Monday, 31 March 2008

Ten years' jail for crash that killed six


The man convicted over a car crash that claimed six lives near Mildura two years ago has been sentenced to 10 years in jail in the Supreme Court in Melbourne.

Thomas Towle will have to serve a minimum sentence of seven years.

He has already served two years in jail so he could be released in five years.

Justice Philip Cummins told the court Towle was responsible for the deaths of six loving children and his actions had left their families devastated.

He said Towle's conduct fell into the worst category of dangerous driving.

A jury found the 36-year-old man guilty of 10 charges, including six of dangerous driving causing death and four counts of dangerous driving causing serious injury.

Towle was found not guilty of six counts of the more serious charge of culpable driving.

He was driving with his son on his lap when he skidded sideways into a group of teenagers leaving a 16th birthday party in February 2006.

The dead youths were siblings Abby and Shane Hirst, aged 17 and 16; Cassandra Manners, Cory Dowling, Stevie-Lee Weight and Josie Calvi, all aged 16.

Josie Calvi's mother Carmel said Towle "should have got more" but overall the family was happy with the court.

Sharon Manners, the mother of Cassandra Manners, said at least the families know that Towle will be off the road for five or seven years and "hopefully someone else's kids will be safe".

A spokesman for the families, Colin Cole, the chaplain at Mildura Secondary College, said it was the best the families could expect, but he said the sentence had done nothing to alleviate the pain for the families.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Hicks media gag order ends


Former Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks can now talk openly about his time in American custody from today.

The former Guantanamo Bay detainee admitted to a charge of supporting terrorism under a deal where he was returned to Australia to serve out the remainder of his sentence.

As part of the deal, he was also banned from speaking to the media after his release in December 2007.

From today, the 32-year-old can openly tell his story, although he is restricted by state and federal laws from making any money from it.

However, Mr Hicks has yet to decide whether he will speak publicly.

Mr Hicks was captured by United States forces in Afghanistan in 2001 and released from an Adelaide jail in December last year.

Newspaper reports today 31 March 2008, say Mr Hicks has told supporters that he should be able to sell his story because he has not committed any crime.

Support for booze public education


A SURVEY of 1000 Australians found more than three-quarters of those questioned about attitudes to drinking said there was not enough public education about the dangers of alcohol, despite the Rudd Government's promise of a multimillion-dollar binge-drinking strategy.

Figures from Nielsen Media Research show that alcoholic beverage companies spent $122million on media advertising in the 12months to November 30, up 11.9percent on the year before.

The survey was undertaken by Galaxy Research for the April issue of the Federal Government-funded publication Of Substance.

Australian National Council on Drugs executive officer Gino Vumbaca said,"Government campaigns can be quite effective but the money always runs out, but the alcohol companies' ads continue,"

All alcohol in Australia is subject to GST and a mix of excise or customs duty or the Wine Equalisation Tax is charged on beer, spirits and wine.

Alcohol is second only to tobacco as a preventable cause of drug-related mortality and hospitalisation in Australia. In 1998-99, the annual cost of alcohol-related social problems was estimated to be $7.6billion.

Stephen Riden, spokesman for the Distilled Spirits Industry Council of Australia, said the cost is partly offset by Government revenue from taxes which it estimates to be $5.9billion this financial year.

Solution: Make alcoholic beverage companies spend millions on media, advertising - Warning-Dangers-of-Alcohol!!!

Related:

Labels, not taxes the solution to drunks: lobby group

Message on a bottle for binge drinkers

Ciggy substitute abuse on rise




ABOUT 425,000 Australians are fuelling a boom in the nicotine replacement market, now worth more than $90 million a year.

Despite anecdotal evidence of many reformed smokers getting hooked on nicotine replacement patches, lozenges and chewing gum, medical experts still know little of the health impact of long-term use.

Harry Hemley, from the Australian Medical Association, said other quitting strategies, such as hypnotherapy and medication, tended to be more effective but he sometimes recommended nicotine replacement when other methods failed.

"My experience with patients is that they haven't been all that successful," Dr Hemley said. "I've had patients who've used them for years on and off and become dependent on the patches and the gum."

The Australian nicotine replacement market has grown immensely since nicotine gum first became available on prescription in 1984, helped by a rise in the social stigma attached to smoking and wider availability of the products.

Nicotine replacement products gradually release nicotine into the bloodstream, relieving the physical symptoms of nicotine withdrawal without the other harmful chemicals contained in tobacco smoke.

In 1997, when patches and gum became available over the counter at pharmacies, sales spiked 1117 per cent in a single year.

In the year after their sale was further liberalised in 2003, sales increased by as much as 5257 per cent, revealed a study conducted by the Smoking Cessation Research Unit at Sydney University, which was funded by the nicotine replacement product manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline.

Since smoking was banned in pubs and clubs in July, Nicabate, made by GlaxoSmithKline, has been sold on a trial basis in some licensed premises. Its competitor Johnson & Johnson has been giving out information and free samples of Nicorette patches in pubs.

Research conducted in 2005 by the Cancer Council found 21.3 per cent of successful quitters believed nicotine replacement therapy helped.

A review of 110 trials by the independent Cochrane Collaboration found only 17 per cent of smokers who used nicotine replacements successfully quit.

Suzie Stillman, deputy director of the lobbying organisation Quit, said it was common for failed quitters to use nicotine replacement products incorrectly, such as using patches inconsistently or giving up before they completed the recommended course.

Nicotine increases a person's heart rate and blood pressure and slightly elevates the risk of heart disease. A 2003 study conducted by the National Cancer Institute in the US showed it might also contribute to the development of some cancers.

Professor Ron Borland, at the Cancer Council, said nicotine alone was at least 95 per cent less harmful than cigarettes. He said the doses contained in nicotine replacement products were probably of equivalent harm as caffeine.

Quote: Cold Turk
(Written by: John Lennon)

Temperature's rising
Fever is high
Can't see no future
Can't see no sky
My feet are so heavy
So is my head
I wish I was a baby
I wish I was dead
Cold turkey has got me on the run
My body is aching
Goose-pimple bone
Can't see no body
Leave me alone
My eyes are wide open
I can't get to sleep
One thing I'm sure of
I'm in at the deep freeze
Cold turkey has got me on the run
Come on,
Cold turkey has got me on the fucking run
Thirty-six hours
Rolling in pain
Praying to someone
Free me again
Oh I'll be a good boy
Please make me well
I promise you anything
Get me out of this hell
Cold turkey has got me on the run
Cold turkey, cold turkey,
Cold turkey, cold turkey, cold turkey, cold turkey,
Oh, oh, oh, yeah, Oh, oh, oh, oooh
Cold turkey, cold turkey, cold turkey, cold turkey
Yeahhhh

Quote: I gave up smoking after 35 years 3 months ago. Go cold turkey and save your money it works just fine.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Life jail sentence outlasts parole court

SYDNEY'S historic parole court will move on Monday from Hospital Road - where it has sat, in rooms 26 and 17, for more than 40 years - to the new justice precinct at Parramatta, joining the Attorney-General's Department and new law courts.

One of the authority's last orders of business before the move was to discuss parole for NSW's longest-serving prisoner, the triple murderer Eric Turner, in a private hearing on Friday. He has spent 57 years in jail.

Turner was sentenced to death - which was later commuted to life - in 1948 for strangling his 15-year-old girlfriend and killing her father with an axe. When he was released in 1970 he killed two more people.

The chairman of the Parole Authority, Ian Pike, said parole courts were emotional places - for the prisoners, who hoped for their freedom, and for victims and families of victims, who often dreaded their release.

"It revives all the emotion of the time when the offence was originally committed."

Questions: Why did Eric Turner kill two more people when he was released from prison the first time? Didn't he learn his lesson? Or wasn't he taught anything in prison while he was there? I dare say that the Attorney-General and the alleged Corrective Services? With the current 64 per cent recidivism rate have nothing to be proud of by linking Turner to this article accept to say that there were many prisoners mistreated in prison and released back to the community only to take out their revenge on society. Did the relatives of the two dead people sue the government of the day for letting him out without any rehabilitation process? Now that life means life perhaps mistreating prisoners doesn't matter as much to the authorities? Because they will never get out to be able to take revenge. However those housed in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day for years on end with no constructive lifestyle should remind those who are thinking about committing pre-meditated murder that they're better off dead instead of being caught after committing that crime. "The life sentence imposes intolerable burdens upon most prisoners because of their incarceration for an indeterminate period, and the result of that imposition has been an increased difficulty in their management by the prison authorities.”

