Sunday, February 07, 2016

Don't shrink Australia's ocean sanctuaries, scientists urge ministers

On "environmental" grounds, the previous Labor party government banned fishing in so much of Australian coastal waters that there are now few areas open to fishermen.  So despite its enormous expanse of coastal waters, Australia has to import a lot of the fish it needs.  There has to be compromise but when did you ever hear a Greenie compromise?

Australia’s leading marine scientists are appealing to the federal government to reject a review expected to recommend a significant reduction in the size of ocean sanctuaries and an expansion of areas permitted for commercial fishing.

Tony Abbott announced the review of the boundaries of Labor’s marine parks, counted by the former government as one of its greatest environmental achievements, during the 2013 election campaign, and said he would scrap the just-finished management plans so that the fishing industry could be given a greater say.

The leading scientists understand the review, now finally completed, recommends a sizeable reduction in some areas previously designated as closed to fishing and trawling, particularly in the Coral Sea, and say it has ignored expert scientific advice.

“If the government winds back what was already just partial environmental protection it would be terrible for the environment and send a terrible message to the world,” said West Australian marine science professor Jessica Meeuwig.

“We have no faith in this process. They haven’t spoken to marine scientists, despite our best efforts. They spent a lot of time talking to the extractive industries. If Malcolm Turnbull is serious about being guided by science and by evidence he will reject recommendations to reduce marine sanctuary zones,” she said.

Meeuwig is one of 10 leading marine researchers who have formed the Ocean Science Council of Australia and have published benchmarks against which the review should be judged, including:

    No further diminishment of marine national park zoning in bioregions and key ecological features should occur as these are already significantly under-represented in the 2012 plans

    The international standard for ocean protection of a minimum of 30% of each marine habitat in highly protected no-take marine national parks should be met;

    Very large marine national parks such as that proposed for the Coral Sea should be preserved

“We have seen little evidence that the review process has focused on scientific evidence, rather it appears to have largely been an exercise in appeasing stakeholders with extractive interests,” the OSCA members state in the analysis report.

“We further note that there has been no formal consultation with OSCA despite our significant capacity to provide input to a scientific review.”

Osca’s members also include Hugh Possingham, the director of the Australian Research Council Centre for environmental decisions at the University of Queensland and Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, director of the Global Change Institute and professor of marine science at the University of Queensland.

After fierce lobbying from recreational and commercial fishers and colleagues, Abbott announced the review during a visit to a fishing trade show on the Gold Coast, saying the Coalition would not “lock up the oceans.”

“We know that the biggest supporter of environmentally responsible fishing practices is the fishing industry – because they do not want to harm the very environment that is providing them with a living,” the Coalition said in its policy statement.

“Australians aren’t just proud fishers, they are smart fishers – and they know that Labor’s marine park lockouts are about managing the Greens, not managing the environment.”

Labor always rejected concerns by the fishing industry that it was “locking up oceans”, saying less than 2% of commercial fisheries’ catches would be affected by the new protected areas and recreational fishers would not be affected at all because the parks were hundreds of kilometres offshore and therefore well out of reach of a fisherman in a tinnie.

After a long period of consultation, Labor announced its decision to protect more than 2.3m sq km of ocean in marine parks in late 2012, offering $100m in compensation to the fishing industry.

Environmental groups declared a historic victory, but fishers and charter operators began a furious campaign against the move, strongly backed by some Liberal and National party MPs.

The then environment minister Tony Burke said the marine parks would protect “some incredible marine environments, including the Perth Canyon in the south-west and the stunning reefs of the Coral Sea, and this announcement cements Australia’s position as a world leader on environmental protection’’.

Restrictions on fishing in the reserves varies from a total ban to a trawling ban, to areas where recreational catch and release are permitted.

Announcing the panels conducting the review in 2014 environment minister Greg Hunt said it would be based on science and aimed to “restore community confidence” in the marine reserve system.

“Unlike the previous government, we are committed to getting the management plans and the balance of zoning right, so we have asked the expert panels to consider what management arrangements will best protect our marine environment and accommodate the many activities that Australians love to enjoy in our oceans,” he said.


Cindy Prior case: right to cause offence deserves a defence

Racist woman accuses others of racism

QUT administration officer Cindy Prior has filed a case against students and professors and an equity director.

To coin a phrase from one of my erudite readers, just when you thought we had reached peak stupidity, along comes another reminder that basic freedoms in this country are sidelined by our laws.

