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PUBLISHED: 20 Jun 2012 21:58:00 | Kate Mills

Every economy is made up of millions of individual units – people buying and selling, marrying and giving birth, just living their everyday lives. Sometimes in news reports about the economy this can be forgotten. So behind all the concern about Europe and whether countries such as Greece and Spain will go bankrupt, there are heart-rending stories about how the Greeks in particular are dealing with an economy that is falling over.

Anecdotal reports are that the suicide rate in Greece has doubled and The Sydney Morning Herald (published by Fairfax which also publishes BRW) last week had a story with details from recent Greek suicide notes. These were from people that had worked all their lives only to find themselves with nothing. One was from a man who could not live with the shame of scrounging from bins after the pride of running his own business.

Austerity has been promoted as the answer in Europe but it does not appear to be working. Politicians like austerity because it is a neat moral solution to an economic problem. For people that have overspent, under-saved and want to retire early, it seems only right that they should be required to tighten their belts and put right their past wrongs through hard work and sacrifice to build up their balance sheets. However, this moral viewpoint requires that public sector austerity is in some way accompanied by private sector growth. From a view on the ground, austerity has bred only austerity, it has not bred growth.

What it does breed is anger from those under austerity’s yoke. In Europe, this is demonstrated by the rise of niche and extreme parties that feed off voter angst. So in Greece, there has been the swift rise of Syriza – an extreme left-wing party that used to be a ragtag bunch of interests that has coalesced around voter anger into a workable party. At the same time in Greece, Golden Dawn – an extreme right-wing party that campaigns under a swastika-like banner – is also experiencing a renaissance in the polls. And it’s the same across other countries in Europe where recent state and local elections in France and Italy saw strong showings from far-right and far-left parties. In Holland, anti-austerity sentiment has given the balance of political power to a right wing anti-Islamic faction that wants to see an end to multiculturalism. It seems the very tool that European powers thought would bring political stability to the region – currency union – is the same tool that is feeding extremist parties of all shapes and sizes.

BRW does not wish to be alarmist. European leaders know as well as anyone the dangers that threaten stability and will be working all hours at the G20 summit in Mexico this week to come up with a solution that placates bond holders and German voters with regards to Greece but also gives countries facing austerity packages enough oxygen to feed the green shoots of their economies.

What does this all mean for Australia? While Greece is far away, it will affect us in terms of its impact on the global economy and that ephemeral but essential ingredient for success – confidence. It’s also another reminder of how good we have it, with our strong economy, our proximity to the powerhouse economies in the Asia-Pacific and our system of government. While neither of the main parties seem inspiring, at least they are stable.

Kate Mills



  • by: Political Editor Mark Kenny
  • From: PerthNow
  • May 31, 2012 12:00AM

  • Aussies “want and deserve a share of resources boom”
  • PM tells mining firms: “You don’t own the minerals.”
  • Remarks risk reopening old wounds in the industry


PM tells miners they don’t own minerals

PM Julia Gillard has warned the mining industry Australian’s want a share of the nation’s resources boom.

Sky News30 May 2012


Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard with miners. Picture: AFP Source: AFP


PM tells mining firms they don’t own the minerals.

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PRIME Minister Julia Gillard has warned the mining industry Australians want and deserve a share of the nation’s resources boom and reminded its leaders they don’t “own” the minerals in ground.

In a frank and spirited front-foot address at the annual Parliamentary dinner in Canberra to a sector the Government has been at war with in public relations terms, Ms Gillard defended criticisms of billionaire miners as powerful sectional interests.

She said it was one thing to invest money but told the big end of town they were certainly not the only hardworking people in the economy.

“Now, I know you’re not all in love with the language of “spreading the benefits of the boom,” she told them.

“Australians don’t begrudge hard work and we admire your success.

“But I know this too: they work pretty hard in car factories and at panel beaters’ and in police stations and hospitals too, and here’s the rub.

“You don’t own the minerals. I don’t own the minerals.

“Governments only sell you the right to mine the resource.

“A resource we hold in trust for a sovereign people.

“They own it and they deserve their share.

In his speech to the dinner, Rio Tinto’s Managing Director David Peever was equally blunt.

“Divisiveness can have no future in the vibrant Australia to which we aspire,” he said.