Related:

When Life Means Life
A potted history of life sentences in N.S.W - A measure of the statutory maximum of “life imprisonment” Prior to 1981 any person convicted of murder was automatically sentenced to life imprisonment. Life was the mandatory penalty. However, all prisoners were considered for release on licence. At the time of the introduction of the Sentencing Act in 1989 there were only two prisoners who had served more than 35 years imprisonment [ Leonard Keith Lawson and Eric Turner. Each of those had originally been sentenced to death, had the death penalty commuted, been released - one on licence, the other on parole, and both had committed murder whilst out.]., and in both of those cases the imprisonment had not been continuous.

Firemen read riot act over heavy-handed police

Missing in action … the banner belonging to the Fire Brigade Employees Union at the demonstration in Hyde Park during the APEC summit last year.

IT BEGAN with two firefighters demonstrating against George Bush's visit to Sydney during the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit.

Now a feud over the confiscation by riot police of a fire brigade union banner during the protest march has escalated, with a complaint to the Police Integrity Commission, a referral to the NSW Ombudsman and the last-minute intervention of the Police Minister, David Campbell, with a promise to return the missing article.

On September 8 last year the two firefighters, Jeremy Fewtrell and Luke Unsworth, were taking part in the peaceful demonstration in Hyde Park, outside the officially declared APEC zone, carrying the banner while their colleagues carried five union flags.

According to a statement prepared for the integrity commission by Mr Fewtrell, three riot squad officers snatched the banner and flags.

"Luke Unsworth and I were walking quietly away from the area at the time of this encounter and were doing nothing to provoke this attack or draw attention to ourselves," he wrote.

"As we were walking, three police officers set upon us from our rear and surrounded us. Without any introduction or explanation they aggressively demanded the [Fire Brigade Employees Union] banner and flags from me.

"I asked them why this was necessary and the three of them then violently reefed [the banner and flags] from my hands. I was told that if I asked any further questions, they would arrest me. One of the police officers … then took the banners away from the immediate area."

None of the officers was wearing name tags.

The officers told Mr Fewtrell he could collect the banner and flags later that day from the Sydney Police Centre, but they were not available.

The secretary of the NSW Fire Brigade Employees Union, Simon Flynn, speculated that police may have taken the banner as a souvenir. "This is exceptionally bad for the relationship between police and firefighters, who

have historically worked well together in the interests of the public."

Mr Flynn says the head of police internal affairs told him the police "had no case to answer" but had acknowledged the officers had taken the banner and recommended reimbursing the union.

Mr Fewtrell, who was based in several inner-city fire stations at the time of the incident and is now based in Dubbo, said he and his colleagues had been wearing T-shirts that clearly identified them to police as fellow emergency service workers.

"The police seemed pumped up on the day and were clearly spoiling for a fight," he said. "They were disappointed that it did not happen. This incident has made me more wary of dealing with the police."

Mr Campbell, in a letter sent to Mr Fewtrell, praised police for their handling of the APEC demonstrations, but did not answer the question about the whereabouts of the missing banner and flags.

But late yesterday, Mr Campbell said the banner and flags had been found and would be returned next week. "It is unacceptable. There is no doubt the flag should have been located and returned earlier."

Friday, 28 March 2008

Corby loses sentence appeal


Convicted Australian drug smuggler Schapelle Corby has lost a final appeal to have her jail sentence reduced.

Indonesia's Supreme Court has ruled that the original 20-year jail sentence should stand.

Corby is serving the sentence at Kerobokan jail in Bali after more than four kilograms of marijuana was found in her bodyboard bag at Denpasar Airport in 2004.

Her best hope for an early return home may be through a prisoner transfer treaty being negotiated with Indonesia.

Life sentence for police informer

A police informer in Victoria has been sentenced to life in prison, for the murder of accused rapist Shane Chartres-Abbott in 2003.

The accused, known as "J.P." pleaded guilty to shooting Chartres-Abbott, in June 2003.

The Victorian Supreme Court heard the revenge killing, was carried out as a favour for an unidentified associate.

Chartres-Abbott was on trial for rape and assault when he died.

The court was told when JP confessed to the murder, he implicated two ex-police officers in the killing.

The court heard JP was already serving two life sentences for murder.

In sentencing, Justice Simon Whelan said the case was exceptional, and that due to the nature of JP's co-operation with police, his non-parole period will not be increased.

The accused will be eligible for parole in 2023.

ICOPA XII: Creating a Scandal: Final Call for Papers


Creating a scandal – prison abolition and the policy agenda 23, 24 & 25 July 2008, Kings College, London

Announcement and final call for papers

The Howard League for Penal Reform is organising and hosting the above international conference to develop the case for the abolition of prison and to rethink penal policy. The conference will discuss and hear about the impact of the penal system on our communities and provide suggestions for new and alternative approaches. It will look at custody and community interventions as alternatives to imprisonment; prisons and the politics of poverty; the role of the media and public opinion; and the role of privatisation and capitalism in penal policy today.

The Howard League for Penal Reform invites you to present a paper at this three day conference to be held at Kings College, London. We are looking for contributions from all sections of the criminal justice system especially academics and practitioners. Papers should be based on current or recent research and good practice.

This well established conference will give you an opportunity for career development, presentation of academic research to your peers and allows you to publicise good practice offered by your service.

Conference themes
Authors are invited to submit abstracts on any subject within penal abolition. The following themes are a guide and will be used to structure conference sessions:
· Creating a scandal - prison abolition and the policy agenda
· Prison and the politics of poverty
· The role of privatisation and capitalism in penal policy
· Penal abolition, the media and the public
· Deaths in custody
· Community interventions as alternatives to imprisonment
· Violence and the state
· Racism, crime and justice
· Gender, crime and justice
· Youth crime and youth justice
· Constructive approaches to crime

The closing date for the applications is 11 April 2008.

ICOPA XII
The conference will host international speakers dealing with the ancillary, fiscal and human costs of crime and punishment in the 21st century and will look at other possibilities and approaches outside of a failing crime control agenda. The conference will be aimed at an international audience of practitioners, policy makers, penal reformers, NGOs, academics and concerned individuals. We want the conference to be forward looking, challenging and positive and offer suggestions for the future.

Previous ICOPA conferences have taken place in 1983 Toronto Canada; 1985 Amsterdam Netherlands; 1987 Montreal Canada; 1989 Poland; 1991 Indiana USA; 1993 Costa Rica; 1995 Spain; 1997 Auckland NZ; 2000 Toronto Canada; 2002 Lagos Nigeria; and 2006 Tasmania Australia.

Guidelines for those wishing to submit papers

Breakout sessions
Papers will be presented at breakout sessions for around 70-100 people and will run for 1 hour 30 minutes. They are intended to be discursive and critical sessions on a particular theme.

What happens after submitting?
If accepted, you will receive further details concerning the conference and any other information required. If rejected, the decision of the committee on the acceptance of a paper is final and The Howard League for Penal Reform is unable to enter into correspondence on the subject.

Publication of papers
Short synopsis of the papers will be available to the conference participants. Full versions of the papers of no more than 3,000 words will be considered for publication on our website and conference report following the conference.

Guidelines for language
Authors should seek to avoid terminology, which may be offensive to minority ethnic groups. Likewise neither male nor female pronouns, whether used consistently or alternately, should stand alone to refer to persons of both sexes; the preferred form where both sexes are named or implied is ‘he or she’, ‘his or hers’ etc.

References
The references should be listed alphabetically by author’s surname (in lower case). This should be followed by author’s initial(s) (not full forename(s)) and then by the year of publication in parentheses.

Conference fees
All conference participants, whether presenting a paper or not, are expected to pay conference fees. The Howard League for Penal Reform is a registered charity which receives no statutory funding.

Your session
It is imperative that you keep to the time allotted. Each presenter will have approximately 40 minutes, with 20 minutes for presentations and 20 minutes for open discussion.

How to apply
If you are interested in presenting a paper please download a form from the website at:www.icopa12london.org.uk

Alternatively we can email or post a Word document file on request. Requests for forms and submissions should be sent to:

Hannah McFaull, ICOPA XII Conference
The Howard League for Penal Reform, 1 Ardleigh Road, London N1 4HS
Tel: 020 7249 7373
Fax: 020 7249 7788

Email: Hannah.McFaull@howardleague.org
The closing date for applications is 11 April 2008.

3 years jail for nursing home rapist

A Melbourne aged care worker who raped an elderly dementia patient has been sentenced to three years jail.

36 year old Henry Alexander was found guilty of raping an 85 year old woman at her Mount Eliza Nursing Home in 2005.

The court heard he raped the woman while washing her.

In sentencing Alexander, Judge Michael Bourke said the offending was a serious breach of trust of a most vulnerable woman.

But he said he believed it was a spontaneous event.

He found Alexander to be otherwise of good character.

He said Alexander was a devoted father to his two children and did not suffer from a psycho-sexual disorder.

Outside court a spokeswoman for the victim said the sentence was grossly inadequate and sent the wrong message to the community.

Alexander will serve a minimum of six months.

