Monday, June 29, 2020

Reforms to child protection covering Aboriginal children needed

Below is a reasonable account of a problem but where are the ideas for a solution?  The basic problem is that young Aborigines are often badly neglected by their families.  If the kids survive that, the neglect tends to bring on disrespect of all standards and crime follows from that.

So how are  you going to stop child neglect without rehoming the endangered kids?  Are you going to have a platoon of white people to waggle reproving fingers at neglectful Aboriginal parents?  Or are you going to take their grog off them?  It's all been tried before, I am afraid.

And how are you going to stop extensive lawbreaking?  I don't know how, nor, it would seem, do the do-gooders below.  Much has been tried already so anything coming out of the report below will most likely just be a reinvention of the wheel

If black lives really mattered in Australia, every cog of the child protection system would be reformed to stop Aboriginal children being removed from family, culture and country.

That's the belief of Megan Davis, University of NSW law professor and United Nations expert on the rights of Indigenous peoples.

"All the narratives we tell ourselves about Australian fairness and the rule of law fly out the window in so far as the treatment of the Aboriginal families in the system," said Professor Davis, who is also Balnaves chair in constitutional law and the pro-vice-chancellor Indigenous UNSW.

With 17,979 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and youth in care across Australia, and nearly 5493 in NSW, next year's Closing the Gap goals are expected to include for the first time a commitment to reduce the number of Aboriginal children entering care by 5 per cent a year. By 2031, it will pledge to cut the number of those in care by 45 per cent.

Professor Davis said a review of Aboriginal children in out-of-home-care (OOHC) in NSW that she chaired had "not validated the popular narrative that children are removed justifiably".

"Out-of-home-care can exacerbate the disadvantage of Aboriginal young people which many would find counter-intuitive because most people assume removing children is in their best interests," Professor Davis said.

She was sure the NSW community was also unaware of the "very direct line from child protection to youth detention and incarceration".

Professor Davis' examination of 1144 Aboriginal children and youth who entered OOHC in 2015/2016 found problems in "every cog of the giant, complex 'system'."

Aboriginal children were eight times more likely to enter care than non-Indigenous children, and they constitute 40 cent of the nearly 14,000 NSW children in care.

Half of the children were deemed to be at risk of significant harm by the time they turned five, and one-in-10 before they were born.

Once in care, very few would return to their families, said the review. Children were often distanced from relatives and taken off country and isolated from culture.

"These are our children, this isn't a marginal issue," said Richard Weston, the chief executive of SNAICC – the peak group representing children and families. "They are the ones who will ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will survive."

Some people called these children another Stolen Generation, he said, because of the procession of children who "graduated" from out of home care into the juvenile justice system and then into adult prison.

Professor Davis' report, titled Family is Culture, was given to the NSW Government last November, and Indigenous groups are lobbying for a response before the end of the financial year.

On a post on the UNSW website on Saturday morning, Professor Davis urged the government to respond saying the report "can't be left on a bench to gather dust". She called on the Government to implement "all the recommendations as a matter of priority".

NSW Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services Gareth Ward said the recommendations were being considered carefully. It is understood a comprehensive response will be made soon.

Chief executive of the Aboriginal Legal Service in NSW/ACT Karly Warner said the Black Lives Matter protests had shown there was real understanding by the public that systemic racism was wrong and there was an appetite for change.

But there had to be an appetite for change from those in leadership. "There can't be equality until we change the system," she said.

Ms Warner said she heard stories every week about young people "who are arrested and forced into the quick sands of juvenile justice because of the over-scrutiny and policing of residential care homes."


Dyson Heydon and the legal professions’ ‘dirtiest secret’

Heydon and others would seem to have been convicted without trial.  Accusations only below

In courts, barristers’ chambers and law firms there were men quaking in their boots this week. Or, at least, female lawyers were hoping they might be. The lid was lifted on what was described as the profession’s “dirtiest secret”.

A giant of the law — former High Court judge Dyson Heydon — had his reputation shredded, his name erased from Eight Selborne chambers where he worked.