Read more:

May 19, 2012Opinion

Shaun Carney opinion.
Digital image: Judy GreenDigital image: Judy Green

THE nation’s union leaders paid tribute to Bill Kelty at a dinner on Wednesday night. Paul Keating, Kelty’s political partner through the ’80s and early ’90s, was there to honour his friend. He characterised the former ACTU secretary, a truly enigmatic figure, as one of the nation’s greatest ever unionists.

Kelty was secretary from 1983 until 2000, a period that spanned the life of the Hawke and Keating governments and the first four years of the Howard era. As a public figure, Kelty was a foundation member of the less-is-more school. His media appearances and speeches were few and far between. As a consequence, when he spoke in public, it often had an impact.

Not much has changed. He showed this week that he still has the capacity to issue a powerful message. Essentially, on Wednesday night, he told the Gillard government, the Labor Party and the unions to wake up to themselves, to stand up and fight and to take responsibility for their failures.

Hitting home: Former ACTU secretary Bill Kelty.Hitting home: Former ACTU secretary Bill Kelty. Photo: Lee Besford

Kelty’s message carried heavy freight; few could doubt his Labor credentials. During the Hawke and Keating years, he gave two important speeches that bookended their time in office. In 1983, only weeks after the Hawke government was elected, his contribution to the national economic summit paved the way for business, the unions and all but one of the states to sign up for a common policy prescription to find a way out of a deep recession. Kelty had pledged that the unions would moderate and even stall their wage campaigns in the interest of reviving and transforming the economy. His appearance helped to set up the new Labor government for a period of considerable success.

The other significant speech came during the dying days of Labor’s 13 years in power, at a union rally at the Melbourne Town Hall in the 1996 election campaign. The Keating government was headed for defeat, and Labor and the unions knew it. Kelty addressed the prospect of a Howard government. He warned that if the Coalition wanted to wipe out industrial protections for workers in favour of individual contracts, a dispute the previous year at Weipa over private contracts would merely be ”the first sonata”. Looking across the stage at Keating, he said: ”If they want a fight, if they want a war, they’ll have the full symphony – all the pieces, all the clashes and all the music. I am not sure it will be the 1812 Overture, but I will tell you what, Paul, it will not be Mahler either.”

It took a while, but Kelty’s warning of a full-scale war eventually came to pass. The ACTU’s campaign against John Howard’s WorkChoices laws – exactly the type of legislation he had been talking about in 1996 – played a major role in ensuring the removal of the Coalition government in 2007.

What Kelty told the ACTU dinner this week was the sort of straight talk that has eluded the labour movement, and, in particular, the federal government, for far too long. When he was ACTU secretary, Kelty always saw Labor’s mission as being tougher to effect than the Coalition’s. For the ALP, being in office was inevitably hard graft, and it was to be expected that circumstances and enemies would conspire to frustrate it.

In his speech, Kelty harked back to the economic conditions facing the previous Labor government and noted how confidence in the ALP had been lost. ”Real pressures on living standards, high unemployment; but we never, ever lost a sense of hope and trust that governments and unions would see it out and there would be a better future. Today, we have better economic conditions, but that hope and that trust has retreated.”

He was utterly dismissive of the excuses now being trotted out by the Labor Party and many of its supporters for the federal government’s poor standing. ”I’ve got to be frank: it’s too easy to blame the media, too easier [sic] to blame the playthings of politics. And there’s no purpose blaming the opposition for doing what, after all, you would expect them to do, and that’s to beat you.

”In a sense, I think we make politics just simply too hard. The truth will normally do. This is a transition in the Australian economy that for many people will be very hard, but the truth is also this: that the very best people to manage that transition is a Labor Party, it is unions, it is managing in a Labor way.”

Lastly, Kelty deplored the defeatist mindset that has taken hold across the government and the unions. ”It is too easy to accept defeat, too easy to say the Labor Party will not win. [Keating] won when nobody said he would win. So whenever people say you’re put down or you’re going to get beaten or you’re going to get destroyed, the one thing you always should say is: ‘never without a fight’.”

This was a profound critique of the Gillard government’s political outlook, for several reasons. Only a day earlier, Julia Gillard, in her own address to the ACTU, had put the government’s unpopularity down to public anxiety in the wake of the global financial crisis, opposition scaremongering and the media. On the opposition, she said: ”I understand that Australians have been screamed at now by the opposition for more than a year. They’ve been told that they need to be very afraid, they’ve been screamed at relentlessly, and we all know a good fear campaign when we see one.”

