Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Axe ABCC now, demand workers mourning mates

29 April 2009 Content provided to you by AAP.

By Steve Gray, BRISBANE, April 28 AAP -

Some 25,000 construction workers have rallied across Australia, adding their voices to the ACTU's push for the abolition of the building watchdog dubbed "Gillard's Gestapo".

The workers, who gathered in capital cities across Australia on Tuesday, are also demanding the rollout of uniform national health and safety laws.

Rallies were held across the nation to mark Workers' Memorial Day, in honour of workers killed on the job.ACTU president Sharan Burrow said the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), initiated under the Howard government, was an "abomination".

Unionists have long complained that workers pointing out safety faults at construction sites risk jail if they refuse to cooperate with the ABCC.

"Those coercive powers shouldn't exist in any democracy and they must go," Ms Burrow told a crowd of 2,000 workers who marched on Queensland parliament in Brisbane.

"Workers can be hauled off the job, they can be forced to answer questions."Electrical Trades Union state secretary Peter Simpson told the Brisbane rally that the ABCC remained in existence despite a promise by the Rudd government to get rid of it."They were set up by Howard and they're his version of the Waffen SS (Nazi-era secret police)," Mr Simpson said."They're now Gillard's Gestapo," he added, referring to Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard.

Ms Burrow also called for the "highest possible standards" as Australia moves towards a more streamlined, national approach to occupational health and safety laws.

The federal government and all the states and territories have agreed to review the nine different systems currently in place across the nation.A panel reviewing the laws will produce a draft report at the end of October and a final report in early 2009, and Ms Burrow said the outcome must hand workers the protection they deserve.

Ms Burrow said 7,000 workers died from accidents, work-related injury and disease in 2008 - four times the national road toll."These building workers who build our cities and communities ... deserve better," she said.

Others called for the work-related death toll to be given greater prominence.Unionist Amanda Richards said that while road deaths were reported nightly, industrial deaths weren't given the same prominence, leading to a lack of public awareness.

ABCC head John Lloyd rejected union attempts to link the construction industry's poor health and safety record with the existence of the ABCC."The comments indicate that the ACTU is misinformed about the facts concerning occupational health and safety regulation in the building and construction industry," Mr Lloyd said."The ABCC is not given responsibility for occupational health and safety regulations in the building and construction industry."This rests with state occupational health and safety agencies, Comcare and the Federal Safety Commissioner."

Queensland's industrial relations minister Cameron Dick received loud applause when he accepted a proposal for a Brisbane CBD memorial to workers killed on the job.

In Melbourne, 15,000 workers gathered at the Victorian Trades Hall and were led in a minute's silence.

Across NSW more than 4,000 construction workers observed a minute's silence.About 3,000 workers rallied in Perth while hundreds gathered in Hobart, Adelaide and Darwin.

© 2009 AAP Disclaimer

Friday, April 24, 2009


James Hardie is just the tip of the iceberg

Adam Schwab writes in Crikey 23.4.09:

A former derivatives trader and long-time sharemarket investor told this writer yesterday that he didn't bother with fundamental analysis anymore because he simply couldn't trust what companies said. Instead, the investor said he now preferred to predominantly rely on technical analysis (or trends) to determine his trades, especially with regard to "short selling".

A few hours later, it was reported that NSW Supreme Court Justice, Ian Gzell, ruled that seven James Hardie non-executive directors and three executives had committed misleading and deceptive conduct in relation to a February 2001 press release. The release had claimed that a fund setup to meet potential asbestos liabilities was "fully funded" (it ended up being $1.3 billion short).

While the actions of former chairperson, Meredith Hellicar, and the remaining directors are without excuse (Hellicar, a former CEO of law firm Corrs Chambers Westgarth, was dubbed an "inaccurate" and "most unsatisfactory" witness), their conduct has not occurred in a corporate vacuum. There are numerous other former high flying corporate directors who presided over corporate collapses in which shareholders were fed constant misinformation but who have so far escaped any sanction whatsoever.