Heydon “categorically” denies wrongdoing. However, an independent High Court investigation found he sexually harassed six associates, five who worked for him, during his decade on its bench.

At least three of the women, among the best and brightest of their law school cohort, have left the profession after the most promising start possible to their careers — a High Court associateship.

None of it shocked those female lawyers this week. They have watched for years as male rainmakers kept their jobs and unsavoury allegations were swept under the carpet — a small payout and a non-disclosure agreement often used to silence victims while serial offenders rose up the profession’s ranks.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins has been on a crusade to prevent the damaging use of blanket NDAs since she finished an inquiry into workplace sexual harassment that arose out of the #MeToo movement.

While she points out there is a place for confidentiality — women might be just as keen as men to protect their privacy — they also can be used to enforce a culture of silence. “It can conceal the unlawful conduct, facilitate repeat offending, and the other thing that concerned me was there were no systemic lessons learnt,” she says.

Only two major law firms — Clayton Utz and Herbert Smith Freehills — were willing even to provide a limited waiver to their NDAs to allow victims to make a confidential submission to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s harassment inquiry.

Jenkins says NDAs should be drafted in more sophisticated ways, so they allow for the expos­ure of serial predators and provide exceptions; for example, for women to go to police or discuss traumatic events with their families.

Jenkins’s final report in March revealed sexual harassment was pervasive in every profession.

It is clear #MeToo has yet to achieve wholesale change in any sector.

But the legal profession has particular vulnerabilities, with its hierarchical structure and close working relationships.

At the pinnacle there are the judges, many with healthy egos and tenure until retirement.

They can seem almost untouchable, and mostly they are — just one judge has been removed from office in more than 30 years. There have been a stack of reports across many years exposing rampant harassment in the legal profession.

The most recent, from the Victorian Legal Services Commissioner in April, showed one in three respondents had experienced sexual harassment — the majority in the past five years and 25 per cent in the previous 12 months.

Law Council of Australia president Pauline Wright says lawyers depend on personal connections, both to win work and to advance up the chain. “Baked into that process is a power dynamic where the more senior practitioners necessarily have power over the career progression of the less senior practitioners,” she says.

Even when women are brave enough to speak out, complaints can go nowhere. As The Australian revealed this week, a NSW Supreme Court judge was told Heydon had made unwanted advances towards one of its young female employees two years ago but did not take any action.

Parker informed NSW Chief Justice Tom Bathurst only this week of Mani’s allegations.

The court says Mani did not ask Parker to take the matter any further, but she told The Australian that she had hoped when she raised the matter he would do something about it.

Bathurst has now asked the state’s judicial commission to prepare an education program for judges on what to do if an allegation is made. The court says judges were not previously trained on the issue because it was generally expected they would have been educated in their previous careers.

The High Court has refused to say when concerns about Heydon’s behaviour were first raised with its judges. However, the investigation by former inspector-general of intelligence and security Vivienne Thom noted that former High Court judge Michael McHugh was told about one of the alleged incidents by his then associate, Sharona Coutts. Coutts told the investigator that McHugh told her he had spoken to then chief justice Murray Gleeson.

That was back in 2005.

Another of Heydon’s former associates, Chelsea Tabart, allegedly went on to be harassed in 2012. She told The Sydney Morning Herald she left the law because the culture was broken from the top down and she did not feel she would be safe “from powerful men like Mr Heydon” even if she reported them.

Heydon remained on the court until his retirement in 2013.

He is also alleged to have groped former ACT Law Society president Noor Blumer at a university dinner.

Chelsea Tabart was an associate of Dyson Heydon in 2012.
The heads of the federal courts and tribunals issued a rare joint statement on Friday condemning sexual harassment as “unlawful and wholly unacceptable”.

The five chiefs — all men — said they were taking steps to review their policies and procedures to ensure they were effective and that all staff had the confidence to raise concerns or complaints.