On the media and its ”dramatic reporting” she said: ”… I do understand, as I’m sure you understand as well, the frustration that can come from the headlines in the daily newspapers where, when you look at those headlines, with all of their horror, the schlock and horror that modern media reporting runs to, that the achievements of this minority Parliament aren’t seen for what they are.”

Kelty repudiated Gillard’s assessment of her own political plight, although he stopped short of nominating the root cause of Labor’s malaise. But little effort is needed to work out where his analysis rests. If the Liberals, Nationals and media are not to blame, surely only the government itself is left.

The Prime Minister’s course is clear: more of the same. And then more. No change. She will keep going, she will not be deterred. It’s 15 months since she confirmed that the government had committed to the Greens’ preferred policy of a carbon tax.

Since then, Labor’s collapse in every available opinion poll has been calamitous. In the 15 Nielsen/Age polls in that time, the Coalition’s biggest lead after preferences was 22 per cent and its average lead has been 12.6 per cent. Its smallest lead was 6 per cent in February this year, when speculation about Kevin Rudd returning to the Labor leadership was at its height.

Once Rudd was dispatched by the caucus at the end of February, the Coalition’s lead returned immediately to around its normal level of 14 per cent. Just to make it clear, that’s a 57-43 result – potentially one of the greatest wipeouts in federal political history.

What is the caucus going to do? At the ACTU congress, the Prime Minister’s message to the unions was to ignore the government’s rampant unpopularity in the community and to focus instead on the process. ”We have a plan for the country. We are getting on with the job. I am determined that we deliver that plan because it will make a difference for all Australians.” She then recommended that Labor and the unions ”stiffen our spine and we get on with the work that working Australians want us to do”.

There is no doubt about the Prime Minister’s determination and her personal resolve. But there is a point when toughness and resilience become stubbornness, all too often a demeaning, self-defeating quality. Kelty called on the labour movement to fight. Gillard called on Labor people to stay clam, and blame the media and Tony Abbott’s scare campaign.

Who will the caucus listen to?

Read more:

Deborah Snow

May 19, 2012

Julia Gillard Photo MIchele MOssopTuesday 15th may 2012Julia Gillard speaks at the ACTU national conference in Sydney todaySeen here with ew ACTU secretary Dave Oliver (on her immediate right)Tale of humility … Julia Gillard with the newly-elected secretary of the ACTU, Dave Oliver, speaks at the congress in Sydney. Photo: Michele Mossop

Key players are trying to claim the high ground on industrial relations, writes Deborah Snow.

The politician, the union leader and the business boss all had a story of humble origins to tell this week. In fact, you’d be forgiven for thinking each was trying to out-humble the other.

The BHP kingpin, Jac Nasser, told the Institute of Company Directors that he was no class warrior, just the son of a simple Lebanese man who’d packed up his family to come and live all together ”in a single bedroom” in a house in outer Melbourne.

The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, trotted out for the ACTU congress in Sydney the tale, yet again, of her modest upbringing in Adelaide, the child of migrants who taught her to ”always, always, always carry your union membership card”.

And the newly-elected secretary of the ACTU, Dave Oliver, describing himself as a ”humble lift mechanic”, confessed astonishment that someone who’d started his working life as a 15-year-old apprentice, skateboarding to his first job, should have risen to the top of the union movement.

”Frankly, I’m amazed to be here today,” he told delegates to the triennial ACTU congress in Sydney – though, in fact, there was no surprise at all in the carefully-orchestrated elevation of Oliver, whose formidable campaigning skills are precisely why he has been put in the job.

The real point to all this faux-humility was the key players trying to stake out moral high ground as the industrial relations debate skidded off into talk of class warfare this week.

The Employment Minister, Bill Shorten, declared that ”we mustn’t let ourselves get fitted up – that somehow we are the class warriors. It has never been un-Australian to back-in the interests of the Australian working people”.

The head of the Transport Workers Union, Tony Sheldon, told union delegates Alan Joyce’s grounding of Qantas last year was a fine example of class warfare and that Nasser’s speech on Wednesday was evidence of ”that war being declared again”.

Nasser, in turn, told his audience of company directors that it was ”personally disappointing to me that part of this debate has become one based on class divisions”.