Cops settle drug test defamation case

Police have settled out of court a defamation claim made by a Victorian man falsely accused of being the world's first motorist to return a positive roadside drug test.

Ballarat courier John De Jong had reached a confidential settlement with Victoria Police over his defamation claim.

The case was to have gone ahead in the Victorian Supreme Court within weeks.

As well as an undisclosed payment, police will give Mr De Jong a statement of regret, admitting mistakes and apologising for the hurt and embarrassment caused to him and his family.

Mr De Jong was the fourth driver tested when police set up a new drug bus for roadside saliva testing in west suburban Yarraville, as the media looked on, on December 13, 2004.

The media pack was told Mr De Jong had tested positive for cannabis and amphetamines use.

The alleged find was broadcast on four Melbourne television news services that evening and was beamed around the world.

Mr De Jong found his wife Kay and teenage daughters in tears when he arrived home, embarrassed by the reports.

An independent laboratory later tested the sample and cleared Mr De Jong. The police lab later confirmed the finding.

Mr De Jong told the Herald Sun he was relieved the ordeal was over and thanked his family and friends for standing by him.

"My family and I are very glad this sorry saga is finally over," he said.

"We never wanted to be in the public spotlight, and we're glad that this episode will soon just be history.

"A technical error caused embarrassment and distress not just for me, but for my wife and children. I look forward to receiving the statement of regret from Victoria Police."

A Melbourne barrister who specialises in defamation cases said he expected Mr De Jong would receive a payout of between $50,000 and $150,000, with police to also pay legal costs.

When pain persists, they arrive


ALLEN DIAZLI has seen homeowners come and go over the past 17 years in the mortgage belt of Sydney.

He's one of the Sheriff's men in Bankstown, the officers responsible for carrying out repossession orders for banks and mortgage brokers.

But Mr Diazli has never seen the belt tighten by so many notches in such a short time for so many people.

Since January, he and his colleagues have been repossessing an average 15 homes a week, more than three times the number they were doing three years ago. "This is crazy," he says. "We don't need any statistics to know how bad mortgage stress is for people. We've got a whiteboard that we fill out and it's been chock-a-block for months."

The Reserve Bank warned yesterday it expects more people to fall behind on their mortgage repayments as the full impact of rate rises hits home.

"Looking forward, an increase in arrears is likely," it said in its twice-yearly review of financial stability. The bank estimates there are already 40,000 borrowers who are late with their payments by more than a month. Of these, 15,000 are more than 90 days overdue.

The bank also warned borrowers were now at a higher risk of losing their homes should they fall behind on repayments. The proportion of NSW houses subject to repossession applications had doubled since the mid 1990s. This was partly because more people had loans with non-traditional lenders who were more likely to foreclose quickly.

Repossessions had risen in areas such as western Sydney where borrowers had taken out large mortgages and house prices had fallen below the value of the loan. These borrowers were unable to clear their debts by selling their home and more likely to face a repossession.

Overall, the Reserve said Australian households and businesses were better placed than ones in other countries to weather the wildest financial storm since the early 1990s.

Households were benefitting from low unemployment, lower taxes and rising real disposable incomes, but this belied significant "pockets of stress".

Singling out greater western Sydney as one such pocket, the bank said mortgage arrears here were 2½ times greater than those in the rest of NSW.

The steep rise in interest rates since the middle of last year - 1 percentage point from the Reserve Bank and an average 0.25 percentage points extra from the commercial banks - is expected to see more households fall behind.

For sheriff Paul McAuley, the repossessions he sees around Bankstown are startling.

People are still angry when they lose their houses, but he notices that "people nowadays seem to think, when they take a loan, that it's a risk and that if they take the loan they might end up losing their house".

"That's a big change to the mindset that was around even 15 years ago," he said.

The area's newly-elected federal MP, Labor's Jason Clare, said he is trying to put the issue of housing stress on the national radar for one important reason: "If it's happening here, it will soon be hitting other areas."

Mr Clare's rationale is simple. He believes Bankstown is the canary in the coalmine - the first place to feel the impact of mortgage stress before it hits home for hundreds of thousands of other households.

"One of the worrying statistics about Bankstown is that we have a median income that's below the national average but mortgage repayments that are well above the national average," he said.

"So obviously if you're buying a house for $400,000 or $500,000 in Bankstown, it's going to be a lot more painful paying it off.

"Economists will tell you that the effects of an interest rate rise take about six to nine months to be fully felt, so there's a strong possibility that we're yet to feel the worst of it."

The Money Care financial counselling co-ordinator at the Salvation Army, Tony Devlin, said the past 12 months have been the busiest in recent memory.

He said the proportion of clients using his service because of mortgage stress had more than tripled. About 35 per cent of the 5000 people a year the Salvation Army counsels were under severe mortgage stress.

"What we've found is that where people have been struggling to keep their heads above water, this last year has been the time when they've gone under."

Mr Devlin said finding accommodation for people who have lost their properties has become a major problem. Rental vacancies in Bankstown are below 1 per cent.

■ Australian Prudential Regulation Authority figures show sharemarket volatility in late 2007 wiped $4.3 billion from the superannuation balances of Australians.

Related:

Australia facing homelessness avalanche: Vinnies
A leading figure at the St Vincent de Paul Society says homelessness is the worst he has seen it in his 42 years with the charity.

2nd Renaissance -40
Hardship and grief accompanies a complete financial meltdown. People who are concerned about their large mortgages and credit card debts must realise that when (not if) a major depression comes the banks will show them no sympathy; but will seize their property and other assets with the full backing of the rule of law. However, it doesn't have to play out that way.

Just as numbers can change the balance of power when people - acting collectively - decide to free trafficked women from brothels or take over a failed enterprise, so they can turn the tables on predatory banks and other financial institutions. If a few thousand people were to declare their intention to default on their loans, the big lending institutions would quickly sool their lawyers on to these individual families with great indignation and vigour. But, if several million families were determined to abandon their contracts the story would play out very differently.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Cornes abuser gets jail

A man who sexually abused former Labor candidate Nicole Cornes has been given a jail term.

Gordon Maxwell Clark, 72, was found guilty of abusing the former Boothby candidate when she was five.

When the abuse occurred in 1975, Clark was living at the same house at Richmond in Adelaide as Ms Cornes.

He was a friend of her family.

In 2004 she reported the abuse to police and Clark has since been convicted of indecent assault.

Earlier this year, Clark's appeal against that conviction was quashed.

Adelaide Magistrate Grantley Harris today sentenced him to two years' jail with a non-parole term of eight months.

Clark immediately lodged appeal papers and was granted bail.

It is expected his latest appeal will be heard by the Supreme Court in a few months.

The last act of Orkopoulos: skewering the Darkinjung


The murky story of former NSW Aboriginal Affairs Minister Milton Orkopoulos, who is awaiting sentence on 28 sex and drug charges, is becoming murkier.

One of his last ministerial decisions was to sign, just before midnight – and seven hours prior to his arrest – an instrument to appoint a handpicked administrator for the Darkinjung Aboriginal Land Council on the NSW Central Coast.

Without evidence of impropriety or the misappropriation of a single cent, the Darkinjung mob were shut down on a legal technicality and watched their hopes for a new beginning go up in smoke.

Their plans to use their own money - $42 million raised from the sale of a piece of valuable property at The Entrance to Mirvac - to create a better life for their community by starting commercial business enterprises have been dashed.

The projects were based on the best legal, financial and commercial advice available and they had even won acclaim and awards for their initiative.

So what was their "crime"? According to government officials who briefed a local MP after the administrator's appointment they were "too far ahead of their time".

As Aboriginal Affairs Minister, Orkopoulos, who represented the neighbouring Hunter seat of Swansea, played a wilful and shameful role in the legal and bureaucratic attack on the Darkinjung people. Whereas his role as minister and local MP should have been protector, custodian and supporter, the left-wing MP put in the boot.

His successor Reba Meagher took an initial interest in the land council scandal and then dropped off when it all looked too hard. The new minister, Paul Lynch, is a former industrial lawyer and civil rights campaigner who could do something to right the wrongs committed against the Darkinjungs but there is no sign that he will take up the cudgels as he would, say, for Sinn Feiners or the Sandinistas.

Meanwhile, the federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin seems to have decided that her best option is to stay well away from the NSW issue.

On the surface, the NSW Labor Government promotes Aboriginal self-development but the Darkinjung story shows what happens to uppity blackfellas who want to redeem themselves and get ahead like the white folk.

Their cattle, housing and job training projects have been wound up on the say-so of a minister who has been found guilty of heinous crimes against teenagers, giving them heroin and other drugs in return for sex.

If ever there was a case that deserved executive action to put right, a full judicial inquiry or public hearings by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) this is it. Instead, it’s heading for a spot under the carpet or a perpetual burial place on the the Supreme Court law list.