High Court Chief Justice Susan Kiefel also has vowed to make changes that would prevent such misconduct in future. This includes a new HR policy and the appointment of a supervisor who could provide support to associates if needed.

Her strong statement this week — that she and her fellow judges were “ashamed” such behaviour could occur at the High Court and that the women’s accounts of their experiences had been believed — sent the message loud and clear to the profession that this sort of conduct would no longer stay under the carpet.

But many believe the changes do not go far enough.  The profession is pushing for an independent body that could handle complaints against federal judges.  Similar bodies exist in NSW, Victoria and South Australia.

The Law Council has been calling for a federal judicial commission since 2006. Labor backs the move. Even the Judicial Conference of Australia, which represents the nation’s judges, supports the idea, although some experts have flagged potential constitutional issues.

Attorney-General Christian Porter says he is “not closed-minded” to a judicial commission — but, then, he also said that in 2018 and nothing has happened since then.

The Law Council’s Wright says the “time is ripe” now. “We need to bite the bullet and ensure that we’ve got a properly constituted federal judicial commission,” she says. “It would be at arm’s length with the executive government so it doesn’t offend the separation of powers and it maintains judicial independence and integrity.”

The president of the Judicial Conference of Australia, Northern Territory Supreme Court Justice Judith Kelly, says the JCA also backs a federal judicial commission. “We’ve expressed our support for that for some time and we’ve had a policy in place now for a number of years, and that is very much our view,” Kelly says. At the moment, chief judges have few powers at their disposal to discipline judges.

As former High Court chief justice Robert French told The Australian this week: “There’s kind of a nuclear option, which is removal, and other than that there are not direct disciplinary powers.”

Such a body also could consider complaints about other forms of judicial misbehaviour or incapacity. Some judges have been found by appeal courts to repeatedly fail to provide fair hearings, others have been accused of insidious bullying, while some can take up to four years to deliver judgments.

Wright is also pushing for a protocol on judicial behaviour and conduct in the courtroom. She says the Law Council would be happy to contribute to it, but the process should be led by the federal courts.

“We think this is a really important ingredient in this,” she says.

The Law Council also is arguing for changes so the Sex Discrimination Act’s prohibition on sexual harassment also extends to judges and statutory office holders, and barristers and other self-employed people.

“Sexual harassment should be unlawful in all areas of public life,” Wright says.

Heydon, who led the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption in 2014, now faces possible disciplinary action that could result in him being struck off.

He also faces a possible criminal investigation; the Australian Federal Police confirmed on Wednesday it had received a request from ACT Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold SC to determine if he should face charges.

Heydon’s lawyers, Speed and Stracey, issued a categorical denial of the allegations and said the former judge had informed them that if any conduct had caused offence, the result was “inadvertent and unintended”.

“In respect of the confidential inquiry and its subsequent confidential report, any allegations of predatory behaviour or breaches of the law (are) categorically denied by our client,” the lawyers said.

“Our client says that if any conduct of his has caused offence, that result was inadvertent and unintended, and he apologises for any offence caused. We have asked the High Court to convey that directly to the associate complainants.

“The inquiry was an internal administrative inquiry and was conducted by a public servant and not by a lawyer, judge or a tribunal member. It was conducted without having statutory powers of investigation and of administering affirmations or oaths.’’

Three of Heydon’s female accusers will also seek compensation from the former judge and the government, although the women will need to gain the approval of the Human Rights Commission before civil action can be pursued in the Federal Court.

Media reports this week suggested that concerns about Heydon’s behaviour was some sort of open secret in the legal profession.

However, when the allegations emerged, many were simply gobsmacked — even those women who had led the charge to stamp out bad behaviour or held professional leadership positions.

Many senior female practitioners told The Australian this week Heydon had not been one of those men who had been the subject of quiet warnings from other women. Those men are still out there, and they just might be quaking in their boots.


Scott Morrison says it's 'not unreasonable' for Australia’s borders to remain shut until mid-next year

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has added to a growing belief that Australia’s borders won’t reopen this year, saying it was “not unreasonable” to believe international travel will not resume until mid-to-late 2021 at the earliest.

