Mandarins punished for service: Labor

Punishing public servants for being honest or implementing the previous government’s policies is a petty move, Labor says.

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Prime Minister Tony Abbott sacked three department secretaries within minutes of being sworn in on Wednesday: Andrew Metcalfe at Agriculture, Blair Comley at Resources and Energy, and Don Russell at Innovation, Industry, Science and Research.

Acting opposition leader Chris Bowen says it’s Australia’s loss.

“These public servants will be very hard to replace in terms of their collective wisdom,” he told ABC radio.

Mr Metcalfe had previously headed the immigration department under Labor and the Howard governments as well working in then-minister Philip Ruddock’s office.

But he has said publicly he didn’t believe turning asylum seeker boats back to Indonesia, a key plank of the coalition’s policy, would work.

“If Mr Metcalfe’s being punished for being honest that’s a very poor start for this government,” Mr Bowen said on Thursday.

“He was secretary of the Department of Agriculture; that was hardly somewhere where he was going to have to implement the government’s immigration policies even if they were concerned about that.”

Similarly, the Labor leader believed Mr Comley was punished “simply for having to implement … the previous government’s climate change policy”.

“This is a pretty petty move,” he said.

Finance minister Mathias Cormann defended the changes, saying the government now had the right people in the right positions to deliver its agenda.

“There were some changes but those changes were not dramatic,” he said.

He also defended a move to merge AusAID with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

“We think it is important for our foreign aid objectives and our foreign affairs objectives to be more closely aligned,” he said.

“Australia needs to take a very close look at how our aid spending fits in with our national interests and our foreign affairs policy objectives.”

Abbott’s help sought on petrol discounts

A coalition of business and grocery groups has urged Prime Minister Tony Abbott to stop excessive shopper docket petrol discounting by the major supermarkets.

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The Independent Retailers of Australia group says the two national supermarket chains have resumed their misuse of market power now the federal election is over.

It has placed ads in the major newspapers to garner support for fairer competition.

“Prime Minister Abbott, we’re appealing to your new government to commit its support to ensure competition in the fuel and grocery markets is fair,” the ad says.

“As four organisations representing two million Australian businesses and the five million staff they employ, we implore you to ensure fair competition for the benefit of all retailers and consumers.”

Australian Retailers Association executive director Russell Zimmerman said discounts of up to 40 cents a litre were now being offered by the major retailers.

They feared it would result in the death of independent petrol retailers, he said.

“The cross market subsidisation is exclusive to the major chains, which are misusing their market power. This needs to be addressed urgently through competition policy,” he said in a statement.

“We urge the new prime minister to move quickly to halt deep fuel discounting, as any discount of fuel above the traditional level of 4 cents per litre must mean fuel is being sold below cost.”

Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia chief executive Peter Strong said action needed to be taken before it was too late for independent retailers.

How committed is Abbott to multiculturalism?

Labor, the Greens and some community groups say they are concerned about the direction multicultural policy could take under an Abbott government.

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The outgoing Labor government appointed Senator Kate Lundy to the position of Multicultural Affairs Minister last year after she had worked as the parliamentary secretary in the same portfolio since 2010.

But Tony Abbott’s incoming team doesn’t include a minister with the portfolio area.

Incoming Prime Minister Tony Abbott has announced that multicultural affairs and settlement services will not be managed by the Department of Immigration under a Coalition government.

Instead, it will fall under the control of a newly created Department of Social Services with Kevin Andrews the Minister, who will also be responsible for aged care services.

Mr Abbott has appointed New South Wales Senator Concetta Fierravanti Wells as parliamentary secretary for social services with special responsibility for multicultural affairs and settlement services.

The outgoing Minister for Multicultural Affairs under the Rudd Government, Senator Kate Lundy, says she believes the coalition is neglecting an important portfolio area.

