How black was my armband? - View from the Arch

12/10/2007 - 21:12


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As the ALP's Robert McClelland had his black armband torn off and the Prime Minister prepared to sport a grey one, WA's CCC euthanised some careers, rail lines were in a coma and voters still don't know how long they have left.

How black was my armband? - View from the Arch

As the ALP's Robert McClelland had his black armband torn off and the Prime Minister prepared to sport a grey one, WA's CCC euthanised some careers, rail lines were in a coma and voters still don't know how long they have left.

Corruption and Crime Commission

The long-awaited report of Western Australia's Corruption and Crime Commission into the proposed Smiths Beach development at Yallingup was tabled in Parliament this week.

Disgraced former Western Australian premier Brian Burke, who is still being investigated by the CCC, claimed the report was fundamentally flawed and unfair.

Mr Burke worked for developer Canal Rocks, which wanted to build a $330 million project at Smiths Beach in the lead-up to local elections in 2005, and was a central figure in the affair.

The CCC examined whether Canal Rocks, or its proponents, exerted undisclosed or improper influence on public officers as they sought to get the development approved.

The report said the misconduct of former Department of Planning and Infrastructure deputy director Paul Frewer, DPI senior officer Mike Allan and sacked WA small business minister Norm Marlborough were a result of the requests or influence of Mr Burke.

Evidence of misconduct against Mr Marlborough was agreeing to appoint a woman suggested by Mr Burke to the South West Development Commission, while Mr Frewer failed to declare he had been approached by Mr Burke at a South West Regional Planning Committee. Mr Allen was found to have appointed a particular officer to pen a report at the request of Mr Burke.

Mr Burke said the report was infected by fundamental flaws in reasoning.

"Merely because Mr Burke requests a person to do X, which itself is not inherently wrong or unlawful, does not make Mr Burke responsible for any impropriety that may arise in doing X," Mr Burke said in a statement.

The report said Canal Rocks secretly paid more than $47,000 to local government candidates sympathetic to their development, and attempted to delay a new town planning scheme so the development could be assessed under less strict conditions.

Evidence of misconduct was also found against former environmental protection authority chairman Dr Walter Cox, and Busselton shire councillors Philippa Reid, Anne Ryan and John Triplett.

The report also made a recommendation of disciplinary action against Mark Brabazon, a senior public servant now with the WA Department of Environment and Conservation.

In response to the findings, the Premier announced through Department of Premier and Cabinet Director General Mal Wauchope that Mr Frewer would be returned to DPI where a disciplinary process would be commenced against him.

These processes would also be commenced against Mr Brabazon and Mr Allen, once he returned from leave.

But Opposition Leader Paul Omodei said the Government's plans for a staff induction program to promote ethical conduct was a completely inadequate response to the CCC report.

"I believe that the Premier is presiding over one of the most corrupt governments we have seen in the history of WA," he said.

A darker shade of pale

While some political careers were dead in the water, Prime Minister John Howard breathed new life into the reconciliation debate this week with the announcement that a re-elected Liberal government would hold a referendum giving constitutional recognition to Aborigines as Australia's first inhabitants.

In a speech to the Sydney Institute, Mr Howard said the referendum would be held within 18 months, and would "formally recognise indigenous Australians in our constitution - their history as the first inhabitants of our country, their unique heritage of culture and languages, and their special, though not separate, place within a reconciled, indivisible nation."

Mr Howard, who has often been at odds with Aborigines over an apology, land rights and other issues, said he had changed his mind about the importance of recognising Aborigines' contributions to Australia.

"The time is right to take a permanent, decisive step toward completing some unfinished business of this nation," MrHoward said. "The worst blemish of all has been our treatment of indigenous Australians."

Mr Howard admitted that he had struggled with Aboriginal issues ever since becoming prime minister in 1996, and said he accepted "my share of the blame" for poor relations between the government and Aboriginal leaders.

Still, a national apology "fails to provide the necessary basis to move forward" because it would "only reinforce a culture of victimhood and take us backwards," Mr Howard said.

The plan won Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd's approval, saying his party would support plans for the referendum whether or not they won government.

The opposition leader added that the pre-election timing of the prime minister's change of heart was not for him to comment on.

