Showing posts with label law. Show all posts
Showing posts with label law. Show all posts

Friday, 29 November 2019

Morrison Government's union busting 'Ensuring Integrity Bill' defeated in the Senate


Prime Minister Scott Morrison's pride and joy, the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2019, intended to weaken and perhaps even destroy registered unions in Australia was negatived in Committee of the Whole by the Senate.

The vote was tied at 34-all, with One Nation's two senators along with Senator Jacqui Lambie voting with the Greens and Labor.

It took 147 days for political commonsense to prevail but on 28 November 2019 the Senate politely told the prime minister and his hard right cronies where to go.

Another bill Morrison is reportedly hoping to pass before the parliamentary Christmas break is the Migration Amendment (Repairing Medical Transfers) Bill 2019 which removes provisions for asylum seeker detainee medical transfers to Australia from Manus Island and Nauru ('medevac').

BACKGROUND

Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), media release, 26 November 2019:

In a blow to the Morrison Government’s arguments for the Ensuring Integrity Bill currently before the senate the Federal Court has ruled the union regulator, the Register Organisations Commission (ROC) investigation into the AWU was invalid. 

Justice Bromberg has ruled that the ROC did not have grounds to order an AFP raid on the offices of the AWU and has ordered the return of the documents that were seized on behalf of the regulator in their first act after being established by the Liberal Government in 2017. 

The decision comes as the Morrison Government attempts to pass the Ensuring Integrity Bill in the Senate which would give the ROC the extreme power to determine which unions are deregistered and which officials are disqualified under the dangerous and hypocritical new union-busting law. 

Under the EI Bill the ROC would have the power to begin deregistration proceedings against a union which had made a handful of paperwork mistakes over a period of 10 years. 

Quotes attributable to ACTU President Michele O’Neil: 

“The Morrison government has been telling Senators that the ROC is an impartial body which can administer the extraordinary powers granted under EI. The Federal Court has just found it conducted an illegal raid on a union office. 

“Giving union busters more power to drag unions into courts over minor paperwork breaches, some that would only cost a company an $80 fine, Will cost members and the taxpayer millions in legal fees. This is before accounting for the cost of not being able to campaign for higher wages, better working conditions and safer workplaces. 

“To defend themselves from the ROC’s harrassment the AWU was forced to expending significant resources over two years to get justice. If the Ensuring Integrity Bill passes, all unions could face this harrassment over paperwork breaches. 

“Questions also need to be asked of the ROC who is continuing to waste tax payer’s money to challenge this finding. “This ruling gives the crossbench senators a stark example of how the Morrison government targets unions and will stop at nothing to try and bust unions. Ensuring Integrity will become another tool for union busters and should be rejected. 

“The Federal Court decision is a vindication for the AWU but also a warning for the Senate crossbench who weighing amendments which would give this discredited body even more power.”

BACKGROUND

On 20 October 2017, Mr Chris Enright, the Executive Director of the Registered Organisation Commission (ROC) and a delegate of the Commissioner decided to conduct an investigation.


Judgment in Australian Workers’ Union v Registered Organisations Commissioner (No 9) [2019] FCA 1671 was delivered on 11 October 2019. The judgment concluded that; "the decision to conduct an investigation as to whether ss 285(1), 286(1) and 287(1) of the RO Act had been contravened was affected by jurisdictional error and is invalid."

Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2019 was introduced by the Morrison Coaltion Government in July 2019 and was currently before the Senate for the second reading debate when the ACTU penned the aforementioned media release.

*Images of ROC document come from the published Federal Court judgment.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Migration Amendment (Repairing Medical Transfers) Bill 2019  is apparently scheduled for a second reading before 5 December 2019.

This bill removes provisions in Schedule 6 of the Home Affairs Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Act 2019These provisions (commonly referred to as the medical transfer, or medevac, provisions) established a framework for the transfer of transitory persons from regional processing countries to Australia for the purpose of medical treatment or assessment. The Bill also amends the Migration Act to allow for the removal of people brought to Australia under the medical transfer provisions back to a regional processing country once they no longer need to be in Australia.

On 27 November 2019 a nonconforming petition was tabled in the Senate asking for medevac provisions to be saved. It contains 51,299 signatures.