The former executives and directors of ABC Learning Centres have so far, avoided any charge for their actions at the insolvent company. Over the past five years, ABC's financial reports, upon which equity investors and lenders have based their financial decisions, were highly misleading (the company had been reporting profits when in actual fact, it had been making losses of hundreds of millions of dollars, with a large number of its centres losing money).
Under the watchful eye of auditors Pitcher Partners, ABC had been booking up-front cash payments as "development revenue" in an Enron-esque accounting slight of hand. In a remarkable coincidence, the Pitcher Partners auditor who formerly signed off on ABC's accounts was a gentleman by the name of Russell Brown. Brown also happened to audit the books of ABC founder Eddy Groves’ private company. No charges have been laid against Eddy Groves, or any other ABC executive. Further, the man who chaired ABC’s audit committee for five years, David Ryan, was last year re-elected Chairman of toll-road company Transurban and a director of Lend Lease -- that was after ABC’s was forced to re-state its earnings and slide into insolvency.

Then there is the sad case of MFS -- the Gold Coast-based fund manager run by former lawyers, Michael King and Phil Adams. MFS' business plan appeared to revolve around paying too much for cyclical assets (generally in the tourism sector) and flipping those assets into satellites. Those satellites would also invest in each other in what resembled a demented Macquarie Bank.

MFS was able to stay afloat for as long as it did because gullible investors were willing to place their savings into MFS' satellites or managed funds. Many did so on the basis of advice from their financial planners. Two former MFS directors, Michael Hiscock and Paul Manka, also happened to be financial planners at Avenue Capital Management. Avenue clients were among the largest investors in MFS funds, including the maligned Premium Investment Fund.

Then there is a sordid tale of Allco Finance Group, which paid $330 million to acquire property and fund manager Rubicon in December 2007. Allco directors Gordon Fell and David Coe collected tens of millions in cash for the deal, which was approved by independent Allco directors Rod Eddington, Barbara Ward and Bob Mansfield. Those independent directors also approved of Allco lending $50 million to a trust which was controlled by Allco’s founder, Coe, and which invested in the Allco headstock and satellite funds. Allco was placed in administration less than a year later, while Rubicon chief Fell used the proceeds from the related party Rubicon transaction to acquire a $28 million Sydney harbourside property.

The corporate careers of former James Hardie directors, especially that of Meredith Hellicar, are now over. Hellicar resigned from the board of AMP shortly after the damning judgment was delivered. It is expected that she will also resign from the board of Amalgamated Holdings shortly. Other leading director, Peter Wilcox, is expected to resign from the Telstra board.

While justice appears to have belatedly been done at James Hardie, it appears to be very much the exception to the rule.


Former James Hardie board failed in their duties, Court

23 April 2009 Content provided to you by AAP.

By Drew CratchleySYDNEY, April 22 AAP -

Former James Hardie board members face fines and disqualification from ever managing a company again when a judgment is delivered on Thursday relating to the company's asbestos liabilities.

The landmark legal action launched by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) could also have ramifications for all Australian executives, with the case seen as a test of the responsibilities of directors of public companies.

Justice Ian Gzell will deliver his judgment in the civil case brought by ASIC against 10 former James Hardie directors and executives in the NSW Supreme Court at 10am (AEST).Among the defendants are former James Hardie chief executive Peter Macdonald, former company secretary Peter Shafron and former chairwoman Meredith Hellicar.ASIC is also seeking penalties against James Hardie Industries NV and ABN 60, formerly known as James Hardie Industries Ltd.

Each of the former senior and non-executive directors are alleged to have breached their duties as outlined by corporations law in a number of actions between February 2001 and June 2003.

At the centre of the allegations are public statements issued by James Hardie in 2001 that a fund set up to meet its compensation liabilities was fully funded.Just two years later, the company's compensation foundation was found to be underfunded by more than $1 billion.Aspects of James Hardie's relocation to the Netherlands in 2001 and the cancellation of some its shares are also covered by ASIC's action.

If found guilty, the defendants face a maximum penalty of $200,000 and, for the individuals, disqualification from managing a corporation.The case began in September last year, and sat for 45 days in a courtroom specially fitted with computers and broadband connections to enable the thousands of documents tendered in the trial to be accessed by the defendants and Justice Gzell.

Each day, the room was filled with the dozens of barristers employed by the defendants, and an equally large number of assistants.Those legal teams came at a massive cost, with James Hardie's current management telling investors in February it had so far amassed $US12.3 million ($A17.63 million) in legal costs as a result of this case.

Asbestos widow Karen Banton and asbestos-related disease sufferers attended the first day of the trial, but were not seen during the detailed and often complicated hearings.