“I think it’s profoundly disappointing for all of those people who devote themselves to that part of our community sector and are engaged in our multicultural communities. We worked very hard as a federal Labor government to lift both the status and the substance of the multicultural affairs portfolio and unfortunately the coalition government has taken some pretty giant steps backwards.”

Senator Lundy believes Labor put forward some strong initiatives including a National Anti Racism Strategy and an Australian Multicultural Council to provide policy advice to the government.

But she fears these programs now risk being axed or having their funding allocations drastically cut under the Coalition government.

The Australian Greens multicultural spokesman, Richard Di Natale, shares that concern.

He says he is also anxious about plans by Tony Abbott to repeal a section of the Racial Discrimination Act, which makes it unlawful to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate someone on the basis of their race, colour or national or ethnic origin.

Mr Abbott argues the current Act does not sufficiently protect the right of freedom of speech.

Senator Di Natale believes repealing the Act could end up weakening the rights of migrant Australians.

“We’re looking at an Abbott Government that has already made some noises around abolishing particular sections within the Racial Discrimination Act. So rather than protecting those things and standing up for and making a robust defence of multiculturalism in making sure that racism is unacceptable in any of its guises, we appear to be moving in the opposite direction.”

The Settlement Council of Australia says it is also disappointed over Mr Abbott’s failure to appoint a Multicultural Affairs Minister.

But the council’s chairman Cedric Manen says he’s pleased to see a politician from a non English speaking background in Senator Fierravanti-Wells appointed to the role of parliamentary secretary for multicultural affairs and settlement services.

He is hoping that the NSW Liberal Senator will continue a tradition of bipartisan support across politics for strong settlement services.

“Last year there was the inaugural settlement services awards and there was very strong bipartisan support at those awards from both the coalition and the Labor government at the time. I certainly think someone with the lived experience of migration or someone with a great degree of empathy will be highly valued in that role.”

Labor’s outgoing Multicultural Affairs Minister Kate Lundy says in the lead up to the election, the Coalition failed to release a multicultural policy.

She says it also failed to use the word “multicultural” in any of its frontbench titles in opposition, preferring the term “citizenship”.

“There doesn’t seem to be a consistent position and it depends on who you talk to and what forum it is in terms of how supportive or not they are of multicultural affairs. I think in that regard they should just grow up. Multicultural affairs is a fact of life in Australia and it is an enormous strength. It needs to be not only acknowledged and celebrated but social policy should be built around that.”

Professor Andrew Jakubowicz specialises in multicultural policy research at the University of Technology in Sydney.

He believes the Abbott government is likely to axe a number of programs set up by Labor including the National Anti Racism Strategy.

Professor Jakubowicz says ethnic aged care services are likely to be a priority for the Coalition government, with aged care under the same department as settlement services.

However he believes other migrant services could be overlooked in the process, including childcare and disability services.

Professor Jakubowicz believes the Abbott government’s overall approach towards multiculturalism will be guided by the views of the incoming Prime Minister himself.

“Mr Abbott declared just before the election that he was a convert to multiculturalism saying at the time that he was making this proclamation because he understood that people came to Australia to join us, not to change us, in his terms. So he has a fairly assimilationist notion of what multiculturalism might mean, but at least he was prepared to use the word.”

 

(SBS contacted several Coalition MPs for this story but so far has not received a response.)

Six dead as Canada train smashes into bus

Screaming commuters in the Canadian capital were thrown from a double-decker bus when it ploughed into a passenger train at a suburban crossing, leaving six dead and scores injured.

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Five people died at the scene – including the bus driver, whose remains were so mangled they could not be immediately formally identified – and a sixth in hospital.

Debris and bloody medical towels lay scattered trackside after emergency services mounted a large-scale rescue in a quiet district on the outskirts of Ottawa.

Hours after the early morning commute turned to tragedy 10 of the 34 people injured in the accident were still in a serious condition.