On the same day Professor David Isaacs, Clinical Professor, Paediatrics & Child Health, Fellow, Royal Australasian College of Physicians was joined by doctors in Canberra urging senators to reject the medevac repeal bill. Professor Isaacs carried an open letter signed by 5,040 doctors urging Senator Jacqui Lambie to save medevac.

Friday, 22 November 2019

ROBODEBT: it's wonderful how the threat of legal action can energize the Morrison Government


Faced with three court cases which will inevitably expose the shaky ground on which the Centrelink income compliance program - aka robodebt - was built in July 2016, the Morrison Government now makes a limited, tactical response ahead of court hearings.

ABC News, 19 November 2019:

The Federal Government is immediately halting a key part of the controversial robodebt scheme to recover debts from welfare recipients and will freeze some existing debts, in what appears to be a major backdown in the operation of the scheme.
In an urgent email circulated to all Department of Human Services compliance staff today, seen by 7.30, the general manager of the debt appeal division wrote:
"The department has made the decision to require additional proof when using income averaging to identity over payments.
"This means the department will no longer raise a debt where the only information we are relying on is our own averaging of Australia Taxation Office income data."
The averaging process has long been one of the most controversial parts of the scheme.
Legal groups have said that it causes inaccuracies in the debt amounts, and wrongly shifts the burden of proof onto alleged debtors.
The email also sets out that the department would undertake a sweeping review of all debts where averaging was used.
"Customer compliance division will methodically work through previous debts identified as part of the online compliance program and respond to their requests for clarification," it said.
The department will also be writing to affected customers.
"For customers who are affected, the department will freeze debt recovery action as CCD identifies them and looks at each debt. The department will also write to affected customers to let them know," the email said.
7.30 has contacted the Minister for Government Services and the Department of Human Services for a response.

The Australian Minister for Government Services Stuart Robert was very careful in his wording of the change in approach to 'debt' collection as was wording on the Department of Human Services website.

It appears that little is altered with regard to robotdebt unless individual welfare recipients fall into the category of a) never having engaged with DHS/Centrelink after having received an initial notice informing them of an "income discrepancy"; b) also ignored any followup letters/emails
/texts/phone calls and c) whose alleged debt did not occur in a time period for which Centrelink still retains all documents concerning cash transfers made to the individual recipient.

It is only this category of welfare recipients who has never offered verbal or written information concerning the alleged debt, therefore they are the only persons who by Mr. Robert's reckoning may have had their alleged debt solely calculated by flawed data matching with the Australian Taxation Office.

The number of people who remain in this category after DHS/Centrelink's debt recovery program has been running for more than three years is not known - it could be as little as est. 6,500 or as many as est. 600,000 individuals.

Make no mistake, the Morrison Government will not easily abandon this lucrative stitch up of the poor and vulnerable.

In the 2018-19 financial year alone the total debt from income compliance activity was valued at $885.8 million and the value since the program began now totals $1.86 billion.

BACKGROUND

The Monthly, 19 November 2019:

Asher Wolf, one of the original grassroots campaigners against the robodebt program, says the government’s move is tactical. “Don’t trust DHS to act in good faith not to ramp up robodebt again. If you back off from challenging the government – for even a minute – on mendacious data-matching schemes, they’ll slide right back into old patterns of cruelty.”
Today’s move could even endanger the government’s projected return to surplus, which relies on some $2.1 billion in prospective debt recoveries under the robodebt program over the 2019–20 to 2021–22 period. “The Coalition’s AAA credit rating is balanced off raising preposterous, erroneous, illegal debts,” says Wolf. “I have no doubt the Coalition will come after the same people they always attempt to hurt: the poor and the vulnerable.”
Gordon Legal, website, 19 November 2019:
You may be aware that the so-called Robodebt issue has been widely reported in the media and has been the subject of both a Parliamentary Inquiry and a report from the Commonwealth Ombudsman. Unfortunately, the Commonwealth Government does not appear to accept that the Debt Notices, issued by Centrelink on its behalf are invalid and that it has an obligation to repay the money it has already collected under the Robodebt Scheme.
Unless the Commonwealth agrees to change its position then our current view is that people with a claim of the kind broadly described above should pursue their rights by commencing a Group or Class Action.
ABC News, 17 September 2019:

A class action will be launched against the Government over the so-called robodebt scandal, arguing the Government's automated debt system is unlawful.

