Executives from Google and Facebook will front a Senate committee hearing today as they continue to push back against the Morrison government’s plans for a mandatory media bargaining code.
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Almost 20 years have passed and six premiers have held office in Tasmania since the Greens first called for a commission of inquiry into child sexual abuse in the state.
A commission of inquiry will this year examine Tasmanian government institutions’ responses to allegations of child sexual abuse
The Tasmanian Greens tried in 2003 and 2004 to establish a similar Commission of Inquiry
Advocates say the inquiry is an important chance to overcome the secrecy that has existed around institutional abuse for too long
In November, Premier Peter Gutwein, under increasing pressure as allegations relating to three departments came to light, announced a commission of inquiry to investigate Tasmanian government agencies’ responses to allegations of child sexual abuse.
“Things have gotten to the point where the Government can no longer duck and weave,” said Angela Sdrinis, a lawyer who specialises in child sexual abuse.
“We’ve known for a long time, certainly through my work, that there have been some very serious systemic issues in terms of how the Tasmanian Government has dealt with issues of child sexual abuse.”
The national Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse did not look specifically at Tasmanian government institutions.
A 2004 Tasmanian ombudsman’s inquiry heard from people with stories of abuse dating back to the 1950s.
The allegations that have recently come to light have led to multiple state service employees being stood down, pending investigations.
The royal commission
While the pressure in Tasmania came to a head last year, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which delivered its final report in 2017, was a major turning point in Australia.
Social welfare historian, Australian Catholic University Emeritus Professor Shurlee Swain, said it did away with focusing on “bad apples”, a tactic that had been used to shut down previous investigations.
“It’s the only way to bring about change because if you think it’s just the individual bad apple, you’re never going to know who the bad apple is until the behaviour starts to manifest,” Professor Swain said.
“If you look at what is it in this situation, in the institutional situation that creates the environment in which the bad apple, if indeed it is a bad apple, can thrive, then you can identify features that enabled the behaviour to be hidden in the past.”
The royal commission also recommended a raft of legislative changes, which have been adopted by the Tasmanian Government, including removing the time limit for survivors to take civil legal action.
Survivors with civil claims have turned to interstate lawyers with expertise in child sexual abuse matters.
“Pressure from outside lawyers probably has made at least some difference in terms of saying we need to hold the government to account and there appears to be a culture sometimes in Tasmania of not holding the government to account,” Odin Lawyers director Sebastian Buscemi said.
Secrecy more of a problem in Tasmania: lawyer
Ms Sdrinis, whose Melbourne firm opened an office in Hobart in 2018, said that while she had encountered secrecy and cover-ups in other jurisdictions, it seemed to be more of a problem in Tasmania.
“The evidence is that the Tasmanian Government denies right to information requests at a much greater level than other Australian jurisdictions,” she said.
“The fallback position always seems to be deny, deny, deny, and then if pressed provide some information.”
Responding to criticism late last year about the Government’s record on Right to Information requests, Mr Gutwein said the Government “will take whatever steps we need to ensure we can provide a full, frank, open and transparent government that is accountable to the Tasmanian people”.
People Protecting Children president Allison Ritchie said the commission of inquiry was a chance to overcome the secrecy that has existed around institutional abuse for too long.
“There’s a feeling in the community that governments and other authorities just don’t want to get to the bottom of these things,” she said.
“We need to see that that’s not the case, that it’s a no holds barred inquiry that it will go where it needs to to get to the bottom of what’s gone on in this state.”
‘No-one really understands why that was happening’
The commission of inquiry will be the first formal investigation of Tasmanian government institutions’ responses to child sexual abuse allegations.
Education Department documents associated with a civil court case show two teachers who were the subject of numerous complaints, and who were later convicted of child sexual abuse, were moved from school to school.
“No-one’s gotten to the bottom of it, no one really understands why that was happening, who was behind it and how high up it went,” Mr Buscemi said.
‘We have missed 20 years’
Peg Putt was Tasmanian Greens leader and Nick McKim, now a Senator, the justice spokesman when the Greens tried in 2003 and again in 2004 to establish a commission of inquiry into child sexual abuse.
