Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Defence chief cites 'negative public attention' in decision to wind back move to revoke honours

The chief of Defence pulled back on revoking honours awarded to Australian soldiers in Afghanistan, citing a desire not to "be at odds" with the government's position on the issue and to avoid "negative public attention".

General Angus Campbell announced late last year that he would recommend that the Meritorious Unit Citation (MUC) be stripped from Special Operations Task Groups that served in Afghanistan.

The MUC was awarded to the Task Groups for "sustained and outstanding warlike operational service in Afghanistan from 30 April 2007 to 31 December 2013, through the conduct of counter-insurgency operations in support of the International Security Assistance Force".

About 3,000 personnel received the collective award.

The decision was made in response to the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force (IGADF) report into allegations of war crimes in Afghanistan that detailed 39 allegations of murder and recommended 19 current and serving special forces soldiers be prosecuted.

"It has to be said that what this report discloses in disgraceful and a profound betrayal of the Australian Defence Force's professional standards and expectations," the IGADF report stated.

"The inquiry has recommended the revocation of the award of the Meritorious Unit Citation, as an effective demonstration of the collective responsibility and accountability of the Special Operations Task Group as a whole for those events."

"I have accepted the Inspector-General's recommendation," General Campbell said in his response to the IGADF report in November, "and will again write to the Governor-General, requesting he revoke the Meritorious Unit Citation awarded to Special Operations Task Group rotations serving in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2013".

But shortly after the release of the IGADF report, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said "no decisions" had been made on revoking the MUC.

Veterans, media, and some Returned Service League officials had condemned General Campbell for "betraying" veterans of the Afghanistan conflict.

"If General Campbell has not felt the bitch slap from all those millions of Australians out there, he needs to pull his head out of his arse," Senator Jacqui Lambie said in response to the decision.

Within a month of the IGADF report becoming public, the Defence chief released a statement stepping back from the decision to immediately revoke honours.

Documents, obtained by the ABC under Freedom of Information, reveal that the Defence chief was aware of political and public disquiet about his announcement.

The Afghan Files

The ABC's Afghan Files stories in 2017 gave an unprecedented insight into the operations of Australia's elite special forces, detailing incidents of troops killing unarmed men and children and concerns about a "warrior culture" among soldiers.

The documents, which are mostly redacted, include a ministerial briefing note by General Campbell, titled Consideration of Special Forces honours and awards 2007-2013.

"In light of public controversy regarding the revocation of the Meritorious Unit Citation, I am of the view that a slower, more deliberate approach to implementing the Inspector-General's recommendations regarding individual honours and awards will ensure the review process is thorough considered by Defence," General Campbell wrote to then defence minister Linda Reynolds.

General Campbell said an independent oversight panel would consider any action by Defence in response to the IGADF report.

"It will ensure work is not undertaken which could be perceived to be at odds with the publicly stated government direction to defer work on honours and awards, amongst other recommendations, until completion of the Implementation Plan," wrote General Campbell.

Vowing to maintain a "deliberate and consistent approach" to implementing the IGADF's recommendations, General Campbell also noted that outcomes did "have the potential to attract negative public attention".


Australians stranded overseas take frustrations to United Nations, lobby the government’s ‘extreme restrictions’

A number of Australians who have been left “stranded” overseas since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic have taken their complaints straight to the top, after failing to negotiate a safe passage home with the Australian government’s “extreme restrictions”.

All have started vaccination programs while some are fully vaccinated and have the help of world renowned human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC.

The complaint was filed on Monday at the UN’s Human Rights Committee in Geneva, Switzerland, claiming the government “has arbitrarily breached their right to return to the land of their birth or citizenship”, according to a statement by Stranded Aussies, the group of volunteers affected by the flight caps.

“We think that it is of great international significance that Australia is the only Western democracy that does not have a bill of human rights that protects the rights of Australians to return home.”

The group includes a volcanologist from Melbourne who has been trying to return to Australia since March last year, a microbiologist who lives in New Jersey but wants to return home to Tasmania with his Australian wife and a family from the UK who “want to be closer to loved ones”.

“We are just a group of ordinary Aussies who have been left high and dry by an unfeeling government, and we are supporting these cases because they demonstrate how badly Australia is treating its own citizens,” spokeswoman Deborah Tellis said.

“The government is responsible for quarantine and has a duty to allow its citizens to return and enter into it – it should force the states to admit us and provide for them to increase their quarantine facilities. What it must not do is to breach international law.”

Nearly 500,000 Australians have returned to the country since the beginning of the pandemic but there are still more than 36,000 Australians who remain overseas due to arrival caps.

State and territory governments use these caps to manage “pressure” on quarantine facilities.

The government says these measures “are temporary and will be reviewed”.

In figures released to the Senate from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) last week, 4860 of the 36,206 Australian overseas registered to return home are described as vulnerable.

India has the largest numbers of Australians who have said they want to come home, followed by the UK, the US, Philippines and Thailand. Some have written an open letter to “every one living in Australia”.

“The damage it is doing to many stranded Australians is terrible – they are unable to get back to see dying parents or sick relatives, unable to return to take up jobs or start university courses,” Ms Tellis said.

“By going to the UN, we hope to highlight what an unfeeling government Mr Morrison heads.”

Of the 20 repatriation flights announced by the government earlier this year, 12 have arrived while the rest are due to be completed by April 17.

Victoria announced it would accept international flights again from April 8 but the problems persist, with several international airlines, including Singapore Airlines, recently complaining over the lack of information and operational challenges of flying into the country due to the ever-changing border rules.

Stranded Aussies have blamed the caps for preventing them from returning and say they have made efforts and are “willing to comply with all necessary public health measures, including fourteen days quarantine in Australia”.

Their petitions claim Australia has breached the UN’s International Covenant “because they have no effective remedy – they cannot go to court to require the government to live up to its obligations to permit its citizens to return home”.

DFAT secretary Frances Adamson told Senate estimates last week officials had done “exceptional work” getting Australians home during the pandemic but DFAT’s Assistant Secretary Lynette Wood conceded she could not predict when all stranded Australians would finally return home.

“Just be clear, the cup keeps refilling,” Ms Wood said. “It’s not like it’s a finite number and the door has closed. More and more people have registered.”

But in their claim to the UN, the Australians say the government has “prevented tens of thousands of citizens from ‘calling Australia home’” and that “the right to return to one’s native land is regarded as fundamental in international law”.

They have said that all they ask for is for “Australia to provide enough robust Quarantine capacity to allow enough of us home per week, so that the number of us stranded actually moves downward, and that quarantine is able to be booked alongside a flight, so we don’t get cancelled at the whim of the airlines trying to juggle the incoming flight caps.”

They also called for more quarantine space and a “booking system to reliably be able to get home – that’s it”.

Mr Morrison told reporters he intended to get “as many people as possible home, if not all of them, by Christmas”, while Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said he wanted to “ensure that every Australian who wants to come home is home by Christmas”.

And yet, tens of thousands of Australians remain stuck overseas as life here slowly returns to normal. In fact the number of “vulnerable” Australians has risen since the PM’s Christmas promise.

“International law recognises the strong bond between individuals and their homeland and no respectable government would impose travel caps to prevent, for over a year, its citizens from returning if they are prepared to do quarantine,” Geoffrey Robertson QC, who has advised the petitioners, said.

“Both our political parties have, in the past, done what they can to help Australians overseas but Mr Morrison is behaving as if in a moral vacuum – he does not seem to care very much about the suffering caused to fellow Australians.”


Dwelling approvals record a strong rise in February:

Dwelling approvals record a strong rise in February: Australia
The number of dwellings approved rose 21.6 per cent in February (seasonally adjusted), after falling 19.4 per cent in January, according to data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) today.

Bill Becker, Director of Construction Statistics at the ABS, said: “Approvals for private houses increased 15.1 per cent in February, exceeding the previous record-high set in December last year.”

“Since the introduction of the Homebuilder grant in June 2020, private house approvals have risen by almost 70 per cent.”

Approvals for private sector dwellings excluding houses (i.e. townhouses and apartments) rose by 45.3 per cent in seasonally adjusted terms, coming off a nine-year low in January.

Total dwelling approvals rose in Queensland (40.5 per cent), Tasmania (31.6 per cent), Victoria (21.7 per cent), Western Australia (19.1 per cent) and New South Wales (16.1 per cent). Dwelling approvals fell in South Australia (3.4 per cent).

Approvals for private sector houses rose across all mainland states in February; Queensland (25.4 per cent), Western Australia (16.7 per cent), New South Wales (14.5 per cent), Victoria (11.1 per cent) and South Australia (4.0 per cent).

The value of total building approved increased 23.3 per cent, in seasonally adjusted terms. The value of total residential building rose 21.0 per cent, comprising a 22.8 per cent rise in new residential building, and a 11.1 per cent increase in alterations and additions. The value of non-residential building also increased in February (27.5 per cent).