Key points:

  • Lawyers will argue the Government could not rely on the robodebt algorithm to collect money
  • The action will seek both repayment of falsely claimed debts and compensation for affected people, lawyers say
  • The Opposition says the robodebt billing practices are "verging on extortion"
Opposition government services spokesman Bill Shorten announced the action, which will be brought by Gordon Legal, and comes after sustained pressure on the Government over the system.
Peter Gordon, a senior partner at the law firm, said the collection of money based solely on a computer algorithm was unlawful.
"The Commonwealth has used a single, inadequate piece of data — the robodebt algorithm — and used it to seize money and penalise hundreds of thousands of people," he said
Read the full article here.

Victoria Legal Aid, 8 September 2019:

The Federal Court has been told that Centrelink has wiped the debt at the centre of a second test case against its robo-debt scheme. The case will go to a hearing in early December.
Our client, Deanna Amato has been told her robo-debt of $2754 had been wiped, after a recalculation process found the true overpayment to be just $1.48.
‘I'm happy that I don't have a big debt looming over me anymore, but on the other hand, I'm stunned that it was recalculated so easily after I took legal action’, said Deanna. 
‘Centrelink will make you jump through hoops to prove your innocence, but it turns out they were capable of finding out if my reporting was correct and that I didn't owe them anything like what the robo-debt claimed I owed. It makes me question the system even more’, she said.
The 33-year-old local government employee says Centrelink has refunded her over $1700, after they took her full tax return earlier this year. At the time, she had never spoken to anyone from Centrelink about the supposed debt.
‘It was scary when Centrelink took my tax return out of the blue. I had no idea what my rights were, or if Centrelink even had this kind of power over my money, so I turned to legal aid for advice.
‘Now that they have wiped the debts of both Victoria Legal Aid cases, it makes me wonder how many people have paid supposed debts that were completely inaccurate.  I hate to think of more people suffering because of incorrect calculations.
People may be handing over money they don't even owe, because they're too afraid, or don't have the means, to challenge them. That's why I think the system needs to change’ said Deanna.
Rowan McRae, Executive Director of Civil Justice Access and Equity at Victoria Legal Aid said our legal challenges to the scheme continued – ‘We cannot accept a system that is so clearly flawed and causing overwhelming hardship to the most disadvantaged people in our community.’
‘We are contacted every day by people who are feeling overwhelmed by this system that puts the onus on them to disprove debts. It is important that a court looks at the lawfulness of the process Centrelink relies on to decide that people owe them money’. said Rowan.
Deanna says she is keen to have the court look at the decisions that led to the debt being raised. ‘It turns out, when I was receiving Centrelink assistance, I reported my income, yet they still were able to raise a debt of almost $3000 and take my tax return. The fact that Centrelink wiped my robo-debt, does not change my feelings about this court case going ahead. The robo-debt process needs to be seriously examined,’ she said.
‘If I hadn't taken this legal action, I don't think Centrelink would have ever realised the problem with my so called ‘debt’, Deanna said.
Deanna Amato’s case will go to a hearing in December with our first client Madeleine Masterton’s to be scheduled for hearing after that case is determined. [my yellow highlighting]

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

"The right to peaceful protest is a cornerstone of our democracy and must not be thrown away for political expediency."


The Daily Examiner, letter to the editor, 9 October 2019, p.13:


Amend or reject
PEOPLE will face more time in jail for peaceful protest than for grievous bodily harm if the government’s Right to Farm Bill becomes law.
The bill provides for three-year prison terms for protesters while the penalty for permanently or seriously disfiguring another person is a maximum of two years. Is this really the sort of society the Coalition government wants us to become?
Under this proposal people as diverse as Wallaby great David Pocock and the knitting nannas could go to jail for making their point peacefully and democratically.
The government claims these dangerous laws are needed to protect farmers from trespassers, but the law already has those safeguards. The irony is that farmers may have the most to lose.
Farmers have led campaigns to save the Pilliga and the Bentley region from coal seam gas and the Hunter, Bylong Valley, Gloucester Valley and the Liverpool Plains from coal.
The right to peaceful protest is a cornerstone of our democracy and must not be thrown away for political expediency.
History tells us that when governments erode the civil liberties of any group, they erode them for us all. This bill must be amended or rejected.
Chris Gambian, Chief Executive, NSW Nature Conservation Council
BACKGROUND
Parliament of New South Wales, Legislative Review Committee, Review Digest, 24 September 2019:
"The Bill significantly increases the maximum penalty for the offence of aggravated unlawful entry on inclosed lands from $5,500 to $13,200 and/or imprisonment for 12 months. The potential penalties rise to $22,000 or three years imprisonment if the offender is accompanied by two or more persons or if s/he does anything to put the safety of any person at serious risk. Large increases in penalties can result in excessive punishment where the penalty is not proportionate to the offence. However, the Committee acknowledges that the penalty increase is designed to better reflect the severity of the offences as well as the impact such offences have on farmers and primary production activities. It is also to account for the risks caused by trespassing on agricultural land and interfering with agricultural equipment and infrastructure.....
The Bill introduces a new offence that applies to those who incite or direct trespass without committing trespass themselves, which could attract a maximum penalty of 12 months imprisonment. The Committee notes that the creation of new offences impacts upon the rights and liberties of persons as previously lawful conduct becomes unlawful. " 

Saturday, 12 October 2019

Tweet of the Week


Friday, 4 October 2019

And the climate change denying madness continues in New South Wales


All those political donations to the Liberal and National parties seem to be paying off for the Minerals Council of Australia – $28,800 in 2015-16, $50,645 in 2016-17, $88,700 in 2017-18.

Cheap at twice the price if this comes to pass…….

The Guardian2 October 2019:

The New South Wales government is considering legislation that could limit the ability for planning authorities to rule out coalmines projects based on the climate change impact of emissions from the coal once it is burned.

It comes after a campaign from the NSW Minerals Council over decisions that have referenced the impact of “scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions” as a reason for either rejecting a mining project entirely or for imposing conditions on it.

For a coalmine, scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions are from the burning of the coal after it is sold into the market, including overseas.

The planning minister, Rob Stokes, said it was “not appropriate for state governments to impose conditions about emissions policies in other countries”.

He said the government was looking at a range of options, including legislation or a new guideline for how planning authorities should factor scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions into the assessment process.

The recent decisions include the NSW land and environment court’s rejection of the Rocky Hill coalmine in February, which cited the impact the mine would have on climate change, including through the burning of coal in other countries, at a time when “a rapid and deep decrease” in global emissions was urgently needed.

In August, the NSW Independent Planning Commission approved the expanded United Wambo coal project near Singleton but as a condition said the coal could only be exported to countries that have ratified the Paris agreement.

In September the commission rejected the development of a greenfield coalmine in NSW’s Bylong Valley, citing the impact the mine would have on groundwater, agricultural land and on climate change.

The NSW Minerals Council has since launched attack ads that target the planning system for “failing the people of NSW”.

In a statement last week, the council’s chief executive Stephen Galilee said the decision to launch a campaign came after months of “warnings to the minister for planning and others in the government about the risk of the planning system to jobs and investment”.

He said the situation had reached “crisis point” with the Bylong Valley decision.

Stokes said the Minerals Council was one of the stakeholders the government was consulting in its development of a policy on scope 3 emissions.

We are working with key stakeholders, including the federal government, NSW Minerals Council and consent authorities, to develop a clear policy direction as quickly as possible to provide certainty to the community, industry and investors,” he said.

We are looking at a range of options including legislation.”

The consent authorities in this instance include the NSW land and environment court.

But environment groups are warning the government not to bow to pressure from the mining industry. Lock the Gate said the impact of downstream greenhouse gas emissions “is arguably the most complicated, severe and lasting environmental impact of NSW’ export coalmines”.

Lock the Gate coordinator George Woods said the public should also have a say in how planning decisions address the climate consequences of coal developments and that should be done through a public hearing process run by the independent planning commission.

It’s disappointing and frankly dangerous for the planning minister to narrowly consult only with the mining industry on a matter of profound importance like this,” she said.

