Sunday 31 October 2010

Slugged with costs. Thanks Alan

Justice Jones of the Supreme Court, presiding in Cairns on Friday 29 October, is a knowledgeable and considerate man. When dealing with the defamation suit between Cairns Regional Councillor Alan Blake and CairnsBlog author, he was clearly aware of the dilemma faced by Michael Moore as an unrepresented defendant.

Justice Jones said that he wouldn’t ever give legal advice to any party, however he pointed out that defamation law was a particularly technical area of the law, meaning that it's ‘complex, rigid, and formal’ in which a party really needs competent legal advice.

At Friday's mention, in the Defamation case bought by Alan Blake who didn't attend the hearing, as he was in China learning the local customs, there were two applications for the Judge to decide on.

First was my application to strike out Councillor Blake’s original claim because of a technical deficiency in the originating document, where there was no soliticor's signature on the document. Judge Jones explained that, while the originating claim had indeed contained an error (failing to include a solicitor’s name in the originating document) that error was now corrected and the Claim remained in force. He gave me the opportunity to either accept that, or argue. Of course I accepted.

Councillor Blake was represented in Court by R.J. Anderson, Counsel from Brisbane, who mentioned something about seeking costs after I accepted this indication.

“How could you justify that? It was your error!” Judge Jones said to Anderson, and got a laugh from those gathered in the public gallery.

Mr Anderson indicated that costs were being sought for the second application, that by Councillor Blake to strike out my initial defence.

Judge Jones observed that I seemed to agree that the original defence was deficient, and that he was willing to see it withdrawn. In fact, I had lodged an affidavit with the court previously, as the Registrar informed, however this was not on a correct form, one of a "notice of discontinuance." I agreed.

Judge Jones went on to say that I appeared to be seeking leave to “re-plead” by filing a new defence. I agreed and said I have been working on the new defence, but needed more time to get it into proper shape. I also asked the judge that he wanted to visit my 89-year-old mother in Christchurch because she was having difficulty coping with the aftermath of the earthquake there, and all the continuing shocks and quakes.

As they do, Judge Jones questioned me about this and suggested that my obligations to Councillor Blake were more important than “a little holiday”, and that I perhaps ought deal with the defence before I left town. Well, I explained that it wasn’t a holiday, and that my concerns for his mother were shared by others in the family, and that was needed there now. Judge Jones accepted this.

Mr Anderson said that his side wasn’t pressing urgently about time, and that they would have no trouble with allowing 21 days.

“How about 42 days?” Judge Jones responded.

"That would be of concern," Mr Anderson said. The learned Judge then consulted his calendar.

He said that 42 days would place the receipt of my new defence at 10 December, a time when no Court would be sitting, and nothing could be done about non-compliance. Judge Jones then set the date for lodging a new defence at 21st January 2011, or 84 days from the mention.

He also awarded costs for Blake’s application against myself, without much argument, and warned again that if I didn’t complete the new defence properly, I would face more costs.

"The law in this area was difficult, and that you need to be very careful," Judge Jones said.

A bill for costs will arrive in due course, and is expected to amount to thousands of dollars. The best guess is in the order of $3,000. I look forward to the on-going support of CairnsBlog readers, as this important case about free speech moves slowly through the legal system. There is a "donate" button on the right-hand side, and I ask everyone to assist in this cause. We will also be running some fund-raisers over the next few months.

As Alan Blake arrives back in Cairns today, I expect he will have the chance to consider the olive branch that I provided just as he jumped on his plane two weeks ago, in the form of an out of court settlement, for the betterment of both parties.

The life of a blogger who wants to tell the stories other won't, is far from plain-sailing when a politician wants to shut debate and criticism down. I look forward to your help and financial support.

Obama gives good interview on Daily Show

US President Barack Obama gave a great interview with the Daily Show's Jon Stewart on Wednesday. Here's the first part, you can see the rest online.

Labor's home insulation - 'greatest failure since World War 2'

The death of 22-year-old Mitchell Sweeney at a Millaa Milla house on the Atherton Tablelands in February, is the motivation for a full judicial inquiry that will be called when Federal Parliament resumes in mid-November.

Mitchell was the fourth person electrocuted to death in the failed home-insulation scheme that bought shame and ridicule to Labor and the former Environment Minister, Peter Garrett.

