Thursday, April 14, 2022

Anthony Albanese to scrap offshore detention and instead 'turn boats back' - government says 'dangerous' policy change will have people smugglers jumping for joy

Anthony Albanese has announced a major shift in border policy under a Labor government as it ends offshore processing of illegal migrants while also pledging to 'turn boats back'.

'We'll turn boats back,' Mr Albanese said at a media conference on Thursday. 'Turning boats back means that you don't need offshore detention.'

Mr Albanese's response sparked incredulity from Peter Dutton, the Minister for Defence,who could not believe the Labor leader made that statement. When told of the comment by 2GB broadcaster Ray Hadley, Mr Dutton replied: 'I doubt that he said that Ray.'

The broadcaster replied: 'You think I'm making it up?'

Once assured the comment was made, Mr Dutton described the comments as a remarkable departure from previous Labor policy.

'If Anthony Albanese said that now, you would expect the people smugglers to be jumping for joy, in the air, off their couches, in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Vietnam,' Mr Dutton said.

'That's actually a very dangerous statement he's made this morning if that's the case as he already doesn't support temporary protection visas which underpin the whole operation of sovereign borders.' 'You can't just turn people around. I'm really stunned.'

He claimed the change in policy indicated 'the wheels are falling off' for Labor. 'I think this is a really significant watershed moment for them,' he added.

Mr Morrison accused Mr Albanese of having had 'every position possible'. 'He has supported everything he has opposed, and he has opposed everything that he has supported,' the Prime Minister said.

'I designed the boat turn back policy. I implemented it. I stood up to criticism day after day after day. 'I stood firm on that policy … It worked. 'I'll tell you who knows who I am, the people smugglers.'


‘Barely coherent’: Doctors slam Albo’s GP clinic ‘white elephant’

A sudden brainwave with no research behind it

The Opposition leader announced a plan to fund 50 bulk billing urgent care clinics which would run seven days a week, 14 hours a day, for just $135 million for four-year trial – or just $2.7 million each.

Questions have been raised over how it could cover even just the wages of GPs, even without considering after hours loading, overheads or security needed for late night work.

The Australian Medical Association warned the plan was akin to Labor’s old GP Super Clinics, which it described as “white elephants” and “some of the worst examples of pork barrelling”.

“We don’t know how it will work, the numbers are sketchy,” he said. “This is barely coherent policy.

“Labor have a bad track record with GP super clinics which were white elephants and were some of the worst examples of pork barrelling. “If they’re not put in the right places you end up undermining fully-functional practices.”

He said security would be needed for late night services, particularly with drug and alcohol effected patients, and after hours pay for doctors and nurses.

The average GP wage is $$200-350,000, according to the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, while the average nurse wage is $75,000, so hiring four each to run a centre across seven days would take up more than half the $2.7m budget in one year.

Mr Albanese defended the policy, saying it was costed “like all of our policies” and closer to the GP super clinics from the Rudd Government than the Shorten plans.

“We promised different commitments in 2019,” he said.

“We promised also a commitment in Fremantle and something in Bribie Island, it was a different commitment, different policy.”

Labor did not respond to questions before deadline on where the clinics would go, how they would be funded, how $2.7m could cover the cost of wages and how many staff would work at them for the second day in a row.


NSW police officers convicted of domestic violence have kept their jobs, despite force's claims of 'zero tolerance'

This should be totally unacceptable

At least six senior NSW police officers who recently committed serious domestic violence offences have kept their jobs, shocking victim advocates and raising questions about the force's commitment to addressing the scourge of abuse within police ranks and in the broader community.

Documents obtained by ABC News under Freedom of Information reveal 27 NSW police officers were charged with domestic violence in 2019 and 2020. Of those, five male officers were convicted of their charges in court, three of whom are still serving — including a senior constable convicted of two counts of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, two counts of common assault and breaching his AVO. Three other officers who were found guilty of their assault charges without conviction are also still serving.

A further 15 NSW police officers — 11 men and four women — were last year charged with domestic violence offences including destroying property, assault, stalking/intimidation, choking and using a carriage service to make threats to kill, documents show. The 2021 data is similar to that obtained in previous years, with 16 officers charged with domestic violence in 2020 and 11 in 2019.