The mining industry has flexed its political muscle but the government really needs to address the bigger issue and the public sentiment on this.”

Elaine Johnson, the principal lawyer with the Environmental Defenders Office of NSW, which represented Groundswell Gloucester in the Rocky Hill case, said if the government was planning changes to the way planning authorities consider scope 3 emissions, the consultation for that should be broad and include other key stakeholders such as community and environment groups.

The land and environment court, in the Rocky Hill decision, has confirmed that it is entirely appropriate for decision-makers to impose conditions on projects that will contribute to dangerous climate change in a planning context,” Johnson said.

She said that was recognised by the independent planning commission in the United Wambo and Bylong Valley assessments.

We would also say that in 2019 we are making planning decisions in a context which includes advice from the world’s best scientists that we’re approaching a climate emergency,” she said.

If global emissions continue to rise and if serious action is not taken at all levels of government, by communities and business, the impacts of dangerous climate change will be catastrophic.”...... [my yellow highlighting]

Friday, 27 September 2019

Debt collector used by DHS-Centrelink to chase unproven robodebts being sued by Australia’s consumer watchdog for a raft of coercive and unconscionable practices


IT News, 24 September 2019: 

A debt collector recently awarded a $3.3 million contract by the Department of Human Services (DHS) to chase money for Centrelink is wholly owned by a company being sued by Australia’s consumer watchdog for a raft of coercive and unconscionable practices. 

In an embarrassing twist to the ongoing Robodebt controversy, iTnews can reveal ARL Collect (Pty Ltd), which is wholly owned by Queensland based Panthera Finance, snared a plum debt recovery deal from DHS just weeks before its parent company was hit by landmark legal action from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. 

The ACCC’s case against Panthera accuses the firm of coercing payments from people – including identity fraud victims – for bills they did not actually owe. 

The direct ownership link between the two companies, which technically are separate legal and financial entities, raises fresh questions around the adequacy of vetting and due diligence surrounding government outsourcing deals, especially those dealing with vulnerable people. 

The ACCC’s action against Panthera, lodged in the Federal Court on 24th July this year, sets out an appalling litany of allegations related to undue harassment and coercion, unconscionable conduct and false and misleading representation to consumers. 

They include forcing money from identity fraud victims by using credit default listings as leverage and follow consumer complaints made about Panthera. 

According to Department of Finance records, DHS published notification of the $3.3 million ARL Collect contract on 29th July; however the contract period is listed as running from 1st July 2019 to 30th June 2020, indicating the tender was let prior to commencement of action by the ACCC. 

The ACCC’s allegations against Panthera, ARL Collects’s owner, all stem from commercial recovery actions, namely attempts to collect on contested bills issued by utilities AGL, Origin Energy and Telstra, raising serious questions of governance and corporate culture. 

A particularly embarrassing coincidence for the government and DHS is that all the examples put forward to the court by the ACCC in its allegations arise from payment demands made by Panthera for bills that were not actually owed and actively disputed by those hit by recovery actions. 

The revelations that the ultimate owner of DHS’s contracted debt collector is a current target of regulatory action is another headache for the government as it vigorously defends its data matching-reliant enforcement regime. 

A class action now in the works against Robodebt being mounted by Gordon Legal also broadly makes its case along the lines of an unreasonable burden of proof being foisted on people labelled debtors, while organisations claiming to be creditors get away with questionable claims. 

The Department of Human Services, its minister Stuart Robert and Prime Minister Scott Morrison have steadfastly maintained welfare overpayment recovery mechanisms are subject to due administrative process, a stance that has done little to quell criticism of Robodebt, which has now become a political weapon. 

Irrespective of the politics, the ACCC’s case against Panthera is highly significant because it spotlights the poor conduct of some collection agencies. 

It also reveals how receivables ledgers of questionable data accuracy are on-sold and the way legitimately disputed debt is treated. 

And it goes deep into the hardball culture and often high pressure tactics of the darker corners of the collections industry, a sector that has been struggling to reform its image......

In one of the examples, a Queensland woman anonymised as “Witness A” disputed a $378 debt for an Origin electricity bill racked up under her name for an address in New South Wales where the woman had never lived. 