Santos gives green light to $4.7b new gas field off Australia

Santos, one of Australia’s largest oil and gas producers, has given the go-ahead to its $4.7 billion Barossa gas project north of Darwin after its plans were put on hold last year amid the coronavirus-driven market crash.

The green light for the offshore gas and condensate project also kickstarts a $US600 million ($786 million) investment in the Darwin LNG plant’s life extension and pipeline projects, which will extend the facility life for around 20 years, the company said.

“As the economy re-emerges from the COVID-19 lockdowns, these job-creating and sustaining projects are critical for Australia, also unlocking new business opportunities and export income for the nation,” Santos managing director Kevin Gallagher said.

“The Barossa and Darwin life extension projects are good for the economy and good for local jobs and business opportunities in the Northern Territory.”

Santos and other ASX-listed oil and gas companies last year were forced to slash their spending budgets, cut back drilling and halt growth plans as coronavirus restrictions began hammering energy demand and prices.

Australia’s exports of LNG, a fuel widely used in power generation, heating and manufacturing, fell sharply from $50 billion to $33 billion, as commodity prices fell. But benchmark prices for LNG cargoes have begun to bounce back in Asia, from historic lows of under $US2 per million British thermal units to more than $US12 in the March quarter as a freezing cold winter in North Asia boosted demand. The federal government expects the LNG prices to hover around $US6.90 during the three months to June 30.

Resources Minister Keith Pitt, who joined Mr Gallagher for the announcement in Darwin on Tuesday, said the Barossa go-ahead was a “tremendous show of confidence” in the long-term future of Australia’s resources sector. “It is also a great sign that oil and gas market conditions have improved,” Mr Pitt said.

However, the Barossa field contains high levels of carbon dioxide, raising questions about its impact on Santos’ emissions footprint. Wood Mackenzie analyst Shaun Brady said Santos would need to deliver on energy efficiency projects and its proposed Moomba carbon capture and storage facility in order to offset the added emissions.

“Santos has a goal to be net-zero by 2040 and reduce emissions by 30 per cent through 2030,” he said. “With such a high carbon intensity, Santos must now deliver the projects that can offset this impact.”

Climate campaigners on Tuesday said the greenhouse gas emissions from Barossa were likely to significantly increase Australia’s emissions profile.

“This could be one of the dirtiest gas fields in Australia, leading to immense harm to the environment in the immediate vicinity, and accelerating dangerous climate change,” said Richie Merzian of the Australia Institute.

“There are real questions about Australia’s ability to deliver on its commitments on the Paris Agreement if this project is approved.”

RBC Capital Markets analyst Gordon Ramsay said Santos was targeting production costs of $US2 per million British thermal units, “making it the lowest cost new source of LNG supply in the Australian region” at $US5.50.

Mr Gallagher said Barossa would be one of the lowest-cost, new LNG supply projects in the world and would give Santos and Darwin LNG a competitive advantage in a tightening global LNG market.

Santos said the project represented the biggest investment in Australia’s oil and gas sector since 2012.




Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Explicitly racist abuse not deemed illegal in Australia

The campaigner who successfully pushed to get Coon cheese renamed has had his racism complaint terminated despite receiving an abusive email saying he had an “ugly black face”.

The hate mail, sent to Aboriginal anti-racism activist Dr Stephan Hagan by Don Harris on January 14, said he was “part of the world’s dumbest race” and “a broken, conquered people”.

Harris referred to a “miserable black existence” and “absolute inferiority to the white man”, concluding with “May the Aryan man rule forever” and attaching further white supremacist quotes.

Dr Hagan said the email had caused him and his wife “considerable distress”, adding that he felt “violated and fear for my safety and that of my family all because I dared to challenge the status quo of a racial slur used on a popular cheese brand.”

However, the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) on Monday told Dr Hagan that it had decided to terminate the complaint without inquiry.

“I am satisfied that it is misconceived and/or lacking in substance,” said the response to the complaint from Jodie Ball, the Commission president’s delegate.

She said she understood Dr Hagan would be “disappointed” by the decision but that he had “not sufficiently explained” which human right had been violated or how that right had been impaired.

“I acknowledge that you found the content of the email offensive and upsetting and that due to prior experiences where you say you were abused and threatened, the email made you feel concerned about you and your family’s safety,” wrote Ms Ball.

But she said that the incident did not meet the threshold to qualify as racial hatred under the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA) because it did not take place in public.

“It is arguable that the email that is the subject of your complaint is an act done because of your race, colour or national or ethnic origin and that it would be reasonably likely to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate a reasonable person of your race, colour or national or ethnic origin,” said Ms Ball. “However, from the information provided to date, the email does not meet the requirement in the law that it is an act done ‘otherwise than in private’.”

She said the email was sent directly to Dr Hagan via email, and that while he claimed the information was now in the public domain after news outlets covered the Commission’s original response, “it appears that this is because you spoke publicly about the email that you received, rather than because the writer of the email caused the words and image to be communicated to the public.”


The ABC declares there is 'NO such thing as free speech in Australia' as it defends censoring comments left on a story about a transgender swimmer

Saying "nasty" things about transgenders blew their committment to free speech out of the water

The ABC has boldly declared 'there is no such thing as free speech in Australia' after banning users during a heated discussion about a transgender swimmer on the national broadcaster's Facebook page.

The strident declaration about free speech came after some users were kicked off the page over alleged transphobic and sexist comments.

A page moderator had earlier urged users to be constructive, not nasty, when commenting about an article about a transgender swimmer.

In the article, swimmer Cassy Judy said she became a target for 'hurtful' comments after McIver's Ladies Baths, in Coogee, banned pre-surgery trans women.

'I feel like it's given license to some people to come out and say things that are quite hurtful to trans women like myself or gender nonbinary people,' she told the ABC.

'Things like ... 'You are what's between your legs'.'

'For me, [the baths] was a place where I went before surgery just to feel accepted and included as a woman.'

An initial moderator post in the article thread asked people to avoid being 'nasty' in response to the article and warned that the page 'will not tolerate any transphobic or sexist commentary'.

'We will be hiding comments and banning users without further notice if you breach our terms'.

It posted a link to the terms, which under the heading 'ABC Online Communities' said it encourages 'rigorous debate and the sharing of diverse opinions' but 'expects community members to treat each other with respect and courtesy'.

The conditions also reserve the right to 'edit, remove or exercise its discretion not to publish' comments if deemed to 'violate laws regarding harassment, discrimination, racial vilification, privacy or contempt' or to be 'abusive, offensive or obscene; inappropriate, off topic, repetitive or vexatious'.

Later on Thursday, the page moderator stated: 'We have deleted and banned users as per ABC's Terms of Use' and again provided the link.

From there, the moderator's message became notably more strident, stating: 'FYI - There is no such thing as free speech in Australia.'

'Hate speech or transphobic comments will not be tolerated regardless if it's your opinion.'

'If it is your opinion than perhaps you need to educate yourself on equality, empathy and equity.'

The moderator challenged people to make a formal complaint - providing a link - 'If you're 'upset' about your harmful comments being removed and 'your taxpayer dollars'.'

The comments left in the discussion were heated, but appeared to be evenly balanced - some supportive of Ms Judy's statements and view, and some opposed.

Free speech in public forums is complex and depends on the context, however the Australian Human Rights Commission states: 'The Australian Constitution does not explicitly protect freedom of expression.'

Freedom of expression in media is generally accepted, but in a major international statement, is understood to be balanced by responsibility to show 'respect of the rights or reputations of others.'

Daily Mail Australia has reached out to the ABC and to the author of the original article, Monique Schafter, for comment.


Education Dept run by Leftist union

Tracy Tully caused uproar recently when she gave an interview to The Sunday Mail’s Stephanie Bennett, speaking out about a toxic culture of bullying and favouritism in the Queensland education department.

Tully also told Bennett the powerful Queensland Teachers’ Union was a Labor puppet.

Tully said she and others were heckled for not openly advocating for the Labor Party, and at a public meeting was told in front of witnesses to sit down and shut up.

Tracy doesn’t know Woodridge manual arts teacher, David Frarricciardi, but their stories of union wrongdoing are strikingly similar.

Last year on this page Frarricciardi told how he quit the QTU because he was tired of its relentless promotion of ALP candidates and causes.

Tully claims QTU members were pressured to distribute Labor Party material in the lead-up to state elections, and that principals who refused to go on strike were harassed.

She told me teachers in marginal seats were transferred if they did not co-operate with pro-Labor campaigns.

“They ousted a principal who would not support the Labor Party,” she said.

“They wanted me to distribute Labor Party pamphlets and I refused.’’

She believes the cosy relationship between the QTU and the education department fosters intimidation and corruption.

She has made a complaint to the Crime and Corruption Commission.

Like Frarricciardi, Tully said she was a swinging voter who has never been a member of a political party.

She resented it when the union started throwing its weight around and deliberately trying to undermine her authority.

