05/10/2007 - 22:17

Nasty surprises in View from the Arch

05/10/2007 - 22:17

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The discovery of a bashing victim in Melbourne lead to revelations of a new approach to Australia's refugee intake as Paul Omodei discovered allegations of plagiarism by Attorney General Jim McGinty, plus Pulp Mill, Hospitals, Autism, Teachers and Pauline

Nasty surprises in View from the Arch

The discovery of a bashing victim in Melbourne lead to revelations of a new approach to Australia's refugee intake as Paul Omodei discovered allegations of plagiarism by Attorney General Jim McGinty, plus Pulp Mill, Hospitals, Autism, Teachers and Pauline's new song.

Australia's Refugee Intake

Less than two months ago, in a week dominated by former Gold Coast doctor Mohamed Haneef and the nocturnal wanderings of Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd while in New York, Arch published two paragraphs concerning the nation's refugee intake.

That week, Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews announced a reduction of the intake from the African region from 50 per cent of the total 13,000 to 30 per cent, with an increased percentage to come from the Middle East and Asia.

The Minister stated this decision reflected an improvement in conditions in some countries and an increase in the number of people returning to their country of origin.

The decision attracted some criticism, but none sufficient to overshadow the main issues of the day. It had, after all, been foreshadowed the previous year by Andrews' predecessor, Amanda Vanstone, with the same justifications.

At least, that was how it looked until Sudanese teenager Liep Gony was bashed to death outside Melbourne's Noble Park railway station by two Caucasian males.

In an interview with Fairfax newspapers, Mr Andrews was asked whether better integration services for African refugees were needed.

"I have been concerned that some groups don't seem to be settling and adjusting into the Australian way of life as quickly as we would hope and therefore it makes sense to put the extra money in to provide extra resources, but also to slow down the rate of intake from countries such as Sudan," he said.

Mr Andrews was later quoted in the Herald Sun, saying Africans, particularly Sudanese, had experienced serious problems settling.

"They tend to have more problems and challenges associated with them. Their level of education, for example, is a lot lower than for any other group of refugees," he said.

"They've been in war-torn conflict for a decade, many of them. Many are young... and many have been in refugee camps for decades.

"It doesn't make much sense to me to acknowledge you have a problem... but not actually slow down the rate of intake until you've dealt with it," he said.

The issue of integration as a justification for reduction of the African refugee intake had never previously been raised by the immigration minister, and subsequently received significant attention from media outlets and refugee advocacy groups.

However, Mr Andrews reserved his bitterest criticism for Victorian Police, after Commissioner Christine Nixon told radio station 3AW that:

"When you look at the numbers we're talking about, the young Sudanese who actually come into custody or dealt with us, only really make up about one per cent of the people we deal with and so because they're obvious and tall and, you know, they clearly stand out more than other groups do, they look more like that's the case. And we did hear this but when we look at the data what we're actually seeing is that they're not, in a sense, represented more than the proportion of them in the population."

Mr Andrews told the Australian that Victorian police had to admit there was a problem with violence among young African migrants.

"I have anecdotal reports from police which indicate that there is a gang culture in Victoria, in some parts, and they are concerned about it," he said.

"It concerns me that, at an official level, this seems to have been played down. But ignoring the problem won't make it go away."

Those anecdotal reports, and all other data used by Mr Andrews in coming to his decision were confidential, he said.

ALP Immigration spokesman Tony Burke later told ABC Radio that refugees' capacity to integrate has always been taken into account when visa checks are done in the countries refugees are fleeing.

"The reasons he's giving now and getting a lot of publicity for are not the reasons that were given at the time of the decision," he said.

"The decision enjoyed bi-partisan support because it was being made for the same reasons that both sides of politics have always made these decisions and that is that the Government has gone to the UNHCR, said where in the world can we help best and the minister has brought back a submission to cabinet."

"There is no logical public policy reason for him to suddenly change his argument ... This is something that Kevin Andrews has now whipped up as an argument."

Citizenship Test

Another policy shift that enjoyed bipartisan support came into effect this week with the first mandatory citizenship tests being held across the nation.

Immigration and Citizenship Minister Kevin Andrews said the 20-question, multiple-choice test was important to show new citizens understood basic English and the responsibilities and privileges of being an Australian citizen.

"The reason the government introduced the citizenship test was that we believe the great achievement of Australia has been to balance diversity and integration," Mr Andrews said.

