Monthly archives: May 2019

Government to alter water plan

This decision came after more states on Friday joined Victoria in expressing concern about the proposal.

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Victoria remained steadfast in its rejection of the plan after a meeting of water ministers from basin states and the federal government in Adelaide today.

South Australia and Queensland, while remaining supportive of the federal plan, have voiced concern at aspects to rejuvenate the ailing basin.

Federal Water Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Canberra was willing to tinker with the plan's legislation.

"We are seeking input and we are making changes to the legislation all the time," Mr Turnbull said.

"We recognise that we are not the sole repository of wisdom on water, nobody is.

"We all benefit from input from others and we are seeking that input, receiving it, and where there is a consensus that it can make an improvement, we are applying it."

Mr Turnbull did not specify what changes would be made, ahead of further discussions between the Commonwealth and Victoria next week.

"We are seeking wherever we can to ensure that we can find a middle ground," he said.

Victorian Water Minister John Thwaites reaffirmed his state wouldn't accept the plan in its current format.

"Victoria is prepared to talk and negotiate with the Commonwealth to ensure that we protect the basin," Mr Thwaites said.

"What Victoria is not prepared to accept is total constitutional hand over of all powers.

"The powers in this legislation are much more extensive than certainly Victoria is prepared to accept."

South Australia Water Security Minister Karlene Maywald said her state had concerns about some details of the legislation.

"We are still 100 per cent committed to the national plan," Ms Maywald said.

"There are concerns about some of the detail in the legislation that need to be worked through, we are working through that.

"I don't think anyone is being unreasonable. Victoria has some concerns that they would like resolved, they are working with the Commonwealth on that, we have got some issues with some of the detail and we are working with the commonwealth on that.

"There is a lot of detail and it's too complex to go into."

Queensland Natural Resources and Water Minister Craig Wallace said the Commonwealth must alter the legislation for it to win approval from the states.

"We know that there has got to be some movement from the Commonwealth in terms of getting the agreement up," Mr Wallace said.

"The states have joined as one in saying to the commonwealth that we want to work with them.

"We need to have some forward movement from the Commonwealth though.

"We don't want to walk away from the deal, we don't want the Commonwealth to walk away from the deal, but we need some movement there from the Commonwealth themselves."

New South Wales Water Minister Phil Koperberg was unavailable for comment.

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Rein to decide over business

Mr Rudd and his wife Therese Rein flew into Brisbane today after Ms Rein cut short a business trip to London.

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Ms Rein has been under fire since it was revealed workers were underpaid in her multi-million-dollar employment placement business.

The Office of Workplace Services is investigating the case of 58 staff at Victorian-based Your Employment Solutions (YES) who were moved to common law contracts after the company was purchased last year by Ms Rein's firm, WorkDirections Australia.

The staff have since been awarded back pay, and an independent review into the issue will be conducted by accountancy firm KPMG.

On landing in Brisbane today, Ms Rein took full responsibility for her company's actions.

"I hate to think that I've been of any discomfort or embarrassment to Kevin, and it's certainly embarrassing to me as well," she told reporters at Brisbane Airport.

"I know that our intent was right, but it's my responsibility to make sure that it was all implemented as per our policy, as per our values.

"And if I haven't done that or I've caused discomfort to anybody including Kevin, then I'm really sorry."

She said her company had relied on legal advice at the time of the acquisition and had not intended to underpay staff.

Ms Rein, whose company relies on federal government contracts, said questions over a possible conflict of interest needed to be addressed sooner than she had thought.

"I am immensely proud of what I have been doing for the last 18 years … but I think the Australian people may be concerned that there may be a conflict of interest," she said.

"I don't want that to get in the way."

The couple have previously said they would address the issue should the Labor leader be elected to the Lodge.

Mr Rudd, who has raised the possibility of Ms Rein's business being sold, said they would discuss the future of the company in coming days.

"We will try and sort something out, how long that is going to take I am not sure," he said.

"(But) it is important people have a clearer sense of how we would handle this well before the election."

Prime Minister John Howard said Ms Rein was not above the law and should be treated like all other employers.

He called on Mr Rudd to apologise to a Goulburn motel owner who came under fire from Labor in Parliament this week over employment arrangements.

"(Ms Rein) is like anybody else, she is subject to the law, and I don't think she should be treated any differently to anybody else," Mr Howard said.

"I think what Mr Rudd should do this weekend is very clear.