She recalls a hostile meeting where a group of unionists arrived to tell her to change the curriculum.

“They came into my office and shut the door and started to tell me what to do.

“It was highly unprofessional, and I told them so. I sent them packing. I said, don’t dare come and here and try to stand over me. I told them the union does not run the school, the principal does.

“The union wouldn’t know how to run a school. I said, ‘Next time make an appointment and we can discuss it’.”

She has an unpleasant memory of her days in Charleville in 2011 when she disobeyed an order by a bureaucrat not to close the school as flood waters rose. “When the water got up to my knees I knew it was time to get out,’’ she said.

Police friends told her she had done the right thing, but the department sent two Ethical Standards Unit men to investigate her.

In her memoir FEARless (Ultimate World Publishing), she says she felt bullied. “The guys acted like police officers serving a summons,” she said.

Tully said she stood her ground and dismissed “wild” allegations against her and other teachers.

“They threw a giant toddler tantrum, raising their voices and slamming their hands on the table, then stormed out of the interview room,” she wrote.

“Welcome to the Queensland education department’s investigative process.”

The tape-recorded meeting was an attempt to “shame me” and “break me”, she said. It didn’t.

Tully, 60, from Charleville and Toowoomba, said several teachers suffering anxiety due to bullying had contacted her after she blew the whistle in the Sunday Mail.

Chris Neville at Condon Charles Lawyers in Toowoomba has been engaged by them to start a class action.

Tully, who was described by a colleague as a voice for the voiceless, says wrongdoing festers behind the scenes because teachers are prevented from speaking out by the Public Service Act.

The Act strips teachers and principals of their basic human rights, she said.

The department was “a secret world where those who step out of line were harassed by narcissist bureaucrats”.

“You can’t defend yourself. They allow anyone to make an allegation without a signed statutory declaration and without evidence. It’s a free for all.’’


A crazed African driver purposefully sped towards pedestrians in a road rage row, pinning a terrified woman against a wall

An investigation is underway following the hit-and-run crash that left a woman injured in Sydney’s west.

At 6.30pm on Saturday, emergency services were called to Penelope Lucas Lane near Virginia Lane, Rosehill, after reports a pedestrian had been struck by a vehicle.

Police have been told a man and woman were involved in an argument with an unknown man who was driving a Skoda Octavia.

The unknown man then allegedly drove the vehicle at the pedestrians, pinning the woman against a wall.

The unknown man reversed and fled the scene in the vehicle.

The 41-year-old woman was treated at the scene for a severe lower leg injury, before being taken to Westmead Hospital in a stable condition.

The 37-year-old man suffered a minor foot injury and did not require hospitalisation.

Officers from Cumberland Police Area Command attended, and detectives commenced an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the incident.

An extensive search of the area and surrounds was conducted, and the vehicle was located on Crown Street, Harris Park a short time later.

The driver had fled the scene prior to police arrival.

The man is described as being of African appearance, with short curly hair, wearing a red basketball jersey and shorts.




Monday, March 29, 2021

Queensland Public Trustee denies making profit from clients, despite report criticising high fees and charges

They might not make a profit in any accounting sense but they are a bloated bureaucracy with well-feathered nests for their bureaucrats

They are run for the benefit of their employees, not for those they are supposed to serve. They have been left basically unsupervised for far too long

People on disability support and aged care pensions with assets will continue to be charged up to 40 per cent of their low incomes for financial administration services by the Public Trustee of Queensland, despite a report criticising the practice.

Queensland Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman tabled the Public Advocate's report into the Public Trustee in state parliament earlier this month.

It documented high fees for asset-rich pensioners, fees for no service and charging multiple sets of fees on managing the same funds, like superannuation.

In response, the state government announced that a board would oversee the Public Trustee.

However, the government has not yet set a timeframe for when this would occur and what authority it would have.

The Public Advocate's report also exposed routine profiteering from cash assets that were funnelled exclusively into the Public Trustee's own investment products – something called the "interest differential".

"The practice of directing all client funds into Public Trustee investments also means that the Public Trustee earns income and fees additional to the general Asset Management Fees it charges clients for providing administration services," the report stated.

"This practice raises questions about whether the Public Trustee is fulfilling its fiduciary duties to avoid conflicts with its clients' interests and not to make unauthorised profits from clients."

The report found that in 2019-20 alone, the Public Trustee kept $12.9 million in interest earnings from the cash assets of clients.

"The conflicts inherent in this funding arrangement appear to be incompatible with the duties and obligations of a trustee and fiduciary to not profit from its clients and to avoid conflicts," it said.

Public Advocate Mary Burgess made 32 recommendations and in a statement responding to the report, Ms Fentiman said the majority of the recommendations were primarily the responsibility of the Public Trustee to implement.

One of the recommendations included changing the legislation to clarify when and how the Public Trustee could invest client funds.

Another was to ensure the Trustee does not profit from administration clients unless expressly permitted by law.

Ms Fentiman did not say whether the government would review its legislation to determine whether profit was permissible under the Public Trustee Act, and she denied the report's finding that the Public Trustee profits from financial administration services.

"A moratorium on fees and charges would impact on the Public Trustee's ability to provide important services to vulnerable Queenslanders," Ms Fentiman said.

She also said many of the reforms had already been implemented or were underway.

The Public Trustee said a review on fees and charges was already underway but would not be completed for another six to eight months.

The Public Trustee denied it made a profit.

Sue Nunn, who has a person close to her who has been under financial administration, said she was sickened by the way they had been treated.

Ms Nunn said her complaints and concerns about the Public Trustee had fallen on deaf ears.

The Guardianship and Administration Act prevents the ABC from disclosing anything that could identify a person under a financial administration order — something that critics said prevented them from speaking out.

The person Ms Nunn is advocating for is paying close to 40 per cent of a disability pension in Public Trustee fees for financial and asset management.

"They're taking 40 per cent of his income – how can you say that's not profiting from somebody with a disability?" Ms Nunn said.

She said she was disappointed by the response of the state government to the Public Advocate's report. "At what point do we matter?" Ms Nunn said. "How many people have to be gouged of their finances?

"How many people have to lose everything they have, before we become important, and before it's enough to say 'stop, things need to change'."

Ms Nunn said she had lost count of the number of complaints she had made to assorted government bodies and ministers, and in her view, Ms Fentiman had downplayed the extent of the issues in her response to the parliament.

Steven Collins is another person with multiple family members who either are, or have previously been, under financial administration.

Mr Collins said he had observed questionable financial decisions being made for a family member, including trying to sell their house for more than it had been valued.

He claimed the family member was moved into rental accommodation that was costing more per week than the mortgage repayments had been. The person was moved back into their house when it had not sold.

The same family member was being given just $100 a week to live on at one stage, once the Trustee had extracted its fees and charges.

"The way it looks to me from things that have happened is it's just about getting money at any cost and from any angle — it's not about the client," Mr Collins said.

Mr Collins said when he started advocating on his family members' behalf, and asking questions of the Public Trustee, they stopped responding. "The letter I got back from them was actually quite appalling — it was a generalised, bureaucratic letter, and it really didn't get into the heart of any of the questions I asked," Mr Collins said.

"From there, they really stopped talking to me and wouldn't communicate with me from then on out."

Shadow attorney-general Tim Nicholls is now calling for an independent audit of the Public Trustee, and for the legislation that governs it to be either rewritten or amended substantially.

"It's really the case that the report has been done, the government has looked at it, and then handed it to the Public Trustee and said, 'You solve your own problems'," he said.

"There's no clarity about the [fee] review and what the changes are likely to be. "The Public Trustee continues to milk those clients for every cent under a flawed system that sees the most disadvantaged people paying more and getting less."


Veteran Adelaide radio host Jeremy Cordeaux sacked over Brittany Higgins tirade

Must not question St. Brittany

Veteran radio broadcaster Jeremy Cordeaux, who called Brittany Higgins a “silly girl who got drunk” and questioned her story, has been sacked.

The award-winning host was branded a “dinosaur” online over the appalling comments on air on FIVEaa over the weekend about the alleged rape at Parliament House in 2019.

“I just ask myself why the prime minister doesn’t call it out for what it is. A silly little girl who got drunk,” Cordeaux said at 6.26am during his weekend breakfast show.

“If this girl has been raped, why hasn’t the guy who raped her been arrested? Apparently everyone knows his name.”

“Security, you know, should never have let these two into the minister’s office at two o’clock in the morning. Never,” Cordeaux said.

“The defence minister. Can you imagine security taking someone who was obviously drunk, so drunk I think that the young lady, during the week on television, said she couldn’t get her shoes on.

“My advice to the prime minister – as he was sort of monstered by A Current Affair – my advice would be to stop worrying about offending somebody.”


‘It feels very political’: Principals sorry schools rushed to sign plan to tackle consent

One of the state’s longest-serving independent school heads says a cross-sector “statement of intent” to improve consent education was driven by political expediency rather than a desire for change, and she wishes her sector had not signed it.