As the late Xavier Herbert wrote: “Poor fella, my country.”

Public Meeting - Putting the Terror Laws on Trial


PUBLIC MEETING - PUTTING THE TERROR LAWS ON TRIAL

Presented by Civil Rights Defence and Amnesty International Australia.

Tuesday April 15, 7pm, Kaleide Theatre, RMIT, Swanston St, City.

In the past five years Australia's anti-terrorism laws have been revealed as unjust, unnecessary, expensive and open to abuse. Six months since the botched prosecution of Mohamed Haneef, three months after the dismissal of the trial of Izhar Ul Haque, and weeks into the trial of Melbourne men (arrested over two years ago) charged with comprising "a terrorist organisation", we think it's time to take a look at the laws and how they are being used and abused.

It is time to put the laws on trial.

Come hear the accounts of people who have direct experience of both the laws and some of Australia's most prominent terror cases:

Peter Russo, lawyer for Dr Mohamed Haneef
David McLeod, lawyer for David Hicks
The meeting with begin with an excerpt from the play "Haneef - the interrogation", written by Graham Pitts and directed by Gorkem Acoroglu.

No booking required, entry by donation.
For enquiries, contact 0400 541 046.
www.civilrightsdefence.org
www.amnesty.org.au

Related:

Terror trial halted over prison conditions

The men have been held in the high security Acacia wing of Barwon Prison, near Geelong, since their arrest two years ago. To attend court they must travel for up to two hours to Melbourne each day, and two hours back, shackled and handcuffed, are strip-searched twice, and have little time outside their cells.

The Street review: a review of interoperability between the Australian Federal Police and its national security partners

Laurence Street, Martin Brady and Ken Moroney / Australian Federal Police

This is the report of an internal review, headed by former New South Wales Chief Justice Sir Laurence Street, looking at the way in which the Australian Federal Police works with its partner agencies on counter-terrorism investigations. The committee made recommendations covering the four broad areas of operational decision-making processes, joint taskforce arrangements, information sharing, and training and education.

Available online at:
www.afp.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/71833/The_Street_Review.pdf

Defence chiefs unhappy with work experience plan


Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon is trying to convince the Defence Force that it is safe - and vital for recruitment - to allow students onto bases for work experience.

Mr Fitzgibbon says he wants to give secondary school and university students exposure to life in the Defence Force to help stave off its looming personnel shortage.

He says he is disappointed Defence officials are opposing the move, but is determined the program will go ahead.

"I think many of these issues are cultural but I also acknowledge that there are also issues which go to safety and security within the Australian Defence Force," he said.

"I know other industries face similar challenges and I'm sure they can be overcome. In fact I'm determined they will be overcome."

Quote: Sounds like Joel Fitzgibbon is trying to convince students for a life on the front line? Especially when one takes into account the seemingly endless illegal and degrading wars in Iraq and Afghanistan! War is the root of domestic violence and the wars being waged in the Middle East are 'resource' wars not 'defence' wars. How much 'oil' are your kids worth?

Ruthless and grubby: DPP lashes Morris Iemma's team


THE Director of Public Prosecutions, Nicholas Cowdery, has dumped a bucket on the Iemma Government, describing it as "ruthless", guilty of "grubby" tactics and saying it has "crucified" his office.

Mr Cowdery also said he believed the Premier, Morris Iemma, was controlled by backroom powerbrokers and that the Attorney-General, John Hatzistergos, was a "micro-manager" who had lost sight of the "bigger picture".

The interview came in the wake of an Auditor-General's report, ordered by the Treasurer, Michael Costa, which found the Director of Public Prosecutions' office had failed to demonstrate it was efficient and that over the past five years its budget had been increased by 40 per cent while its caseload fell 30 per cent.

The Government will use the report to place a politically appointed executive director in the office to manage finances, with the position to have the same status as a deputy director of public prosecutions.

Mr Cowdery expressed concern at that appointment, saying it could lead to the DPP's independence being compromised and endanger politically sensitive cases such as the recent conviction of the former minister Milton Orkopoulos for child sex offences.

Mr Cowdery blamed legislative changes, public sector pay rises and difficult cases for the figures produced in the report. He said the budget had been increased because it was previously inadequate and said the report should have focused on workload, rather than caseload. He said in the past year there had been a 15 per cent increase in caseload.

Mr Cowdery said he and his staff had been "targeted" and "crucified" by Mr Costa, who wrote to the Auditor-General requesting the report.

"It seemed to me from the request that Costa made to the Auditor-General that he was looking for some basis for criticism of this office," Mr Cowdery said. "Despite the words that are spoken from time to time, the Government is not comfortable with the idea of an independent office of the DPP making prosecution decisions independently of outside influence.

"Certainly since the last election there has been a refocused targeting of me and independent prosecutors."

He pointed to laws introduced last year establishing limited periods of tenure for his successor and crown prosecutors, "the continuing refusal to acknowledge we are in financial difficulty in this office", and "the suggestion there should be an executive director appointed" as ways his office was undermined.

Mr Cowdery accused Mr Hatzistergos and his office of exerting "constant pressure by correspondence and otherwise" on him and his office.

"My experience with the Attorney-General has been that he likes to micromanage the activities of the agencies in his portfolio and particularly this office and my concern is that in that micromanagement he may lose sight perhaps of the bigger picture that policymakers need," Mr Cowdery said.

Asked his opinion on the Premier, Mr Cowdery said that he had never met him but "my view is that he probably acts at the urging of others behind the scenes rather than establishing his own agenda and running with it".

He said Mr Costa was "a very determined and forceful individual who likes to get his own way".

Mr Cowdery said the appointment of an executive director would lead to the "politicisation" of his office with a "political appointment to a senior managerial position".

"The public needs to know that there will not be outside influences, perhaps subtle ones … pushing the decision-making and the prosecution process in particular directions or even in particular cases," he said.

"The possibility would be there of an administrative person, a manager, being privy to legal information … perhaps having some influence of the resources applied to dealing with particular matters."

Mr Cowdery accused the Government of a "grubby and unjustified" attack against the shadow attorney-general and former deputy director of public prosecutions, Greg Smith, over his handling of the case involving the former deputy senior crown prosecutor Patrick Power being found to possess child pornography.

The Police Minister, David Campbell, at the behest of the Premier's office, flayed Mr Smith in Parliament last year over his actions in informing Mr Power of the discovery before informing police.

Mr Smith, after consulting Mr Cowdery, called in Power last July after child pornography was found on Power's work computer. He questioned him about it before allowing him to leave. Mr Smith then called in police.

Mr Cowdery conceded yesterday that perhaps "other views" to the actions of himself and Mr Smith on the Power matter were the "the right way to go" and added that "we've conceded that we'll take different action in the future".

But he said of the attack on Mr Smith that it was "very unfair, improper and out of place".

He said of the Government in general: "I think ruthless is a fair word to describe it. There is little room for give and take when the Government has a particular idea of what we should be doing. Recent experience is that it just keeps insisting that things be done until they are done."

He made a joke during a photo session that he felt as if he was being crucified at Easter time and then confirmed in the interview that was how he felt.

"It's ironic [the report] comes after Easter but … [it] will have a serious effect on morale in the office. The lawyers in this office already feel that … the whole office has been singled out for unfavourable treatment and this will only make those feelings worse."

Mr Cowdery admitted that overseas travel he had regularly undertaken at taxpayer expense to attend conferences in his 13 years in the job had not helped his "cause in the public eye or political eye".

But, he said "the reality is those overseas trips that have been made have all been with the approval of the attorney-general at the time" and had all been "looking at ways of improving our methods of enhancing the service we provide here".

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

NSW Govt 'trying to muzzle DPP'

The New South Wales Government is fighting off accusations it is interfering with the independence of the state prosecutor by appointing a manager to his office.

The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Nicholas Cowdery, has poured scorn on the Iemma Government over law and order issues and resources for his office.

His complaints last year that planned funding cuts would force him to refer some cases to the police prompted an investigation by Auditor-General Peter Achterstraat.

Mr Achterstraat has found the Office of the DPP needs a new senior manager to steer its budget and keep it accountable.

"It's critical for the director to focus on the prosecutorial role of the office, rather than necessarily spend time involved in managing people and resources," he said.

He says the position is needed to ensure wise spending and introduce better management and accountability systems.

Mr Achterstraat's report says it is critical that the executive director reports to the DPP but Mr Hatzistergos wants to take it further.

"I also believe it's important that it reports to myself, particularly in the circumstances where there has been opposition in the past to the creation of this position and particularly in the circumstances where I think it's important that the recommendations of the Auditor-General be implemented without resistance," he said.

'Payback time'

Opposition Leader Barry O'Farrell says it is an attempt to rein in a powerful and independent critic.

"It's about trying to muzzle the current director..." he said.