But he didn’t hold back in spelling out the mining conglomerate’s belief that the ”pendulum” had swung too far the unions’ way with Labor’s Fair Work Act, brought in by Gillard to replace John Howard’s reviled Work Choices.

Management had the right to ”run the business without the constant threat of a [union] veto over operational decision making”, he said, and the government’s current review of the Fair Work Act would be ”an opportunity to move the pendulum back to a more appropriate balance”.

If that didn’t happen, the company had the luxury of choice in deciding the ”geography” of where it might invest – a comment later interpreted by Sheldon as the threat of a ”capital strike”. Repudiating Nasser’s warnings, coalminers in Queensland are now positioning to launch mass strikes against the company.

BHP is not alone in its complaints. Major employer groupings such as the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Industry Group have lodged extensive submissions with the Fair Work Act review team, outlining dozens of areas where they say union powers are too great.

Top of AiGroup’s concerns is the scope it says unions now have to bring issues into the bargaining process that were never part of it before.

”Prior to the Fair Work Act, there was a tighter test of what you could put into agreements,” says the group’s national industrial relations director, Steve Smith. ”[Now] the unions want to be able to bargain over absolutely everything.”

He denies rising employer agitation against the Fair Work Act is ideologically driven and says his grouping just wants it ”sensibly” amended rather than thrown out.

However, Oliver says employers are ”sniffing the political wind” and responding with increasing militancy. ”We are up for a discussion on productivity – always have been, always will be,” he told the Herald. ”But we will give as good as we get.”

The union movement, he says, will not back away from its declared intention this week to campaign strongly against the growing phenomenon of what it calls ”insecure work” – that is, casual work, workers on contract and workers living day-to-day on calls from labour hire firms.

Former Labor deputy prime minister Brian Howe told the union congress there was a growing gulf between those in the ”core” workforce and those on its ”periphery”.

Releasing a report commissioned by the ACTU, he said he’d found ”countless casual workers in low-paying industries like security, contract cleaning, call centres and childcare”, who had unstable hours and ”pay so low that many of them have to hold down two or three jobs to make ends meet”.

Insecure work affected up to 40 per cent of the workforce, he claimed – a figure disputed by employer groups, who say Howe’s estimates include more than 1 million independent contractors with zero desire to become employees.

It’s a battle that will ramp up in coming months, as the ACTU pledges to extend the campaign into the community, backed by Oliver’s determination to set up what he calls a ”permanent campaigning capacity” inside the union body.

Indeed, he made a candid admission this week that the union movement had made a strategic error in pulling back after the success of its anti-Work Choices campaign in 2007.

People back then, he told the congress, ”knew what we stood for – but sadly, it didn’t last”.

”We didn’t keep faith with that campaign after the 2007 election. We thought because we’d defeated one enemy, that we had won all the battles we needed to,” he said.

It’s a mistake Oliver is determined the union movement won’t repeat. Shorten, meanwhile, will receive the report of the Fair Work Act review team at the end of this month. Advance reviews suggest it’s unlikely to give employer groups the overhaul they want. And with an eye on his future ambitions, Shorten won’t want to take apart a piece of legislation so closely associated with the Prime Minister.

The ACTU congress wrapped up on a jovial note on Thursday. Organisers brought the architects of Labor’s 1980s accord with the unions – Bob Hawke, Paul Keating and Bill Kelty – under the same roof for the conference dinner. Hawke belted out the union anthem Solidarity Forever. Delegates sang a ragged Happy Birthday for the outgoing ACTU secretary, Jeff Lawrence, who turned 60 on the congress’s final day.

But it was fighting words Oliver left delegates with at the end: ”No matter what they throw at us, no matter what the challenge, we never have and never will put up that white flag. Now it’s time to get back to work.”

Read more:

2:22 PM, 18 May 2012 Last update 2:22 PM, 18 May 2012

Prime Minister Julia Gillard says people can have confidence in the Australian economy, as other countries fight high levels of unemployment.

Ms Gillard attended a ground-breaking ceremony in Darwin on Friday for the start of a $34 billion LNG project by Japan’s Inpex, saying it was a “fantastic” opportunity for the Northern Territory and part of the resources boom that is changing the economy.