Asbestos Diseases Foundation of Australia president Barry Robson said victims were not overly optimistic about the judgment."I hope justice prevails and I hope the full force of the law comes down on them," Mr Robson told AAP."(But) we're very sceptical that they're going to be found guilty of anything, and that's the legal advice we've been receiving.

"Six of the defendants appeared to give evidence in the trial, including Ms Hellicar and former chief financial officer Phillip Morley, while Messrs Macdonald and Shafron relied on written statements.It is not known if any defendants will attend the judgment.

© 2009 AAP Disclaimer

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Oil rig Afghans cannot apply for refugee status

April 22, 2009, SMH

TWENTY-NINE of the asylum seekers on the boat that exploded last week will not be allowed to immediately apply for refugee status because they were taken to an oil rig in territory which is excised from Australia.

But 13 of the less seriously injured group who were transferred directly by sea to Darwin will be treated more favourably and can apply for refugee status and appeal if their application is rejected.

The development came as it emerged last night that the navy was on high alert for another interception.

Government sources said another boatload of asylum seekers was expected to enter Australian waters as early as today.

The boat, which the Herald reported on Saturday had been tracked by authorities since the middle of last week, is believed to have about 110 people on board.

Its arrival will re-energise the political fight over border protection that began last week with the explosion of the boat, SIEV 36, and the loss of five lives.

A spokesman for the Immigration Minister, Chris Evans, said the oil rig Front Puffin, to which 29 of the mostly Afghan men from the SIEV 36 were taken before being flown to Australia, was an excised offshore place.

He said the 13 others "will be treated as mainland arrivals as they did not enter Australia at an excised offshore place".

The ruling came after the Government sought legal advice on the status of the men.

It could mean that relatives among the men will be treated differently.

The oil rig is one of the territories excised from the mainland by the Howard government in 2001 to make it harder for asylum seekers to resettle in Australia. A person arriving on an excised territory does not have the right to apply for refugee status, which if approved means they can resettle in Australia.

The Government can block any application for refugee status by people who arrive on excised territories including Christmas Island, where the men would have been taken if the boat had not exploded.

The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, said Indonesia's decision to extradite the notorious people smuggler Hadi Ahmadi to Australia was an example of how to tackle the growing flow of asylum seekers.

As the Opposition differed internally over whether to return to one of the more severe polices of the Howard government, Mr Rudd announced that Indonesia's President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, had approved on Monday night the extradition of the dual Iraqi-Iranian citizen.

Mr Ahmadi, arrested in Indonesia last June at the Rudd Government's request, stands accused of bringing more than 900 people to Australia in four separate boat trips between April and August 2001.

"Prosecuting people smugglers is the most effective way of dealing with the problem of illegal movements of persons around South-East Asia and more broadly," Mr Rudd said.

Facing internal dissent, the Opposition Leader, Malcolm Turnbull, qualified his previous call that "the reintroduction of temporary protection visas should be high on the agenda".

Mr Turnbull maintained that there should be a different category of visas for asylum seekers arriving by boat but not necessarily the same as temporary protection visas.

His qualification came after moderate Liberals complained.

The Victorian MP Russell Broadbent rang Mr Turnbull while the former Liberal MP Bruce Baird said "we have moved on as a country" and, if there were a return to the past, many MPs "would find it totally unacceptable".

Mr Broadbent told the Herald temporary protection visas did not work as a deterrent but he agreed other options should be explored.

The former immigration minister Kevin Andrews, who is in charge of the Coalition's policy development, said temporary protection visas, as part of a combination of measures, did work.

He advocated the party either retain them as policy or develop something similar.

"It should be one of the matters that we consider as part of a suite of measures to discourage people smuggling," he said.

Mr Rudd said the Coalition policy was one of "chaos, confusion and opportunism".

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Andrew Cook, Crikey, 14.4.09

This morning’s Age front page "broken promises" story reveals the real reason for the Victorian construction industry’s balaclava-clad hostility towards the Rudd government, but it does little to explain the broader labour movement’s continuing counter-productive closeness to its soul mates in the ALP.

Rudd’s apparent "change it all" moment alongside Dean Mighell in a Sydney hotel room and a subsequent "trust me" moment with some CFMEU heavies over his plans to obliterate the Australian Building and Construction Commission says a lot -- not least of all about Mighell’s subsequent determination to subject the Fair Work bill to the prying eyes of the International Labor Organization.