Several other principals privately agree with her, with one saying “it feels very political”.

The statement, which has been signed by the public, Catholic and independent sectors, commits all schools to taking “concrete actions” to strengthen their students’ ability to form healthy relationships and prevent harmful situations.

However, it does not include parents’ groups as signatories as originally proposed by the Association of Independent Schools NSW, which came up with the concept three weeks ago. Parents’ groups told the Herald they would have signed it.

NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said the statement was intended to be signed by the three school sector heads individually, with further collaboration with other key groups to follow.

“While this is a whole-of-society challenge, the statement signed by the three education heads acknowledges the key role schools and teachers, in partnership with parents and parent organisations, will play in supporting change,” she said.

But Jenny Allum, who has led SCEGGS Darlinghurst since 1996, said while she supported the ideals articulated in the statement – which included hearing the voices of students and basing decisions on evidence – parents should have been signatories even if their involvement delayed the process.

“I am very sorry that we rushed to sign the statement of intent after it had been made clear that some parent groups would also like to sign the statement,” she said. “The signing of the statement in such a rushed fashion has more to do with political expediency than any desire to actually affect change.

“There is no quick fix here, no short-term critical incident to manage and wait for it to go away.

“A better course of action would have been to have a continued dialogue about consent and sexual coercion, as well as sexual assault and abuse, violence against women, gendered stereotypes, sexualisation of girls and women, and so on.”

Ms Allum said parents were the primary educators of their children, and so needed to be involved in conversations about respect, consent and violence towards women.

“Why was it important to sign something by yesterday afternoon, except that either the minister wanted it that way, or the [school] systems could look like they were doing something?” she said. “From what I can tell it’s relatively cosmetic. What practical solution does it offer?

“If you can’t name a practical solution, you’ve got to think it was political.”

Another principal, who did not want to be named, said the problem of sexual assault ran much deeper than students’ understanding of consent. “I don’t think [the statement] is the answer,” she said. “I don’t know how a statement of intent even begins to address it.”

Another said the document was “full of motherhood statements” but signing it did no harm and sent a positive message.

Julie Townsend, from St Catherine’s School, said it was appropriate for schools to work together. “Parents’ organisations can similarly unite with a common intent,” she said. “Both the school sectors and parent organisations can work side by side.”

Other principals, who also did not want to be named, said they would have preferred to wait for guidance from the Australian Human Rights Commission, which consulted with the sector at a roundtable on Friday.

They believe that a firm set of guidelines or recommendations from the commission, which has also helped the university sector and defence force, would be the most likely avenue to create lasting and meaningful change.

The AISNSW board voted to sign the statement after discussing it on Thursday night, AIS chief executive Geoff Newcombe said. “The board noted that this should be seen as a first step in dealing with what is a whole-of-society issue,” he said.

“The association also is currently in discussions with the NSW Parents Council so that we can recognise the critical role that parents will play in trying to resolve this problem.”


Muslim haters tracked down

A Queensland dog trainer and a Melbourne gemstone trader have been arrested as “senior players” of a sophisticated Australian terror network paying for foreign fighters to travel to Syria to join Jabhat al-Nusra.

Joint counterterrorism teams from Queensland and Victoria yesterday pounced on the men in co-ordinated raids, charging them over their alleged involvement in a sophisticated terrorist network being run out of southeast Queensland.

Gabriel Crazzi, 34, from Chambers Flat in Logan, and Ahmed Talib, 31, from Melbourne, are alleged to have been key players in the religiously-motivated extremist organisation.

The network is understood to have been responsible for funding Queensland man Ahmed Succarieh’s 2013 trip to Syria where he became Australia’s first suicide bomber.

The former schoolboy from south of Brisbane is believed to have blown himself up when he drove a truck loaded with explosives into a military checkpoint in Syria in September, 2013.

The explosion killed 35 people.

It will be alleged Crazzi and Talib developed networks in Australia, Turkey and Syria that helped Australians get into Syria to fight for Jabhat al-Nusra in 2012 and 2013.

Crazzi has been charged with seven foreign incursion related offences, while Talib is facing one charge.

Talib appeared before Melbourne Magistrates Court yesterday and is facing extradition to Queensland.

Crazzi is due to appear before the Brisbane Magistrates Court today.

AFP Commander Stephen Dametto said the arrests were a culmination of the AFP, Queensland Police Service and ASIO working together to keep the community safe.

“Today is an example of our commitment to discourage Australians from fighting overseas and holding people to account for their involvement in supporting terrorism and terrorist organisations,” he said.




Sunday, March 28, 2021

Calls for Australia’s ‘racist’ laws which can send young criminals to prison aged just 10 to be scrapped – as activists call for offenders to have no responsibility until 14

Because of the stealth skills they have inherited from their hunter-gatherer ancestors, young aborigines are brilliant thieves. And they start from a young age. The age of criminal responsibiity has been kept low in part because there is so much criminality among even very young aborigines. Changing that age is not going to change the criminality.

The one thing that might help is to ensure that they attend school. They truant often and that gives them time in the community to commit offences

The kneejerk reaction that they should be "rehabilitated" instead of being sent to jail just does not work usually. But if their time in jail were used to further their education, that might help. They would usually respond rather well to trade training, which would give them something constructive to do

Keenan Mundine was 14 when he first went to jail for breaking into a car and stealing a laptop. 'I was placed in a dorm with 30 other boys and there were nine- and 10-year-old boys in there that had been there for months,' the 34-year-old said. 'Some of them couldn't even read or write. None of them got visits from their parents.'

The Wakka Wakka and Birpai man grew up on The Block in Sydney's Redfern, an experience he describes as 'f***ing horrible'.

'There were no doors, windows smashed, rats and cockroaches everywhere, abandoned buildings, people shooting up in my backyard while I'm playing on my trampoline, people overdosing, people getting stabbed,' Mr Mundine said.

'It was all normal to me.'

Mr Mundine's parents died by the time he was seven and he was separated from his siblings.

His arrest at 14 marked the beginning of years-long involvement with the youth justice system.

'I was homeless, I had no job, I had no parents, I had no one responsible for me and they just opened the gate after me serving my time and took me back out to the wolves,' Mr Mundine said.

'All I knew was what community taught me to do and that was take things that didn't belong to me because I needed them.'

Mr Mundine turned his life around and founded Aboriginal community-led charity Deadly Connections with his wife Carly.

He has been advocating for years to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to at least 14, in line with most international jurisdictions.

Across Australia, children as young as 10 can be arrested by police, remanded in custody, convicted by the courts and jailed.

It is estimated almost 600 children aged between 10 and 13 were in custody last financial year. More than 60 per cent were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

Cheryl Axleby, co-chair of the Aboriginal-led justice coalition Change the Record, said discriminatory laws and policing is to blame for the over-representation of Indigenous youth in the criminal justice system

'Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are more likely to be stopped by police, arrested and charged instead of cautioned, and locked up on remand instead of being released on bail,' she said.

The earlier a child is driven into the criminal justice system, the more likely they are to stay in it, she added. 'When we lock up children as young as 10, it's not just a prison sentence, it's a life sentence.'

Rodney Dillon, a Palawa elder from Tasmania and Indigenous rights advisor for Amnesty International, agrees. 'Living in that system doesn't address the issues that the kids have got. All it does is make the kids worse,' he said.

Mr Dillion said children under 14 who end up in custody are more likely to skip school, have an undiagnosed disability, suffer from underlying trauma and come from a poor family.

'We know that poverty, poor housing and the criminal justice system all live together. Why don't we address all three issues?' Mr Dillon said. 'All we do, because it's simple, is lock kids up.'

Mick Creati, paediatrician and senior fellow at the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, said children under 14 are yet to develop the ability to control impulses or foresee the consequences of their actions.

'We are criminalising children as young as 10 for behaviours that are explained by their immature brain development, disability, mental illness and/or trauma,' Dr Creati said.

Children under 14 brought before court are presumed to be 'doli incapax', meaning they don't have the capacity to commit crime because they lack a guilty mind. But young people can spend months in remand during the legal argument.

In January, more than 30 United Nations member states, including Canada, France and Germany, called on Australia to raise the age.

Australia's Council of Attorneys-General agreed to consider raising the age to 14, and has been examining alternatives to imprisonment.

Last year ACT became the first jurisdiction to commit to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14 and called on other states and territories to follow.

Pressure is mounting in Victoria, where a national-first inquiry into the historic and ongoing injustices committed against Indigenous people has been established and a number of discriminatory laws have been abolished.

The Greens have introduced a bill to the upper house to raise the age but both major parties said they wouldn't support it.

'Tackling the root causes of youth offending is our first priority,' a Victorian government spokesperson told AAP, pointing to a youth justice plan aiming to provide better outcomes for young people.

On Wednesday, the attorneys-general are set to meet for the first time this year, although the federal government's expected ministerial reshuffle may cause a delay and it's unclear if raising the age will be on the agenda.