 “We can be confident about the Australian economy because there are so many investments like this one in the pipeline – more than $450 billion of investments,” she told reporters.

She said Australia came out of the global financial crisis strong, and continues to grow with low unemployment and low inflation. Her comments came as the local share market plunged around two per cent amid a global rout as investors panicked over the growing crisis in Europe after reports of a run on Spanish banks.

She understood that many Australians would be concerned by the news from Greece, and the high levels of unemployment in places like Spain – 25 per cent – and even the United States at more than eight per cent.

She conceded there were also “stresses and strains” from a high Australian dollar that is having an impact on manufacturer and tourism. “But even in manufacturing and tourism we are seeing companies compete and hold their heads up in the world, and continue to make good profits an keep people in jobs,” she said.

Published 9:35 AM, 18 May 2012 Updated 3:09 PM, 18 May 2012

Words are powerful things that can be loaded with emotion. The word ‘tax’ in particular is ingrained with negative feeling.

That’s why Tony Abbott, ever since he took over the leadership of the Liberal Party, has wanted people to think of a carbon price as a ‘carbon tax’ and not a ‘carbon trading’ scheme. It looks as if he has succeeded.

Back in around 2001 I remember having an argument with then shadow Labor Environment Minister, Kelvin Thomson. At the time I said that if Labor really wanted to do something meaningful to reduce emissions they needed to introduce a carbon tax. Thomson said they would do nothing of the sort.

Instead, he said, they would look to introduce an emissions trading scheme. At which point I blurted out, “Okay, sure… carbon tax, carbon trading, who cares, they’re effectively the same thing.” Thomson then coolly explained that there was no way Labor would be opening itself up to the same kind of electoral damage that accompanied the introduction of the last new tax – the GST.

Tony Abbott, having been John Hewson’s media adviser when Hewson lost the unlosable election in 1993 over the GST, would have learnt this lesson well. While Gillard did admit that the deal negotiated with the Greens to provide a fixed price period meant it was “effectively a tax”, on the whole the government studiously avoids describing it as a carbon tax.

Instead, they prefer to describe it as a carbon pricing scheme or a carbon trading scheme with a short fixed price period.

Well if you check out Google Insights, it’ll show you that Tony Abbott has clearly won the battle over how people think about and describe the carbon pricing scheme. The first chart illustrates the frequency with which people in Australia search in Google for the terms ‘carbon price’, ‘carbon trading’ and ‘emissions trading’ since 2005. Carbon trading has generally been dominant but with emissions trading not far behind, until 2011 when carbon price became more frequent. Frequency that the terms ‘carbon price’, ‘carbon trading’ and ‘emissions trading’ are entered into Google – 2005 to today

 The next chart is exactly the same as the one above except it also assesses the frequency with which ‘carbon tax’ is searched for (the green line) relative to the other terms. Carbon tax, for the most part, was barely used. Then in 2011 its frequency dwarfs that of the other terms and indeed dwarfs anything historically, showing that most people have become engaged in this debate during the period it has been considered as a carbon tax.

Frequency in use of search terms including phrase ‘carbon tax’ (illustrated in green) The person who can frame a debate in language that is most favourable to them is more than half-way to winning the argument. Abbott has done this superbly, with some support from the Greens.

Jessica Irvine

May 18, 2012

I’ve figured it out. I’ve figured out how Australia’s economic vital signs can be so good – low joblessness, low inflation, trend growth – and yet Australians can remain so resolutely miserable.

Consumer confidence figures out this week confirm Australian consumers remain in the doldrums, with sentiment lifting just 0.8 per cent to remain below its historical average, despite a supersized interest rate cut and a federal budget promising goodies for middle- and low-income families.

A separate survey by Boston Consulting Group found sentiment in Australia ranks even lower than that of some crisis-torn and debt-riddled European countries.

 There can be only one answer: we are, as a nation, chucking a full-on, all-screaming, all-door-slamming teenage temper tantrum. The Australian economy is now in its 20th year of consecutive growth. Anyone aged about 40 or less has pretty much never experienced a recession, or at least the humiliating experience of trying to find a job during one.

The consequence is we have grown complacent. We’ve either forgotten, or have never known, how hard it can get. We’ve matured, recently, in our discontent. The collective hissy fit that pushed the Howard government out of power and saw Labor sail forth in a ”cost of living” battle was more like a school kid spitting the dummy about not having enough pocket money to cover increasing lolly prices.