The militants’ $500,000 downpayment on the death of the ABCC seemed like a sure bet. But in an echo of Peter Garrett’s Chairman’s Lounge comments, Rudd’s reverse ferret on the commission is less the result of an ALP broken promise and more a symptom of the broader labour movement's softly-softly approach to dealing with the government.

This morning’s revelations should mean the honeymoon is well and truly over -- but the ACTU's obsession with gently prodding the ALP in order to secure a "new law" is instead set to continue, as detailed in another Age interview with ACTU chief Jeff Lawrence over the weekend. Since the Your Rights at Work campaign delivered Rudd the keys to the Lodge, Lawrence has become obsessed with cosy internal forums like the Australian Labor Advisory Council at the expense of the rank-and-file activism sorely needed to address to what is about to become a nationwide unemployment crisis.

And in Victoria, the ALP-trade union marriage of convenience is about to have its vows officially renewed. Crikey understands that the CPSU’s Victorian region branch (not the state public servants -- they’re a separate entity) is in the final stages of a plan to officially affiliate with the Victorian Branch of the party -- the first such affiliation in years. Under ALP rules, the CPSU will write to the Administration Committee with the application to be referred to the next State Conference meeting on 13 June. The Conference will then take a vote with the result said to be a fait accompli.

Formal CPSU affiliation will influence the vote on the state conference floor, with the union set to snare around 10 delegates aligned to the left of the party. That, in turn, has the potential to shore-up the so-called left-right stability pact, further marginalising the excluded elements of the Victorian right, including the now-disgraced HSU secretary Jeff Jackson.

The move mirrors actions taken by the NSW, ACT and South Australian branches of the CPSU, with Queensland also considering a formal tie-up. However, the fiddling of internal rules that limited the union’s influence in the ACT won’t apply in Victoria. While seats on the ALP’s National Executive won’t be effected by the move, ALP insiders are said to be rejoicing in the prospect of a revitalised state conference with the surety provided by the expanding ranks of white collar workers.

But for the CPSU’s Victorian members the pay off may be slim. Lindsay Tanner's halo has long since slipped in the half-shut eyes of sullen APS public servants shuffling gormlessly about Casselden Place, but you wouldn’t know it from the CPSU’s supine approach to sackings, layoffs and the notorious “efficiency dividend”. Of course, the union’s decision to throw its weight behind the ALP is set against the backdrop of national secretary Stephen Jones’ burning desire to take-over from Jennie George in Throsby.

Add the HSU scandal -- less to with dodgy credit card statements and more with influence on the floor of state conference, AEU chief Mary Bluett’s decision to kiss John Brumby after concluding its disappointing wage negotiations and the CPSU state branch’s subsequent silence, after one day of initial complaints, over the state government's 2.5% wage offer -- and Victorian trade union activism outside the Mighell sphere is looking stodgy indeed.

Mighell, and his disaffiliated ETU, are quick to identify themselves as campaigning outsiders on Fair Work -- an authentic voice of the rank-and-file activism next to the patrician coziness of the movement's more mainstream supplicants. These claims should be treated sceptically. But for the time being, and in light of the ALP's construction watchdog treachery, Mighell's mob may be the least-worst starting point for those concerned with rebuilding a serious challenge to the status-quo.

Saturday, April 11, 2009


Untested implant linked to deaths

Ruth Pollard Investigations Editor, smh

April 11, 2009

Related Coverage:
In for the quick fix
Loopholes allow an unapproved heroin treatment to flourish ...

A family's unanswered anguish
The implant was meant to protect James from needing heroin...

Pushing for an inquiry... Carla holds a portrait of her son James. "It never leaves you; to lose a child is the worst thing."

THE country's drugs watchdog has failed to regulate untested medical implants used in thousands of Australians over the past 10 years, allowing doctors to exploit a loophole to either produce or import the implants without having to register them.

Despite serious safety concerns raised by drug treatment experts, the Therapeutic Goods Administration has struggled to curtail the widespread use of unregistered naltrexone implants to treat heroin addiction.

Not approved for therapeutic use in Australia, the implants have been implicated in several deaths and many hospital admissions, leading to calls for their use to be suspended pending proper clinical trials and government registration.

Critics say people who request help for their heroin dependence should have the same regulatory prediction as those with other health problems to ensure they receive safe treatment.