“We had bodies and debris pretty much everywhere at the impact site,” fire department spokesman Marc Messier told broadcaster CTV earlier.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson later told a news conference the accident had been felt across Canada.

“We lost six of our neighbours, people who started off this bright, sunny day as we all did heading from their homes and loved ones to go about with their daily lives. And then this terrible tragedy struck,” he said.

Ottawa police launched an investigation of the crash in the suburban neighbourhood of Barrhaven, about 17 kilometres south of downtown Ottawa.

The Via Rail company operating the train on the Ottawa-to-Toronto line – on which traffic has been suspended – reported no fatalities. The train was on its way from Montreal.

The OC Transpo bus was headed downtown during the morning rush hour when the accident happened.

At the time, the train was just 30 metres from a nearby station to pick up waiting passengers on one of Canada’s busiest rail corridors.

The front of the bus was mangled and shorn off while the locomotive and four rail cars were derailed by the crash that left parts of the track twisted.

Witnesses recounted panic aboard the bus just seconds before impact, which caused passengers to be thrown from the vehicle.

Several passengers braced themselves just prior to the collision.

Chad Mariage, on his way to work, was seated toward the back of the bus’s second level when the accident happened.

He wasn’t injured, he said, calling himself “one of the lucky ones.”

“The impact was pretty severe,” he said.

People on the bus were screaming just before the accident, he said, adding that the collision “wasn’t a direct hit.”

“We could all see the train coming towards us – almost in slow motion,” he said.

“The bus driver hit the brakes but too late.”

It was not immediately clear what caused the crash, which occurred on a cloudless and sunny autumn day in an area of wide open fields.

Lead investigator Jean Laporte of the Transportation Safety Board said his team was already documenting and photographing the scene of the accident.

They will assess the crossing – which had been upgraded in 2005 after locals voiced safety concerns – and its visibility lines, check signals and warnings and barriers to ensure they were working correctly, and analyse data from train recorder and the bus global positioning system, he said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper expressed his condolences via Twitter to the families of those killed.

“Deeply saddened to hear about the bus-train collision in Ottawa this morning,” he tweeted.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those involved.”

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, a member of parliament for the affected district, praised the resiliency of the people of Ottawa in face of tragedy.

“I have no doubt that today, our city will mourn those we’ve lost, and support those in need as we move forward as a city, and as a community,” he said in a statement.

Ottawa flags will be flown at half mast to honour the dead.

The accident happened just over two months after an oil tanker train derailed and exploded in the Quebec resort town of Lac-Megantic, killing 47 people.

Skaf gang rapist granted parole

Skaf gang rapist Mohammed Sanoussi will be released from custody after having his parole revoked weeks earlier.

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During a parole hearing in western Sydney on Thursday, judge Terence Christie said Sanoussi, 29, would be released next month but ordered that he not associate with his brothers.

Sanoussi was initially granted parole earlier this month with strict conditions, including a ban on associating with the Brothers For Life gang.

Hours after that hearing, however, it emerged his brothers Ahmed Sanoussi, 30, and Mahmoud Sanoussi, 28, had been charged with bashing a cleaner at Revesby in Sydney’s southwest.

The younger brother remains behind bars but the older one was given bail and is still living in the family home.

The State Parole Authority subsequently revoked Sanoussi’s parole, saying his post-release accommodation was unsuitable because his brothers, who are allegedly Brothers For Life members, lived there.

During the hearing on Thursday, Sanoussi was ordered to live in a Community Offenders Support Program centre or a half-way house near Long Bay jail until his brothers move out of the family home or until he finds his own accommodation.

The court ordered that he not associate with his brothers without the permission of his supervising officer.

Judge Christie said the “stressful situation” with his brother “was not of his own making” and that he had been in jail since he was 16.

His lawyer, well known Sydney Barrister Charles Waterstreet, said his client had paid the price for what he had done, saying the welfare of his parents was his main concern.

Paul Nash, who was representing Corrective Services, tried to delay the parole until there was stability in his living arrangements.