True, lolly prices were rising, particularly on consumer sensitive items like petrol, food, education and health. But average income gains were more than enough to offset the rises for most, if not all, Australian households. In the post global financial crisis era, we have entered a more mature phase in our malcontent. We recently discovered that we maxed out our credit card and mum and dad can’t just erase it. We ran up massive debts relative to our income, with most of the money going into housing, and we’ve woken up with a debt hangover.

Australia’s household debt-to-income ratio is the highest in the world. And house prices have stopped rising.

With an almighty crunch, the realisation has dawned that we can’t go out partying every Saturday, we need to stay at home and save money. And that is, like, sooo unfair!

Meanwhile, business is acting like an adolescent, too, chucking hissy fits about workplace laws and taxation because it has learnt that this is an extremely effective parental manipulation strategy. In the teenage economy, the returns from rentseeking – or seeking special treatment from mum and dad – are higher than the returns from productive pursuits, like actually innovating business practices.

Business chucks a tantrum because it’s easier to manipulate mum into given you $20 than going out and getting a job and earning it yourself. One after another, Australia’s leading chief executives whinge and whine about government red tape and onerous regulation, while failing utterly to outline visions for innovation. Retailers whine about lower retail spending, rather than diverting their energy into making stores that people want to shop in with sales assistants that are friendly and knowledgeable about their product. Manufacturers bemoan a higher dollar without thinking how they can move up the value chain to high-end goods that foreigners actually want to buy.

To be fair, it seems most of the tantrums come from big business in Australia – the banks, resource companies and retailers that generally operate under little competitive pressure and enjoy a captive customer base. Rather than divert their resources into becoming more efficient, it pays dividends to run to government and seek favourable tax conditions or other treatment to plump shareholder returns.

Government is acting like the weak-willed parent who, in its thirst for affection, has failed to draw any boundaries and stick to them. Consumers have become rentseekers too, complaining about the cost of living and wailing about any attempts to wind back a bloated welfare system.

Meanwhile we refuse to acknowledge all the things government has done for us, like stopping us from going into recession. Government is left desperately trying to figure out what it is that we want to keep us quiet.

But any attempts to assuage our complaints – such as petrol price inquiries, grocery price inquiries – only lead us to wail even louder.

Our political discourse has become petty and puerile, an obsession with personality more befitting a teenage sleepover or schoolyard gossip circle. Did you see Julia’s shoulder pads in that jacket? They were like sooo 1990s! She’s such a scrag anyway. Huge arse. Oooh, but how about Tony? I dunno, he seems kinda aggressive, but powerful somehow. I dunno, you know? Perhaps this is the symptom of our success.

If we had double-digit unemployment then we’d really have something to worry about. But we don’t. So we wail and gnash our teeth about the injustice of it all. The Treasury Secretary, Martin Parkinson, in his annual post-budget address, complained this week of the complete lack of respect for the institutional and policy settings which have got Australia to where it is. These include: sustainable government finances which create room for counter-cyclical spending to cushion against recession; an independent central bank which has anchored inflation expectations; and a floating exchange rate that acts as a shock absorber for the economy.

He strayed from his scripted notes during the luncheon of the Australian Business Economists, many of whom are former government economic advisers, and it’s worth reproducing the comments here: ”One of the things that actually is disappointing is people take for granted that this framework exists now. There are some of us in this room who know how hard it was to get those frameworks in place. To put it another way, that set of frameworks is an asset or an endowment for Australia in as much a way as our mineral and energy resources are or our human capital is. If we trash those frameworks for short-term gain then the consequences for Australia will be very, very significant and I find it, therefore, very, very disheartening when I see people in the business community or people commentating in the press who seem to think that you can just basically casually attack some of the elements of this framework without actually thinking through 1) how much a benefit it’s given Australia and 2) what would be the implications for Australia today if we had those frameworks having been dismantled in some way.”

Maybe it’s time we grew up and realised how good we’ve got it. Read more:

May 18, 2012

THE Gillard government has failed to implement a decision of last year’s ALP national conference that offered hope for almost 50 refugees facing indefinite detention because ASIO has deemed them threats to national security.

The conference voted unanimously to require the National Security Legislation Monitor to propose how adverse security assessments of asylum seekers could be reviewed in a way that protected ASIO’s sources but ensured procedural fairness for asylum seekers.