Emergency departments are treating people in extreme distress and in rapid detox after a naltrexone implant and doctors warn these cases will continue unless the drug is regulated.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration claims its hands are tied and it is up to the Federal Government to toughen the regulations for unapproved medication and medical devices.

The parliamentary secretary responsible for the organisation, Senator Jan McLucas, said the Commonwealth had "limited powers to control the activities of individuals where they operate solely within state borders".

"The TGA is the safety regulator of medicines and medical devices, but it has no role in regulating the appropriateness of the clinical decision to use the naltrexone implants."

Such is the concern about the widespread use of naltrexone implants, the chairman of the Federal Government's medicines advisory group, the Australian Pharmaceutical Advisory Council, co-authored an editorial in the Medical Journal of Australia, calling for an independent review.

Lloyd Sansom and his colleagues wrote: "The disturbing suggestions of mortality and morbidity from unregistered naltrexone implants make a strong case for an independent review to determine whether this treatment is sufficiently safe for such widespread use.

"Constant vigilance is required to ensure that only new medications and devices of proven effectiveness and safety are permitted widespread use."

In the same journal, a group of emergency doctors from two Sydney hospitals reported treating 12 patients over 12 months with severe health problems related to the implants. Six of those had to stay in hospital for at least two days, while one was admitted to intensive care with acute renal failure, the doctors reported.

"These events challenge the notion that a naltrexone implant is a safe procedure … and suggests that adverse events with naltrexone implants are not rare or uncommon," they wrote.

That study was published one year ago and there is yet to be any action. The Herald put detailed questions to the TGA's principal medical adviser, Rohan Hammett, and to the secretary of the Department of Health and Ageing, Jane Halton, about the unregistered implants.

Both had expressed concern in the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs about the way the implants were used.

Neither responded to the questions - instead a TGA spokeswoman, Kay McNiece, provided a written response.

"It is important to recognise that the naltrexone implant is an unapproved product and as such neither the safety nor the efficacy of the product has been evaluated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration." she said. "The TGA is aware of the possible adverse events related to the use of implants and has actively sought information in this regard."

Ric Day, a professor of clinical pharmacology at St Vincent's Hospital and the University of NSW, said the failure of the TGA to "exert its power to deal with this problem" was difficult to understand.

The Age


Pell rides papal bandwagon of death

David Marr, smh

April 11, 2009

That's one hell of an Easter message. In a contest between showing slavish support for the Pope and putting people in the way of disease and death, Cardinal George Pell chose loyalty. From the far distance of the Vatican comes the sound of a few hands clapping.

"They encourage promiscuity," the cardinal told Sky Television. "The idea that you can solve a great spiritual and health crisis like AIDS with a few mechanical contraptions like condoms is ridiculous."

It's hardly news but in the face of this ridicule it has to be said again: Australia waged the world's most effective war on AIDS by ignoring the Catholic Church. We did not heed the demands of John Paul II and his successor, Benedict XVI. We encouraged people to use condoms, we distributed clean syringes and we saved thousands of lives.

Catholics applauded, though silently. While the hierarchy of the church remains locked into an ancient theology of sex that has terrible consequences in the modern world, the rank and file know better. But they are entirely submissive. They don't rise up. They don't heckle Benedict and Pell from the pews. Their courtesy is the great modern miracle of Catholicism.

But in the Western world at least, they don't support the Vatican's absolute ban on condoms. In 2007 Catholics for Choice engaged the Washington pollsters Belden Russonello & Stewart to find what Catholics in the United States, Ireland, Mexico, the Philippines and Ghana thought about this teaching.

In Ireland, 80 per cent of Catholics said they wanted it changed. In the US the figure was 63 per cent. In Mexico it was 60 per cent. The Philippines split 47 per cent to 49 per cent. The young church in Ghana stuck by the Vatican, with only 37 per cent of those polled calling for reform.

That is bad news for Africa, the principal recruiting ground for Christianity in the world today and the continent with the worst rates of HIV. It was as the Pope was flying into Cameroon - infection rate 5.5 per cent, compared with 0.1 per cent in Australia - that he reaffirmed the doctrinal hard line against condoms a few weeks ago.

Benedict was denounced by governments in Europe, attacked in medical journals and contradicted by a couple of bishops in Portugal. The armed forces bishop, Januario Torgal Ferreira, was quoted as saying: "to ban condom use was equivalent to consenting to the death of many people".