Sanoussi, who faced the court from jail via a video link, remained quiet during the court proceedings but smiled briefly before going back to his cell.

The 29-year-old was sentenced to 16 years in prison for his role in the August 2000 gang rapes of young girls in isolated Sydney locations.

He was 16 at the time of the attacks involving 14 men, led by brothers Bilal and Mohammed Skaf.

European magic lifts City and United before derby

Last season’s champions and runners-up meet at the Etihad Stadium, hoping midweek Champions League success can ignite their domestic campaigns after some uninspired performances from both in their first four games, each taking just seven points.

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While Wayne Rooney’s return to form in Tuesday’s 4-2 win over Bayer Leverkusen stole the headlines, Fellaini’s physical presence and ability to hold the ball in his first start since signing just before the transfer deadline added a new dimension.

It was no coincidence that a side who had not scored in two of their last three league games and only netted from set pieces in the other were suddenly able to put together more meaningful charges forward with the big Belgian on the pitch.

Similarly, City, who had failed to repeat the scintillating showing of their season-opening demolition of Newcastle United, rediscovered some attacking flair in a stylish 3-0 win at Viktoria Plzen on Tuesday.

“It will give confidence for all the players,” City manager Manuel Pellegrini told reporters.

“We have the derby next Sunday and always winning away in the Champions League, scoring three goals, having at least three or four more chances to score and a clean sheet – I think it will give all the players a lot of confidence.”

City midfielder Yaya Toure, who like Fellaini offers a towering presence, creative instinct and ability to read a game, scored a sublime goal at Plzen and it could well be the battle between these two powerful players that proves key on Sunday.

It will be the first Manchester derby for both clubs’ managers and they will be aware that City hold a slight advantage in recent years having taken 10 points to United’s seven in league encounters in the past three seasons.

The return of captain Vincent Kompany, who made a successful comeback from a groin injury on Tuesday, will offer the hosts a further boost ahead of what he describes as a “special game.”

“It is becoming one of the most sought-after fixtures in the world and it is always great to be involved in such games. I never take them for granted,” the Belgian defender said.

This fixture two seasons ago, which City won 1-0, proved decisive as they went on to secure the Premier League crown on goal difference from their neighbours.

It is far too early in the season to be talking of the title race but it is nevertheless a crunch game with both sides keen to establish the edge on their opponents.

MAKE AMENDS

Early season pacesetters Liverpool, who are unbeaten with 10 points from four matches, host Southampton on Saturday but have suffered a blow with midfielder Philippe Coutinho ruled out until the end of next month with a shoulder injury.

They are, however, full of confidence over the form of striker Daniel Sturridge. He has netted in all their league matches this season and will be keen to keep up his scoring escapades before the return of Uruguay striker Luis Suarez from a 10-match ban, which comes to an end after this game.

Later on Saturday, Chelsea host Fulham in a west London derby eager to make amends after suffering their first league defeat of the season at Everton last weekend and losing at home to Basel in the Champions League.

Everton, the only unbeaten Premier League side along with Merseyside rivals Liverpool, travel to West Ham United who are proving miserly at both ends of the pitch.

North London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, who both have nine points, are in action on Sunday, with Arsene Wenger hoping for more magic from record signing Mesut Ozil when they host Stoke and Andre Villas-Boas taking his team to Cardiff.

Ozil enjoyed an exciting Arsenal debut, taking only 11 minutes to create a goal against Sunderland, and team mate Aaron Ramsey, whose rich scoring vein continued in the 2-1 Champions League win at Marseille, said it was just the beginning.

“You saw what Mesut is all about with those lovely, telling through balls to set people up one on one with the keeper,” local media quoted him as saying. “That’s why he is top of the assist chart around the whole of Europe.

“He is an unbelievable talent and hopefully that is just the start of many things to come from him.