For Michael Kennedy, a former NSW Police detective who works at the University of Western Sydney, raising the age alone is not enough.

'There is no use lifting the age of criminal responsibility to 14 if nothing is going to be done about unemployment, drug and alcohol problems, sexual assault, domestic violence,' he said.

NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman said the average daily number of young people in custody in the 2019/20 financial year was the lowest since 2002.

Mr Mundine said the cost of inaction was grave. 'The ripple effect of not raising the age of criminal responsibility is going to be another 50 years of undoing trauma,' he said.

'I try to remain positive and optimistic and hopeful. Because I've proved them wrong in terms of how they measured me ... and where I'd end up.'


Bungling health authorities reveal man who hosted a party in Brisbane while infected with Covid only had FIVE people over NOT 25

A Queensland man accused of hosting a party with 25 friends while awaiting Covid test results did no wrong, the government has admitted while confirming one new locally transmitted case.

The Sunshine State was put on high alert on Friday after a 26-year-old Stafford man, from Brisbane's north, tested positive to the highly infectious UK varient of the virus.

Authorities then claimed a man who was identified as a close contact of the known case ignored advice to self isolate and instead threw a party with 25 friends after he was tested for Covid on Friday afternoon.

But they've now admitted that upon further investigation they learned there were only five people at the home.

Deputy Police Commissioner Steve Gollschewski said it was 'inflammatory' to refer to the gathering on Friday night as a party.

Instead, he said there were just five people present in the house and that there was 'no evidence' anybody in attendance committed an offence.

The 25 people first identified as being present at the party were initially forced to self isolate, but there are now just five people who are undergoing mandatory quarantine.

Health Minister Yvette D'Ath said the information they provided the public was 'given by the man himself' while assisting contact tracers. But she admitted there is a possibility that authorities misunderstood the information he provided.

'That the numbers are far lower and it is contained to predominantly housemates, that is a good outcome, much better outcome than what we thought was occurring yesterday,' she said.

'It is disappointing that we have ended up in this situation, but we also have to act on the information that we have at the time.'

The state recorded three new cases of Covid on Sunday, including one within the community.

The new case is the brother of the 26-year-old Stafford man who sparked the latest outbreak when he tested positive to the highly infectious UK strain on Thursday.

Dr Young explained on Sunday the brother is likely the 'missing link' contact tracers have been searching for.

Early indications suggest the virus was in his system longer than his brother and that he has almost entirely recovered, suggesting he was infected first and passed the virus on.


Universities to smother academic freedom

The University of Sydney has treated Education Minister Alan Tudge with complete contempt within hours of the Higher Education Support Amendment (Freedom of Speech) Bill 2020 passing through parliament this month. It did so in the typically duplicitous manner we expect from our universities. It pretends to support the minister’s bill that allows academics to take part in contentious arguments, but then insists on a killer proviso — so long as the speech is “respectful”.

Respectful speech is a fine aspiration for all of us. But the word respect has many meanings ranging from bare tolerance to deep admiration. Former High Court chief justice Robert French, on whose report on freedom of speech and academic freedom the legislation is partly based, points out that terms such as “lack of respect” are “legal categories of indeterminate reference … They allow ‘a wide range for variable judgment in interpretation …’ ”.

That is a huge problem for an academic who is accused by their university of disrespectful speech. Who will decide if the speech was respectful enough? The vice-chancellor?

Consider a hypothetical case of a medical vaccine researcher who stated that anti-vaxxers would be responsible for killing thousands of people by scaring people about the risks of the COVID-19 vaccine. The researcher might state this calmly with many supporting facts. But there is nothing more disrespectful than an accusation that somebody is killing thousands of people. I wonder what the VC would decide? I think the medical researcher would probably get away with it because it refers to anti-vaxxers.

But what about another researcher who said that those advocating zero carbon emissions would kill millions in the Third World by making electricity too expensive? Or a scientist who stated that the banning of DDT by medical authorities had been responsible for the avoidable deaths by malaria of millions of children? Would the VC think that was disrespectful? Quite possible, yes. The academic might be fired despite both statements being perfectly arguable positions.

So the problem is that, by insisting on respect, making contentious comments becomes like walking along the edge of a cliff on a foggy night. You can’t see the edge. The only option for an academic is not to say anything remotely contentious.

In other words, Sydney University just killed academic freedom of speech while pretending to support the minister’s new law.

It seems likely that Sydney University is not aware of a recent heated debate over the term respectful at the University of Cambridge. The Cambridge VC tried to force the university academic freedom policy to require speech to be respectful. The Cambridge dons rebelled and voted instead for the term tolerance.

Why should they respect climate change deniers, some Cambridge academics legitimately argued, if they believed deniers would be responsible for the end of the world? They voted eight to one against the VC.

Such a rebellion by academics needs to happen at Sydney University. But you’d be brave to lead such a challenge. This is a university that has already fired an academic (Tim Anderson, whose comments I disagree with) for making statements it did not like.

Sydney University often states its mantra “disagree well”. It is hard to argue against such an aspiration. But it ignores the fact some things cannot be said in a way that everybody can be guaranteed to feel respected. And if academic freedom depends on nebulous terms such as respect, it ceases to exist.

What is most disgusting about the Sydney University statement is that it pretends to agree with the minister and the French review, claiming it “welcomes passage of freedom of speech bill”. It is yet more evidence that many of our universities are going to need much more encouragement to truly embrace free speech.

But the new legislation is a great step in the right direction. It will need to be policed and suitable penalties applied. That inevitably will mean threatening the loss of federal funding. In my view, Sydney University, which clearly does not understand the concept of free speech, needs to be “respectfully” spoken to by the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency. The universities must be independent of government interference, but to earn that independence they must first act like a university.

Sydney University does not seem to understand what being a university is all about.


Artist abused as ANU-based gallery takes down artwork critical of Chinese government

An art gallery on the campus of the Australian National University has removed three satirical artworks from an exhibition, including one that took aim at the persecution of Uighur Muslims, after complaints from Chinese international students.

Artist Luke Cornish says he experienced a torrent of abuse from Chinese students on social media after his exhibition of street art opened at the aMBUSH gallery on the ANU campus earlier this month.

“I’ve copped a lot of online abuse calling me racist. It was definitely like a targeted attack because it all happened in about an hour. I was just smashed on social media. There was so much of it,” Cornish said. “I understand the gallery is protecting its reputation. But at the same time we shouldn’t be bullied into censoring work about genocide.”

Cornish said he agreed to take down one artwork of a 10 Chinese Yuan currency note featuring Mao Zedong’s face over which he had painted a batman mask. The artwork was captioned: “A shout out to the man that ate the bat in a Wuhan wet market that stopped the f---ing world (which probably didn’t happen).”

The ANU International Students’ Department did not respond to requests for comment, but in a Facebook post said it had asked the gallery to take down the Batman artwork after receiving “multiple reports regarding the harmful nature of the artwork.”

The group said it did not request the removal of the other artworks and “were ourselves surprised to hear the other two artworks were taken down”.

The exhibition featured 54 pieces of Cornish’s artwork and is billed as a commentary on “the rise of authoritarianism, the fall of liberties, the power of the people, and art’s role in inciting change”.

“I was a little bit naive to the racism Chinese people have been facing since COVID and it did offend a lot of Chinese students. So I kind of agreed, yes, we should take that one down,” Cornish said.

But the gallery also took down two other pieces centred around a 10 Yuan note - a decision Cornish did not agree with. One note was painted over with a picture of Winnie the Pooh strangling Tigger. Cornish said the artwork was a comment on China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims, with Chinese President Xi Jinping represented as Winnie the Pooh while “Tigger” rhymed with “Uighur”. In 2018, Chinese censors banned the cartoon bear after it became a popular way to mock President Xi.

The third artwork features Mao Zedong’s face marked with digital outlines of facial-recognition software, billed as a comment on the Chinese government’s social credit system and use of mass surveillance.

Cornish said the artworks were not intended to target Chinese people but rather the government.

“I certainly don’t want to offend anyone on an individual level, the country they come from, and the colour of their skin. [The artworks] are like a broad spectrum assault on all governments, anybody that’s abusing power,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the gallery said it removed the artworks after feedback from the Chinese community.

“The decision was based around unintended hurt caused to the Chinese community who felt the work was feeding into negative racial narratives,” the spokeswoman said.

“The intention of the artwork was to call out the racism experienced by the Chinese community and the absurdity of racist stories around the virus origin. However, both the artist and aMBUSH understand the experience of the series did not reflected the artist’s intention, and this is why we removed it.

“The rest of Luke’s exhibition remains on display. Including works supporting the Uighur struggle. We respect the artist’s freedom to express his political opinion.” Another piece by Cornish, depicting a Uighur man painted onto a meat cleaver remains in the exhibit.

An ANU spokesman said the aMBUSH gallery was a commercial tenant of the campus’ Kambri Precinct and is not affiliated with ANU.

