production of fresh vegetables.

With just over a third of GDP coming from tourism, Tourism Fiji chairman Truman Bradley says: "It's an industry we need to make sure we manage better."

Bradley says he is also putting more effort into developing the online marketing and booking capabilities of Fiji's local tourist operators so they can capture more of the visitor revenue. "We need better digital competence in Fiji so more of the bookings can be done locally," he says.

But foreign airlines have received another rebuff from Fiji over complaints that they can't get enough capacity into the country to deliver the visitor increases the government says it wants.

Business council president Greg Pawson, Westpac's Pacific chief, says industry growth is being constrained by the current air services agreements and Fiji should be opening up more capacity.

But Koya says Fiji is not going to do anything to hurt Fiji Airways and that the foreign airlines know that if they can show they need more flights in the peak season they will always get a favourable response from the government.

Bainimarama said he welcomed the way many ordinary Australians had maintained a warm relationship with him during the diplomatic freeze, which saw a growing list of top government officials excluded from Australia.

And he welcomed Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's appointment of Ciobo as Minister for the Pacific as "a clear sign of a renewed commitment by the Turnbull government to give the island nations a higher priority."

But while the business council meeting was full of renewed bonhomie, there was more than a flash of the old Fiji strongman with Bainimarama reiterating that he still wanted to wind back the Australia and New Zealand participation in the regional peak group the Pacific Islands Forum.


Hate speech overhaul in NSW to try to stop spread of racial vilification

The government will overhaul hate speech laws in NSW following the terror attack at Parramatta police headquarters and calls from the opposition for stronger laws to clamp down on "radical preachers".

Attorney-General Gabrielle Upton said the government will strengthen and streamline racial vilification laws, defying right-wing commentators who have previously said proposed reforms were "straight out of the Leninist playbook".

Ms Upton said recent events had "reinforced the necessarily of being vigilant to and guarding against the spread of racial vilification".

"Make no mistake, words are dangerous weapons for race hate preachers and violent extremists," she said.

The announcement comes as hardline political group Hizb-ut Tahrir steps up its fight against the Australian government, launching a slick advertising campaign for a conference next month titled Innocent Until Proven Muslim?

Thousands of glossy posters have been splashed around Sydney's suburbs in recent days, showing Muslims being locked up for selling halal meat, praying at school and "being a Muslim citizen".

A promo trailer depicts a man who can't visit his dying mother in Lebanon because his passport has been cancelled and a woman in a hijab bashed by two hooded white men in a carpark.

"The Australian government's relentless barrage of interference and harassment towards the Muslim community has led to an entire community being criminalised through ant-Muslim 'terror' laws, phoney charges, monitoring of children [and] imposing values," the promo says.

One Muslim leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said hate speech has gone "mainstream" in Sydney, with several prominent Muslim leaders saying they'll attend the conference.  "These groups won't openly advocate violence but they'll push young guys right to the edge then wash their hands of it," he said.

Earlier this year, the DPP decided not to charge Hizb-ut Tahrir's Sydney leader, Ismail al-Wahwah, over two speeches calling for a "jihad against the Jews".

It was one of more than 30 cases that have been referred to the DPP under the Anti-Discrimination Act yet there has never been a prosecution, leading to criticisms that the act is a toothless tiger.

A review, comprising politicians from all major parties, found in December 2013 that the act was full of unnecessary obstacles to criminal prosecution and the penalties were too low.

One of the review's authors, Greens MP David Shoebridge, previously said the government had ignored the recommendations because they were "frightened by right-wing commentators".

Radio presenter Alan Jones had decried the recommendations as "beyond ludicrous", while conservative commentator Andrew Bolt said it was "straight out of the Leninist playbook".

Opposition Leader Luke Foley has called for a new offence that would lower the threshold for charges of advocating violence and enable prosecutors to seek court orders to gag people pending the outcome of a trial.

"As it stands, the law makes it virtually impossible ... to secure a conviction against someone advocating violence through hate speech," he said

On Sunday, Ms Upton indicated for the first time that the review recommendations would be implemented.  She said the government would consult widely and introduce an exposure bill in January, before introducing legislation in the 2016 Budget Session.

"Change is needed to disarm [hate preachers] and to safeguard our inclusive, pluralist and harmonious community," she said.


Leftist fabrication about Nauru woman

REFUGEE advocates “fabricated’’ claims that a 23-year old Somali woman allegedly raped on Nauru still wanted an abortion in Australia, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has said.

The cost of her charter flight to Australia for the abortion, which the Prime Minister insists she “changed her mind’’ over could be over $100,000.

The Sunday Telegraph understands she was the only asylum seeker passenger on the international charter flight to and from Nauru for the purpose of travelling to Australia for an abortion, but was accompanied by security and medical escorts.

Two asylum seekers have alleged they were raped on Nauru. The woman flown to Australia for the termination has never made a formal complaint to police according to Naurun officials.

The 23-year old is believed to be around 14 weeks pregnant.

In an earlier privacy breach, a second alleged rape victim, 26, had her name and intimate details of her case was published by an Australian based PR company working for Nauru.