"After 11 years in office what Mr Howard does as we head into the election is a matter for Mr Howard," Mr Rudd told reporters in Melbourne.

"Our policy has been long standing, we made it clear at the national conference for the ALP, and we made it clear also on the 40th anniversary of the 1967 referendum, when we committed ourselves to closing the gap (between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal life expectancy)."

Last month, Australia was one of just four countries to vote against a landmark non-binding UN declaration setting out the rights of the world's estimated 370 million indigenous people.

Chairman of the Kimberley Stolen Generation Aboriginal Corporation Mark Bin Bakar said Mr Howard's announcement was a positive first step, although he questioned the timing after 11 years of inaction and just before a federal election.

Mr Bin Bakar said it was at odds with Australia's stance at the UN.

"In the light of Australia voting against the rights of indigenous people at the United Nations, to then turn around and say we're going to call a referendum for their inclusion in the constitution, you question it," he said.

"There is a contradiction there."

WA Opposition spokesman on indigenous affairs Kim Hames agreed that Mr Howard's policy shift clashed with Australia's stance at the UN.

"They are contradictory, and I would certainly hope we would not vote in the same way next time around," Dr Hames said.

"I think the idea of unoccupied land was a view of convenience of its time, and I think it's time those views were changed and John Howard is doing that."

WA Premier Alan Carpenter also questioned the timing of Mr Howard's about-turn.

"A lot of people around Australia would be thinking what I'm thinking. They'd be thinking `Good, it's good' that John Howard has made this change in his thinking, or public positioning, and then would be wondering about the timing of the federal election," Mr Carpenter told reporters

But Dr Hames rejected the Premier's criticism.

"Mr Carpenter said the same thing about Howard's intervention in Northern Territory Aboriginal communities," Dr Hames said.

"We have a major problem really only recently been given due recognition and Howard's taken decisive action."

History teaching

While acknowledging one part of Australia's history, Mr Howard announced a policy to ensure all students took it on board, announcing a plan to make history lessons compulsory for all students in years 9 and 10 across the nation.

Describing the "neglect" of history teaching in Australian schools as "shameful", Mr Howard said students would be made to attend 150 hours of Australian history lessons over two or three years from 2009.

The history guide, to be distributed across the nation, says it is intended for study in years nine and 10, but the first three of the 10 topics could start in year 8, it says.

Mr Howard said compulsory teaching of Australian history would be a condition of the next Commonwealth schools funding agreement with the states and territories, which begins on January 1, 2009.

"I believe this country has badly neglected the teaching of Australian history," he said.

"We have lapsed into teaching it in accordance with a very uncoordinated, haphazard thematic approach instead of doing it with a proper regard to the narrative and the unfolding compelling story of Australia.

"It is quite shameful that in some parts of Australia and some schools ... that teaching of Australian history is no longer a stand-alone subject.

Mr Howard also announced an additional $50 million for the second stage of the school chaplains program.

He said the money would go to 1238 schools around Australia, 829 of which were government schools.

The grants are for a maximum of $20,000 per year per school.

He said after the second stage was completed, about 27 per cent of all schools in Australia will have benefited from the chaplains scheme.

Despite opposing making the policy contingent on funding, the policy won the support of Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd, who also wanted the focus on Australian heritage extended.

"I support history being in the national curriculum - content-based history - let's also look at content-based English, literacy first and on top of that, the great authors of the past - Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Jane Austen," Mr Rudd said.

"Let's also look at great Australian authors like Henry Lawson, Banjo Paterson and on top of that, Miles Franklin.

"These I think are important content-based ways to ensure that our kids get the best education possible."

WA Education Minister Mark McGowan said Prime Minister John Howard was ill informed because WA already had history in its syllabus from kindergarten to year 10.

"I don't like the idea of the prime minister threatening states, particularly when he is so ill informed."

McClelland's black armband...

Ignorant, no, but certainly ill-timed was Opposition Foreign Affairs spokesman Robert McClelland, who attracted the most media attention he'd ever had this week following the recitation of party policy to a Labor human rights forum in Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull's seat of Wentworth.

Pre-empting the World Day against the death penalty, Mr McClelland told the forum on Monday evening, that the party planned to establish a coalition with five Asian nations that have abolished the death penalty to persuade 15 other countries in the region, including China, to do the same.