She had also never been a customer of Origin. After filing a complaint with the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network (ACORN) and supplying Panthera with the case reference number the debt collector still pursued her. 

“Witness A again informed them that she had never lived in NSW, she had provided an ACORN reference number and stated that she had never received Centrelink payments in her life, referring to the Centrelink deductions recorded on the Origin bills provided to her,” the ACCC court documents state. 

“Witness A provided Panthera with the details of the person the police had informed her was responsible for the Origin Debt, including that the person still resided at the NSW premises to which the electricity was supplied, and also with the relevant police officer’s contact information,” the ACCC’s court documents continue. 

Despite this, Panthera continued asking her for information she just did not have, the ACCC alleges.....

In another case a man dubbed "Witness B" told Panthera that he believed a Telstra mobile broadband account created in his name had been fraudulently obtained. 

Despite a police officer telling Panthera that she was “looking into fraud” in relation to the account “the man still had a credit default listed against his name.” What came next borders on extortion. 

“On 4 April 2017, a Panthera representative called Witness B’s financial advisor and stated that Panthera was aware of Witness B’s dispute and was investigating it, offered to negotiate a payment in order to secure the removal of the default listing and represented that Witness B would need to make a payment of $100 to Panthera in order for the default listing to be removed,” the ACCC’s court documents state. 

“This was in circumstances where the Panthera representative knew that Witness B’s account was in the process of being ‘written off’ by Panthera, but also knew that Witness B needed the default listing removed quickly because he was trying to obtain finance.” 

Even after paying the $100 and Panthera telling the man the default listing had been removed “as at September 2018 Witness B’s credit file still contained a default listing with respect to the Telstra Debt”.......

Read the full article here.

Thursday, 26 September 2019

Law Council of Australia not amused by those playing politics with the issue of domestic violence


Law Council of Australia, media release, 23 September 2019: 

Family violence awareness training urged for parliamentarians 

The Law Council has condemned as dangerous suggestions by Senator Malcolm Roberts of One Nation that the family courts are contributing to family violence and called for family violence awareness training for all members of parliament. 

“It is inappropriate to be blaming victims, the courts or judges for any person lashing out and hurting another person,” Law Council President, Arthur Moses SC, said today. 

“Politicians must be careful not to use words that may incite those currently engaged in the system or dissatisfied with a court outcome to engage in violence.” 

Mr Moses labelled as “irresponsible and plain stupid” comments by made One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts blaming the family law system for violence by men. 

“These comments could incite violence against partners, children or judges of those courts, or provide excuses for some men to blame anyone else but themselves for hurting a partner or child. The comments of Senator Roberts will undermine, not assist, concerns being raised by some members of the community for law reform as to how custody matters can be dealt with in a less adversarial manner.” 

“The Joint Select Committee Inquiry announced this week provides a critical opportunity for Parliament to examine holistic options to reform the system, including recent recommendations by the Australian Law Reform Commission. The Law Council has offered its support to the Inquiry but it needs to be free from bias and pre-determined outcomes.” 

“But let me be clear – the Inquiry will have no hope of achieving any meaningful reform and will quickly lose support if it is overshadowed by these disgraceful comments or misguided by myths. Reform has to be based on facts not slogans.” 

“This Inquiry must be about finding long-term solutions to a crippled family law system. This will assist vulnerable children, mothers, fathers, families and victims of family violence. Not apportioning blame or seeking to excuse the inexcusable. 

“Cases of family violence are serious matters to be heard and determined by the courts and prosecuted by the police, not Parliament. If parties are unhappy with outcomes, these can decisions reviewed. 

“I acknowledge Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and Attorney-General Porter have said earlier comments reported by Senator Hanson about the raising of domestic violence issues in family cases were wrong. The reported comments by the Senator were plainly wrong.” 

“However, Prime Minister Morrison, Attorney-General Porter and Committee Chair Andrews now need to condemn these latest remarks by Senator Roberts in the strongest possible terms and ensure the Inquiry is conducted in a manner that is safe and respectful. Otherwise, the situation will quickly deteriorate and this Inquiry will harm not help children, mothers and fathers” Mr Moses said. 