Four installers were killed in the Government programme, three of them from Queensland. 25-year-old Matthew Fuller from Logan in October 2009; 16-year-old Rueben Barnes from Rockhampton in November; and Mitchell Sweeney, who had only just returned to Far North Queensland when he was killed on February 4.

The Opposition will introduce a bill that calls for a full judicial inquiry into four deaths linked to the tragic and flawed home insulation scheme.

Although the Auditor-General's report cleared then minister Peter Garrett of wrongdoing, Opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt wants a full judicial inquiry.

"It is needed because the Australian National Audit Office's report was limited to investigating the department," Greg Hunt says. "[It] would force the government to disclose the 'full failure rate' of its $2.5 billion home insulation scheme."

The bill will also seek a judicial inquiry to discover if there was a link between the program and four deaths, which the auditor-general did not have the power to look into.

"This has been the greatest failure of public policy, in a single program, since the Second World War, in my view, and it must be the subject of a full judicial inquiry," Greg Hunt said, who is seeking support of other MPs. "I don't presume their support. I will offer them a chance to have input into the substance of the bill. They will not be given a fait accompli. I would hope that the Greens and the independents do support us. I believe that this information should be in the public ... and I do not believe there is any barrier to them supporting us."

An investigation into the scheme by ABC's Four Corners in April exposed a flawed system of a massive new industry created artificially by a government subsidy. It showed that staff recruited were not trained nor made aware of the dangers involved in installing foil insulation.

"We now know the Federal Government had been given repeated warnings that the program of subsidised insulation was ill-conceived and potentially dangerous," Four Corners said. "[It] began with so many good intentions but ended in death and political humiliation."

Letters released showed the Government was out of control and out of touch in running the nationwide insulation programme. It was being abused by companies that were set up in five minutes, aiming to get a quick profit.

Operators from overseas call centre, contracted by Australian businesses, were ringing people up offering amazing deals. Even if there was already insulation installed, call centre staff insisted to "get it installed again."

In addition to the deaths, there were numerous house fires from dodgy insulations.

These senseless deaths enraged Leichhardt MP Warren Entsch, calling them nothing short of murders.

"They [Labor] killed our citizens up here with their ridiculous home insulation programme," Warren Entsch said in a CairnsBlog video interview just after his August election win. "They have destroyed businesses."

Saturday 30 October 2010

What's in a word

My friend Nicky spotted this beauty at the Cairns Spotlight store today.

"Amazing the things you find in Spotlight, but how can this magical device stop a drought?" Nicky asked.

Saturday SoapBlog: Councillor Pyne - Where I sit on a tourism levy

Cairns Regional Councillor Rob Pyne reckons Mayor Val is being a bit ambiguous in her push for a new rate to support the tourism industry. He would like every councillor to say were they stand on the issue.

Pyne argues that proposition of a new universal levy is that we all benefit from tourism, however says this is not supported by the facts.

There has been debate around the introduction of a Tourism Levy in Cairns for many years, and I am sure that it will remain a subject of heated debate many years from now.

However, the structure of Cairns Regional Council is such that a Tourism Levy will never become a reality – unless six Councillors are prepared to vote in favour of it. In light of this, it is important all councillors let the community know exactly what their position is, which is what I am doing now.

There are two models of tourism levy that I have seen. One would involve a universal charge to go on every rate notice. This charge is imposed at a flat rate (as opposed to a progressive scale). The other model involved charging only Commercial ratepayers with a levy. I am opposed to both models, and I am happy to explain why.

Equity: The concept of a universal levy is based on the proposition that everyone in Cairns benefits from Tourism, so everyone should contribute. This argument is not supported by the facts.

Yes, Cairns does benefit from tourism and it is crucial to our economic prosperity. However, that should not allow proponents of a levy to ‘stretch the truth’ to the extent they do. How does a self-funded retiree who is living in White Rock benefit from tourism?

What about the police officer living in Redlynch, or a schoolteacher in Babinda? It is a long draw of the bow to link these folks with tourism.

Some advocates of a levy have countered this by suggesting the levy only be charged on businesses in the region. One can see the logic here, but such a suggestion still fails the equity test. What about a business in Gordonvale or Mossman that sells fertilizer to cane farmers in the area? How is it fair for him to pay a tourism levy when his business income is generated from the sale of fertilizer? The only link I can make is that he may recommend horse manure, which is something we are well and truly used to hearing from politicians advocating a levy!