Police Commissioner Karen Webb, who was formally sworn in to her role in February, said she had "zero tolerance" for domestic violence but that attempts to sack officers who break the law were subject to appeal, and not always successful.

"Obviously I haven't had to adjudicate on any of these matters — I've been Commissioner for the last 60-odd days," Commissioner Webb told ABC News. "I've got a very strong position on domestic violence generally ... [but] I can't speak for [decisions made by] my predecessors."

When asked whether the public could trust the NSW Police Force to respond well to domestic violence in the community if officers found guilty of such abuse were permitted to continue serving, Commissioner Webb said it was a "reasonable question".

She said she was "sure" the six officers still serving after being found guilty or convicted of domestic violence would have faced disciplinary action and didn't think they'd still be on the frontline, but her office did not provide details by the ABC's deadline.

Still, it's relatively uncommon for police officers in Australia to be charged with domestic violence, let alone be found guilty in court. For context, in the year ending June 2021, 89 per cent of domestic violence defendants in NSW had a guilty outcome. Of the 27 officers charged with domestic violence in 2019 and 2020, however, just a third were found guilty with or without conviction, in line with trends in other states.

Figures undermine confidence in police, advocates say

Advocates say the figures are further evidence the NSW Police Force, like other Australian law enforcement agencies, has been failing to hold abusive officers to account, and contradict claims by senior police that the organisation has "zero tolerance" for criminal behaviour. As an ABC News investigation first revealed in 2020, police forces are too often failing to take action against domestic violence perpetrators in their ranks, deterring victims from reporting abuse and fuelling cultures of impunity.

It comes following a scathing assessment of how NSW police are responding to domestic violence across the board, with the auditor-general's performance audit last week finding numerous flaws and failures in the force's domestic violence operations, including with its handling of investigations into serving officers.

"It's difficult to believe that police officers found guilty of criminal offences are still allowed to serve in the police force," potentially responding to domestic violence incidents in the community, said Kerrie Thompson, chief executive of the Victims of Crime Assistance League (VOCAL).

"It undermines the good work that the majority of police are doing in responding to domestic violence. The community expects police officers to display a high standard of integrity and uphold the law," Ms Thompson said. "These findings raise questions about how and why officers are allowed to keep their job when they are convicted of criminal offences."

Senior constables in particular are "at the forefront" of domestic violence policing, she added — they frequently respond to domestic violence calls and take victim-survivor reports: "If they are perpetrators of the same abuse, I'm deeply concerned about their ability to provide adequate support to victim-survivors of family and domestic violence."

Sacking police officers in NSW

The NSW Police Commissioner can remove a police officer from the force under section 181D of the Police Act if they lose confidence in their suitability to continue as an officer. Officers who engage in misconduct may also face internal disciplinary action including a reduction in rank or pay or transferral to other duties.

Those found guilty of criminal behaviour are automatically referred for consideration for a Commissioner's loss of confidence, Commissioner Webb said, with each case assessed on its own merits: "But ... I don't have blanket approval for automatic removal and I have to take everything into consideration in making my decisions."

In other words, committing domestic violence is not necessarily considered serious enough misconduct to warrant sacking a police officer.

That's not to say it hasn't featured in matters before the Industrial Relations Commission. In one case heard in 2020, a former police officer appealed the Police Commissioner's decision to sack him for 11 findings of misconduct — including that he threatened and assaulted his partner — claiming his removal would be harsh. The Commissioner (then Mick Fuller) disagreed, arguing the NSW Police Force "has no tolerance for domestic violence behaviour", which he described as "criminal conduct and inimical to our sworn oath of office".

When one of the "key missions" of the force is to "drive out the scourge of domestic violence", the Police Commissioner said, "I can no longer have confidence in you to contribute toward the achievement of such a goal, in view of your misconduct". The industrial relations commissioner John Murphy concluded the officer's removal was neither harsh, unreasonable or unjust and dismissed his application for review.


Problems with a Federal anti-corruption body

On election day, the community will pass judgment on two contending versions of a national integrity commission. Both models should be judged against this criterion: will they erode the doctrine of freedom under the law?

In this country, people are free to conduct their affairs in any manner they choose so long as it is not forbidden by law.