"It's further evidence that this is all about Nick Cowdery. It's all about interfering with the independence of the prosecutions. It's not about the public interest."

Greens MP Lee Rhiannon agrees it is "payback time" for the DPP.

Mr Cowdery was not willing to speak out today. In his official response contained in the report, he agrees with most of the recommendations but takes issue with a few.

Prison hospital lock-down: mental patients madness‏


“Prison authorities have ordered the removal of 28 officers from the prison hospital area as part of their ironically named “Way Forward”. This will lock patients into cells at 3.30pm instead of the current 9pm from April 2nd” said Justice Action Coordinator Brett Collins.

All sectors affected are in uproar as a consequence of this projected change before the new hospital opens on May 15. The nurses, prison officers and patients themselves agree that it will be detrimental to their recovery and cause a huge increase in self-harm and suicide. “It is yet another example of unthinking health management and must be reversed” said Mr Collins.

The nurses say that they cannot give hospital care under those conditions, and these very vulnerable patients with severe mental illnesses and medical/surgical patients will need to be transferred to general hospitals.

The patients have told the manager that they will be refusing medication from 4pm on 2/4 in support of the petition they have sent to Premier Iemma and Health Minister Meagher if the proposed lock-in times are adopted. They say “if they really want to drive us mad by this early routine, we will help them to go mad by refusing our anti-psychotic medication”.

For comments: Brett Collins 0438 705003, Michael Poynder 0401 371077

PETITION below

16-03-08
FROM: Patients/Inmates in Long Bay Prison Hospital (LBH -1)
TO: Justice Action
RE: Unlawful, Inhumane, Oppressive and Irresponsible Conduct and Decision of Commissioner Ron Woodham and Julie Babineau.
C.C. The ICAC, HCCC, N.S.W. OMBUDSMAN, PIAC, HREOC, AUSTRALIAN MEDIA, Ms Jillian Skinner, Ms Reba Meagher, Mr. John Hatzistergos, Mr. Morris Iemma and Mr. Kevin Rudd.

Dear Sirs and Madams;

We the undersigned Patients/Inmates in the Long Bay Prison Mental Hospital would like to desperately request your help and assistance over a very serious and important issue.

Please find the enclosed a copy the "Inmate Notice" {See enclosed Attachment 1} posted in LBH-1 on 15/03/08, by the General Manager, which explains the issue and the situation.

This new daily routine will be more Unlawful, Inhumane, Oppressive, Maddening and Un-therapeutic than it currently is.

This will be barbaric and severe violations of provisions of NSW Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Regulations, 2001 (including but not limited to sections 60(3A), 119(3), 120, 121, 153, 234, 243, 245, 246, 247, and 280(2) and NSW Mental Health Act 2007 (Including but not limited to sections 3, 29, 68, 69, 74, 84, 85, 86, and 105.) and sections 7, 8 and 9 of NSW ICAC Act and section 11 of HREOC Act of Australia and Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

We are Patients with Patients Rights, Inmates with Inmates Rights and Human Beings with Human Rights, and all these rights are being severely violated by Ron Woodham, Julie Babineau and their dysfunctional and oppressive organizations in the name of Care, Treatment and Control at the expense of NSW and Australian Taxpayers.

Please help to stop Ron Woodham and Julie Babineau.

We will be thankful and grateful for your help.

Yours sincerely,

Signed 41 patients.

Related:

Mental health a casualty in Long Bay hospital's lockdown

No wonder NSW Attorney-General John Hatzistergos doesn’t like the idea of a Victorian style charter of rights for his State. If he did it would mean that mentally ill prisoners would be able to challenge a draconian new regime being introduced in the State’s Long Bay jail hospital at Malabar.

The Long Bay Hospital holds around 120 patients. One ward is reserved for general medical cases while three wards are for mental illness cases. A new hospital, being built next door, is due to be opened later this year.

According to an Inmate Notice posted on March 15 by the General Manager of the Long Bay Hospital, from April 2 patients at the hospital will only be let out of their cells after 8.15 in the morning, have to head back to their cells for 30 minutes between 12 and 12.30pm and then be locked up again at 3.45pm. They will be forced to have their evening meal in their cell, and the only time their cell doors will open between 3.45pm and 8.15am the next morning will be to let medical staff give out pills and provide medical treatment.

Currently prisoners are allowed to remain out of their cells until 9pm in the evening.

In other words, from next month physically and mentally ill prisoners will only be allowed out of their cells for less than 7 hours a day! One does not have to have any great insight into mental health treatment to know that such a regime will be detrimental to a person’s sanity.

According to the Inmate Notice the changes are being made “to get you used to the new routine when we move to the new hospital.”

Brett Collins of the prisoner advocacy group Justice Action “nurses and prison officers say the new regime will be detrimental to patient’s recovery and cause a huge increase in self-harm and suicide.”

There can be little doubt that if a charter of human rights was on the NSW statute books the patients of Long Bay hospital would be able to successfully challenge this Guantanamo Bay style of punishment on the grounds that it is clearly a breach of the fundamental right of anyone deprived of their liberty to be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.

Since Mr Hatzistergos became Attorney-General in the Iemma government human rights in NSW have been on a downhill slide – at Long Bay Hospital they have reached a new low.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Australia facing homelessness avalanche: Vinnies


A leading figure at the St Vincent de Paul Society says homelessness is the worst he has seen it in his 42 years with the charity.

Queensland senior vice-president Brian Moore says middle income earners are joining the ranks of the homeless due to higher living costs.

The Society has warned that the demand for help is so high, it may have to stop providing rent assistance altogether, because costs will increase by more than $250,000 this financial year.

Mr Moore says the problem is close to spiralling out of control.

"There's a lot of people homeless out there and a lot of people are hurting and it's just getting worse," he said.

"The fact is that Australia is facing an avalanche of homelessness, there's no doubt about that."

Labels, not taxes the solution to drunks: lobby group


The Federal Government's proposal to introduce graphic cigarette-style warning labels on alcohol has been accepted by a lobby group, which says that placing graphic style warning labels on alcohol will be more effective.

The Anti-Mad Man's Broth Society says the Government proposal to introduce the labels, and put national laws on the sale of alcohol, will have a major impact in reducing binge drinking.

The measures are being considered by the country's leaders and will be discussed at Wednesday's Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting in Adelaide.

The Coalition's Sam Miles says while the changes are welcome, raising alcohol prices would only mean people who drink would have to struggle more and could lead to people not being able to pay the rent.

"If we could get large signboards on roadsides warning of the dangers, or failing that a minimum label on bottles and cans warning of the dangers, or both, so that we can try and make the alcoholic drinks that some people are choosing more explanatory, that will have more of an impact than any of the other measures that are being proposed for COAG," he said.

"There will be lobby groups for the government and corporations hell bent on protecting the corporate giants who produce alcohol and will argue against labels pretending to be assisting but masked and instead asking for increased taxes however most people are struggling as it is especially with petrol prices and rent and that idea would just make it harder for families", he said.

Related:

Alcohol producers urge caution on booze reform

The Distilled Spirits Industry Council of Australia is urging politicians not to make radical changes to the way alcohol is advertised and sold in Australia.

Alcohol abuse will be among the most important topics at today's Commonwealth of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting in Adelaide.

Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon is proposing graphic images being put on alcohol bottles and cans as a deterrent to binge drinking.

But the Council's Steve Riden says better enforcement of current measures, like checking patrons' IDs, is a large part of the answer.

"Things like responsible service of alcohol, which means the barman doesn't serve you when your staggering drunk," he said.

"If the Federal Government was actually going to take effective action on enforcement of that and parental supply of teenagers, then we think that would be a good move."

Quote: What happens when the staggering drunk leaves the pub? Who pays for the damage? It's not only about binge drinking it is also about drunks whether they be teens or adults drinking is a major problem in Australia today.

Monday, 24 March 2008

Message on a bottle for binge drinkers


BOTTLES of alcoholic drinks could soon carry graphic pictures warning of the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption as part of the Federal Government's latest series of measures to cut down on under-age and binge drinking.

At a meeting of state and federal leaders in Adelaide on Wednesday the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, will tell his state colleagues he also wants national guidelines covering the responsible service of alcohol and uniform standards on the serving of alcohol to minors, including training for bar staff.

The Minister for Health, Nicola Roxon, said yesterday there was "no coherent national approach to tackling binge drinking among young people".

"While young people must take greater personal responsibility for their behaviour, binge drinking is a community-wide problem that demands a community-wide response … What is lacking is a consistently tough message," Ms Roxon said.

The Federal Government is concerned that the penalties for bar attendants and licensees found to be selling alcohol to people under the age of 18 vary from state to state and wants the inconsistencies ironed out.

In NSW, a licensee found guilty of supplying alcohol to minors can be fined $6600 but in Queensland the fine is as high as $18,750 and in South Australia the penalty is $20,000.