"He should apologise to the Goulburn motel owner and all the other small business operators that he has unfairly attacked over the last five months, that's what he should do.

"I'm not attacking his wife. I'm not calling on his wife to get rid of her business."

Mr Howard was referring to the case of the Lilac City Motor Inn in Goulburn, which it was reported this week was offering staff an Australian Workplace Agreement that removed overtime, meal allowances, public holiday loadings and shift penalties and replaces them with a starting wage of just $13.47 an hour.

In Sydney, NSW Premier Morris Iemma said there were systems for declaring shares and registers of pecuniary interest, and he didn't believe Ms Rein's business interests would be a problem if Mr Rudd was elected.

"I don't believe Mr Rudd's wife should sell her business," Mr Iemma said.

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Ex-partner visits Hicks

Jodie Sparrow, Hicks' former de facto wife, described Hicks as fine and normal after meeting him at Adelaide's maximum security Yatala prison, the Nine Network reported.

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Ms Sparrow said Hicks became emotional when she told him their two children wanted to see their father.

"He's fine and he's pretty normal," she said.

Ms Sparrow said she had passed on a message from their children Bonnie and Terry.

"They said they love him and miss him and look forward to seeing him."

Asked how Hicks reacted, she said: "I think he was really excited and emotional, knowing that his kids are going to be there to support him."

Hicks, 31, is serving a nine-month sentence at Yatala after being transferred from the US military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he was held for more than five years as an enemy combatant.

He pleaded guilty to providing material support for terrorism at a US military commission hearing last month.

In interviews recorded before the visit, Hicks' children said that while they resented their father for abandoning them about ten years earlier, they were prepared to give him another chance.

His daughter Bonnie, 13, said she opposed what Hicks had done.

"He fought against us and decided to go with the Taliban people," she told the Nine Network.

But she did not consider him a terrorist.

Bonnie said she could let her father, whom she calls David, into her life again.

"If I get to know him and trust him more, then maybe."

Asked what that would take, she said: "Prove to me and my brother that he cares about us."

Hicks' 12-year-old son Terry had been suspended from school after fighting over taunts about his father, the Nine Network reported.

"I got told that he went and trained with the terrorists," said Terry, who was too young to remember the last time he saw his father.

The boy said he felt bad and disappointed about Hicks' activities but still loved him.

The 60 Minutes story showed Hicks had written letters to his ex-de facto wife and children from Guantanamo Bay.

Hicks and Ms Sparrow started their relationship when he was 17 and she was 20.

Ms Sparrow said she had told the children Hicks was different from his public image of being a suspected terrorist.

"I can't see him being like that, not at all," she said of Hicks' time in Afghanistan, where he was captured fighting with the Taliban.

"My belief is that he's been brainwashed. That's what I think," she said before yesterday's visit.

"I think that he's gone to them because he's craving for his family environment.

"It's weird."

Ms Sparrow welcomed Hicks' release from Guantanamo Bay.

"I'm glad he's back here, and I'm glad that he's out of that place.

"I can't see him meaning to hurt anybody. Not the Dave I knew, anyway."

She had conditions about allowing the children to visit him.

"I don't want the kids to go in there if he's still got the slightest belief in what he was involved in."

Hicks father, also called Terry, has said he would be disgusted if Ms Sparrow sold her story for money.

Mr Hicks visited his son at Yatala yesterday and reported that he was in good spirits.

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Referendum remembered

It was a day of high emotions on Sunday with Labor leader Kevin Rudd promising to say sorry, while Prime Minister John Howard was accused of genocide.

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Mr Howard told a gathering of about 400 people at a gathering in Canberra, including original referendum campaigners, that the way toward reconciliation was through government and indigenous people sharing responsibility.

The 1967 referendum gave the commonwealth power to legislate for indigenous people and required the census to count indigenous people as members of the Australian population.

"This is a moment to reflect on the wider meaning of what Australians were trying to say in 1967, including about indigenous rights," Mr Howard told the gathering at Old Parliament House.

"I recognise the importance of rights to indigenous aspiration.

"But in recognising all this, I come back to what I think the Australian people were trying to get at 40 years ago.

"The right of an Aboriginal Australian to live on remote communal land and to speak an indigenous language is no right at all if it is accompanied by grinding poverty, overcrowding, poor health, community violence and alienation from mainstream Australian society.