Economic Impact: A tourism levy is inconsistent with what should be the number one objective of our economic policy…. diversification! No doubt the tourism sector would benefit hugely from a levy. But where does that leave us at the next economic downturn when people decide to cut their discretionary spending, or when we have our next serious influenza pandemic? Once the planes stop.. we are stuffed again!

It is time to get behind diversification, in reality and not just in rhetoric. Projects such as the Tropical Innovation Awards are a fantastic example of the sort thing we should be supporting. A Business and Industry Park in South Cairns is another idea that I feel deserves serious consideration from all levels of government.

Please do not take my comments to infer that the tourism sector should not be supported. Council already provides funding to Tropical Tourism North Queensland (TTNQ) and rightly so. They are the appropriate body to lobby and suggest policy for the sector. They must be properly funded, but not from a levy, rather from grants, paid on performance and with the State and Commonwealth Government’s paying their fair share!

If I could get one message across in this piece, it is the manner in which I feel Council can best support tourism – that is by a more effective level of service delivery in traditional areas of service – that is the Three R’s and the Two D’s. Rates, roads and rubbish and drains and dogs (or animal control).

Who wants to visit a dirty looking city, where the parks and drains are overgrown and footpaths are cracked or covered in chewing gum? Any Council that has an immaculate looking city and surrounds will sell itself! We could do much better in this area and we should. If we do this, in a modern age of information technology and the Internet, the word will spread like wildfire. The fantastic aspect of such an approach is that residents, as well as tourists flocking to our city will both benefit from this approach. Why other Councillors and some senior staff cannot grasp the logic of this approach is something I continue to be bewildered by.

One thing I will never support, is a form of ‘corporate welfare’ that would take money from working families in the suburbs of this city and deliver it to a smaller group engaged in a specific industry.

Not when support for that industry can be provided in other ways.

Friday 29 October 2010

Known knowns and unknown unknowns

A nice quote that BillyColless posted online (who stole it from a Donald "Duck"...) and rather appropriate, given the events of my day...

  • "There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know."
    -Donald Rumsfeld, NATO Headquarters, Brussels, Belgium, June 6, 2002

NewsLtd and social media... like Bob Katter at a gay pride march

A tourism levy will be the death of Val Schier

It's just another bloody tax they want to slug us locals. That's how most will see the long-proposed tourism levy that Cairns Regional Council mayor, Val Schier wants us all to pay.

On the back of three general rate rises, increases in the cost of water and other Council services, amounting to close to 35% since March 2008, and on top of a 16% rise in electricity costs, poor real estate and rental market, this additional cost will go down like a bag of cold sick with the majority of Cairns folk who have been under financial pressure for over 18 months.

Sure we need to support our tourism industry, often said is the backbone of the local economy, or is it?

Of course there's is a precedent to not tax the community or particular business sectors with a levy. Chatting with some long-term Cairns residents, they say if you put a levy on businesses for tourism, you will necessarily have to put a levy on to pay all small businesses that suffer in a downturn.

"No one fell over to subsidise the florist industry when it was on its knees," Rob Williams told me. "I don't ever recall the city throwing money on the table when the cane industry falters, or when my mango farm had no mangoes because of a crook season."

Rob witnessed the period when no one gave a dam when Woolworths and Coles blackmailed and forced small business, like independent bakers and butchers out of the market. He pointed out that the problem with the lack of tourists in Cairns is that there is stuff all for them to see that they can't see in other places cheaper, and Townsville is killing us.

I agree with Rob Williams when he says it's organisations like Tourism Tropical North Queensland headed by Bill Calderwood, and Advance Cairns who voted to destroy the heritage building known as the Aquatic Club, that was perched on Trinity Inlet for over 100 years. 15,000 people signed a petition to save it and the State Labor Government and the success Cairns Council supported the decision for its destruction in 2008. And this was their innovative way to develop and support a diversified tourism product?

As recent history records, the Regional Council and then CEO Noel Briggs led a charge and castigated Councillor Di Forsyth when she put principles on her sleeve. She was the only one in the Council who had the guts to stand up for what was right.

