Monthly archives: August 2019

'Howard on par with Mugabe'

Amnesty International has slammed Australia's treatment of asylum seekers in a report comparing John Howard to Robert Mugabe in his use of "fear politics".

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Australia's refugee exchange deal with the US is a panicked response to failed policies of offshore processing, Amnesty International says.

Canberra and Washington have agreed to a deal under which asylum seekers detained on Nauru can be sent to the US once their claims are approved, while US-bound Haitian refugees detained in Guantanamo Bay can be resettled in Australia.

Amnesty's director Irene Khan says the agreement was a bid to save face because both governments realised their hardline stance on refugees was a sham.

"This is a desperate measure by two governments to cover up the fact that their offshore processing policy on refugees has basically failed," she told ABC radio.

"So what they're doing is sending people from Nauru to the US and people from Cuba – the Haitians from Cuba – to Australia so that they do not have to face the shame of having to release these people into their own countries.

"It's a cover-up, it's not a solution and it creates … huge impact on the individuals themselves."

The Howard government had an "appalling" domestic human rights record over its treatment of asylum seekers and indigenous people which had undermined its good work overseas, she said.

Ms Khan said she was pleased confessed terrorism supporter David Hicks was back in Australia, but he never received a fair trial in Guantanamo Bay.

"The Military Commissions Act does not provide for fair trial because it allows evidence obtained under torture, it does not provide for proper legal representation, there is no separation from the administration," she said.

"He had an unfair trial, in our view, and he had to wait five years for it."

Hicks was only returned because his case was becoming an embarrassment for the Australian government, she said.

Ms Khan urged Australian voters to think about giving others a "fair go" at this year's election.

In the forward to Amnesty International's annual report published yesterday, Ms Khan said the fear generated by leaders such as Mr Howard "thrives on myopic and cowardly leadership".

Ms Khan included Mr Howard with Mr Mugabe, US President George W

Bush and Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir in the same scathing paragraph.

"The Howard government portrayed desperate asylum-seekers in leaky boats as a threat to Australia's national security and raised a false alarm of a refugee invasion," Ms Khan wrote.

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NT camps reject funding

Aboriginal communities in Alice Springs' town camp have rejected, for the final time, an offer to hand control of their housing to the Northern Territory government in return for $60 million in commonwealth funds.

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Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough, who spearheaded the plan, said he was deeply "hurt" by the rejection.

"I am deeply disturbed and hurt," he told reporters.

"You have no idea how difficult this is when you have witnessed the things that I have and the stories that I know about and the fact that only a matter of a couple of weeks ago another woman was brutally murdered in these places."

Later, he told ABC radio he was in despair.

"I'm in despair. I would have thought people would have been champing at the bit."

The rejection was the second in less than a week and comes after 14 months of protracted negotiations.

Under the original proposal, the 18 housing associations which oversee the camps could retain control of the land if it was unconditionally sub-leased to the NT government for 99 years.

The camps are notorious for high levels of serious crime and are home to rampant substance abuse.

The town camps come together under the banner of Tangentyere Council and lawyers for the council, in a letter to Mr Brough, said there were many concerns with the deal.

"There has been no proper process of negotiation and Tangentyere has not had the opportunity to obtain proper professional advice," the letter said.

Tangentyere said the deal would leave the 18 camp associations with "no legally enforceable rights or entitlements in relation to any aspect of the future land use, management and development of the camps".

Opposition indigenous affairs spokeswoman Jenny Macklin said she was disappointed by the outcome.

"I am really disappointed that the parties couldn't reach an agreement on funding for the Alice Springs town camp upgrades," Ms Macklin said.

"That money is desperately needed to make sure people living in the town camps have safe housing and basic services.

"Tangentyere Council, Mal Brough and the territory government should take responsibility to make sure that such a disadvantaged group of people don't miss out on basic services that other Australians expect."

Mr Brough said the $60 million would now go to another needy community.

"The $60 million is off the table."

He suggested the money may go to the West Australian community Halls Creek which has already received more than $100 million in assistance.

"I said to (WA Indigenous Affairs Minister Michelle Roberts) in the event that I have seriously additional money, will you have the potential to go back to your cabinet and get more resources for better reforms and better outcomes.

"She indicated both publicly and privately there that she could, so there is numerous communities in Western Australia that can benefit and I hope that they will."

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Abbott heckled over report

The 1997 report into the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families accused governments of genocide and called for an apology and compensation.

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Members of the audience disrupted the health minister's speech at Parliament House in Canberra today, calling for the government to say sorry.

Mr Abbott continued with his speech amid heckling and audible groans from the audience.

He later told reporters that although he did not like being heckled he was pleased to have attended the function.