But the papal death sentence wrapped in rhetoric about "spiritual human renewal" did not deter Africa's faithful. Millions turned up for the pontiff's Masses. Benedict could look out on a sea of exuberant faces endorsing, it would seem, the church's ancient taboo against contraception so that "each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life".

Christ didn't lay down that rule. You won't find it anywhere in the Bible. It crept into church teaching in the second century via Clement of Alexandria who came up with a formula - based as much as anything on Greek philosophy - that the only sanctified sex was sex within marriage for the purpose of procreation.

With that, the church and Western civilisation set off down a very odd track for a couple of millennia. In its purest form, Clement's rule meant no contraception, no sex when conception is unlikely, no sex in positions that inhibit or forbid conception, no sex for the barren, no masturbation, and naturally, no homosexuality.

So absurd and cruel were these rules that churches began to soften some and delete others.

Most Protestant denominations in the 20th century dumped all but the prohibitions against extramarital sex and homosexuality. But in the 1930s, the Catholic Church locked itself to Clement by reaffirming the ban on condoms.

By the time the Second Vatican Council met in the 1960s, the pill had been discovered. A commission of theologians and medical experts concluded after five years of study that there was no good reason for the church to ban it. But Pope Paul VI did exactly that in the infamous 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae.

All hell broke loose. The Vatican was compelled to put down a revolt that spread around the world. Enforcing the rule against contraception pitted the papacy against theologians, bishops and believers. Attendance at Mass in Western countries went into free fall. Rome didn't budge. Demonising contraception remains, as much as anything, an issue of papal authority. It's about power.

Though condoms prevent the transmission of genital herpes, genital warts, syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhoea, they were forbidden to the faithful. The first cases of AIDS were reported in the early 1980s, and by 2000 the US National Institutes of Health had concluded that, properly used, condoms reduce the risk of HIV/AIDS transmission by 85 per cent.

But the word from the Vatican was: absolutely no change. From time to time, brave bishops would contest the ruling. They were slapped down. There were glimmers of hope a few years ago when a great prince of the church, the former Archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, began to argue that wearing a condom was less evil than infecting your partner.
Makes sense, but he was silenced and the Vatican reasserted the absolute ban that George Pell yesterday backed so exuberantly on Sky Television.

Already the weasel wordsmiths of the church will be working out ways to "explain" and put Pell's words "in context" and throw in a few "experts" to prove him "right".

It's true that condoms don't prevent all transmissions of HIV/AIDS. Aspirin doesn't cure every headache either. And we know in our hearts - and every reputable study confirms - that the church's call for abstinence is useless.

Sex beats prayer. Even bishops have sex. We know, because they have died of AIDS.

Since Humanae Vitae, disobedience has become a way of life for Catholics in the West. Catholics in Europe and Australia use contraception like everyone else. Safe sex campaigns have strong political backing. But how many good Catholics will die in Africa and the Philippines before they learn that in the 21st century disobeying the Vatican line is a matter of life and death?


Red News Readers,

If all of these allegations prove true, this is the sort of greed that brings the trade union movement into disrepute. How can union officials point the finger at CEOs for their salary, shares and payment greed, when they are tickling their fingers in members money to advance their personal political career and personal wealth? Union officials need to remember that it is members money, earned by hard work and sweat, and members want it spent on their welfare in accordance with the objectives of the union.

Jenny Haines

Union stopped payout of Thomson entitlements

Mark Davis Political Correspondent, smh

April 11, 2009

THE Federal Labor MP Craig Thomson was owed more than $190,000 in employment entitlements when he quit the Health Services Union to enter Parliament after the 2007 election.

But the union asked its lawyers to tell Mr Thomson it was withholding payment until an investigation into possible financial irregularities inside the union was finalised.

Mr Thomson faces allegations that a union credit card in his name was used to make cash advances of more than $100,000 and payments to Sydney escort services and a brothel. He has denied the allegations, insisting they are incorrect and false and are being advanced by factional opponents.

Mr Thomson was national president of the 70,000-member union from 2002 until he won the Central Coast seat of Dobell in 2007. Before that he worked for the NSW branch, totalling 19 years' service with the union.

It has emerged that he had 35 weeks in untaken annual leave and 23 in long service leave owing when he resigned in 2007.

The union's national auditor, Iaan Dick, wrote to the national secretary, Kathy Jackson, last May calculating that on Mr Thomson's $154,536 salary and including leave loading the entitlements were worth $191,913.