The then Bacon Labor government, which had established a more limited ombudsman’s inquiry into abuse in state care, opposed the inquiry.
One Liberal — Peter Gutwein — crossed the floor to vote with the Greens in 2003. The Liberals supported the Greens’ 2004 attempt.
“There’s been some sort of development in society where we now begin to recognise that if we don’t uncover this and track it right down to the last little bit, then we’re not going to deal with it, it’s not going to go away, and we have shirked our responsibility to people in society who need our help the most.”
When he announced the commission of inquiry, Mr Gutwein said the current Government was taking decisive action in response to allegations of child sexual abuse.
“I have great faith that our current processes and practices ensure higher safeguards and swifter action than was historically the case,” he said.
“Over a number of years significant systems have been implemented to protect our children and young people.”
Mr Gutwein has released the draft terms of reference for the inquiry and the commission is expected to begin its work early this year.
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With the prospect of a bleak few months ahead, many people are looking forward to summer – hoping that, as the vaccine is rolled out, they might once again be able to gather in a muddy field with thousands of others to dance to live music.
But festival organisers are warning that, without action now, this will be a vanishing dream. MPs have begun an inquiry into what needs to happen to ensure the great tradition of British music festivals survives the pandemic.
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Letter to the Editor – Contributed by Tony Fontes, Airlie Beach
More and more banks and insurance companies are moving away from investments in fossil fuels, especially coal, due to climate change impacts.
In fact, all four major Australian banks have signalled they will align their portfolios to a target of net zero emissions by 2050, with most aiming to cease lending to thermal coal companies by 2030.
This is a commonsense move based on economics – banks and insurance companies don’t like losing money.
But not everyone seems to share the same common sense.
The financial institution’s moves have prompted a backlash from a number of Federal MPs
Just before Christmas, treasurer Josh Frydenberg signed up to a plan put forward by Liberal National MP George Christensen to launch an inquiry to grill financial regulators and banks over plans to pull back on lending or insuring mining projects because of climate change.
It is hard to believe that as the financial world moves away from fossil fuels like coal, we have politicians like Josh Frydenberg, George Christensen, Matt Canavan and many others still promoting new coal mines and even new coal-fired power stations.
Can you imagine anyone actually building a new coal-fired power station at the same time as Australia’s newest coal-fired power station, Bluewaters Power Plant in Western Australia, has been deemed worthless by its owners, who have now written off their investment.
Yes, we need an inquiry, not into why the banks won’t support coal projects, but into why many of our politicians seemed to have lost their common sense.
Australia is pushing to ensure the global inquiry it helped trigger into the early handling of the Covid-19 pandemic doesn’t pull any punches – a move that has the potential to risk further recriminations from China.
Amid scepticism among several government backbenchers that the inquiry will fully address Chinese authorities’ early missteps and reporting delays, Australia is using its final months on a top World Health Organization board to press for the investigation to remain robust and independent.
When asked whether Australia was satisfied with China’s level of cooperation, a health department spokesperson told Guardian Australia: “Australia encourages all countries to engage openly and constructively with the evaluation process.”
The government’s public calls in April for a global inquiry into the origins and early handling of coronavirus triggered a furious backlash from Beijing, which argued it was a political manoeuvre against China.
China ended up joining with most nations to support an inquiry motion drafted by the European Union and co-sponsored by Australia in May, but has taken a series of trade actions against Australian export sectors throughout 2020 and has rebuffed Canberra’s calls for ministerial talks.
An independent evaluation panel co-chaired by the former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark is due to provide an interim report to the WHO’s executive board next month before finalising its work in May – just before Australia’s current term expires.
Member states including Australia, which provides more than $16m of funding each year to the WHO plus additional voluntary contributions, have been receiving regular updates on the inquiry.
While Australia was “pleased” with progress to date, the health department spokesperson said Clark and co-chair Ellen Johnson Sirleaf – the former president of Liberia – had “a considerable task ahead of them in consolidating the evidence and opinions of 194 member states”.
“Australia will also continue to work with member states of the executive board to reinforce our expectations of a robust, independent and comprehensive evaluation of the Covid-19 response, and to strengthen WHO’s ability to prevent, mitigate and respond to future pandemics,” the spokesperson said.