"If the Council and tourism bodies want to see another mobilisation of ratepayers and business to heap vitriolic criticism on the tourism industry and the Cairns Regional Council, they are going the right way about it," Rob Williams says. "When my [Tropic Jazz] members hear about this proposed levy you can be sure a hornet's nest will erupt."

The destruction of the old Cairns Yacht Club building, known as the Aquatic, was but one example of a Council and tourism industry that just doesn't get it.

TTNQ is pushing for the tax that they call an "economic development levy." Chairman Mao, I mean Chairman Bill Calderwood, says it's "absolutely essential to fast track the industry's recovery." he plans to lobby Advance Cairns and Cairns Regional Council for the cash injection. In the first year of this new Council, the introduction of a special tourism levy did not get majority support.

Mayor Schier only wants tourism businesses to cough up, unlike a similar levy on the Sunshine and Gold Coast where many contribute.

However my beef is that giving money willy-nilly to this so-called tourism authority, is like pouring your lottery winnings overboard in the Great Barrier Reef. Why have so many tourism specific businesses left TTNQ over the last five years? I'll tell you why. Because they saw little or no value for the nearly $1,000 annual membership fee. Many also question the effectiveness of a regional tourism body to represent hundreds of tourism products, when most now direct market to visitors via excellent websites.

I've often pondered what would be the difference if TTNQ closed shop completely. How would visitor numbers change. I bet there wouldn't be much change at all.

As ratepayers, we dished out $1.5 million to TTNQ last year. Calderwood told the Cairns Post he is concerned that Council will dish out grants to other businesses to help with economic growth, and therefore they would get less of the pie. He wants the lion's share of promotion money to go to TTNQ. Bill is under the delusion that his mob are the only folk who can effectively market our region.

According to their annual report, TTNQ "has been successful in achieving strong leverage and in 2009-10 converted core revenue of $7.17 million to an overall spend of $16.998 million. That is an incredible leverage multiplier of 2.37. So every dollar invested via TTNQ converts to $2.37."

Rob Williams son David, runs Fair Dinkum Bike Tours, and he relies on visitors to Cairns.

"As a business owner in the tourism sector that has been here in Cairns for the past 10 years, I find it outrageous that the very people trying to keep the community alive are being taxed," David Williams says. "Wake up Val, you are way out of line to even think we will agree to this. Have the people of Cairns not suffered enough with the current economic situation? You want to slug us again with another cost."

Williams says that TTNQ and other funded tourism organisations, only look after the premium clients, and not the smaller operators who are the life-blood of Cairns.

"I decided long ago to cancel my membership for this very reason," David Williams said. "The simple answer is to cull out the free-loaders in the Council and tourism organisations. Stop decimating our primary industries and start facing reality. They say the economy is getting better, maybe in your locally-funded offices it is, but not out here in the real world."

He's not alone. TTNQ lost members all over the place, with the most dramatic fall over the last five years. Small operators were getting slugged large membership fees, and saw little return. The trouble with TTNQ is that they're answerable to no one. They are far from accountable. It's so easy to sponge up huge dollops of cashola for junkets up and down the country and all over the world, and not show a return on investment.

Forcing business to join TTNQ by a mandated levy is crazy, and I doubt any small business operator will stand for it. With greedy booking fees and commissions up around 30% in some cases, operators are at their wit's end.

Of course, the cost to visit Cairns, to stay in Cairns, and to enjoy local tourism products, is some of the most expensive in the world. A trip out to the Great Barrier Reef is up to three times more expensive than other tropical reefs around the world. A 20-minute trip on the Skyrail is going to sting you $60. You won't get a decent hotel under $150 a night, and a day tour to Cape Tribulation for the family will set you back close to $400.

More than ever before, travellers are web-savvy and hunt out their own arrangements, with more "free and independent" visitors. Pouring more and more money into a black hole like TTNQ is no magic solution to our economic woes.

Affidavit for the defamation case

Faithful Blog readers who have been following the evolving defamation case from Cairns Regional Councillor Alan Blake, may wish to see the Affidavit I filed.