About the time of that advice, the union's national executive started internal inquiries into the union's financial affairs.

Those inquiries prompted the national executive to refer concerns about possible irregularities to the lawyers Slater & Gordon and the accountants BDO Kendall for investigation.

A letter from Ms Jackson to Slater & Gordon in December says Mr Thomson had been paid only a fairly small amount of his entitlements to that date.

"We request that you advise Mr Thomson that the national executive has referred the matter for investigation and pending the outcome of that investigation no further payment of outstanding entitlements will be made." But Mr Thomson told the Herald this week he had not received such a letter. "The union had never had a big national office and did not have reserves," he said.

"When I left I said to them I would like my entitlements but understood the union didn't have that money sitting around. We reached agreement where they would pay those entitlements progressively over a period of time. We reached agreement on quarterly payments.

"I haven't heard anything from the union [about the entitlements being stopped], haven't had a letter and have been paid on regular arrangements."

Friday, April 10, 2009


Yahoo News, AAP, 9.4.09

NSW will offer an exclusive, long-term licence for a private operator to run the state's lotteries in a move analysts say will pump about $600 million into state coffers.

Treasurer Eric Roozendaal expects the licence will last about 30 years and says private sector interest in running NSW Lotteries is already strong.

The state-owned corporation operates Lotto, Oz Lotto, Powerball, the 6 from 38 Pools, Instant Scratchies and Lucky Lotteries in NSW.

Under the planned arrangement, the state would continue to reap its annual duties of $300 million, but would lose its $50 million a year dividend payments.

Mr Roozendaal would not put a figure on how much he believed NSW would gain from the successful private operator, but expected the tender process to start in the second half of this year.

When the NSW coalition took a policy to sell off NSW Lotteries to the 2007 election, it was expected it would generate about $800 million.

A figure of about $1 billion was suggested last November when a possible sell-off or lease was flagged in the state government's mini-budget.

CommSec gaming analyst Craig Shepherd said the length of the licence being offered meant both figures were probably over the mark, and $600 million was a more likely bet.

"The fact that it's a 30-year licence, compared to longer licences in Queensland, means that the price comes down a bit, so the expectations around that $800 million are reduced," he told AAP.

Mr Shepherd said he saw no real problem with the sale's timing, despite the current global economic downturn.

He expected most gaming companies would take a close look at the government plan, with the market viewing Tatts Group as the front runner to secure the licence.

Tatts operates in five states and territories and is the only non-government lottery operator in Australia.

Mr Roozendaal said there was no public policy reason for the state to run NSW Lotteries and money from the licence deal could be redirected into areas such as health and education.

He said it was too early to speculate on whether lottery products could be sold in service stations and supermarkets, not just newsagencies.

The Australian Newsagents' Federation said it would continue consulting with the government ahead of any licence being issued to ensure its members were protected.

Opposition treasury spokesman Mike Baird said the coalition still supported privatising NSW Lotteries, but the government's timing was wrong.

"We've got one simple message for Eric Roozendaal and that is you are going stark raving mad," Mr Baird told reporters.

"To sell any assets at this time is complete nonsense."

Mr Baird said any asset going to market was not going to deliver value for taxpayers and would be nothing more than a firesale.


Splitting hairs to flog off NSW's prisons

Alex Mitchell writes in Crikey 9.4.09:

By accepting the NSW Corrective Services portfolio, former NSW Unions secretary John Robertson has taken a poisoned chalice.

The Cabinet has given its newest recruit the job of privatizing two major prisons -- Parklea and Cessnock -- in contravention of the NSW ALP platform.

Overnight, “Robbo” had a significant victory when the party’s legal and constitutional committee agreed to bend the policy allowing the Rees Government to go ahead with its privatization plans.

The committee has accepted Robertson’s bizarre interpretation that by merely selling private contract management of the two facilities -- and not the bricks and mortar -- that the party’s platform has not been breached.

His view was backed by the cabal of right-wingers on the committee -- Finance Minister Joe Tripodi’s brother Richard, Wollongong MP Noreen Hay’s son Mark and Anna Collins, wife of Robertson’s chief of staff Chris Minns.

They outvoted the two left-wingers on the committee, lawyer Cameron Murphy, son of the late Lionel Murphy, and James Shaw, son of the former Supreme Court judge and NSW Attorney-General Jeff Shaw.