"At the highest levels, Australia's public comments about the death penalty must be consistent with policy," he said.

"This is especially the case if we are going to tactfully and successfully drive a regional abolitionist movement."

The timing of his comments was controversial given that Friday marks the anniversary of the October 12, 2002, Bali bombings which killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.

Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd was quickly on the case, telling reporters he had "counselled" Mr McClelland and two party staffers, labelling the speech "insensitive" and saying Labor would never support clemency for terrorists.

"I believe that terrorists should rot in jail for the term of their natural lives and then one day be removed in a pine box," he said at a press conference this morning.

However Labor would continue to intervene in support of Australian citizens who face the death penalty overseas, he said.

Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer was later reported in Fairfax newspapers as calling the Opposition Leader a "clever politician'' who was cynically downplaying what was established Labor policy because of an approaching federal election.

"[Labor] policy comes out in the front page of a national newspaper and Mr Rudd wants to disassociate himself from it.

"If you want to be the prime minister of Australia you have to show a bit more integrity.''

Mr Downer said he opposed the death penalty but would never use diplomatic resources to "plead for the lives of these kinds of people who commit these kinds of atrocities".

"I will plead for the lives of Australians but when it comes to Indonesians who have killed 88 of my fellow countrymen and women, there is no way I would ask the Australian embassy in Jakarta or use Australian diplomacy to plead for the lives of those people," he told Southern Cross Broadcasting.

Mr Downer said Mr McClelland's proposal for regional co-operation against the death penalty was as absurd as Labor's idea last week to take legal action against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for genocide.

"I just think the notion that the Labor Party has that somehow Australian diplomacy, cunning diplomacy, should bring Bhutan and East Timor together to lobby Indonesia not to execute these people is just simply absurd," he said.

Mr McClelland himself apologies to the families of Bali victims later in the week, saying he was "very conscious ... this was a mistake I made" and "I would apologise for any hurt that any of those people may justifiably feel".

... and the gag that matches

But it was too late for other Candidates and MPs wanting to express an opinion, with the party's central office sending out an email on Tuesday morning telling them not to make any media comment without getting clearance from campaign headquarters, following the fallout from Mr McClelland's speech.

Defending the decision, Mr Rudd said it was only logical to expect candidates to contact the national office before commenting on issues.

"If you are a candidate in north Queensland and something blows up down here in Adelaide and you are going to get asked about it, it is probably wise that you contact the national secretariat centrally to establish the facts," he told reporters.

"When it comes to our candidates' ability to speak their own mind on matters particularly relevant to local constituencies, they should be free to do so."

But Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said it showed Mr Rudd had no faith in his candidates.

Costello, Rudd visit WA

Someone who has a large amount of faith in his party's candidates is Treasurer Peter Costello, who popped in during the week to launch the campaigns of Liberal candidates in a number of key marginal seats.

Mr Costello also took the opportunity to talk about Brian Burke, saying he would have Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd in his pocket if Labor won government.

"We ought to be very concerned that Kevin Rudd spent so much time wooing and being wooed by Brian Burke because it means that his tentacles will reach into a Rudd government as well," Mr Costello told Southern Cross Broadcasting.

Later in the day, at a Liberal party-hosted lunch at the Burswood Casino it was back to the theme of Labor bad guys, this time Burke's close mate, Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union state secretary Kevin Reynolds and his deputy Joe McDonald.

Mr Costello said a Labor government would wind back the coalition's industrial relations changes and allow the unions to dominate the work place.

"Anybody think Perth building sites will be improved if Joe and Kevin are given more power, anybody think that productivity will increase, anybody think it will reduce the cost of building? I don't think so."

Next on the treasurer's list was the all-important work of winning and keeping those crucial marginal seats.

He headed to the northern Perth seat of Cowan where he announced more than $10 million in federal road funding with Liberal candidate Luke Simpkins.

At the last election, Mr Simpkins cut back Labor MP Graham Edwards' margin in the seat from 5.5 to 0.8 per cent.

Mr Edwards is retiring at this election, leaving Mr Simpkins, a former army major, to face up to local nurse Liz Prime.