"The rich tapestry of Australia today is the result of people coming to this country to make it their home from over 200 nations around the world, yet at the same time we've managed to integrate successfully into a socially cohesive society.

"Part of that, we believe, is that people understand something about the values we share in Australia, our heritage, about the way of life in this country and also something of our history and the way in which the country is governed."

Having to sit the test adds $120 to a citizenship application fee.

Knock and the door shall be opened unto you...

However, getting into the country temporarily will be a lot easier for Catholics next year, with the Federal Government agreeing to waive visa fees for foreign tourists travelling to Sydney for 2008's Catholic World Youth Day.

Under the agreement, pilgrims will be given a free, three-month visa and there will an unlimited supply for each country.

It is designed to help organisers cope with the 140,000 overseas visitors expected for the Catholic festival next July.

Assistant Immigration Minister Teresa Gambaro told the ABC the event would bring huge economic benefits to the country.

"You'll have an enormous amount of visitors coming to Australia," she said.


"It will bring enormous tourism and other benefits to the economy."

Chips, no wedges for Turnbull and Garrett

Something else that is forecast to bring benefits to the economy - though not many for tourism - is a $2 billion pulp mill Tasmania's Tamar Valley, which was given the green light this week by Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull, subject to what the federal government says are the toughest environmental conditions in the world.

The mill, to be operated by timber giant Gunns, has been shaping as a federal election issue with marginal Tasmanian seats at stake, and environmentalists targeting the minister in his own Sydney electorate.

Mr Turnbull said his decision was based on "science and science alone," with the recommendations of government Chief Scientist Jim Peacock applied in full.

The minister applied 48 environmental conditions on the project, double the amount recommended in August.

"If the conditions are met in their entirety, we feel there's a very strong prospect the mill will operate with an environmentally neutral footprint," Dr Peacock told reporters.

Crucial among the conditions was the low level of dioxins allowed to be discharged into Bass Strait.

The facility can be shut down if toxins in the mill's run-off exceed specified levels, and design changes can be imposed in order to ensure compliance.

Many of the new conditions relate to Gunns collating data to prove its proposed mill will not negatively impact on flora and fauna in areas including the Tamar Valley and Bass Strait.

With the minister's decision declared, Prime Minister John Howard put the pressure on Opposition environment spokesman Peter Garrett.

"Are they for it or against it; do they want jobs for northern Tasmanians or don't they. It's playing chicken politics to just criticise the process," he asked reporters in Cairns.

It was bound to be a difficult subject for the former Australian Conservation Foundation president and anti-woodchipping activist.

When asked by media today if he felt "uncomfortable" about endorsing the government's approval of the north-west Tasmanian mill, Mr Garrett answered "no".

AAP reports that he stuck to the lines previously issued in his office's press release before abruptly ending the media interview at a park in his Sydney electorate of Maroubra.

"Despite the shambolic process entered into by Minister Turnbull with this mill, Labor will accept the minister's determination and welcomes the additional conditions that have been placed on this proposal by the chief scientist," Mr Garrett told reporters.

He said the terms of approval announced by Mr Turnbull - doubling the number of environmental conditions for the mill's operation - were "very necessary".

" ... Labor will watch them closely and scrutinise their implementation because the environmental issues that surround this mill are of critical importance," Mr Garrett said.

"We've always said that a world best-practice pulp mill in northern Tasmania, which provided additional value-adding to the forest estate there, was something that we would support and on that basis and on the basis of what the minister has released today we will support it."

Hospital boards

Earlier in the week federal Health Minister Tony Abbott announced a plan to force state governments to hand control of hospital budgets and management to a new local board as a condition of receiving commonwealth funding.

The boards would be headed by a CEO and have about 10 members, including health workers and community leaders.

Mr Abbott gave no indication the government would dramatically increase public hospital coffers, saying their difficulties stemmed from poor management rather than sparse funding.

But Western Australian Premier Alan Carpenter said the move would send the state's health system into decline.

"Tony Abbott's plan will just make things diabolically worse, is poorly thought out, and I think policy on the run ... because they have run out of ideas," he said.

"In WA, we had a devolved health system which resulted in our hospitals being completely and utterly run down - to the point where we are having to physically rebuild almost the entire system.

"We had boards with no expertise whatsoever in running a hospital.

"And hospital budgets that were completely and utterly out of control."

The proposal would needlessly add yet another layer of bureaucracy to WA's health system, the premier said.