Today's Mention in the Supreme Court is to deal with a procedural mention, and to seek a ruling if the originating Statement of Claim, with the purported deficiency, and its subsequent amendment, should stand.
My understanding of the re-writing of the Queensland Defamation Act 2005, was to bring it into line with other States, and encourage conciliation and constructive amends prior to initiating legal action. That’s the spirit of the Act – at least that’s what some defamation lawyers have informed me.
Today's mention at 10am at the Cairns Courthouse, Sheridan Street, will be preceded by a small rally at 9:30am.

So that's why they call her Noddy...

Prime Minister Julia Gillard gives us an update on the National Broadband Network and separation of Telstra. Bloody oath.

Thursday 28 October 2010

'We're about to give up the goat' - Kym Kruse

Permaculture experts Kym and Georgie Kruse have an offer that you won't get every day.

"We have an Anglo Aubien and a Boar female goat to give away to a good home," Kym says. "Their names are Coco and Molly."

According to Kym, the goats are one and a half years old, "in good condition, children friendly and well-natured." They are even known to collect the paper from the street, make a mean Latte and can even programme your iPhone.

If you're interested, have suitable goat transport from Walkamin, and want a nice couple of pets for your 10th floor inner-city apartment, call Kym or Georgie on 4086 8019.

Results as you type. It's just not cricket.

Have you tried the new instant search with Google? It's a hoot.

According to the tech nerds... traditional searching took more than 9 seconds to enter a search term, and we saw many examples of searches that took 30-90 seconds to type. With Instant it save 2-5 seconds per search. What should I do with all this extra time on my hands?

"If everyone uses Google Instant globally, we estimate this will save more than 3.5 billion seconds a day. That’s 11 hours saved every second," says Google. "15 new technologies contribute to Google Instant functionality."

Have you received a dodgy SMS?

Recently a few of my readers have said they're getting these random SMS messages.

They don't have any originating number at all, which is odd, although I suspect they can be traced.

This has all the hallmarks of the infamous planned Mojo business that didn't get off the ground. Based on SMS systems overseas, a message is sent out to mobiles within a certain physical area, advertising products / services, often with a click through to a website.

However, these messages don't appear to have a 'call to action.'

Have you received a similar missive?

Blogger in Cairns Supreme Court

CairnsBlog author Michael Moore will appear in the Supreme Court at 10 am in Cairns for procedural directions on Friday 29th October.

Mr Moore is being sued for defamation by Cairns Regional Councillor Alan Blake, in an action watched widely in the region and across the country.

Mr Moore is seeking to have Cr Blake’s Claim struck out. Mr Blake is seeking to have Mr Moore’s Defence struck out.

An open question is “Who’s going to pay for it all?”

ALLIES FOR FREE SPEECH is conducting a small rally in support of Mr Moore outside the Cairns Courthouse, Sheridan Street at 9.30 am.

Background on the case, including copies of all documents filed and legal correspondence can be found on CairnsBlog filed under “Love Letters”.

Facebook a "new adventure" for former councillor Sheppard

It's nice to see folk like former Cairns councillor Annette Sheppard giving the online social networking a go.

She even has uber-celebrity letter writer and blogger Werner Schmidlin at her doorstep. Now that's some sort of achievement.

Responding to the love letters

Gavin King Memorial Yak Vomit Award

In response to Gavin King's recent provocative attack on Cairns restaurants, KitchenSlut has decided to take the initiative and sponsor the inaugural Gavin King Memorial Yak Vomit Award.

The award will be for the most outstanding lamb shank dish at a Cairns restaurant, and is named in honour of the finest descriptive prose from King's infamous column:
  • "Maybe there was an international food competition in the rural provinces of Moldova, where this restaurant's lamb shanks scooped the top prize in a close decision against a traditional local soup dish made with just a pinch of salt and several generous scoops of yak vomit".
Kitchenslut hates to be pedantic given The King's reputation for accurate journalism, but one would have thought a Yak would have to stray some distance from its traditional Himalayan homeland to even be in Moldova? Perhaps Gavin meant some different kind of Yak?
We will also provide ratings with a yak symbol so each lamb shank dish can be rated at one, two, three, four or five yaks.

Restaurants will be able to display their Yak rating so never again will the Editor-At-Large wander the dangerous streets of Cairns ignorant of where to get himself a decent shank! A presentation shank feast at the winning establishment is anticipated.

However, there are only so many lamb shanks one can eat in a limited time so Kitchenslut calls for nominations to be shortlisted. I will start here and update this post as we go .......... a few suggestions google gremlins have struck and deleted subsequent entries!