As Hedley Thomas reported in The Australian on Thursday, Cindy Prior, an administration officer employed in an indigenous unit at the Queensland University of Technology, is suing students, academics and others under section 18C of the federal Racial Discrimination Act. Section 18C makes it illegal to say anything which is “reasonably likely … to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people” because of their “race, colour or national or ethnic origin”.

In May 2013, three students wandered into the QUT’s Oodgeroo Unit, where Prior works, looking to use a computer. Prior asked them whether they were indigenous. She says the students said they weren’t and she told them the room was “an indigenous space for Aboriginal and Torres Strait students”. She asked them to leave.

Later that day one student, Alex Wood, posted on Facebook: “Just got kicked out of the unsigned indigenous computer room. QUT stopping segregation with segregation.” Another student, Jackson Powell, wrote on Facebook: “I wonder where the white supremacist computer lab is.” A post attributed to another student, Calum Thwaites, said: “ITT niggers.” Thwaites denies he had anything to do with the post.

Another student, Kyran Findlater, wrote on Facebook: “My Student and Amenity fees are going to furbish rooms in the university where inequality reigns supreme? I believe if we have to pay to support these sorts of places, there should at least be more created for general purpose use, but again, how do these sorts of facilities ­support interaction and community within QUT? All this does is ­encourage separation and inequality.”

Prior says she went home on May 29, 2013, feeling sick and stressed. She says she didn’t feel safe and was worried about being verbally or physically assaulted. She is suing the students under section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

She has also levelled allegations in the case against two academics, Anita Lee Hong and Sharon Hayes, as well as equity director Mary Kelly. She is seeking $247,570.52 because she claims she was racially vilified and suffered “offence, embarrassment, humiliation and psychiatric injury.”

Hayes is accused of saying “it seems a bit silly” to kick someone out of an indigenous computer lab for not being indigenous when the computers were not being used. Kelly, who reviewed the matter soon afterwards, told Prior the students had taken down the material. After being advised by Prior that she would complain to the Australian Human Rights Commission, Kelly allegedly said: “With the small amount of contact I’ve had with the students, it is clear that these students aren’t racist.

“They were just being nasty. There is no white supremacy group at QUT. Check out what racial vilification is before you jump in. They’re not going to come into your office with a baseball bat.”

Sure enough, last August the AHRC sent the case to a federal court, finding no reasonable prospect of conciliation.

You can hardly blame Prior for slogging it out in the courts. The law — section 18C — invites her to put her alleged pain ahead of freedom of expression.

And the deceptively labelled Human Rights Commission is there to usher the case into court, bypassing the most basic human right — to speak freely.

Josephine Cashman, an indigenous lawyer and businesswoman who chairs the safe communities committee of the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council, believes the case being brought by Prior is misguided.

Cashman, a lawyer in NSW, is also highly critical of the way the AHRC has handled this complaint.

“In NSW you need to have reasonable prospects of success to lodge a claim in the civil jurisdiction,” she says. “The (A)HRC aren’t executing their role properly. This is going to create a lot of animosity that we particularly don’t need in Australia — and particularly in indigenous Australia.”

She says this case should never have been sent to a court. “The level of harm from three posts, ­seriously — our court system would be in chaos if this was general practice.

“If you have a disagreement with someone, particularly young students, try to talk to them, to re-educate them so they can become supporters of the indigenous cause. Don’t go straight to the most extreme measure,” Cashman says. People need to take personal responsibility and stop playing the victim card. The people who really do need support miss out.”

The free speech implications of Prior’s case are equally horrifying.

Defamation laws rightly exist to protect people’s reputation. But section 18C is a direct hit on words that merely hurt someone’s feelings. Cementing feelings into our laws has ousted the right to speak freely. And the damage to our basic liberties is immeasurable.

In 2011, columnist Andrew Bolt was found guilty of breaching section 18C for expressing his views on how people identify as indigenous. Late last year, Martine Delaney, Greens candidate for the federal seat of Franklin, complained to the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commission that pamphlets produced by Hobart’s Catholic Archbishop Julian Porteous defending marriage were offensive and breached the state Anti-Discrimination Act 1998. The commission agreed that the Archbishop has a case to answer.

Laws that encourage us to take offence infantilise us. Laws that encourage free speech make us robust and resilient, force us to think more clearly in the face of disagreement, even offensive disagreement.

Good ideas don’t flourish in an echo chamber. A germ of a good idea grows stronger, not weaker, from free-ranging debate. Stupid ideas disintegrate under the weight of reason. That process will necessarily offend some. But speech is only truly free if it includes the right to offend.