“Australia has also actively sought to support our neighbours in the Pacific region to ensure their voices are heard considered as part of the evaluation process.”
Clark has previously told the Guardian the pair were “seen as independent-minded” and “fair operators”. China has a lot riding on the inquiry, having denied claims of cover-ups soon after the outbreak was first detected in Wuhan.
The WHO has separately convened a global study of the origins of Covid-19.
Ten international experts – including Prof Dominic Dwyer, an infectious diseases specialist from the University of Sydney, were “working on this scientific study in collaboration with Chinese scientists”, the health department spokesperson said.
The department said Australia would also use its remaining time on the executive board to champion reforms to make the WHO “more efficient, effective, transparent and sustainable”.
The Australian government said it would consider nominating for another term on the WHO executive board “in due course”.
Some hardliners on the government backbench have been highly sceptical of the ability of the inquiry to deliver hard-hitting findings.
They include the NSW Liberal senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, who is highly critical of the Chinese government and who argues the motion that passed the World Health Assembly was a watered-down version of what Australia had sought.
At a parliamentary committee hearing in August, Fierravanti-Wells said she was worried it could be “a Sir Humphrey-type inquiry” and questioned whether there were mechanisms for Australia to intervene if it came to the view the inquiry had been stymied by Chinese authorities.
The Morrison government has repeatedly maintained that it will not “trade away” Australia’s sovereignty and that it won’t bow to economic pressure – but some critics have argued inflammatory interventions by government backbenchers have made the relationship with Beijing worse.
Australian exporters are nervously waiting to see whether there will be any relief from the trade tensions in the new year, but the dispute reached a new level earlier this month when the government announced it would challenge hefty tariffs on barley through the World Trade Organization.
Last week more than 50 Australian coal ships were still stranded off China’s coast, held up by a Chinese government import ban, despite the country facing coal shortages and one of its worst power blackouts in years.
Chinese authorities cited the discovery of pests when it moved last week to extend timber bans to include logs supplied from NSW and Western Australia.
The Australian Forest Products Association told the Australian newspaper on Monday the industry would need financial assistance from the government if the situation continued into the new year, otherwise there were likely to be job losses and mill closures.
China has generally defended its trade measures on technical grounds and has denied engaging in a politically motivated campaign of “targeting” of Australian exports, but it has argued it is up to the Australian side to take concrete steps that would allow high-level dialogue to resume.
The Chief of Defence has used his Christmas message to thank military personnel deployed away from home, while acknowledging this year’s “difficult” Afghanistan war crimes inquiry.
General Campbell thanked troops for their hard work while acknowledging the Afghanistan war crimes inquiry
The Defence Secretary said 2020 had been a ‘tough one’ for Australian troops
ADF personnel are heading to Fiji to provide Cyclone Yasa relief
At the end of a year which began with bushfire operations, and ends with continuing COVID-19 assistance missions, General Angus Campbell has thanked Australian Defence Force (ADF) members for their hard work.
“Please take a moment to also remember our mates and colleagues who continue to serve and support our nation on operations during this time,” General Campbell said in a video message posted on the Defence Department’s website.
This Christmas, around 1,600 ADF members are deployed around the country as part of Operation COVID-Assist, while almost 1,500 personnel are stationed on various operations across the globe.
In his remarks, General Campbell also noted the damning findings from the Afghanistan war crimes inquiry which were released last month.
“The release of the Inspector General of the Australian Defence Force’s report into Afghanistan marked a difficult step forward for our community and the nation,” he said.
“I’d like to thank those who had the courage to speak up — together we’ll work to ensure the ADF always and everywhere reflects the best of Australia”.
Defence Secretary Greg Moriarty echoed General Campbell’s sentiments in his Christmas message to the ADF.
“This year has been a tough one — your country has asked much of you in 2020,” he said.
“Some of you have been separated from your families, endured long quarantine periods and faced extended or uncertain postings.
“We know you have given much this year and we thank you for your continued service throughout.”
ADF personnel to celebrate Christmas lunch heading to Fiji
A further 750 Australian defence force personnel are currently heading to Fiji to provide humanitarian relief after Tropical Cyclone Yasa devastated the Pacific nation last week.