"State and territory laws relating to secondary supply are currently inconsistent," Ms Roxon said. "For example, in some states, it is deemed acceptable if a minor is supervised by an adult. In some states, restrictions on supplying alcohol to minors only relate to licensed premises, or to public venues."

Labels on alcohol containers could mimic the graphic pictures on cigarette packets that are intended to scare people off smoking by showing them photographs of gangrenous limbs and ulcerated mouths.

The Federal Government is on a crusade against binge and under-age drinking. Earlier this month Mr Rudd said he wanted to "scare the living daylights" out of binge-drinking teenagers with a graphic Grim Reaper-style advertising campaign warning of the health risks of excessive alcohol consumption.

As part of a $53.5 million national binge-drinking strategy endorsed by cabinet earlier this month, the Government will require sporting clubs to introduce codes of conduct on responsible drinking behaviour for players, officials and members.

The latest plans came as two brewing companies announced they would ban "alcopops" - the high-energy, high-sugar alcoholic drinks favoured by many younger drinkers.

But the Government has not yet gone as far as expressing support for plans to put a 9pm curfew on alcohol advertising, a plan being investigated by a Senate committee.

That committee is also examining the effectiveness of putting warning labels on bottles and cans.

Related:

Ban on late spirit sales

Govt unveils $53m to target binge drinking

Millions abused during boozy Christmas hols: study

Stress and debt make Sydney a violent city

Sunday, 23 March 2008

No compo for four falsely accused

Four Western Australian men acquitted of murder have failed in their bid for an estimated $1 million compensation payout.

Phillip Walsham was found lying under a footbridge at the Stirling Train Station 10 years ago.

While two of the men admitted kicking him earlier in the night, all three denied any involvement in his death.

But after a coronial inquest, a hung jury and a retrial the men were found guilty of murder and spent two years in jail before having their convictions quashed last year.

WA Attorney-General Jim McGinty says their actions on the night were deplorable and an acquittal does not automatically entitle them to compensation.

The men said last year that the fight for justice had cost each of them more than $350,000.

Related:

Man denied compo calls for McGinty meeting

A Western Australian man denied compensation after being wrongly jailed for murder has called for a meeting with the state's Attorney-General.

Sal Fazzari and two other men spent more than two years in jail for the murder of 21-year-old Phillip Walsham, whose body was found under a footbridge at the Stirling Train Station 10 years ago.

The three had their convictions quashed last year, but the Government has rejected their compensation claim saying an earlier assault on Mr Walsham must be taken into account.

"A mere acquittal is not enough to found a claim in compensation," Attorney-General Jim McGinty said.

"In this case there was a vicious assault of Phillip Walsham and in all of the circumstances the government has decided that a claim for compensation should not be granted."

Mr Fazzari says the government is missing the point.

"We didn't spend time in prison and have legal bills of $500,000 for the assault," he said.

"We pleaded guilty to the assault in 1998 and six years later we were charged with a murder we didn't commit.

"It just goes to demonstrate that Jim McGinty is denying our compensation just to try to win some votes, so to speak."

Propaganda claims

Mr Fazzari says he can prove there was misconduct by those involved in their prosecution.

"There's been propaganda against us from day one by the media and a lot of what the public know about the case, they've been misinformed," he said.

"We'd suggest there has been wrongdoing and we'd be happy to take up the opportunity to prove so."

NT plans to hold prisoners in shipping containers

The Northern Territory's Justice Department has awarded a tender to install shipping containers at a Darwin jail to house the overflowing prison population.

The $500,000 tender to buy three shipping containers to be used for accommodation and an ablutions block has been awarded to a Darwin company to put the containers into Berrimah prison.

In February when the tender was advertised, a spokeswoman for the Department said they would have windows and comfortable furnishings and would only be used as a short-term solution.

At the same time, the NT Government has received a master plan it commissioned, which sets out options for the long-term future of the Territory's prisons.

Both Alice Springs jail in central Australia and Berrimah jail in Darwin are full.

Some of the options listed in the past include building a third prison in Alice Springs or Darwin or in a regional centre like Tennant Creek or Katherine, or adding on to the existing prisons.

The NT Government says the master plan is being discussed by Cabinet and it is unlikely to be made public before May.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

At risk children 'left in detention', DOCS inquiry hears

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) says vulnerable children are being left in juvenile detention centres because the New South Wales Department of Community Services (DOCS) is unable to provide care for them.

The PIAC submission to the Wood Inquiry into Child Protection Services says children who have not been found guilty of crimes are remaining in custody.

PIAC chief executive Robin Banks says it is happening even when the court has directed the DOCS to care for the child.

"It's our view that there's a serious failure by DOCS to provide the necessary support to a number of young people, which means that they end up remaining in juvenile justice, in detention," she said.

"It seems to be particularly young people with quite high support needs and that's a very serious concern."

The inquiry has received over 300 submissions, and will continue its series of regional public forums in the north coast town of Ballina next week.

Taser trial extended in Qld

The Queensland Government is widening its trial of Tasers or stun guns in the state.

Dutton Park officers in Brisbane's inner-city will be armed with Tasers for three months as part of an ongoing assessment of the weapons suitability for general use in the Queensland Police Service.

Police Minister Judy Spence says until now the trial has been in three regions and Tasers have only been issued to officers with higher ranks such as senior sergeants and inspectors.

"So by giving them to first response officers of all ranks we will get a lot more information the circumstances of them being used," she said.

"[The trial will show] whether the training has been adequate and whether the reporting arrangements are satisfactory."

Related:

Stunning haste on equipment

March 14, 2008

CRIMINAL defence lawyers hold growing fears about the indecent haste in the Queensland Government's decision to issue Taser stun guns to all front-line police.

Police use of Tasers has become an almost daily news event in Queensland since a trial of the weapon began in July last year.

Barely six months into the trial, after police and youths clashed at boozy Australia Day events on the Gold and Sunshine coasts, Police Minister Judy Spence suddenly announced that the trial was a success and Tasers would be issued to all front-line police in July.

The apparent impulse decision to satisfy demands for the weapon by the Queensland Police Union was just the start of fears about the use of Electro Muscular Disruption Devices, better known as Tasers, which deliver a paralysing 50,000-volt punch.

The electrical jolt from the barbed electrodes causes involuntary muscle contractions and immobilises the targeted person..

Queensland's rushed decision seemed to ignore growing international evidence that Tasers are dangerous, are regarded by the United Nations as a torture weapon and have caused deaths overseas. Amnesty International says 300 people have died around the world after being zapped with a Taser and wants the weapon's use to be suspended pending an investigation.

Last month Queensland's police watchdog, the Crime and Misconduct Commission, warned that the stun guns cause "considerable" and "acute" pain. It also acknowledged overseas research indicating an over-reliance on the use of Tasers by police as well as its links to more than 150 deaths in the US.

Our State Government has effectively ignored calls for reassurances that proper training and safeguards on Taser use would be imposed. This comes after a police admission that they were investigating a complaint alleging a police officer had repeatedly used a Taser on a handcuffed man in the Cleveland watchhouse to stop him from swearing.

The Queensland Government and police have ignored criticism of the weapon and instead push the image that the Taser is totally safe.

Worrying questions linger. We still don't know how thoroughly the police will be trained in the use of Tasers. Nor do we know what are the restrictions on use, if any, and who is monitoring their use to make sure the use of Tasers is not abused.

There is a real risk Queensland police will become "Taser-happy".

The Cleveland complaint, if it is proved, raises serious questions about police attitudes towards the use of Tasers. Even one instance of a police officer unnecessarily using a Taser should be enough warning to the police and State Government that they should pause and rethink the decision to issue them to all front-line staff

Also worrying about the Cleveland incident is that it suggests use of a Taser for all the wrong reasons. Unless there are strong controls, there is a risk some police might regard their use at the same level as using handcuffs.

The United Nations Convention Against Torture committee recently linked the use of Tasers to torture. The UN committee was reported as saying the use of the weapons causes acute pain, constituting a form of torture, and studies showed the Taser was dangerous and can cause death.

We don't need them here and the State Government should review its decision to issue them.

At the very least it should halt their issue until all complaints are thoroughly investigated and police are thoroughly trained in the use of the weapon.

Tim Meehan is a criminal defence lawyer and chief executive officer of Brisbane-based law firm Ryan and Bosscher Lawyers.

I had no choice, says courier facing death

AN AUSTRALIAN sentenced to death in Vietnam this week for heroin trafficking told officials she was forced into the crime to pay off her husband's gambling debts.

It is understood that 34-year-old Jasmine Luong will include the claim in her application for clemency, which must be handed to the Vietnamese President, Nguyen Minh Triet, by the middle of next week.