But Robertson is not out of the woods yet. The committee’s recommendation now has to be discussed by the all-powerful administrative committee at its next meeting which will be held on either May 1 or May 8.

Although the committee is controlled by the right, there are grave misgivings about handing over prison management to private companies. A basic conflict arises:

Private jail contractors are out to make profits to satisfy the greed of their shareholders and directors;

The state and society have a duty of care to offenders who have broken parliament’s laws, to rehabilitate them so they don’t re-offend.

The profit motive is stronger than the motivation to rehabilitate. Indeed, the profit motive will have a tendency not to worry about re-offending because it will mean repeat business.

Even if the admin committee approves the pro-privatisation line, it is only the annual conference which can change party policy. In other words, the private jails debate will eventually end up on the floor of conference when Robertson and his Cabinet backers (Treasurer Eric Roozendaal and Joe Tripodi) will be flayed by delegates from branches and the left unions.

The prison privatization is the thin end of the wedge for Cabinet’s manic privateers. If they succeed at the two jails then the policy will be extended to other sectors, i.e. transport, hospitals, schools, emergency services.

If Robertson believes that his carriage of the privatization issue is part of a longer-term strategy to take the party’s leadership he is kidding himself. This privatization episode will hang around his neck for the rest of his political career.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009


Red News Readers,

What does it take to get them to stop using the term "illegal immigrants'?

Jenny Haines

Another 'illegal' immigrant boat arrives

April 8, 2009 - 2:34PM , smh

Another boatload of suspected illegal immigrants has arrived in Australia, Home Affairs Minister Bob Debus says.

The vessel arrived at Christmas Island on Wednesday morning with 45 people on board, the government says.

"The group did not arrive on the mainland and will be detained to undergo health, security and other checks to establish their identity and reasons for their voyage," Mr Debus said in a statement.

Almost 160 suspected illegal immigrants have been detained by authorities in the last week.

A group of 63 was detected off Ashmore Island last Thursday, just a day after a boat carrying 50 suspected illegal immigrants ran aground near Thursday Island.

The opposition has blamed the federal government for the influx of arrivals, saying it was due to Labor watering down immigration detention policies.

"There has obviously been a signal sent loud and clear to the people smugglers that it is now worth the risk," opposition immigration spokesperson Sharman Stone said on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Mr Debus said the government's priority was to ensure the Australian mainland was secure.

"Christmas Island is approximately 1,000 nautical miles from the mainland," he said.

"The priority is to conduct surveillance to ensure that vessels do not reach the Australian mainland."

Mr Watson said there had been men, women and children of Middle Eastern appearance aboard the unauthorised vessel, which was flying the Indonesian flag.

He had been told many of them were Iraqis and that several were sick, but had been unable to verify the reports.

Mr Watson said it was "totally reprehensible" that the boat had arrived on Christmas Island without detection.

He said such arrivals jeopardised the health of Christmas Island's 1,000 residents.

"This is about the safety and the livelihoods of the residents as far as disease is concerned," he said.

"It's about the disease-carrying opportunities that arise with bringing a boat that's got no quarantine onto our jetty.

"It's ridiculous.

"Those people could have walked off and joined the community.

"Because of the number of migrant people that are here now in the process system - for instance, interpreters - you wouldn't know whether they were just another interpreter or someone who had got off a boat from Sydney."

He said he did not believe there had been a similar instance since the 1990s, when unauthorised arrivals "just turned up".

"We're a long way from the 90s now," he said.

"We know as residents the island's detention centre is a system they've spent $500 million putting in place.

"There's no getting away from the fact we're a detention island, but it's impacting hugely on the residents.

"We don't get asked anything, we just get told."

Christmas Island shire president Gordon Thomson said when he went to the jetty to inspect the boat, the arrivals had been taken away to be processed by customs officials.

He was told the group included men, women and children.

"I counted about 40 life jackets on the jetty which they had taken off and I definitely saw children-sized life jackets," Mr Thomson said.

"I have been told they were all in good condition after an initial health check on the jetty.

"The boat looked to be in good condition and had an Indonesian flag on it."

Mr Thomson said he believed the asylum seekers were from the Middle East.

"It's unusual for boats to arrive like this," he said.

"But conditions in the countries where the asylum seekers are from are not getting better, so I expect we will continue to get more refugees."

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