“ANU is aware artwork has been taken down at Ambush Gallery, which was an independent decision of the gallery. Neither the artwork nor the exhibition were commissioned by ANU,” the spokesman said.




Saturday, March 27, 2021

Folbigg petition: Science thrown out of court

She was convicted on the basis of an assumption now known to be false

At 10.10am on Wednesday, Australia’s most notorious female prisoner, Kathleen Folbigg, entered a room at Clarence Correctional Facility and sat at a table, facing a camera linked to a court in Sydney. Eight minutes later, looking slightly bemused, she stood up and left.

In the interim, NSW Supreme Court Justice John Basten had taken less than 45 seconds to dismiss an application made on Folbigg’s behalf to overturn the findings of an inquiry held in 2019 into her convictions for the manslaughter of her firstborn, Caleb, and the subsequent murders of her second child, Patrick, and her third and fourth children, Sarah and Laura.

A scathing written judgment from the three Appeal Court judges, justices Basten, Paul Brereton and Mark Leeming, confirmed the view of the commissioner who headed the earlier inquiry, Justice Reginald Blanch, that “there was an ample basis, consistent with the scientific evidence, for the judicial officer to conclude that there was no reasonable doubt as to Ms Folbigg’s guilt”.

The judges also suggested that: “This was not a case in which the judicial officer’s conclusion was at odds with the scientific evidence.”

What happened next was unprecedented. That afternoon, the Australian Academy of Science issued a statement directly contradicting the judges, saying: “There are medical and scientific explanations for the death of each of Kathleen Folbigg’s children.”

Academy president John Shine told The Australian: “Experts from around the globe have offered an evidence-based explanation for the death of the Folbigg children. It is time that this evidence be brought to bear in the Folbigg case. Any statement suggesting a contrary view should be backed with data. The Folbigg case calls into question the ability for the legal system to assess the reliability of expert evidence.”

Australian National University professor Carola Vinuesa, who gave evidence to the 2019 inquiry, went even further, describing Justice Blanch’s conclusions about the genetic evidence she had helped to present as “incorrect”, and the inquiry’s reasoning as “non-scientific”.

Or in other words, the judges got it wrong.

It’s clear that this is now a bare-knuckle fight between those scientists who believe that plausible natural causes of death have been established for all four of Folbigg’s children, and the judges who continue to reason that other, circumstantial elements of the case, combined with the anguished, ambiguous comments made by Folbigg in her diaries, leave no room for doubt that she smothered all four of her children.

The petition

The Appeal Court verdict comes less than three weeks after 90 eminent scientists — including two Australian Nobel laureates — signed a petition to NSW Governor Margaret Beazley, calling for Folbigg’s immediate pardon and release from jail.

That petition is based on peer-reviewed research published after Justice Blanch’s inquiry, which concludes that Folbigg’s daughters, Sarah and Laura, “likely” died of natural causes linked to a genetic abnormality, and it remains a live issue to be considered by the Governor and by the NSW Attorney-General, Mark Speakman, and his team. The petition and its new research were not referred to by the Appeal Court judges in their conclusions about the science.

Newcastle University Scientia professor emeritus Eugenie R. Lumbers told The Weekend Australian that in her view: “The conflict that exists between the legal system and science can be attributed to the rapid progress of new scientific knowledge. It is essential that the legal system takes a considered approach and places reliance on the expertise of scientists currently working in relevant specific areas of inquiry. ”

The challenge to the judges by the scientific community marks a significant escalation in the increasingly frosty relationship between medical and scientific expert witnesses, and the judges who assess that evidence.

This week, two expert witnesses who appeared on Folbigg’s behalf at the 2019 inquiry openly criticised the way in which they and their evidence were treated.

Newcastle University emeritus professor Robert Clancy said: “My experience in giving evidence at the 2019 inquiry was extremely stressful. I was subjected to a ‘vigour of inquiry’ that I found aggressive and beyond anything I had experienced in over 40 years as an expert witness.

“When I could not agree with incorrect and outmoded evidence given earlier, counsel asked me to provide a detailed report — which I did. Without my knowledge, relevant information in it was redacted.”

Caroline Blackwell, conjoint professor of immunology and microbiology at Newcastle University, says she had the impression the inquiry “was not aware of the complexity or the relevance of the information presented by Professor Clancy and myself”.

John Hilton, long regarded as one of Australia’s pre-eminent forensic pathologists, told The Weekend Australian that the medical evidence “certainly in one case, showed a clear-cut, obvious natural cause of death”.

That case was Laura, Folbigg’s fourth child, where Hilton and three other forensic pathologists all gave evidence to the inquiry that her death could be ascribed to myocarditis, a sometimes fatal inflammation of the heart muscle. Hilton describes it as a “strong probability”.

Laura’s myocarditis was also referred to by the cardiac geneticists who reviewed the case and who suggested it may have triggered her underlying genetic condition causing a cardiac arrest and her sudden death.

Hilton says: “For some reason or other, people have found it terribly hard to get their heads around this. They didn’t understand really what the medical evidence was saying.”

The science

This is now the main allegation being levelled at Justice Blanch, and at the Appeal Court judges who reviewed the genetic evidence that was presented to his inquiry — that they didn’t understand the science.

Law professor Gary Edmond, from the University of NSW, says: “If you were designing a system to facilitate an impartial review of a conviction, where the major issue is the biomedical evidence, would you appoint legally trained personnel to conduct, oversee and evaluate the evidence? Why do we have a legally trained chair, legally trained counsel assisting but no forensic pathologist, geneticist or statistician sitting on the panel?”

Referring to the genetic mutation, CALM2 G114R, which Vinuesa and her colleagues discovered in Folbigg and her two daughters, the judges acknowledged this week that: “The scientific evidence raised a theoretical possibility that there were innocent explanations for the deaths of the two girls.”

But, they argued: “Their circumstances departed from the reported cases of deaths associated with CALM abnormalities.” Compared with other cases reported in the literature, the deaths of Sarah and Laura were “outliers”, the judges ruled. One example was that “the girls apparently died suddenly when asleep and not during exertion”. A further example was the contention that they died at a younger age than other, known examples of CALM-induced deaths.

But Vinuesa begs to disagree. “In all four Folbigg children, there is credible medical and pathological evidence, including new peer-reviewed genetic findings, by an international team of 27 scientists published in a top international cardiology journal … that points towards natural causes of death,” she says.

This is the evidence that the scientists published in the highly respected journal, Europace — which Vinuesa believes was not adequately considered by the Appeal Court.

Vinuesa says that the Folbigg girls’ deaths were not outliers with regards to already known CALM-related sudden unexpected deaths.

On Friday, one of the world’s foremost cardiologists and cardiac genetics experts, Peter Schwartz, weighed in. He described the judges’ scientific commentary as “simply wrong”, adding: “It goes against the only serious data available, namely those of our International Calmodulin Registry.

“With over 100 patients enrolled, it is crystal clear that life-threatening or fatal events have occurred in infants and young children at rest or during sleep, and the majority occur without prior warning.” Vinuesa and her team discovered a different genetic mutation in the two boys, Caleb and Patrick, although the scientists acknowledge that here, further research is needed.

The judges’ conclusions implied that CALM mutations that are lethal in children are not inherited from healthy parents. But Schwartz argues that: “It is widely accepted in genetics that highly symptomatic infants can inherit the disease-causing mutations from apparently healthy parents or parents with mild disease. Consistent with the latter, Ms Folbigg had numerous transient fainting episodes (known as syncopes) during childhood and adolescence, including a witnessed syncope while swimming as an 11-year-old child, requiring her to be dragged out of the pool, which rules out it having been a ‘benign’ syncope.”

What next?

Folbigg’s fate now rests with the NSW Governor and the politically appointed Attorney-General, Mark Speakman.

Will they agree with claims by the Australian Academy of Science, that the scientific conclusions reached by the Appeal Court judges are flawed, or will they decide that the circumstantial evidence presented at Folbigg’s trial, and the evidence of her diaries, overrides these claims?

Edmond argues that: “NSW should have an independent criminal cases review commission — like England, Scotland and New Zealand.”

And he adds: “At one level, given the medical evidence, the diary entries may not even be meaningful. If there is no medical evidence suggesting murder or even deliberate harm, does it matter that a woman has written self-deprecating and adverse self-accusations? The ambiguous diaries must be read subject to the medical evidence. If the medical evidence does not support murder, then ambiguous diaries cannot operate as a makeweight.”

Blackwell says: “There have been significant advancements in science and medicine in the last 18 years. This is particularly evident in the field of genetics, which has led to groundbreaking findings that could not have been envisioned almost two decades ago. The law needs to be open to this progress. It also requires scientists to support the legal system in their understanding of the true cause of all unexpected deaths.”