The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, and the Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith, are expected to write to the President in support of Luong, whose two children are being looked after by relatives in Sydney.

Luong, an Australian of Vietnamese descent, was arrested at Tan Son Nhat International Airport, outside Ho Chi Minh City, in February last year with 1.5 kilograms of heroin hidden in her shoes and luggage.

Luong told the court an unidentified man offered her $US15,000 ($16,620) to take the drugs to Sydney, with an advance payment of $US4700.

The Herald understands Luong has said her husband deserted her, leaving her with little choice when approached about being a drug courier.

Trafficking more than 600 grams of heroin is punishable by death or life imprisonment in Vietnam.

In December, a court found Luong guilty of drug trafficking and sentenced her to life in prison. However, the sentence was upgraded to the death penalty at a hearing earlier this week after prosecutors appealed against the ruling.

There is no set time frame for the President to decide whether he will grant clemency. It is expected Luong will probably have to wait at least a year for a decision.

Five Australians have been sentenced to death for drug trafficking in Vietnam, but none has been executed. Four were granted clemency and another, Tony Manh, is waiting for a response to his application.

Manh was sentenced to death by firing squad in September last year for trying to smuggle almost one kilogram of heroin in his underwear, a haul that would have earned him about $US10,000. Like Luong, he was caught at Tan Son Nhat airport, about seven kilometres outside Ho Chi Minh City, before he boarded a plane to Sydney.

His appeal against the ruling was rejected in late November.

Within days of Labor taking office last year both Mr Rudd and Mr Smith wrote to Mr Triet on Manh's behalf. They are expected to do the same in the case of Luong.

The Vietnamese Government has cited humanitarian considerations and its close relationship with Australia when granting clemency in the past.

Twenty Australians are currently in jail in Vietnam, all on charges related to drug trafficking. Most have been sentenced but some are awaiting trial.

Vietnam takes drug crimes very seriously. Its proximity to the Golden Triangle, an important heroin-producing region, has made it an important drug transit point to Western countries.

In 2000, a Canadian citizen, Nguyen Thi Hiep, who was caught with five kilograms of heroin in 1996, was executed by firing squad, prompting Canada to suspend ministerial-level contact with Vietnam. Since then, no foreign national from a Western country has been executed.

Related:
Australian woman to face firing squad in Vietnam
An Australian woman of Vietnamese origin has lost her court appeal and will face a firing squad in Vietnam instead of serving a life term in prison, state-run newspapers reported.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Orkopolous whistleblower sues NSW Govt

The aide who blew the whistle on convicted paedophile and former New South Wales Labor minister Milton Orkopolous is suing the State Government, claiming she can never work again.

Former electoral officer Gillian Sneddon blew the whistle on an underage sex investigation into her boss in 2006.

Ms Sneddon was sacked on the same day she gave evidence at the Orkopolous trial last month.

She says the psychological damage she has suffered has left her unfit to work again.

Parliamentary Speaker Richard Torbay says he will meet with Ms Sneddon next month to discuss her future employment and entitlements.

Mr Torbay says the former electoral officer is also pursuing a workers compensation claim against the Government.

"It is a significant claim and that process is a matter for Parliament's insurers," he said. "That's an ongoing matter."

Earlier this week, the Speaker said Ms Sneddon's redundancy was coincidental.

Mr Torbay said she had been on stress leave since late 2006 and the sacking was a way of ensuring she could access redundancy pay while she was pursuing her claim.

He said there was no barrier to her re-employment.

Ms Sneddon has said she has been offered no support from State Parliament since the police investigation of Orkopoulos began.

"What would it have taken for the Premier to have rung me up and to have said, 'Gillian, I know that you've been caught up in this, you're an employee of a state Member, what can we do to help you?'," she said on Saturday.

Orkopoulos was found guilty of 28 child sex and drugs charges a week ago. A jury found he had sex with three boys and supplied them with marijuana.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Terror trial halted over prison conditions

A Supreme Court judge has put a Melbourne terrorism trial on hold and ordered Corrections Victoria to change prison conditions of the 12 accused men.

Justice Bernard Bongiorno has ruled the onerous conditions are having such an affect on the men that their trial is unfair.

It is the first time a judge has made such a ruling in Victoria.

Justice Bongiorno has asked for the men to be moved from a high security unit at Barwon Prison to a remand prison in Melbourne by March the 31st.

Quote: This trial is unfair right from the very start of the police investigation. These people should be free men but they're being mistreated in prison and vilified by the mainstream media. The charges they're subject to are draconian and extremely unfair.

In his ruling, Justice Bongiorno accepted the 12 men were already suffering psychiatric problems that affected their ability to follow proceedings. A continuation of the treatment was likely to affect their ability to defend themselves, he said.

The men have been held in the high security Acacia wing of Barwon Prison, near Geelong, since their arrest two years ago.

To attend court they must travel for up to two hours to Melbourne each day, and two hours back, shackled and handcuffed, are strip-searched twice, and have little time outside their cells.

Justice Bongiorno ordered that the men be transferred to the Metropolitan Assessment Prison in central Melbourne, that they be transported directly to court each day, and be allowed out of their cells for 10 hours each day when not in court. They were not to be shackled or restrained other than by handcuffs while in transit, nor strip-searched after returning from court, and were to be treated as ordinary remand prisoners.

The prisoners have the highest security rating in Victoria. The judge told Victoria's Department of Justice to make the changes by March 31 or the trial would be stayed indefinitely and he would consider releasing them on bail.

The accused, who have all pleaded not guilty, are: Abdul Nacer Benbrika, 47; Abdullah Merhi, 22; Shane Kent, 31; Majed Raad, 23; Aimen Joud, 23; Ahmed Raad, 24; Fadl Sayadi, 28; Ezzit Raad, 26; Hany Taha; Shoue Hammoud, 28; Bassam Raad, 26; and Amer Haddara, 28.

These people were entrapped in an ASIO fishing expedition for the John Howard government and used as scapegoats for the alleged 'war on terror' but really western imperialism and an oil resource war.

Let them all go free they've done nothing but think and at the very least they should be released on bail immediately.

'Possessed' refugee not guilty of murder

A Sudanese refugee who believed he was possessed by his dead uncle's spirit when he killed his wife has been found not guilty of her murder on the grounds of mental illness.

The 43-year-old, who cannot be named for legal reasons, has admitted bludgeoning his 40-year-old wife to death as she lay sleeping on the floor of their Newcastle home in July 2006.

The NSW Supreme Court was told he struck her so hard with a plumbing pipe and a hammer that he split her head open, exposing her brain.

Their infant daughter, who lay sleeping in her mother's arms, was spattered with her blood.

The man fled Newcastle after the killing but then handed himself in to police in Central Western NSW.

He said a dream voice told him to kill his wife because she was planning to kill him.

"The dream is telling me that this woman, if you leave her, she will kill you, you better kill her," he told police.

Justice Graham Barr today found the man not guilty of the murder, ruling he was suffering from schizophrenic delusions at the time.

The man and his family came to Australia as refugees from war-torn Sudan in October 2004.

Justice Barr said that, prior to their migration, the man's uncle was murdered.

The man's father knew who was responsible and collected a monetary reward for informing the police.

Instead of giving the money to the dead man's child, Justice Barr said the man's father kept it for himself.

"A witch doctor told the accused that his uncle's spirit was inside him because of his father's wrongful action," Justice Barr told the court.

"He was afraid because he believed his uncle could kill him or send someone to kill him via the voice."

Two treating psychiatrists concluded the man had been suffering chronic paranoid schizophrenia for 20 years, and that he had killed his wife while in a delusional state.

One psychiatrist noted the man's symptoms worsened markedly upon arrival in Australia, noting the "higher rate of psychotic illness that has been observed among ... refugees and the stress of migration, which is thought to be a factor that triggers acute mental illness in some people".

Justice Barr acquitted the man of his wife's murder but ordered that he be detained in the psychiatric unit of Long Bay Prison Hospital until his case was reviewed by the Mental Health Review Tribunal.

The tribunal will determine if and when he was fit to be released into the community, as well as other matters related to his treatment.

Man jailed for assault on cricketer Gillespie

A man charged with assaulting former test cricketer Jason Gillespie has been sentenced to six months jail.

Twenty-nine year old Mathew Zaffinna from Morwell, in eastern Victoria is accused of repeatedly punching Gillespie outside a nightclub in Traralgon in January, after demanding the cricketer's wallet.

Gillespie had been out with team mates after playing for South Australia in a one day match.

He suffered a fractured cheek, bruising and a split lip. Victoria Police say the attack was filmed on a mobile phone, but the video was erased.

The Court heard Zaffina was assaulted after being moved to prison while on remand, because of the identity of his victim.

He was sentenced to six months in prison for for the charge of recklessly causing injury.

He will also serve a three month concurrent sentence for a number of unrelated driving and theft offences.