The ADF’s largest warship, HMAS Adelaide, departed Brisbane on Christmas Eve, carrying specialist medical and engineering teams.
Deputy Chief of Joint Operations Rear Admiral Jaimie Hatcher says the ship’s crew will get a moment to celebrate Christmas at sea as they make their way to Fiji.
“It’s a fantastic Christmas lunch served by some of the Navy’s and some of our nation’s greatest chefs and we’ve organised a small beer issue which is very old sailor’s routine for a couple of cans of beer for each person on board if they wish to participate in that,” he said.
It’s the supervision question. Who was telling 20-something-year-old bodybuilder security guards (with an assumed zero knowledge of infection control) what to do and making sure they did not risk their own health? Again, both Victoria and NSW had health officials on site, but the Victorian officials told the inquiry they were there to “co-ordinate” health advice and cavilled at the suggestion that their team leaders were “in charge”. There was no such doubt in NSW; NSW Health was the boss.
Reading the report, which I have done with morbid fascination, is to read a litany of contradicting answers, Keystone Cops falling over each other. It gets down to the decision-making steps and minute-taking at senior executive meetings. As the Coate report reveals, there were none. Because when you follow the rules of meeting procedure, the reason for every decision needs to be documented. This has the added benefit of the group actually making a decision. Sadly, these tedious niceties went out the window.
Finally, there’s the question of who’s running the show. Is it the public service or the elected government? As the report archly documents, the Victorian health minister at the time, Jenny Mikakos, barely understood what was going on and didn’t think to ask. Martin Pakula, Minister for Jobs, Precincts and Regions, didn’t know much either and again, did not ask. Even when a security company that was not on the preferred tenderers’ list got the bulk of the work, the minister didn’t ask. Did the department not think it worth providing an explanation, assuming at some point, this might become a matter of interest to the Auditor-General? By the end of volume two, there was still no explanation for this brazen decision to give millions of dollars to a security firm that hadn’t made the cut.
And what about the secretary of Health and Human Services, Kym Peake, ignoring the Premier’s written instruction to focus solely on the pandemic response? Was there a letter back explaining why he was wrong? No wonder the Premier didn’t refuse her resignation.
It is true ministers are told to stay out of operational matters and there are certainly risks in making decisions that go against departmental advice. In the case of NSW, Gladys Berejiklian’s managerial strengths enable her to drive the decision-making, but all ministers, like board members, have a duty to ask questions. Their ultimate public accountability entitles them to answers and good ministers often provide exactly the informed questioning that tests a decision the public sector, with its very different mindset, may have got wrong.
Ministers also think on their feet. Sydney has the second largest consular corps in the world; the advice was not to hotel quarantine returning diplomats who, under international law, cannot be charged if they refuse to do so. Instead, a minister suggested health officials ring them at home several times a day, every day, to check they are where they said they would be for 14 days.
In my experience, ministers of any political persuasion are conscientious and hard-working, only too well aware that it is they who swing first at the end of a political rope if all goes wrong. Ask Jenny Mikakos … whose ghost should now be heard, demanding public sector reform.
The federal resources minister, Keith Pitt, has warned parliament’s joint standing committee on trade and investment growth to “do its job” after the group deferred a decision on whether to conduct a controversial inquiry into the climate policies of banks and insurers.
Pitt has asked the parliamentary committee, chaired by his Queensland Nationals colleague George Christensen, to investigate how climate change is impacting the lending decisions of banks.
With Pitt’s backing, Christensen, who has denied the link between climate change and the severity of natural disasters, wants the committee he chairs to grill financial regulators the Australian Securities and Investments Commission and the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority, as well as the banks, over plans to pull back on lending or insuring mining projects because of climate change.
But in a rare upset, the committee has deferred making a decision about the ministerial referral. While the inquiry may yet proceed, the obvious go-slow follows vocal criticism from some Liberals about the proposal.
Pitt insists the process will go ahead.
“I’ve made a referral … and the committee is yet to decide whether or not to proceed,” he said. “As a minister of the crown, I expect the committee to do its job.”