“The Law Council strongly recommends all parliamentarians including those who participate in this Inquiry be provided with family violence awareness training at the outset to help them undertake their important roles in the Inquiry but also considering any recommendations from the Inquiry.


Thursday, 19 September 2019

Publishing video footage of animal cruelty could now incur penalties of up to one year in an Australian prison.


The Northern Star, 16 September 2019, p.6:

Animal rights charity Aussie Farms have slammed the passing of a new ‘ag-gag’ law that introduces a criminal charge for “inciting trespass onto agricultural land”.
Several Northern Rivers agricultural businesses were targeted, including Northern Co-operative Meat Company, when Aussie Farms published a map online and called for activists to collect and upload evidence of animal abuse.
But the new law includes simply publishing footage of animal cruelty, or publishing a map of factory farms and slaughterhouses where such cruelty is known to occur, regardless of whether incitement to trespass was intended by the publisher, and regardless of whether the cruelty was legal or illegal.
It follows years of covertly-obtained footage being broadcast to the public by Aussie Farms and other animal protection organisations, revealing widespread practices such as the use of gas chambers in pig slaughterhouses, the live shredding of male baby chicks in the egg industry, and most recently, the slaughter of male baby goats at a high profile Victorian dairy farm.
Publishing such footage now could incur penalties of up to one year in prison.
Executive director Chris Delforce said “consumers had a right to know about the cruelty occurring ... within Australian animal agriculture” and the new law was “designed to limit the public’s ability to see what’s happening inside farms and slaughterhouses”......
On 12 September 2019 the Australian House of Representatives and the Senate passed the Criminal Code Amendment (Agricultural Protection) Bill 2019.

It passed the lower house by a majority of just 8 votes, with Labor, Independent, Greens and Center Alliance MPs voting against the bill becoming law.

https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Chamber_documents/HoR/Divisions/details?id=732



Sunday, 25 August 2019

Barnaby Joyce has all the tact and grace of a lumbering hippo (apologies to all hippopotamus amphibius )


Disgraced former Deputy Prime Minister & MP for New England Barnaby Joyce isn't finding many allies in the NSW Northern Rivers region.... 

The Daily Examiner, 21 August 2019, p.3: 

Chris Gulaptis has delivered a clear message to Nationals counterpart Barnaby Joyce over his controversial foray into the NSW abortion debate.

On Monday, Clarence Valley residents received anti-abortion robocalls from Mr Joyce, the Federal member for New England. 

In the pre-recorded message Mr Joyce makes a number of false statements regarding the abortion bill including that it would allow “sex selective abortions” and “abortion for any reason right up until the day of birth”. 

He then urges members of the community to contact their local member to voice their opposition to the bill. 

However, Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis said he was “disappointed” by the actions of his National Party colleague. 

“We certainly don’t interfere with federal matters and I encourage him not to interfere with NSW state parliamentary matters.” 

Mr Gulaptis re-iterated his support for the private members bill which would remove abortion from the state’s Crimes Act, which he voted for as it went through the lower house last week 59-31, after a marathon debate. 

Mr Gulaptis voted for some of the amendments to the bill and was “interested to see what amendments come down from the Upper House” but was as “happy as I can be” with it. 

“The intent of the bill is to remove abortion from the criminal code and put it into health where it should be,” he said. 

“Our primary concern is to support women who have to make these decisions which will be with them for the rest of their lives.”

And Barnaby is rather upset......


Wednesday, 14 August 2019

A law firm specialising in freedom of religion, speech and conscience lays out the far-right's wish list concerning religious freedom legislation?


Make no mistake, what is in play here is an ideologically-driven push back against the 2017 amendment to the Marriage Act 1961 and, an attempt to regain the power to legally discriminate against the LGBTI community.

All three examples given by the Australian Christian Lobby in the following article involves individuals who have allegedly either actively discriminated against a transgender person or made statements to the effect that homosexuality was heretical, blasphemous and evil.

OUT in Perth, 8 August 2019:

The head of the Human Rights Law Alliance has laid out what he expects the government will allow in its religious focused anti-discrimination legislation.

In a recent presentation in Perth for the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), John Steenhof the Managing Director of the organisation, listed a range of examples where he felt people’s religious freedom had been compromised.