Mr Costello then launched Michael Keenan's election campaign in the neighbouring seat of Stirling, where Labor's Peter Tinley, a former SAS Major, will try to slash the Liberal's two per cent margin.

The treasurer was later due to launch federal Education Minister Julie Bishop's campaign in her safe seat of Curtin, in Perth's western suburbs.

While he didn't cut any ribbons, Federal Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd did make a Perth cancer patient a cup of coffee before announcing he would pump $25 million into bowel cancer screening if elected.

Mr Rudd said early screening for bowel cancer had the potential to prevent as many as 2,000 deaths each year.

Currently, only people aged 55 and 65 are screened for bowel cancer but Mr Rudd said Australians would be first screened at 50 under a Labor federal government.

Mr Rudd spoke to cancer patients at Crawford Lodge near Sir Charles Gairdiner Hospital, jumping to make a cancer patient a cup of coffee while making himself one.

"When it comes to cancer, it's the nation's number one killer," Mr Rudd said.

"There are 100,000 people diagnosed in Australia with cancer each year.

"Tragically, 40,000 of these sufferers die from cancer.

"But when it comes to bowel cancer, it's the nation's second (sic) largest cancer killer after breast cancer and prostate cancer."

Mr Rudd attacked the federal government's health policy, accusing Prime Minister John Howard and federal Health Minister Tony Abbott of cherry-picking hospitals in marginal seats for political gain.

Bits and Pieces

  • Parliament is due to sit on Monday if an election is not called, with 10 bills due to be debated in the House of Representatives. Of those, nine are amendments to existing legislation, including competition regulators' ability to launch prosecutions for secondary boycott provisions on behalf of small businesses and the addition of new child sex tourism offences in criminal legislation. In other news, Governor-General Major-General Michael Jeffery arrived back in Canberra tonight after a two-week official visit to Belgium and Britain, and pundits are tipping a November 24 election date very heavily.
  • Prime Minister John Howard is still scheduled to attend the Pacific Islands Forum in Tonga next Tuesday and Wednesday.
  • Independent South Australian Legislative Councillor Nick Xenophon, who won 20.5 per cent of the vote in his last election, will resign to contest a seat in the Federal Senate. Mr Xenophon has been in the SA Parliament for a decade and has built a colourful reputation by campaigning against poker machines.

The Final Word

While Mr Xenophon decided to launch his campaign for Canberra in front of the giraffe enclosure at Adelaide Zoo - telling media he was "sticking his neck out" - the final word for this week goes to both WA Planning and Infrastructure Minister Alannah MacTiernan and Federal Justice and Customs Minister David Johnston.

The State Government has been at pains of late to inform Western Australians of the lack of attention paid to it by Canberra. Ms MacTiernan was no exception this week, saying the state's citizens would be underwhelmed by Treasurer Peter Costello's road funding announcements.

"The announcement of $10 million for local government roads is clear evidence that WA is not taken seriously by the Howard Government," she said.

The Minister, as her announcement handily pointed out, was referring to Mr Costello's announcement that $5 million of AusLink funding had been allocated to the City of Wanneroo towards its Hepburn Upgrade Project, while a further $5 million had been allocated to the City of Swan, for use on its Hepburn Avenue Extension Project.

"The Federal Government has promised $5 billion towards Queensland's roads or 29 per cent of the total road funding for the five-year AusLink 2 national investment program that starts in 2009-10."

When it comes to the Federal Government's pork barrelling, Western Australia was only offered Spam, the announcement said.

Senator Johnston, unimpressed, had his own farmyard analogies to deal with the situation.

"No-one is interested in Ms MacTiernan's ill-informed bleating. Western Australians know that the Howard Government works hand in hand with local Councils to make our roads safer and to get the job done," Senator Johnston said.

"Western Australia is receiving $1.73 billion in funding over the five years from 2004-05 to 2008-09."

"This is hardly 'Spam', as she so eloquently puts it," he said.

"The announcement by the Treasurer yesterday was an extra (his emphasis) $10 million for a vital upgrade to Hepburn Avenue. Anyone who uses the road regularly will welcome the funding."

Arch was going to make a fowl joke about how the ministers should meat to chew the fat and keep the situation from looking like a dog's breakfast.

However, Arch is too chicken for that.


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