"We've spent a lot of time these past decades analysing the causes of indigenous failure.

"In a way, that's been part of the problem. We should have spent more time thinking long and hard about the causes of indigenous success."

At the end of his speech a lone woman stood and declared Mr Howard responsible for indigenous inequality.

"We have been genocided (sic) by your government and your court," the unidentified woman said.

The crowd erupted in loud applause, and Mr Howard offered no response.

Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd then addressed the gathering, promising Labor would work toward cutting the 17-year life expectancy gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians within a generation.

At the moment, life expectancy for indigenous men is 60 years, compared to all Australian males at 77 years. Life expectancy for indigenous women is 65, compared to 82 for all Australian women.

A day after Labor unveiled its plans, Mr Rudd officially announced a $261.4 million, four-year program to bridge the gap by improving the health of indigenous Australians.

"It is unacceptable that in a country with our prosperity, that we have one of the widest gaps in life expectancy between indigenous and non-indigenous people in the world," Mr Rudd said.

"I would propose that we commit the nation to the following goals to eliminate the 17-year gap in life expectancy between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians within a generation.

"To at least halve the rate of indigenous infant mortality … within a decade.

"To at least halve mortality rates in indigenous children aged under five within a decade and to at least halve the difference in the rate of indigenous students at years 3, 5 and 7 who fail to meet reading, writing and numeracy benchmarks within ten years."

Mr Rudd said a Labor government would tackle the high rate of rheumatic heart fever in indigenous children aged between five and fifteen through proper diagnosis and early access to antibiotics.

Labor's plan would be funded by a $186.4 million contribution from federal funds and $75 million from the states and territories.

It would include new child and maternal health services for indigenous Australians and individualised learning plans for indigenous students up to year 10.

Mr Rudd also recommitted Labor to saying sorry for past atrocities committed by European invaders.

"We will do it and do it quickly," Mr Rudd said.

The spiritual dimensions of an apology were just as important as practical efforts to bridge the 17-year gap between the life expectancy of indigenous and non-indigenous Australians, he said.

The referendum also was remembered across the country, but not without controversy.

Queensland Premier Peter Beattie again ruled out reinstating a stand alone Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs Department, but said the state's upcoming budget would include an extra $10 million over four years to support indigenous students.

In Victoria, Attorney-General Rob Hulls attacked Mr Howard's refusal to say sorry.

"I find it absolutely appalling that the prime minister just doesn't get it. He doesn't understand the need to say sorry," Mr Hulls told reporters.

In South Australia, about 1,000 people gathered in Adelaide's Victoria Square ahead of a march to mark the anniversary.

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Fairness test not enough: ALP

Details of the test will be revealed in legislation to go before parliament later today, in a bid to ensure workers are compensated for trading away award entitlements.

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The test will apply to workers earning less than $75,000 who signed AWAs after May 7.

The bill will require workers to be given compensation of "significant value" for trading away penalty rates, overtime and other similar entitlements when they move to an AWA.

Only businesses in exceptional circumstances will be exempt from the fairness test, which has been heavily advertised even though it is yet to be written into law.

Test 'not enough'

Opposition industrial relations spokeswoman Julia Gillard today warned the new fairness test did not go far enough in protecting employees.

"We know from the government's advertising that it will not protect a number of award conditions that are very important to people," she told ABC Radio.

"For example, knowing that your roster is going to change so that you can make appropriate arrangements to care for kids."

Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey said pizza and beer would not be considered appropriate compensation for an employee trading away entitlements.

"You don't want to close down … resort islands like Hamilton Island providing food and accommodation to workers as part of a package.

"But at the same time you don't want to be in a position where simply by working in a pizza shop or working in a pub and receiving a beer or a pizza at the end of the night (as) compensation, that's unacceptable."

No guarantees

Nationals senator Barnaby Joyce says the test will protect workers but there is never a guarantee that no one will be worse off.

Senator Joyce said the legislation would ensure workers earning under $75,000 would be looked after.

"If you earn more than $75,000 you're a pretty handy sort of worker and you can possibly start looking after yourself a bit."

Senator Joyce says while the government is doing everything it can to protect workers but there are no guarantees.

"I think it's ridiculous and conceited to say no one will ever be worse off," he said.

"You have the law to protect you. You hope that people are not going to be worse off. With your best intentions you apply the law so that people won't be worse off.

"If you start making `No child will live in poverty' statements you're just going to come unstuck."

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