The 26 year-old Somali woman’s alleged rape was reported and investigated. However, Nauru police have closed the case arguing there is insufficient evidence. Her lawyers have argued the perpetrator is a member of the Nauruan police reserves, suggesting it may have contributed to a lack of enthusiasm for investigating the matter.

Refugee Action Collective yesterday claimed the 23-year old woman had told advocates that she had not “changed her mind’’ about the termination as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull asserted but had simply sought counselling.

However, in an strongly worded attack, Mr Dutton said last night some advocates should “ashamed of their lies’’ over her pregnancy termination.

“A woman was flown by charter flight from Nauru to Sydney for a pregnancy termination,’’ Mr Dutton said. “The woman has decided not to proceed with the termination. Comments from some advocates to the contrary are a fabrication, while others appear to be using this woman’s circumstance for their own political agenda.

“They should be ashamed of their lies. The woman was chartered back to Nauru. The woman was bought to Australia for medical attention not for a migration outcome.’’

Lawyers for the Somali woman raped on Nauru who had asked for an abortion in Australia have flatly rejected Prime Minister Turnbull’s claim the woman decided against an abortion after she was flown to Australia for the procedure.

“The information I have is that woman in question changed her mind about seeking a termination and was deemed fit to fly,” Mr Turnbull told reporters in New Zealand on Saturday.

Mr Dutton warned that Australia would now allow medical treatment to be used by lawyers as a ruse to deliver legal outcomes.

Last week he accused some refugees of running “a racket’’ to use medical treatment as an excuse to come to Australia and then seek legal injunctions to prevent their returns.


Violent extremism part of contemporary Australia, says Victoria's Leftist Premier

He is clearly untoubled by Muslim attacks

Two weeks after a radicalised teen fatally shot a police worker in NSW, Victoria has not ruled out supporting Commonwealth plans to lower the age at which a control order can be obtained against a terrorism suspect, but says it requires more information from the Turnbull government.

However, back at Spring Street, a war of words erupted late last week, with Mr Andrews accused of "waving a white flag" by candidly suggesting that violent extremism is here to stay.

"We've got a range of work going on at the moment and I wouldn't pre-empt any announcements that we might make," the Premier said when asked if he supported lowering the threshold, "but all of us, as Victorians and indeed Australians, have to accept that violent extremism is part of a contemporary Australia."

The comments come as a ministerial taskforce led by Deputy Premier James Merlino works behind the scenes on a range of initiatives to counter radicalisation among disengaged youth, and to strengthen ties with faith communities.

But the state Coalition seized on the Premier's views, accusing Mr Andrews adopting a defeatist attitude rather than showing leadership on the issue.

"Daniel Andrews by his comments... appears to be waving a white flag and saying to Australians that they should accept violent extremism as a part of Australian life. Victorians should not have to accept that violent extremism is here to stay," said the opposition's shadow attorney general John Pesutto. "Victorians expect and deserve a government that aspires to a safe and tolerant community."

The ongoing debate over violent extremism intensified this month following the shooting of NSW police accountant Curtis Cheng, who was killed by 15-year-old Farhad Jabar​ outside the NSW police headquarters in Parramatta.

In the wake of the tragedy, the Baird government wrote to Malcolm Turnbull pushing to lower the age in which control orders can apply, from 16 to 14 – a move that was adopted by the federal government last week.

New laws to be introduced in the next fortnight mean that terrorism suspects as young as 14 would soon be subject to special orders restricting their movements. Authorities will also be given the ability to monitor subjects more closely to ensure they are complying with the orders, and a new offence against "incitement of genocide" has been proposed.

Asked if the Victorian government supported reducing the threshold age for control orders, state Attorney General Martin Pakula replied: "The federal Attorney-General has not raised these proposals with me and I look forward to receiving further information from the Commonwealth government about their bill. There have been preliminary discussions at officer level but no agreement has been reached."

NSW has also pushed for law enforcement agencies to be allowed to hold terror suspects without charge for 28 days – double the current 14-day period. On that front, Mr Pakula said: "The NSW government hasn't provided the other states and territories with detail of their proposal. Clearly this requires further discussion between all states and territories."


Australia wins World's Best Steak in first ever global challenge

The steaks were high, but the word is in: Australia has the best steak in the world.  Australia picked up four gold medals and the title for the World's Best Steak in the first ever World Steak Challenge, held in London's Hyde Park.

The competition judged 70 steaks from 10 different countries including England, United States, Canada and Japan.

The top prize was awarded to Frank Albers for a Jack's Creek Wagyu Angus cross that was 450 days grain fed.  There were 11 gold medal-winning steaks, with Australia claiming four medals; more than any other country.

The judges found that Australia's grain fed Angus and Wagyu steaks had the best quality of beef of all the contenders.

The chair of judges, George McCartney, told event organisers in a video that all entries were of a high quality. "It was a difficult task to find one that was a level above the rest," Mr McCartney said. "It's very important to show worldwide of the good eating quality of steak."

Another judge, Professor Jeff Wood, said all the judges had different perspectives in the decision-making process. "But my perspective is I want flavour, and I want tenderness, and I want them in the right ratio. Those are the things I'm looking for," he said.

In the end, Australian beef was proved to be a cut above the rest, delivering on both flavour and tenderness


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