Two of the early season strugglers, West Bromwich Albion (two points) and Sunderland (one), meet at the Hawthorns on Saturday, while fellow slow starters Crystal Palace entertain Swansea City on Sunday.

The weekend’s other games are Norwich City at home to Aston Villa and Hull City travelling to Newcastle United.

(Reporting by Sonia Oxley; Editing by Sam Holden)

Gay marriage by end of year in ACT

Gay and lesbian couples should be able to get married in the ACT by the end of the year.

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The ACT government is introducing a Marriage Equality Bill to legalise same sex marriage on Thursday.

It’s expected to pass the Legislative Assembly as soon as October, with the Greens supporting the Labor minority government on the move.

That would make the ACT the first Australian jurisdiction to allow same sex marriage.

Chief Minister Katy Gallagher says the government is working towards people being able to marry under the law before the end of the year.

But she concedes it could be subject to challenge in the High Court or overturning by a vote of both houses of federal parliament.

“We know there’s some risks attached with this legislation,” Ms Gallagher told ABC radio.

“But we don’t think those risks should stop us proceeding with a commitment we made to the people of the ACT in the election campaign last year.”

Her government had waited to see if the former federal Labor government would legalise same sex marriage but decided to go ahead with territory legislation since no national position emerged.

Under the law, anyone who can’t marry under the Commonwealth’s Marriage Act will be able to wed.

The commonwealth act defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

Couples from outside the ACT would be able to get married in the territory but their relationships may not be recognised in their home state.

“There’s a very strong desire by couples including couples in the ACT to have their partnerships recognised legally,” Ms Gallagher said.

“I don’t think that people who want to use the Marriage Equality Bill will not use it because of fear that it may be overturned in the future.”

Her government hadn’t discussed the planned laws with new Prime Minister Tony Abbott but she didn’t expect they would come as a surprise to him.

Burrow claims maiden surfing win of 2013

Australia’s Taj Burrow has claimed his first world surfing tour victory of the season, beating compatriot Julian Wilson in the final at Trestles in California.

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A two-time world tour runner-up but never a world champion, 35-year-old Burrow posted a final score of 17.07, bettering Wilson’s 15.97, to win the Hurley Pro on Wednesday.

“I couldn’t be happier, I wanted this more than any of them,” a smiling Burrow said.

“It was a tough task but it just feels incredible to put in that effort and finish on top.

“I’m just over the moon.”

The victory bumped Burrow up one spot to fourth on the season’s rankings – behind leader and countryman Mick Fanning, American legend Kelly Slater and South Africa’s Jordy Smith – with three events remaining on the 10-stop tour.

It was Burrow 12th title in 16 years on the world championship tour and his previous win came last October at the O’Neill Coldwater Classic in Santa Cruz.

Wilson said while disappointed to miss out on winning one of his favourite events, he was glad it was fellow Australian Burrow who clinched the title.

“A huge congrats to Taj,” said Wilson, who rocketed up four places to seventh on the overall rankings.

“I’m stoked that he can get that notch on his belt that he really wanted to get.

“Everyone felt like it was his year to win this year, even though I really didn’t want him to.”

With 11-time tour champion Slater knocked out in a shock round-three defeat, Fanning reclaimed the No.1 spot on the world standings.

He now sits 1200 points clear of Slater, despite finishing 9th and without a win for the season.

Joel Parkinson, who was also eliminated in round three, has slipped from third to fifth ahead of countrymen Josh Kerr and Wilson.

The next leg of the tour starts on September 26 on the south west coast of France.

Zoe’s law sparks emotion in NSW parliament

The controversial Zoe’s law bill has sparked a heated and emotional debate in NSW parliament, as MPs weigh up changes that would allow people to be charged with hurting an unborn baby.

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The bill, which is being put to a conscience vote, was named in honour of the unborn child of Brodie Donegan, who was hit by a drug-affected driver on Christmas Day in 2009.