Aside from a potential travel bubble with New Zealand, Australia is widely expected to keep its borders shut from the rest of the world - potentially until a vaccine or treatment to the coronavirus is found.

On Thursday, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce expressed doubts international flights with his airline would be able to restart prior to July next year, as he announced 6,000 jobs will be axed as a result of a major downturn due to the virus.

During a press briefing on Friday following a national cabinet meeting, Mr Morrison said the “uncertainty” of the situation surrounding the pandemic validated Mr Joyce’s belief.

“As you look around the world and you see the intensity of the virus escalating, not decelerating, then I think it is not unreasonable for Alan Joyce to form the view he has,” Mr Morrison said.

“No-one really knows and that's the problem. That's just the uncertainty we have to deal with and as we make so many decisions, you can't always do it on full information and you have to make judgements based on the best possible advice and where you think things are going.”


Australia's Drought-Ending Rains Restore Critically Endangered Woodlands

Panic about their survival neglected their long history of bouncing back.  They are fire-adapted

In box gum grassy woodlands, widely spaced eucalypts tower over carpets of wildflowers, lush native grasses and groves of flowering wattles. It's no wonder some early landscape paintings depicting Australian farm life are inspired by this ecosystem.

But box gum grassy woodlands are critically endangered. These woodlands grow on highly productive agricultural country, from southern Queensland, along inland slopes and tablelands, into Victoria.

Many are degraded or cleared for farming. As a result, less than 5% of the woodlands remain in good condition. What remains often grows on private land such as farms, and public lands such as cemeteries or traveling stock routes.

Very little is protected in public conservation reserves. And the recent drought and record breaking heat caused these woodlands to stop growing and flowering.

But after Queensland's recent drought-breaking rain earlier this year, we surveyed private farmland and found many dried-out woodlands in the northernmost areas transformed into flower-filled, park-like landscapes.

And landholders even came across rarely seen marsupials, such as the southern spotted-tail quoll.

These surveys were part of the Australian government's Environmental Stewardship Program, a long-term cooperative conservation model with private landholders. It started in 2007 and will run for 19 years.

We found huge increases in previously declining native wildflowers and grasses on the private farmland. Many trees assumed to be dying began resprouting, such as McKie's stringybark (Eucalyptus mckieana), which is listed as a vulnerable species.

This newfound plant diversity is the result of seeds and tubers (underground storage organs providing energy and nutrients for regrowth) lying dormant in the soil after wildflowers bloomed in earlier seasons. The dormant seeds and tubers were ready to spring into life with the right seasonal conditions.

For example, Queensland Herbarium surveys early last year, during the drought, looked at a 20 meter (65 feet) by 20 meter plot and found only six native grass and wildflower species on one property. After this year's rain, we found 59 species in the same plot, including many species of perennial grass (three species jumped to 20 species post rain), native bluebells and many species of native daisies.

On another property with only 11 recorded species, more than 60 species sprouted after the extensive rains.

In areas where grazing and farming continued as normal (the paired "control" sites), the plots had only around half the number of plant species as areas managed for conservation.

Spotting Rare Marsupials

Landowners also reported several unusual sightings of animals on their farms after the rains. Stewardship program surveyors later identified them as two species of rare and endangered native carnivorous marsupials: the southern spotted-tailed quoll (mainland Australia's largest carnivorous marsupial) and the brush-tailed phascogale.

The population status of both these species in southern Queensland is unknown. The brush-tailed phascogale is elusive and rarely detected, while the southern spotted-tailed quolls are listed as endangered under federal legislation.

Until those sightings, there were no recent records of southern spotted-tailed quolls in the local area.

These unusual wildlife sightings are valuable for monitoring and evaluation. They tell us what's thriving, declining or surviving, compared to the first surveys for the stewardship program ten years ago.

Sightings are also a promising signal for the improving condition of the property and its surrounding landscape.

 Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

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