"No-one likes being heckled and I thought that both Mal (Brough) and I were treating the occasion with a lot of seriousness and with a lot of respect," Mr Abbott said.

"We entered into the spirit of the day and I'm a little disappointed that not everyone agreed but never the less I'm pleased to have been there."

Mr Abbott said while he could understand why Lowitja O'Donoghue wanted a government apology, the debate had moved on.

"The important thing for reconciliation is what happens in the hearts of individual people," he said.

"A lot of very good things have happened over the last generation and I would rather dwell on the good that's been done rather than engage in something that which is more likely to be debated.

"Someone like Lowitja might want to give the government a little wrap over the knuckles because sure there's always more that you can do.

"I'd rather focus on the good things that are happening and the good that has been done than go over old ground."

The government has announced 22 more staff will be employed for services to help members of the stolen generation find their families.

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Rudd denies company unfairness

Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd has said his wife's company had made an honest mistake, which she had sought to rectify.

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Mr Rudd admitted the company had indeed underpaid some workers, but it had taken remedial action when this was discovered.

The company itself has issued a statement denying allegations that it had acted unfairly to its workers.

WorkDirections Australia Pty Ltd, a subsidiary of Therese Rein's company, Ingeus, denied it had stripped workers of significant award conditions.

It took over the Frankston-based company Your Employment Solutions (YES) last year and took over its workers.

WorkDirections today issued a written statement saying its pay arrangements with employees were "certainly not unlawful", and had not been designed to remove penalty rates, overtime or allowances.

"The common law agreements offered to YES employees when WorkDirections acquired the business 10 months ago, were for employment on no less favourable terms than they were previously on," the statement read.

"The arrangement offered to transferring employees involved the payment of an aggregated wage rate with an above award component calculated to fairly compensate employees for their full award entitlements.

"Such an arrangement is not uncommon in private sector

employment and certainly not unlawful."

The statement said the company also took steps to comply with a pay increase in line with the award in 2006, and that it was during this process that it was discovered that some staff had been underpaid because "their duties had not previously been classified correctly in accordance with the award".

The statement said WorkDirections Australia immediately ordered an external independent review to determine which staff members had been affected.

"All those employees still working for the company were recompensed in full for under-payments by 20 April 2007," the statement read.

"The company had already taken steps to locate those who had left the company's employ and will recompense them in full shortly."

WorkDirections Australia said it would review its common law agreements with employees to ensure they comply with relevant industrial laws.

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Qantas shares soar on new plan

In its first briefing for analysts since the Airline Partners Australia (APA) $11.

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1 billion takeover bid collapsed, the airline reiterated it was reviewing its capital management strategies.

It expanded on the options, indicating shareholders could benefit from a spin-off of assets, a share buyback or an increase to dividend payouts.

Key to any demerger would be an expanded freight business that could be spun into a separate company, according to analysts who attended the briefing.

Those attending the behind-closed-doors event heard Qantas was considering extensive capital expenditure to expand its air and land freight operations locally and within Asian markets.

Shaw Stockbroking aviation analyst Brent Mitchell said any demerger was more likely to involve the freight operations than a spin-off and separate listing of Qantas's successful low cost airline Jetstar.

"Freight could be the one they spin off in a demerger," he said.

"In terms of freight options going forward, you're already seeing joint ventures with Australia Post and the options will only increase, especially if they move beyond air freight."

While Qantas didn't announce any specific detail about its capital management plans, it did commit to completing its review within six months.

There has been widespread talk in financial markets in recent weeks about a possible capital return to shareholders, given the health of the Qantas balance sheet.

Merrill Lynch analysts said last week Qantas was capable of returning $2.2 billion to shareholders without stressing interest cover ratios.

Mr Mitchell said a return of that magnitude was possible, but unlikely.

"They could return $2 billion, it's a question of whether they will or not and I suspect it wouldn't be to that level, it's more likely to be about $1 billion," he said.

It was unlikely Qantas would sell its catering business or Frequent Flyer Program, Mr Mitchell said, although the points system for the program could be restructured through another company to give it greater financial flexibility.

During its presentation Qantas reiterated plans to expand Jetstar further into Asia and aggressively target holiday leisure routes.

Both Qantas and Jetstar would also reconsider routes that had had abandoned or neglected, particularly to South America and Europe.

Qantas maintained current profit forecasts and said there was no need for an earnings upgrade.

The market welcomed the capital management, sending Qantas shares up to a new record intraday high of $5.54, well above the APA offer price of $5.45 a share.

The stock then closed at a new record of $5.46, up four cents, as turnover spiked to about 53 million shares making Qantas the second most traded stock by volume on the exchange.

The resilient share price stands in contrast with predictions made by both outgoing Qantas chairman Margaret Jackson and the APA consortium that share price would collapse with the bid's failure.

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