One of the examples Steenhof notes is the case of a pharmacists who he says ended up resigning from their job because they felt an equal opportunity commission was going to force them to fill the prescriptions of people who are transgender. 

“Just yesterday I was speaking to a pharmacist who’s quit her job because she’s been threatened with a discrimination claim for refusing a female hormones prescription at her pharmacy for a biological male.” Steenhof said. 

The Human Rights Law Alliance is a non-profit legal organisation that is closely aligned with the Australian Christian Lobby. Steenhof’s predecessor Martyn Iles is now the head of the ACL. 

In a presentation at the ACL’s ‘Not Ashamed’ state conference Steenhof said there are a number of threats to religious freedom in Australia including disciplinary boards, workplace contracts, vague code of conducts and discrimination claims.

Steenhof also cited the example of Bernard Gaynor, a conservative commentator who supports public displays of homosexuality being made illegal. Steenhof said Gaynor had been targeted through New South Wales vilification laws despite him living in Queensland, and the case of Tasmanian Archbishop Julian Porteous.

In his presentation Steenhof said it appeared the government was not interested in bringing in a religious freedom law, something he said Christians would welcome, but could be dangerous as it may “leave the door open towards the progression of towards a bill of rights act.” 

Steenhof said while he had not seen the legislation the government was proposing he was concerned that a religious discrimination act could be problematic if it was not well worded. 

“We want robust and clear definition of religious freedom and how that translates into action that will be protected. 

We want protection for religious organisations, Christians not only individually, but in community…Christian schools, Christian charities, all of these organisation require protections.” 

“We need protections for charities that would hold to man-woman marriage, we need rights of parents – that’s a massive issue that needs to be address and projections.

We need to address the low bar on vilification laws which allows people to pursue Christians when they feel just a little bit hurt or offended.” Steenhof said. 

In July the National LGBTI Health Alliance (the Alliance), the national peak health organisation in Australia for organisations and individuals that provide health-related programs, services and research focused on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people (LGBTI) called for stakeholders to commit to a “to do no harm” pledge during the discussions regarding the introduction of a federal Religious Discrimination Act. 

They argue that evidence shows that the structural discrimination enshrined in our nation’s laws exacerbate the impacts of minority stress on LGBTI people, including increased anxiety, depression, suicidality and substance use. 

Nicky Bath, Executive Director said that calls for religious freedom should not be used a licence to discriminate against LGBTI people. 

“The Alliance recognises that freedom of religion is a fundamental human right and is an essential part of a liberal, democratic society. We support measures that protect people from discrimination on the basis of their religious beliefs or activity, or their secular beliefs or activity. However, legislation for religious freedom should not be used as a license to discriminate against LGBTI people.” Bath said. 

Recent research has highlighted how legislative processes and public debates relating to the rights of stigmatised, minority populations adversely effects our communities’ already poorer mental health, with an increase in psychological distress being evident among LGBTI people during the same-sex marriage postal survey. 

“We are calling upon all Members of Parliament, media, religious organisations and individuals to engage in a respectful debate and reporting around legislating for a Religious Discrimination Act to ensure that the right to practice one’s faith and the right to be free from discrimination are appropriately balanced in a coherent legal framework and do not further marginalise or harm our communities’ health and wellbeing”, Bath said. 

“We also call on the Morrison Government to consult with LGBTI people, organisations and communities to hear directly how this legislation and the ongoing public debates impact negatively on our mental and physical health.” 

The Pharmaceutical Society of Australia also says there is no need for pharmacists to be given an exemption from discrimination laws, and treating people equally is a big part of their code of conduct. 

“PSA recognises that equality is a health issue, and is a right for all Australians, irrespective of age, culture, religion, sexuality or gender identity.” a spokesperson told OUTinPerth. 

“This is reflected in PSA’s Code of Ethics for Pharmacists, which states that pharmacists have an obligation to respect the dignity and autonomy of the patient, recognise and respect patients’ diversity, cultural knowledge and skills, gender, beliefs, values, characteristics and lived experience – and not discriminate on any grounds, and provide care in a compassionate, professional, timely, and culturally safe and responsive manner.”