All four major banks have signalled they will align their portfolios to a target of net zero emissions by 2050, with most aiming to cease lending to thermal coal companies by 2030.
The decisions by the banks – which take heed of regular warnings from regulators and the central bank about climate risk – have prompted a furious backlash from Nationals MPs who want a new coal-fired power station in north Queensland, with some even calling for a boycott of banks including ANZ.
The treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, has backed the inquiry. Frydenberg reportedly told the Sydney Morning Herald: “It is only appropriate that the parliament be able to examine trends in banking, insurance and superannuation investment practices and how they may affect our resources sector and the regions in which they are based.”
But Liberal backbenchers who favour climate action, and support the rights of companies to pursue their commercial interests and uphold their obligations to shareholders in a free market, have declared the inquiry isn’t necessary.
Tim Wilson, who chairs the lower house economics committee, told Guardian Australia his committee “explores the legitimate issues of climate and sovereign risk … frequently during our hearings with the banks and regulators”.
“It might be wise to review the house economics transcripts first before starting a new inquiry, but that is a matter for the trade and investment committee,” he said.
New South Wales Liberal senator Andrew Bragg said it was up to banks and financial institutions to assess risks. “The judgment banks and financial institutions make on lending is a matter for those institutions,” he said.
“Environmental risk is no different from any other sort of risk – it’s an economic risk.”
The trade and investment committee met last Friday. Victorian Liberal Katie Allen sits on the committee and is understood to have concerns about the inquiry but she was not present for the meeting. The committee is not expected to meet again until January.
Labor has made attempts to adjust the terms of reference to keep the inquiry focused on substantive policy questions about the risk climate change poses for insurance companies and lenders.
But Christensen has insisted the inquiry be run according to the precise terms of reference sent by Pitt.
Following the hotel quarantine inquiry where it was found no one was to blame for the decision to hire private security guards, the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews is under the pressure for resigning his seat.
However, Mr Andrews has insisted he is not going anywhere emphasizing that he will be on the ballot in 2022.
Jenny Mikakos, Mr Andrews’ former health minister who resigned last September after the Premier blamed her for the debacle, has slammed the Premier and the report. She cited unanswered questions that are still up for debate: Who made the decision to use private security guards instead of the Australian Defense Force?
A statement she wrote read, “I believe Victorians deserve to know the truth about an event that has so profoundly impacted them. They do not need another master-class in political deflection from the Premier.”
Consequently, the Premier admitted mistakes were made and he has issued an apology stating “I am sorry. We are sorry. Our commitment and my commitment as the leader of the government are to learn those lessons.”
The premier said in hindsight he would do things differently, but was still unable to say who made the decision to use private security in the hotel quarantine program, which ultimately caused the state’s second wave of coronavirus.
The said report found the final call to use private guards was made at a 4.30 pm meeting of the state control centre. Ms Mikakos pointed out a series of Mr Andrews’ phone call transcripts could shed further light on the matter.
She called on the inquiry to disclose Mr Andrews’ phone records from March 27, the same day when the system was set up.
The final report from the inquiry into Victoria’s botched hotel quarantine program has been unable to determine who commissioned the use of private security and has slammed the Andrews Government for failing to do “proper analysis” of the plan.
The COVID-19 Hotel Quarantine Inquiry report, which was tabled to Parliament this morning, found no request was made to Victoria Police to provide the “first tier” enforcement of hotel quarantine.
However, the chief commissioner of police at the time, Graham Ashton, was consulted and “expressed a preference that private security perform that role and Victoria Police provide the ‘back up’.”
Former judge Jennifer Coate said not one of the 70,000 documents before her inquiry “demonstrated a contemporaneous rationale for the decision to use private security as the first tier of enforcement, or an approval of that rationale in the upper levels of government”.
The report also found that decisions were made away from the Premier and senior ministers.
“The decision as to the enforcement model for people detained in quarantine was a substantial part of an important public health initiative and it cost the Victorian community many millions of dollars,” the report says.
“But it remained, as multiple submissions to the Inquiry noted, an orphan, with no person or department claiming responsibility.“
The report found that Victoria’s second wave was triggered by transmission from hotel quarantine guests to staff and on into the community.