Feelings are also curtailing the freedom to be funny. In a recent video for The Big Think, an online ideas forum, British comedian John Cleese said he has been advised not to perform at universities because his jokes would be seen as cruel. Cleese pointed out that “the whole point about humour, the whole point about comedy … is that all comedy is critical ... If you start to say, ‘We mustn’t — we mustn’t criticise or offend them’, then humour is gone. With ­humour goes a sense of proportion. And then as far as I’m concerned, you’re living in 1984.”

Cleese, known for his hilarious capers as part of Monty Python and in Fawlty Towers, quoted psychologist Robin Skynner as saying that “if people can’t control their own emotions, then they need to start controlling other people’s behaviour”.

There’s nothing funny about that. To return freedom of speech to its rightful place as an empowering virtue, rather than an offending vice, we need to remove emotions from our laws. Let’s start with a small but important step and reform section 18C.


Cory Bernardi urges Julie Bishop not to endorse 'dysfunctional' Kevin Rudd for UN top job

South Australian Liberal senator Cory Bernardi has urged the Foreign Minister not to endorse a "dysfunctional", "vengeful", "unstable", "megalomaniac" like former prime minister Kevin Rudd for the United Nations top job.

It comes amid speculation Mr Rudd will nominate to become the next secretary-general, despite it being revealed former prime minister Tony Abbott gave a commitment to his New Zealand counterpart John Key that Australia would support his predecessor Helen Clark.

Senator Bernardi penned the strongly worded letter to Julie Bishop on Wednesday.

"With the best interests of the United Nations and Australia's international credibility in kind, I sincerely hope that these reports are not accurate," Senator Bernardi wrote.
Why inflict Rudd on the UN?

Everyone knows how dysfunctional Kevin Rudd's leadership style was, so why would senior Coalition members consider backing his bid to become Secretary General of the UN? Daryle McCann writes.

"As prime minister, Mr Rudd brought an unprecedented level of dysfunction and chaos to Australian politics and to the position of prime minister."

Senator Bernardi was not afraid to use strong language to press his point to Ms Bishop.

"His own colleagues have described him as a 'megalomaniac', 'vengeful', 'unstable' and 'a bastard' with a 'vicious temper' who put 'his own self-interest ahead of … the country as a whole'," Senator Bernardi wrote.  "Similar sentiments were expressed by many of our Coalition colleagues on multiple occasions over many years.

"It is my considered view that our own supporters and many others in the Australian public would be very disappointed if we endorsed such a person for this significant role.

"Would you be kind enough to advise me if the Government is seriously considering this course of action and if so, please provide me with the rationale for such a position."

Ms Bishop said it would be up to Cabinet to decide which candidate to back.


Parents need more choice in schooling, says new report

Australia's three school sectors – government, independent and Catholic – have far more in common than generally believed, with diversity within the sectors often exceeding the differences between them.

That's the finding of a report, One School Does Not Fit All,  by the Centre for Independent Studies. The report said there is a wide variety of schools in each sector, with diverse student populations.

"Broad-brush comparisons between the school sectors based on average results are not useful, either for policy decisions or for parents choosing a school," said the report, which was co-authored by Jennifer Buckingham and Trisha Jha.

"There is substantial overlap in the student populations in each sector – none exclusively serves any particular demographic."

One finding is that the majority of independent schools do not conform to the private school stereotype of being well funded compared to government schools.

The report said 83 per cent of government schools, 94 per cent of Catholic schools and 76 per cent of independent schools have total funding levels below $20,000 per student per year (in 2013).

And independent schools, like government and Catholic schools, are bunched around the per-student incomes of between $10,000 and $15,000 a year. Only 7 per cent of independent schools were very wealthy, with per-student incomes over $30,000 a year.

However independent schools are clearly better off in one respect: hardly any independent schools had per-student incomes (from both public and private sources) below $10,000, a year, while about 20 per cent of government and Catholic schools are in this category.

"There is no such thing as a typical government, Catholic or independent school," the report said.

"Some government schools more closely resemble high-fee independent schools in terms of their student demographic and level of resourcing than a public school in the next suburb."


Dr Buckingham said there were many independent schools that did not conform to the picture people had of these schools. One example is the Berry Street School in Victoria, which caters to children who have been expelled or excluded from mainstream education.

"Very often the Berry Street School is their last option for gaining a secondary education," the report said. The school deals with poor literacy and numeracy by devoting about half the teaching time to these areas, and follows the "no excuses" approach, which attracts controversy but has produced results in some US charter schools.