Solicitor Rhanee Rego and barrister Robert Cavanagh, co-authors of the petition seeking Folbigg’s release, believe that the Appeal Court’s decision this week “should not impact on the petition for pardon of Ms Folbigg, which is currently under consideration by the Governor. The petition deals with matters not considered by the NSW Court of Appeal.”

Rego says: “One of the biggest tensions in our legal system is the varying levels of scientific literacy of those who preside over and appear in courtrooms.

“This can lead to fundamental errors in the assessment of scientific evidence … We must be conscious to listen to those experts who represent their field of expertise and treat with caution those who do not.”


Outrage as young boys are forced to stand in school assembly and 'apologise for rapes committed by their gender' to female classmates

It's a basic principle of natural justice that you are not responsible for the deeds of others

A school has sparked outrage by forcing its young male students to apologise on behalf of their gender to female classmates.

Brauer College in the south-western Victorian town of Warrnambool held an assembly on Wednesday where boys were told to stand up in a symbolic gesture of apology to girls and women.

One parent said her son in Year 7 was left confused about why he had to stage the bizarre apology, where boys were told to say sorry that women are raped and sexually assaulted.

'He said that he was made to stand up and basically apologise... it wasn’t explained properly to the male students what they were doing or why they were doing it,' the mother Danielle Shephard told 7News.

'They really should have made more of an effort to notify the parents.'

In a separate post on Facebook, Ms Shepherd shared another complaint from a parent who called the assembly 'a joke'.

'Wow just wow... this is actually disgusting Brauer College... not at all impressed that you made my son apologise for something he's never done nor considered doing,' she wrote.

A male student also criticised the assembly in a Snapchat post. 'Today at Brauer they made every guy stand up and apologise to every girl for rape, sexual assault,' the student said. 'Guys go through as much s**t as girls do.'

Brauer College Principal Jane Boyle said the apology part of the assembly was 'inappropriate' but defended the school's intentions.

'The assembly included the screening of a video message by Brisbane Boys’ College Captain Mason Black about being proactive in stopping incidents of sexual assault and harassment,' she said in a statement.

'As part of this discussion boys were asked to stand as a symbolic gesture of apology for the behaviours of their gender that have hurt or offended girls and women.

'In retrospect, while well-intended, we recognise that this part of the assembly was inappropriate.'

One mother said on Facebook their son had told her the exercise was simply intended to 'raise awareness'.

'My son explained they stood not to apologise, but to stand in support and solidarity,' another parent wrote.

'You'll find all schools will be teaching consent over the next year - Braeur won't be the only one.'

Victorian Acting Premier James Merlino has since moved to make teaching consent compulsory in all government schools from next month.

The initiative previously did not explicitly direct schools to teach consent and instead focused on relationships, sexuality and safety.

From term two, the directive will compel state schools to teach the government's Respectful Relationships training on free agreements.

Brisbane Boys' College is another of several schools in Australia that has been named in testimonies from private and public school girls who say they were either sexually assaulted, harassed or raped.

Thousands of schoolgirls shared their experiences after Kambala School alumni Chanel Contos, 22, launched a petition on February 18, demanding students be taught about consent.


Gross police abuse of their powers

Police officers have been accused of deliberately intimating a lawyer on his way to court and scaring him so badly he fled through the Magistrate's exit.

The solicitor had been on his way to represent an outlaw motorcycle gang member in a case against NSW Police Strike Force Raptor - the elite bikie-fighting unit. The lawyer was so shaken that the hearing was adjourned.

The abuse of power was detailed in the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission's report which was made public late on Friday.

The lawyer, a principal in his own criminal law firm, first noticed a police car driving past his house at 6.30am on May 28, 2019 - the day he was due in court to represent the bikie against Strike Force Raptor, the report said.

Being on good terms with local police in his country town, he waved - but they didn't wave back.

At 7am he reversed out of his driveway onto the empty street and noticed police were following him.

They pulled him over less than 10 minutes away at a nearby Beaurepaires tyre shop, and identified themselves as being from Strike Force Raptor.

The Raptor officers asked for his drivers license - which he had forgotten.

On his way home to get his ID, the Raptor officers stopped him again to conduct a 'roadworthiness check' on his vehicle.

They repeatedly pulled the front seatbelt before claiming it was not retracting.

They then opened the bonnet and told him they could see an oil leak, then defected him for oil leaks, seat belt defects and window tinting, forcing him to walk home in his socks and thongs.

Rattled, he took a taxi to work - but the police followed his taxi, checking it after he arrived at work with their flashing lights on, the report said.

At 8.30am, his client arrived, telling him the police were 'doing laps' outside his office. This worried the lawyer so much he took a back exit from his office to a solicitor friend who rang the regular police - but they said they could not do anything.

He was so shaken that when he appeared before the Magistrate to represent his client against Strike Force Raptor, she adjourned the matter.

When he left the courtroom, five to 10 Strike Force Raptor officers were waiting.

This intimidated the lawyer so much he fled the court by the Magistrate's private exit, with her permission.

He then told his client that he should not represent him anymore - and the client hired another lawyer, the report said.

Integrity Commissioner Lea Drake found that a senior Strike Force Raptor officer had ordered two other officers to 'target, interact and harass' the lawyer so that he did not make it to court, and also intimidated his female friend.

The Commissioner found that the officers' conduct towards the lawyer was 'disgraceful', inventing breaches in order to target him.

'When misused, targeting can create a hostile relationship between the police and citizens who would otherwise have no animosity towards the police,' the Commissioner wrote.

'The Commission is concerned about the sense of entitlement that can develop in an elite strike force and was demonstrated by this conduct.

'Such limited strategies can become unrestrained and unlawful. If you are an elite, are you bound by the rule of law and the policies of the NSW Police Force or are you bigger, better, harder and more entitled?

'The task of these officers is to enforce the law. If the unlawful conduct engaged in by these officers is allowed to continue and be condoned because of some imagined higher purpose, there can be no good to come from it for the people of New South Wales.'

The Commissioner wrote that while Strike Force Raptor had been successful in disrupting criminal activity, it could not be allowed to harass people.

'However, unlawful conduct must not be condoned or covered up.'

Greens MP David Shoebridge was beside himself on reading the report and slammed the conduct within it late on Friday, summing up the story in an outraged Twitter thread.

'Lawless,' he wrote.

'This is seriously lawless behaviour by a number of police acting in concert and it’s close to unbelievable .... We (will) not leave it here I can assure you. Seriously unbelievable.'

A spokesman for NSW Police said the release of the report had been 'noted' and its contents and recommendations would be 'considered'.


Brisbane man claims paramedics took more than four hours to arrive to his code one call

A Brisbane man has called on the government to expedite fixing ambulance response times before someone dies after he said he waited four hours for paramedics to arrive.

Ben Mihan, 33, said he rang Triple-0 at 8.58pm on Friday as he was suffering from severe chest pains along with trouble breathing.

“They put me as a category one patient and they took four hours and 15 minutes to arrive,” he said.

“During the time they didn’t communicate to check in with me considering the long duration of time I was waiting and I was left in the dark.

“Paramedics didn’t arrive until 1.15am the following morning and I was rushed to hospital.”

Mr Mihan who lives alone and also suffers from asthma, said he then spent five days in the cardiac ward at Chermside’s Prince Charles Hospital, where he was hooked up to a heart monitor for the week.

“It was really scary not knowing when the ambulance would even turn up. I thought they forgot about me,” he said.

“Over that period of time in hospital they ran lots of tests and, as a 33-year-old man, the whole experience was pretty intense and scary.”

The Clontarf resident said an abnormal rhythm was detected in his heart twice, with doctors suspecting a possible blood clot.

Mr Mihan said he was shocked with the four hours it took for an ambulance to arrive, but grateful to be alive. “If somebody, like an elderly man is having a heart attack and it’s a definite heart attack, those four hours would make a difference. He won’t survive that,” he said. “Some people are going to die from these wait times.”

He said he wanted to share his story in the hope it would help alert the government that the Queensland Ambulance Service (QAS) direly needed more resources.

The pressure has been on the Queensland Government to increase the number of QAS personnel after it was revealed in January response times had fallen to an average of 18.3 minutes for a code one – or a life threatening emergency.

The ambulance response time statewide averaged 18.4 minutes during 2019-2020, up from 17.1 minutes during 2018-2019, according to the Report on Government Services (ROGS) 2021.

Ben Mihan said he called Triple-0 three times, and each time was told an ambulance would be there soon. Picture: Supplied
Ben Mihan said he called Triple-0 three times, and each time was told an ambulance would be there soon. Picture: Supplied
The best QAS response time recorded since 2012 was during 2013-2014 when an average time of 14.7 minutes was achieved, but it has continued to creep up ever since.




Friday, March 26, 2021

High-profile Qld eisteddfod’s sudden shut down

This is very sad. The Brisbane Eisteddfod has been fading for some time. But for many years it was an opportunity for country people to send their children to the "big smoke" where they could get their talents a wider audience

I well remember the excitement at my country school many years ago when it was announced that some kid was off to the eisteddfod. The teacher and mother concerned were always as proud as punch and the kids were full of anticipation

There is still a Gold Coast eisteddfod:

The Queensland arts world has been left shocked by the announcement that one of the state’s premier Eisteddfods was folding due to a lack of support.