'Strangers' convicted of incest

A father and his adult daughter, who told a court they met effectively as strangers eight years ago, have been convicted of incest.

The District Court at Mount Gambier in South Australia heard they have had two children, but the first died of a heart defect.

The man, 61, and his daughter, 39, were charged with incest after the birth of the second child at Port Pirie in SA last year.

Both pleaded guilty and told the court that when they met in 2000 they were effectively strangers after years of little contact.

Judge Steven Millsteed agreed the case was unusual, as both were consenting adults.

But he said the sentence must deter the birth of children from such relationships to avoid congenital defects and possible psychological harm.

The pair signed a three-year good behaviour bond.

While they can have contact with each other, they will be monitored to ensure that the sexual relationship is over.

Roxon signs off on Indigenous health pledges

Indigenous Australians will have access to the same health services as the rest of the population by 2018, under a Federal Government plan.

The Government is also promising to close the 17-year life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians by 2030.

Health Minister Nicola Roxon will sign the pledges today.

"We absolutely have to do everything we can to try and make that happen," She said.

The commitment will also be signed by Indigenous health groups. Under the plan, power would be handed to community-controlled Aboriginal health providers.

The Coalition is reluctant to lend its support to the plan.

Opposition Indigenous affairs spokesman Tony Abbott says he was given little notice and he was not involved in the wording of the pledge.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Australian woman to face firing squad in Vietnam

An Australian woman of Vietnamese origin has lost her court appeal and will face a firing squad in Vietnam instead of serving a life term in prison, state-run newspapers reported.

The Court of Appeals accepted a proposal by prosecutors in Ho Chi Minh City yesterday to change the sentence for 34-year-old Jasmine Luong, who was found guilty by a lower court of trafficking heroin to Australia, the Liberation Saigon newspaper said.

She now has 15 days to appeal the sentence to the President.

Luong was arrested at the city's Tan Son Nhat International Airport while boarding a flight to Melbourne in February 2007 after customs found 1.55 kg of heroin in her shoes and luggage, the city's customs reported.

Trafficking more than 600 grams of heroin is punishable by death or life imprisonment in Vietnam.

Several Australians of Vietnamese descent have been arrested for trafficking heroin to Australia from Vietnam in recent years.

Charities struggling under demand: QCSS

The Queensland Council for Social Service says charity organisations across the state are struggling to keep up with the demand.

Director Jill Lang says recent interest rates rises, skyrocketing land values, increasing rents and higher petrol prices mean more and more people need help.

Ms Lang says families should not be ashamed to ask for help.

"There are a number or ways with support that you can have assistance in perhaps spacing payments so you can meet them over a longer period of time," she said.

"That can work with utilities, for example utilities and gas and certainly [they can] seek financial advice."

Rock throwers pelt police

Police were pelted with rocks and the riot squad was placed on alert after a brawl involving up to 30 people broke out in Sydney's south-west overnight.

Officers were first dispatched to suburban streets in Campbelltown following reports of rocks being thrown at buses about 4.15pm and again at 9.15pm.

"Shortly after the second rock attack, police attended MacBeth Way following reports of a brawl involving up to 30 people," NSW Police Force said in a statement today.

Police said the initial patrol did not come across any brawl but when officers later drove through MacBeth Way about 10pm, things had turned violent.

"The crowd had turned hostile," police said.

"A number of projectiles were thrown at officers, however, no one was injured.

"Extra police were deployed to the area to disperse the crowd."

Police conducted extra patrols of the area throughout the night.

"The Public Order and Riot Squad was put on standby during the incident but was not utilised," police said.

An investigation is underway to find those responsible for the rock attacks against the buses and police.

Related:

Nexus Policing: Binding Research to Practice. 26-28 May 2008

This conference brings police practitioners, police leaders and key stakeholders together with academic researchers. The aim is to explore how the future of policing policies and practices, both in Australia and internationally is increasingly being informed by research-generated knowledge. Through keynote speakers and panel presenters, a range of cutting edge research projects from Australia, South Africa, North America and the United Kingdom will be examined.

The following key themes will be addressed throughout the conference:

Police Governance - internal and external

Community engagement and the delivery of policing services

Professional police education and capability development

Each of the three days of the conference will feature keynote speakers, plenary sessions and parallel workshops. The keynote speakers will include:

Professor Martin Innes - Director of the Universities Police Science Institute, Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom .

Distinguished Professor David Bayley - School of Criminal Justice, University at Albany, State University of New York, USA

Professor Clifford Shearing - Director of the Centre of Criminology, University of Cape Town, South Africa

Professor Lorraine Mazzerole - Director ARC Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security (CEPS), Griffith University

Christine Nixon - Chief Commissioner, Victoria Police

Parallel workshops speakers will include:

Assoc. Professor Jennifer Wood - Temple University, USA

Dr. Monique Marks - University of Kwazula-Natal, South Africa

Ms. Julie Berg - University of Cape Town, Centre of Criminology, South Africa.

For more information please visit: www.nexuspolicing08.com.au

Man fined over illegal wildlife sales

A 67-year-old Queensland man has been convicted and fined $80,000 for selling protected wildlife.

Grant Arthur Nicholls today pleaded guilty to 21 charges in the Redcliffe Magistrates Court north of Brisbane, relating to the unlicensed selling of more than 600 native snakes, lizards, frogs and birds.

State Minister for Sustainability Andrew McNamara says the Deception Bay man had a permit to keep certain animals, but not to trade them.

Mr McNamara says the investigation also involved customs officers, and wildlife authorities from Victoria, the Northern Territory, South Australia and New South Wales.

Court acquits man of intruder's murder

A Supreme Court jury has acquitted a 34-year-old Perth man of murdering an intruder at his industrial unit last year.

The jury deliberated for eight-and-a-half hours before finding Grant Davis Hodgson not guilty of murdering 39-year-old Dean Wilson at Seville Grove in March last year.

Mr Wilson died when an artery in his arm was severed during a confrontation with Mr Hodgson.

The jury also found Mr Hodgson not guilty of manslaughter.

He walked free from court a short time ago saying the verdict was a relief.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Housing crisis is real: industry

The Housing Industry Association (HIA) says new research highlights the seriousness of Australia's housing crisis.

A report from AMP and the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling shows property prices have jumped 400 per cent since 1986, while income has only increased by 120 per cent.

The research found it is more expensive to live in Sydney than New York.

Chris Lamont, from the HIA, says the study proves the housing affordability crisis is real.

"A lot of people have asserted that housing affordability is a myth, that it is simply Generation X and Y racking up the credit card and building mcmansions," he said.

"The reality is Generation X and Y are buying the cheapest existing stock they can get their hands on. They are finding the debt pressure too much."

Bond for officer who spat on driver

A police officer who spat on a driver has been put on a good behaviour bond.

The officer will now be the subject of disciplinary action by the South Australian Police Commissioner.

Stephen James Lloyd, 49, was riding his motorcycle along Hackney Road in Adelaide in December 2006 while on long-term leave from his job.

Lloyd got angry when a motorist pulled out in front of him and decided to 'give her a piece of his mind'.

The Salisbury Heights man spat and because the car window was partly open, it hit the woman in the eye.

Lloyd pleaded guilty to disorderly behaviour but said he was suffering from chronic depression at the time.

An Adelaide magistrate has imposed a two-year good behaviour bond and not recorded a conviction.

21 years jail for 'body in barrel' murderer

A Melbourne man who murdered his wife and hid her body in a barrel has been sentenced to 21 years jail.

Last month, 58-year-old Frederick William Boyle of Carrum Downs was found guilty of the murder of his wife, Edwina Boyle.

She was shot in the head as she lay in bed in the family home in October 1983.

Boyle hid her body in a 44-gallon drum and told the family and the police she had run away with another man. Her body was found 23 years later.

Justice Jack Forrest told the Court, Boyle had shown no remorse whatsoever, and had constructed a web of deceit and lies to avoid being caught.

Boyle will serve a non-parole period of 17 years.

Judge critical of banks, as fraudster gets 16 yrs

A man who defrauded banks of $25 million and used the same name as an American rock star to obtain credit has been jailed for 16 years.

In four years, Romeo Pacifico stole millions of dollars from 16 financial institutions to help his concreting business, repay spiralling loans and live the high life.

Almost $9 million is still missing.

At one stage, Pacifico, 43, changed his name to Richie Sambora, like the rock guitarist from the US band Bon Jovi.

In court, his head was bowed as he was jailed today for 16 years.

Judge Wayne Chivell said it was outrageous that Sambora had offended while already on bail.

He criticised him for failing to show remorse.

Sambora will be eligible for release in 10 years.

The judge said the case showed that financial institutions were willing to lend money on relatively flimsy evidence and the world's financial markets were only now coming to terms with a decade of irresponsible lending.