But more than five months after the conference, the monitor, Sydney lawyer Bret Walker, SC, has not received any reference from the Prime Minister to provide such advice.

Front_353Ranjini faces a life in detention.

Confirmation of the inaction came as the Attorney-General announced that three Indonesian minors who had been jailed as adult people smugglers would be freed after a review gave their claims to be children “the benefit of the doubt”.

The failure to act on adverse ASIO decisions will anger party members and MPs who believe the government committed itself to act on the need for greater transparency of decisions and explore alternatives to indefinite detention.

It may also prompt fierce debate at this weekend’s Victorian ALP conference, which will consider motions calling for swift action to implement an appeals process.

The secretary of Labor for Refugees, Robin Rothfield, last night accused Attorney-General Nicola Roxon of showing contempt for her party’s platform.

Mr Rothfield said it appeared Ms Roxon had taken no action in response to changes in the platform or the recommendations of a parliamentary inquiry that reported in March.

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the most recent case of a negative assessment — in which a Sri Lankan mother was placed in indefinite detention with her two boys last week after marrying and settling as a refugee in Melbourne — demonstrated the urgent need for a review mechanism.

The woman’s first husband died in the Sri Lankan civil war. Her second husband maintains he sought the department’s approval before they married in April and she moved from Brisbane to Melbourne.

“The lack of appeal rights and merits review of these detention and adverse ASIO assessment decisions means genuine refugees, men, women and children, are caught in a legal black hole,” Senator Hanson-Young said.

“They are effectively facing incarceration for the rest of their lives, simply for seeking protection as refugees in Australia. 

“The ASIO Act must be changed as per the recommendations in the recent parliamentary detention inquiry to allow a review of these ASIO assessments and the ability of individuals to know what accusations the government is making about them, so they have the ability to respond.”

Asked how the national conference decision was being implemented, a government spokesman said:  “Introducing a new appeal mechanism for adverse security assessments, which would operate over and above current mechanisms, raises complex legal questions.

“The government will continue to consider and methodically work its way through these complex issues before commenting further.”

Shadow immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said the Coalition did not support a call for a review of ASIO assessments.

He said a Coalition government would not change the arrangements for people found to pose a security threat.

“By implementing our proven border protection policies we will be significantly reducing the instances of these cases presenting in the future — but we do not believe national security should be compromised on these issues,” he said.

Fremantle MP Melissa Parke, who moved the resolution at the national conference, said she remained confident that the government would act.

“I’ll be seeking advice from the Attorney-General on the issue,” she said.

On the topic of the three Indonesian juniors, Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said they would be returned to Indonesia after their cases were reviewed.

“Minors don’t belong in adult jails, which is why the government committed to review these cases as quickly as possible,” Ms Roxon said.

“Further information has raised sufficient doubt that these three individuals may have been minors at the time of the offence, which warrants granting them early release on licence.”

The government agreed on May 2 to review the cases of 24 people convicted of people smuggling offences who claimed they were children at the time of their offences.

Since then, four more cases have been identified for review.

The Australian Human Rights Commission is conducting a separate inquiry into the treatment of people suspected of people smuggling offences who claim to be children.

Ms Roxon said that thee others individuals convicted of people smuggling offences had completed their non-parole period and had been sent back to Indonesia.


Read more:

And a nice new form of words will emerge. But will the practices of parliamentarians change? Now that the bipartisan approach to ignoring each other’s dodgy behaviour has ended, where will all of this end ? My guess after a few weeks and/or we move away from  minority government, the previous approach based on avoiding Mutually Assured Destruction will reassert itself. Too many people with too many stories of dodgy, dubious, disreputable behaviour…
The ACTU’s position has moved: Dave Oliver has signalled the need for a tough review of union governance rules.

PM welcomes political conduct debate

Published 2:40 PM, 13 May 2012 Last update 6:39 AM, 14 May 2012


Prime Minister Julia Gillard has supported a call to have a debate on clearer guidelines for politicians when it comes to their conduct.

Independent MP Tony Windsor has called for a review of the code of conduct for politicians, following damning civil allegations against former Labor MP Craig Thomson and Speaker Peter Slipper.

Ms Gillard said she was open to debating the issue in parliament.