It "would see people who have, potentially, no skills or expertise in health whatsoever in positions where they are supposed to be overseeing the running of hospitals," he added.

Autism

The news came one day before the Prime Minister and other senior front benchers fanned out across the country to simultaneously announce a $190 million funding package for early intervention centres, training packages and subsidies for families affected by autism.

Under the plan, the government will provide new Medicare-funded services to diagnose autism and provide specific follow-up services and early intervention services for about 15,000 families of children aged up to six.

Up to 200 new autism-specific playgroups would be created and 1,200 of the most severely affected children would be eligible for up to $20,000 over two years to cover support services.

The plan also would include training and support for parents and carers to assist their young children, workshops and information sessions for parents and carers with school-aged children and training for 450 teachers and other school staff each year.

The announcement dwarfed Labor's more modest plan for six specialised early childhood intervention centres, selectively leaked the night before to newspapers for headlines on Wednesday morning.

Labor leader Kevin Rudd called for both sides to combine their policies after the election, saying the issue was above politics.

"The bottom line here is it's good policy for the nation to combine these efforts to help the kids and the carers, such as those you've just met, deal with this challenge," Mr Rudd told reporters in Gladstone.

Mr Abbott said the government's policy was more comprehensive than Labor's package.

"If the ALP heard that we were making an announcement and tried to jump the gun, that's their business," Mr Abbott said.

"But I think if you have a look at their policy and compare it with ours; you'll find that theirs is a much thinner version of what we're proposing."

The fact that both parties unveiled their policies on the same day had both Labor and the coalition accusing each other of copying their ideas

Copycats

Another person accused of copying this week was WA Attorney-General Jim McGinty, who Perth lawyer Doug Solomon said this week had recited verbatim in parliament speeches he had prepared on the Finance Brokers' scandal in 1999 and 2000.

The accusation comes after Opposition leader Paul Omodei sacked former shadow consumer affairs minister Anthony Fels from his portfolio for reading a speech in parliament drafted by then-lobbyist Noel Crichton-Browne earlier this year.

Mr Solomon, then working with consumer advocate Denise Brailey, told WA Newspapers he was working for victims of the scandal at the time, which he considered to be a commercial interest.

"There's no difference between what I did for Jim McGinty and what Noel Crichton-Browne did for Anthony Fels with the exception that I presented material which could plainly be only presented under parliamentary privilege," he said.

Mr Omodei said it was inappropriate for a minister to read a speech in parliament that had been prepared by a lobbyist.

"Alan Carpenter must hold Jim McGinty accountable and explain to West Australians how a senior member of his team can get away with something as serious as this," he said.

But the Premier was having none of it, telling reporters that he had full confidence in Mr McGinty's ability to behave appropriately when discharging his duties.

Mr McGinty is currently overseas and unavailable for comment.

Bits and Pieces

  • ABC Online reports that less than 10 per cent of the 3,000 WA teachers threatened with the sack for refusing to pay a $70 registration fee have so far renewed their memberships.
  • Meanwhile WA Education Minister Mark McGowan announced a plan to pay graduate school teachers a $50,000 base salary from next year, with the hope of attracting more graduates to the profession - a move supported by the Opposition's Peter Collier.
  • And WA Local Government Association President Cr Bill Mitchell said a commitment by the Federal Department of Transport and Roads to consider further funding for Local Governments for new security measures at regional airports would allow them to meet the department's requirements.

The Final Word

In a week where Greens Senator Bob Brown told reporters his friendship with Peter Garrett was over and Labor's sacrificial lamb in O'Connor, 20-year-old Dominic Rose, told media he was "ignorant" when calling Kevin Rudd "a filthy Liberal" in UWA's Pelican (ignorant of what, one might ask...), the final world goes to aspiring senator Pauline Hanson.

Launching her new political party - Pauline's United Australia Party - this week, Ms Hanson joined her country music singer partner Chris Callaghan in singing her theme song for the campaign.

Entitled Australian Way of Life, Mr Callaghan sang the song at a Gold Coast Media and Corporate Club luncheon, Ms Hanson's first major event since the registration of her United Australia Party.

As the crowd clapped, Ms Hanson joined Mr Callaghan in the song.

"For our freedom, for the future of our children, for this nation ... the Australian way of life," sang the duo.

Arch anticipates the matching dance will appear on a certain Channel 7 reality show near you soon.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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