Berry School uses explicit instruction methods, and believes that "students who are struggling need more support and structure, not greater flexibility," the CIS report said.

Dr Buckingham and Ms Jha also believe that governments should promote further diversity and choice in schooling by developing charter schools and exploring home-schooling options.

Charter schools – which are well-established in the US and other countries – receive government funding equivalent to public schools, but operate independently of the government system and are generally not religious.

The report says that introducing charter schools in Australia would offer more secular schooling options for parents beyond the existing public school system.

"Choice is currently restricted for families who can't afford non-government school fees, or those who do not want a religious education or who do not subscribe to alternative educational philosophies. The majority of non-government schools fit into one of these two categories," the report said.

Similarly it says that lack of consistent government support limits home schooling as an option in Australia.

"The ease with which home-schoolers can access government distance education courses varies across states and territories," it says.

Over 12,000 students were registered as being home-schooled in 2012. However, the report urges more research in this area to discover how effective home schooling is and how many unregistered students are being home schooled.


Again: Armed police remove ship's defiant Australian crew, escort replacements aboard

Armed police have removed the Australian crew of the bulk alumina carrier, CSL Melbourne, and escorted aboard a foreign crew to sail the ship out of Australian waters.

A large contingent of police raided the ship in Newcastle, NSW, at 8.45am Friday, telling the five Australian crew members they must leave their vessel immediately.

"About 18 police came on board and ordered us to leave," said crew member Jason Donnellan.  "It was very intimidating. I'd estimate they were about 50 police altogether, with lots of them on the wharf, in paddy wagons and in two boats circling the ship.

"We asked if we could take our bags, but they said they would be brought off the ship afterwards.  "I can't believe this — a company using police to get rid of Australian workers."

A NSW police spokeswoman said officers boarded the vessel after being invited by the ship's captain to assist with the safe removal of the crew.  "The five men left the ship without incident at the invitation of the captain," she said.  "No persons were arrested or detained."

The seafarers had been protesting over their imminent dismissal by occupying the vessel and refusing to sail to Singapore.

It is the second time in a month that Australian seamen have been forcibly removed from ships hauling alumina on Australian coastal routes, and replaced by low-paid foreign seafarers.

At 1am on January 13, about 30 security guards boarded Alcoa's ship, the MV Portland, which was berthed in the west Victorian harbour of Portland, and removed the five Australian crew members who were sleeping on the vessel.

They were immediately replaced by a foreign crew which sailed the MV Portland to Singapore where it is to be sold.

The CSL Melbourne was chartered by Pacific Aluminium, a wholly-owned Rio Tinto subsidiary.

It has been hauling alumina from Gladstone in Queensland to Newcastle for smelting at the nearby Tomago Aluminium plant.

The shipping company that owns CSL Melbourne plans to transfer it to international operations out of Singapore, and replace it with a foreign-flagged ship with foreign crew members, which the Maritime Union of Australia says are paid as little as $2 an hour.

Both Alcoa and Pacific Aluminium have recently gained "temporary coastal licences" from the Federal Government, allowing them to replace their ships with foreign-flagged vessels and foreign crews.

This is despite the Senate late last year denying proposed legislation to open Australia's coastal routes to foreign ships.

A spokesman for the Canadian-owned shipping company, CSL, said the five crew members were peacefully escorted from the vessel on Friday morning, and that the CSL Melbourne would now depart for Singapore.

He said the crew was removed after refusing to comply with orders made by the Fair Work Commission and the Federal Court this week for each worker to end the unlawful industrial action.

The union has expressed outrage at the use of police and security officers to remove Australian seafarers from their workplace, which it called a disturbing trend.

"This is a disgraceful episode in Australian history, when the forces of the state and the police can move on Australian workers, throw them off their legitimate place of work and replace them with labour that will be paid $2 an hour," assistant union secretary Warren Smith said.

"We are going to throw everything at a campaign for justice for Australian workers and justice for Australian seafarers."

The maritime union has launched heated political attacks over the recent sackings of Australian seafarers. It is pressing the federal government to support local jobs and revoke special licences that permit the use of low-paid foreign crews on domestic shipping routes, which Labor and the unions have branded "WorkChoices on water".

Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss, leading the push for coastal shipping reform, said the "temporary coastal licences" that permit the use of foreign-crewed ships for domestic voyages were part of Labor's shipping rules introduced in 2012.

He said the special licences could be issued in the event that no Australian operators were seeking to carry the cargo, "and that's exactly what happened in this situation".

Mr Truss said the Australian shipping had been left uncompetitive by the previous government.


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