Nominations for the Gavin King Yak Vomit Award for 2010:
  • Naked Nut
  • Ochre - Braised lamb shanks – bush tomato infused sauce – parsnip mash and gremolata
  • Adelfia
  • Plantation (Hotel Cairns)
  • L'Unico - (menu very recently changed?)

Walkman, dead at 31. 1979 - 2010

Makes you feel old.

Sony has ceased making the cassette Walkman. It was the first portable music player made in 1979. Around 200 million have been sold.

This week marks the ninth anniversary of the iPod.

The floppy disk was "retired" in March.

Wednesday 27 October 2010

556 want Whitfield street access to highway open

Barron River MP Steve Wettenhall has tabled a petition in State parliament this week containing the signatures of 556 people opposed to the proposed permanent closure of the Whitfield Street access to the Captain Cook Highway at Aeroglen.

The closure has been proposed by the Department of Transport and Main Roads to improve inbound traffic flow at morning peak times.

Wettenhall, who also organised a public meeting to hear concerns of residents and local businesses, said that he expected alternatives to a permanent closure to be given serious consideration in the light of community concerns.

“I want improvements to traffic flow on the Captain Cook Highway as well, but I think this can be achieved without a permanent closure for example by trialling changes to the signal cycles and restrictions on certain traffic movements," Steve Wettenhall said. “I expect that community concerns about pedestrian and cycle safety, safe bus stops and the necessity of permanent closure to receive due consideration as well as the concerns of local businesses operators concerned about the impact of a permanent closure."

Meetings have been held with the Minister in Cairns last week to discuss community feedback on the proposal and consider alternatives.

“The Minister has agreed to carefully consider my submissions and the extent of community opposition to the Department’s original proposal before making a final decision and I am grateful for the personal attention he has given to the issue," Wettenhall said.

Why is the traffic so bad in Cairns?

The daily traffic that banks up near the airport turnoff for kilometers each and every day, is not a 'rush hour' problem, it's a roading problem.

As our population has increased over the last 10 years, little in road infrastructure has changed or improved to accommodate the substantial amount of additional vehicles travelling into the city from the Northern Beaches.

An identical drama unfolds every morning on the Southern approach, as suburbs South of Cairns continue to grow and sprawl.

Is there a lack of spending by the State government or Council in this area?

Another pet gripe, and one that many readers share with me, is that the Police are quick to ticket anyone doing 66 kms in a 60 zone, or 86 in an 80 zone, but never ever appear to catch those wankers that hog the right hand (passing) lane. I reckon it's one of the most dangerous things a driver can do. Others are then forced to pass on the left. It's not difficult to cite a 'P' plater in the right hand lane, sticking to his religious 80kph speed, believing he (or she) is doing this right thing. Well, they are doing the right thing, and that's my point, God dam it (sorry god, but your nic-name often comes in handy in times of frustration.)

I'm always so amazed at how many simply don't understand their road rules and that it's not appropriate to sit in the right hand lane like this. Signs were re-installed in March last year at the beginning of the 80km and 100km start points. Are these drivers blind? Maybe they are, because they're wankers ;-)

Numerous times I've spotted drivers doing this right-hand hogging behaviour. I even spotted a good Mr Policeman doing the same thing!

It's easy for Police to focus on speed, and for obvious good reasons too, but often it is to the detriment of other rules that help flow of traffic. I hope our good blog mate Russ might give his perspective on this.

There ya go, morning rant over.

Some questions in Question Time for naughty Robbie Schwarten

Labor MP for Rockhampton Rob Schwarten has continued his personal attack in Parliament against Queensland Rail staff.

Public Works Minister Robert Schwarten called Queensland Rail "a rort" in Parliament yesterday, while supporting the sale of the QR National freight business.

"The coal companies that use the rail services have been subsidised for decades," Schwarten told Parliament. "I'm not surprised to hear you defend the rort that is Queensland Rail, Mr Speaker - the reality is this - Mr Speaker can I continue? The Nicklin Government enticed the coal industry here with three public subsidies."

Opposition Leader John-Paul Langbroek demanded that Schwarten apologise to Queensland Rail workers across the State, but Bligh said he was just "using colourful language."