The long-running Brisbane Eisteddfod has announced it will fold after 129 years of performances.

The Eisteddfod, which every year provides young performers the chance to showcase their talents in music, dance and drama, has confirmed the closure due to a “loss of relevance”.

In a statement on the Brisbane Eisteddfod site, the executive management committee said it “had taken the hard decision to formally close down Brisbane Eisteddfod Inc. as a functioning performing arts competition platform.”

“The decision was not made lightly and is not based on financial or resource availability. A discouraged internal level of commitment and energy and a lack of external understanding and appreciation of dedication, along with a demonstrated lack of interest by the eisteddfod and arts community in maintaining Brisbane Eisteddfod as viable, has further exacerbated its demise as a valuable opportunity,” the statement said.

“Numerous calls for support over social media and the press in recent years has also denied us results.

“Recent rebranding presented Brisbane Eisteddfod with a fresh new look however the anticipated new volunteer interest did not follow.

“From a membership of in excess of 100 some 40 years ago to just 10 over recent years, it’s this in the first instance that has contributed to our position.

“We have always ensured that the competitions were first and foremost in our minds as that’s the staple of our Constitution.

“For Dance, Speech & Drama, Vocal, Instrumental and to a far lesser extent, Choral and Choral Speaking, it is indeed a sad final entry!”

Queensland’s shadow minister for the arts Dr Christian Rowan said the demise of the eisteddford was a huge loss for the Brisbane community.

“This is incredibly sad news, given that the Eisteddfod has been an invaluable opportunity over many years for young performers to demonstrate their talents in music, dance and drama.

“All levels of Government should urgently consider any forms of assistance and support,” Dr Rowan said.


Gender equality watchdog warns of ‘mob mentality’ against men in war against workplace sexual harassment

The federal government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) director Libby Lyons called for more respect for women at work, but warned against demonising all men after an avalanche of sexual harassment allegations aired this month.

“Some of the worst bullying I’ve seen in workplaces has come from women,’’ she told News Corp Australia.

“We have to be very, very careful that we don’t fall into a mob mentality and mass hysteria. “I believe there are many more good men out there than men who treat people poorly.’’

Ms Lyons said she was “outraged’’ by workplace harassment, and called for more women in top management roles to ensure diversity and prevent “groupthink’’ by men in power. “I am not here bashing men around the head,’’ she said.

“This is about respect for everyone.

“There are many good men who try incredibly hard and are probably worried about standing up and calling things out – they probably feel they are in the minority.’’

Ms Lyons said some men feared “that if they speak up they’ll be shouted down’’.

“We must ensure we are not lumping all men into the same basket,’’ she said. “This is not about pitting men against women, this is about ensuring we point out we all need to be treated respectfully.

“We must ensure we have workplaces that mirror the communities in which we live – this means we embrace young and old people, people of different cultural backgrounds, people with disabilities, and women.‘’

Ms Lyons said women’s revelations of workplace harassment were “outrageous’’. “Goodness me, what happened to basic kindness?’’ she said.

“It‘s outrageous. People get into positions of power and they take the privilege for granted.

“There’s a lot of pent-up frustration and discontent, in some cases leading to anger in women, because they feel they’re unable to speak up and have been unfairly and unjustly treated, and in fact mistreated, in many cases.

“Women have been fearful to speak up because for decades we’ve had law enforcement, a legal system and a justice system dominated by men and women have not had a fair go when they’ve been brave enough to step up to make reports.’’

Ms Lyons said harassment and discrimination against women at work was “a symptom of an embedded culture we have lived in for generations’’. “That is a culture where the man is the breadwinner and responsible for bringing home the bacon and the woman has been the happy homemaker,’’ she said.

“That all changed as more and more women wanted to have a career.

Ms Lyons was speaking before today’s launch of new research by the WGEA and Bankwest Curtin Economics centre, predicting that Australian women will take a quarter of a century to earn as much as men.

Men still earn, on average, 20 per cent more than women working full-time.

Ms Lyons said more women need to “sit at the decision-making table’’.

“If we have more workplaces that have more women – not just white women either but more from all sorts of backgrounds and experience and ages – sitting around the decision-making table, they’ll be able to feed in their ideas and we’ll get better decision-making and more respectful workplaces,’’ she said.

“We need to challenge groupthink.’’


Home battery incentives proposed as way to bypass solar power traffic jams

A deluge of rooftop solar power pouring into the electricity network is causing network traffic jams, prompting the energy market rule-maker to propose new regulations to smooth the torrent of household power into the grid and offer incentives to drive the use of home batteries.

Networks were built decades ago when power only flowed from big coal and gas-fired generators directly to customers’ homes. Now power lines are groaning under the strain of Australia’s world-leading solar power installation, which is forecast to grow from 2.6 million energy customers, or 20 per cent of households, to 50 per cent in the next decade.

The energy market rule-maker says new regulations are needed to stop customers copping bigger bills as the network is weighed down by more rooftop solar power.
The energy market rule-maker says new regulations are needed to stop customers copping bigger bills as the network is weighed down by more rooftop solar power. CREDIT:NICK MOIR

Currently, network operators are scrambling to curb the volume of power flowing back into the grid by limiting how much homeowners can sell into it, restraining the returns they make on their investment into panels that cost thousands of dollars.

The Australian Energy Market Commission released proposed rule changes on Thursday to allow networks to offer financial incentives to home owners who avoid sending power to the grid in the middle of the day but export it at night instead. This would encourage greater uptake of home batteries, which could store power generated during the day.

It also made a more controversial proposal that would allow networks to charge solar panel owners for sending power to the grid when the network is most congested, such as in the middle of a sunny day.

In Victoria, excess supply is already causing four of the state’s five network operators to impose solar export limits on households with rooftop panels to prevent disruption to the state power grid.

The AEMC said its rule changes would prevent the need to invest in new network capacity to cope with an excess of power supply. That would limit network charges, which comprise about half the cost of retail electricity bills.

“One option to deal with more solar traffic – building more poles and wires – is very expensive and ends up on all our energy bills whether we have solar or not,” AEMC chief executive Benn Barr said.

“It’s important to do this fairly. We want to avoid a first-come, best dressed system because that limits the capacity for more solar into the grid.”

The AEMC modelled likely scenarios that showed that under the proposed changes an average household customer — including those without rooftop panels — would get a small reduction of up to $25 in their annual bill. But customers with solar panels would take a small hit on their earnings.

A customer with a typical solar system with a capacity of between two and four kilowatts, who on average earn $645 a year for sending power to the grid, would receive $30 less under the rule changes.

The AEMC warned a “do-nothing” approach would see congestion grow and cause restrictions on power export. If implemented for 10 per cent of the time for customers with an average size system, they could see a reduction in annual revenue of around $30, or $80 if exports are restricted for 25 per cent of the time.

The proposed rule changes don’t mandate the price options to customers, which would be left up to network operators to agree with the market regulator.


Frustrated driver sick of climate change protesters blocking his commute to work rips down their signs - before the police arrest HIM instead of clearing the road

A man was tackled to the ground by police after he jumped out of his car and ripped a large banner from the hands of climate change protesters.

Dennis Huts, the former head of the Perth chapter of the United Patriots Front, was later charged with several offences over the incident in the city's CBD on Tuesday.

The 52-year-old had stopped at a red traffic light on Wellington Street as Extinction Rebellion protesters stood in the middle of the road holding the banner which was emblazoned with 'climate and ecological emergency'.

Video footage shows a viably angry Mr Huts got out his car and approached the protesters while yelling 'Get out of my f**king way' and furiously shaking his finger, before grabbing the banner and walking to the side of the road.

Several police officers who were keeping a close watch on the protest quickly pounced on Mr Huts, telling him 'you're under arrest'.

Mr Huts was dragged to the ground by officers as he demanded 'why don't you f**king deal with them?'.

He was bundled into the back of a police van while surrounded by five cops. One officer suffered a serious knee injury during the arrest.

Mr Huts was later charged with common assault, obstructing officers and disorderly behaviour.

He told Nine News he had no issue with protesters but took umbrage at them blocking traffic.

'I've been involved in activism myself - conservative activism. So I support all of that,' Mr Huts said.

'What I don't support is people stopping other people from going about their lawful business.'

In January 2019, Mr Huts outed himself as the man behind a banner reading 'it's OK to be white' which was unveiled in front of thousands of fans at a Big Bash cricket game.

The One Nation supporter said he and a group of others left the sign hanging on the stands to 'protest against the on-going attacks by the progressive left establishment' as he urged Australians to 'embrace the glory of colonisation'.

Mr Huts arrest came on the second day of planned Extinction Rebellion protests in Perth.