Vague laws are the enemy of freedom. They hand arbitrary power to agents of the executive branch of government and leave ordinary people vulnerable to officialdom.

This is why parliaments have a responsibility to ensure the boundaries of unlawful conduct are clear and known to all. Lawmaking that disregards that principle should be viewed with suspicion by those who value liberty.

One of the great benefits of a federation is that the rest of the nation can learn from the experience of individual states. This is why the Americans sometimes describe their states as the laboratories of democracy.

Beneficial change will spread but mistakes can be quarantined, which brings us to NSW.

That state’s Independent Commission Against Corruption is widely viewed as the model by those who yearn for a federal anti-corruption agency with “teeth”.

But is it much of a model? And what do those “teeth” consist of?

Every state and territory now has an anti-corruption commission but none have replicated exactly what happens in NSW.

Those who are attracted to the idea of an a federal ICAC with teeth, might take a different view if they were asked about the different elements that go to make up the NSW model.

How many people would be in favour, for example, of allowing a federal ICAC to ignore the rules of evidence and base its decisions on material that would never pass muster in a court? That happens in NSW.

How many would like to give a federal ICAC special status so the merits of its findings could never be tested on appeal? That also happens in NSW.

How many would be in favour of abolishing the unquestioned right of defence counsel to test the credibility of prosecution witnesses during cross examination? The ability to expose unreliable prosecution witnesses at ICAC can only be done if the commission, which presents those witnesses, agrees.

How many would be in favour of replicating the internal procedures of ICAC – an organisation that once took evidence at a public hearing from a brain-damaged witness who suffered from amnesia?

Nobody in authority had read the medical documentation this witness’s lawyers had disclosed to the commission.

How many would be in favour endangering the right to a fair trial before an unbiased jury by generating prejudicial publicity at public hearings when criminal proceedings are foreseeable? And how many like the idea of delaying bringing wrongdoers to justice?

In July last year when the NSW Supreme Court handed down guilty verdicts against Eddie Obeid, his son Moses and former NSW Minister Ian Macdonald it concerned events that took place 14 years in the past and had been known to ICAC for a decade.

When the case finally came to court, it was delayed for months because the prejudicial publicity generated by ICAC hearings threatened to taint the pool of potential jurors. And when the trial eventually went ahead, Justice Elizabeth Fullerton was forced to abandon normal criminal procedure and run the trial without a jury.

The biggest issue, however, is the vague definition of corruption used by ICAC in NSW. This has been highlighted by John Nicholson, a former acting inspector of ICAC, who has written that the definition of corruption in that state permits the commission to use “an uncertain standard”.

If the definition of corruption is vague, so is the boundary of the commission’s jurisdiction – and that leaves people uncertain about what they can and cannot do.

At the moment, the Morrison government has rejected the NSW model and says it will only introduce its alternative model with Labor support.

The government’s proposed commonwealth integrity commission, which was designed by former Attorney-General Christian Porter, would be responsible for pursuing breaches of 143 laws directed at specific wrongs.

Those laws would form the boundaries of its jurisdiction and there would be limited capacity for mission creep – unlike the vague boundaries of the NSW model.

But from a rule of law perspective there are problems with the options put forward by the government and Labor.

Labor has yet to unveil the details of what it has in mind, but legal affairs spokesman Mark Dreyfus has stated in the past that there will be public hearings and public findings of corruption.

The law enforcement division of the government’s model would also hold public hearings and make public findings of corruption.

Yet if ICAC-style public hearings and public findings are so beneficial, why not invite the media to provide live broadcasts from the interview rooms of the Australian Federal Police?

There are two reasons why that does not happen. The first is to avoid reputational harm to the innocent and the second is to ensure the guilty face a trial whose fairness cannot be impugned.

Those interests are undermined when bodies like ICAC conduct investigations in public and pre-empt the justice system by making adverse public findings when court proceedings are foreseeable.

The experience in NSW shows this is a real issue. That state uses a system that damages people who might never be declared corrupt let alone prosecuted or convicted in a court of law.

This country has a perfectly good system of justice. The Coalition and Labor are both wrong to consider undermining that system with elements of the discredited ICAC model.




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