“I’d certainly welcome discussions in the parliament on a code of conduct for MPs,” she said.

“I do want to see members of parliament always doing the right thing.

“There are various rules now for members of parliament but I’m obviously open to suggestions for a code of conduct and clearer set of rules.”

The prime minister said Mr Thomson, who is accused – in Fair Work Australia (FWA) findings – of misusing union funds on prostitutes and personal expenses, as well his election campaign, was entitled to a presumption of innocence.

“It’s not for me to come to conclusions here, or announce conclusions, it’s for the proper authorities and ultimately for the courts,” she told reporters in Queensland on Sunday.

“I understand many Australians would have seen Mr Thomson’s interview yesterday and they will have drawn their own conclusions but ultimately the only way this matter can be resolved is properly before the courts.”

Mr Windsor said the public wanted a higher standard from parliamentarians and politicians would face a test in the next few weeks as to how they would grapple with both civil and criminal offences of their contemporaries.

“Under current rules within the parliament, there’s not a lot that can be done in terms of those findings,” Mr Windsor told Sky News.

“If those findings become a criminal matter, if there’s fraud or other issues involved in terms of the union or even in my view some civil matters, there may well be need to change the rules in the parliament so that those issues can be dealt with in the parliament.

“But currently they can’t, you know – we can give someone a slap on the wrist but I don’t think the general public is too interested in a slap on the wrist.”

Mr Windsor has flagged a referendum to deal with the issue.

Meanwhile, incoming ACTU secretary Dave Oliver says that following the numerous investigations into Health Service Union, the union movement will approve an overhaul of union governance, according to the Australian Financial Review.

Mr Oliver confirmed that there will be a debate on governance changes at the ACTU Congress.

May 9, 2012Opinion

Craig Thomson arrives at the cross bench at the start of question time on Tuesday 8 May 2012. Photo: Andrew MearesCraig Thomson sitting alone in question time yesterday. Photo: Andrew Meares

One of its own vied for attention on the government’s banner day, writes Tony Wright.

CRAIG THOMSON was the loneliest man in the House of Representatives on budget day.

Inhabiting what appeared to be a total exclusion zone on the crossbenches, far from the Labor colleagues who had protected him for years, the alleged rorter of $500,000 in union funds roused himself only to vote … for his own survival.

The Speaker, Peter Slipper, pleaded innocence of his own alleged transgressions and swept away to a future uncertain, leaving us no more than the memory of a billowing gown. The former speaker, Harry Jenkins, found himself voting against his own proffered return.

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Such a peculiar atmosphere. No mass shrieking, roaring and bluster, the usual stuff of Parliament. Instead, there was a fearful tension punctuated by ringing invective from the dispatch boxes about the plunging reputation of politicians and Parliament.

The budget papers may have been holding others in thrall behind locked doors across Parliament House but you would scarcely have guessed it in the House. The press gallery, normally all but deserted on budget day, was heavily populated by senior reporters lured by the heady combination of drama performed upon a high-wire.

Mr Slipper stayed only a minute or two, offering the Lord’s Prayer, a denial of the allegations of sexual harassment and misuse of taxi dockets levelled by a former aide, James Ashby, the plea that his attempts to reform Parliament had met approval from the broader public and a lamentation that it was ”unfortunate that trial by media has become the order of the day”.

The people of Australia, cried the opposition’s Christopher Pyne in riposte, viewed the Parliament with nothing but ”sheer horror and revulsion”.

He and his colleagues wanted to ”wind back the clock” to November 24 and restore Harry Jenkins as Speaker. And they wanted Mr Thomson suspended from Parliament for 14 sitting days, and then to return to explain himself in the light of the findings of Fair Work Australia, after which the House could decide his political fate.

The wire on which Julia Gillard’s government tottered was exposed for all to see when the MPs came to vote on the idea of winding back the clock on Mr Slipper. It was tied at 72-72, though falling short of an absolute majority, it was lost.

Independents Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor saved the day for the government, spurning Mr Pyne’s entreaties, though Andrew Wilkie backed the Coalition.

The attempt to toss Mr Thomson to the wind was lost rather more convincingly, 73-70, after a Coalition backbencher was thrown out for interjecting and Bob Katter didn’t vote at all.

Ms Gillard, having survived another day swaying on the high-wire, called off question time after two questions.

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