The proposed changes amend the law so that a person can be charged with the grievous bodily harm of a foetus that is either 20 weeks or 400 grams by allowing it to be treated as a living person.

It does not apply to anything done with a pregnant woman’s consent or during a medical procedure.

During debate on the bill on Thursday, Labor MP Paul Lynch described aspects of the proposed changes as illogical, “distinctly odd” and flawed.

“No thought seems to have been given to multiple pregnancies,” he told parliament.

“One foetus could weigh 410 grams and its twin 390 grams, which means if they were in these circumstances they would be treated differently – a result that seems quite wrong.”

Opposition Leader John Robertson said he had met with Ms Donegan and was moved by her “unwavering love and dedication to a child she never had the opportunity to know”.

But he said he couldn’t ignore the concerns that doctors, lawyers and women’s groups had raised.

“Legislation can also have unintended consequences, and our duty must always be … to prevent future wrongs to others,” he said.

Meanwhile, Nationals MP Troy Grant argued the bill was necessary for those who had experiences like Ms Donegan.

The father of two became emotional as he described how he was the older brother of twin sisters, one of whom was stillborn due to medical reasons.

“She was buried and I visit her grave in Moree at every opportunity that I can.”

He said it was his understanding that Liberal MP Chris Spence, who introduced the private member’s bill, would be moving an amendment to include medical treatments.

“I am confident this is not a slippery slope as described by the NSW Bar Association,” Mr Grant said.

Women’s groups and the legal profession have raised concerns of the bill’s implications for reproductive rights.

CEO of Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia, Karen Willis, has urged MPs not to support the bill, saying she could not support a bill that separates a woman from the foetus she is carrying.

Debate on the bill has been adjourned to another time.

McConnell ‘upset by christening’

Allyson McConnell, who admitted drowning her young sons in a bathtub in Canada, may have been sent into a final, fatal downward spiral after attending the christening of a friend’s baby, her lawyer says.

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A body, believed to be McConnell’s, was found under a bridge on Wednesday near her home on the NSW Central Coast.

McConnell, 34, had made multiple attempts to end her life, including just hours after drowning her sons, two-year-old Connor and 10-month-old Jayden, in Alberta, Canada, in 2010.

Her Canadian lawyer, Peter Royal, said on Wednesday McConnell became emotional and despondent after she attended a friend’s baby’s christening in Australia recently.

“I guess it brought back thoughts of her own children’s christenings,” Royal told the Canadian Press.

Royal, who represented McConnell at her murder trial in Alberta last year, also said McConnell was concerned about an appeal lodged by Canadian prosecutors that could have led to her extradition from Australia to serve extra jail time.

The appeal was to be heard next month.

At her non-jury trial in Wetaskiwin a judge found McConnell guilty of manslaughter, not second-degree murder, and sentenced her to six years’ jail.

McConnell had battled depression throughout her life and at the trial admitted drowning her sons.

However, the judge who presided over the murder trial found there was not enough evidence to show that McConnell “had the specific intent to kill her children”.

With time already served credits, she spent just 10 months in the psychiatric ward of Alberta Hospital before being deported to Australia.

McConnell’s former husband, Curtis, was outraged she received such little jail time and an appeal of the conviction and sentence was scheduled to be heard next month.

Alberta Justice Minister Jonathan Denis had previously said McConnell’s sentence was too lenient and if prosecutors were successful in increasing McConnell’s jail time via the appeal, the province would attempt to extradite her from Australia to serve it.

Royal has filed a complaint against Denis, a lawyer, with the Law Society of Alberta, suggesting his comments were out of bounds and violated the impartiality of his job.

“The attorney-general making comments didn’t help things with such a fragile person,” Royal said.

“These are comments she was aware of.”

Denis issued a written statement on Wednesday.

“If this is indeed Ms McConnell, then it marks a disturbing end to what has been a very tragic situation and is certainly not the outcome anyone wished for,” he wrote.

* Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 and the Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.