"He was making a valid argument about why the business should be privatised," Premier Bligh said. "He used the kind of colourful hyperbole you sometimes see on the floor of the parliamentary chamber. His central point though is right - this is an industry that has enjoyed subsidy from the taxpayer to some of the largest multinational mining companies in the world."

However the unions say that the State Government have neglected Rail infrastructure for years and now they have to spend. In Cairns, we had to sell our airport to get the hospital redeveloped.

Rob Schwarten, as Public Works Minister, has allowed a heap of infrastructure works go to electrical companies in our region that have gone bankrupt due to undercutting decent operators.

Three electrical companies have gone bust around Cairns in the last two years, all of them have won significant Government projects. The issue was raised with Schwarten's office but he did nothing. Another Townsville-based company that was working on the hospital upgrade, is also rumored to go under any day now.

Every time that happens, innocent people and families lose out. Rob Schwarten did nothing.

Contrary to Schwarten's comments, there is not one union member working for these companies. The reason they are not members, is that they get threatened with the sack if they join the ETU or any union. All of this is happening on Rob Schwarten's watch.

It's now abundantly clear that the privatisation issue has no support in the unions. Infrastructure needs to be built, it has been neglected for years but you don’t sell profitable assets to build it. It's such a short term view by a Government that has completely lost touch.

Here's the transcript from State Parliament yesterday...
  • Mr SEENEY: My question is to the Minister for Public Works. I refer the minister to the article he wrote for the Courier-Mail where he attacked loyal Labor Party member Peter Simpson.
  • Government members interjected.
  • Mr SEENEY: Mr Speaker, for the benefit of the minister, I will start again.
  • Mr SPEAKER: Order! Those on my right!
  • Mr SEENEY: I refer the Minister for Public Works to the article that he wrote for the Courier-Mail where he attacked loyal Labor Party member Peter Simpson—a member who has never once dined at the five-star Aria restaurant and is now facing expulsion for standing up for his working-class colleagues. I ask the minister: does the minister believe that it is part of his ministerial duties to pen vicious personal attacks against working-class people who stand up to the government’s privatisation agenda?
  • Mr SCHWARTEN: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I have been waiting for this one. Come in, mug.
  • Honourable members interjected.
  • Mr SPEAKER: Order! Both sides of the House. I am desperately anxious to hear the reply from the minister.
  • Mr SCHWARTEN: And I am desperately anxious to give it. Of all the hypocrisy I have ever heard to come from that man! It is just unbelievable. Let me talk about this portfolio and what it does. It is building Queensland. It is building it using the hands and minds of workers who are members of the Electrical Trades Union, who are members of the CFMEU and who are members of the BLF. There are 106,000 of them out there. What I pointed out to Mr Simpson—and I am happy to point it out in here—is that he is doing nothing to help those members. He sold them out on the job in Queensland. At every single job that I have been on I have had ETU members, BLF members and CFMEU members there and I have repeated the message that we are borrowing money to keep them in jobs. There is no three-year guarantee for them like there is for railway workers. I am not surprised to hear the member defend the rort that is Queensland Rail. The reality is this—
  • Honourable members interjected.
  • Mr SCHWARTEN: Mr Speaker, can I continue?
  • Mr SPEAKER: Order!
  • Mr SCHWARTEN: The Nicklin government enticed the coal industry here with three public subsidies. First of all—the greatest of them all, the greatest rort and the greatest thing done to working people in this state—was to use public housing funds to subsidise houses for wealthy coalminers. That 010 3782 Questions Without Notice 26 Oct 2010 was the first one. I privatised that and I am delighted I did. I privatised every one of those houses in coal communities in Queensland, because it was not good enough—
  • Mr Horan interjected.
  • Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member for Toowoomba South.
  • Mr SCHWARTEN: I want to get this messages across. That is No. 1. That is what Joh did. He took money off the poor and put it into the coal companies by way of housing. The second point is the low royalties that everybody in the Labor Party complained about for years—everybody before Simpson was even born. Without their saying that the coal companies were rorting the royalties in this state—and that is what Nicklin did and that is what Bjelke-Petersen did; they continued to subsidise those companies by not giving Queenslanders their fair share—
  • Opposition members interjected.
  • Mr SPEAKER: There is too much interjection from those on my left. I could understand it if the minister was personally attacking you. At the moment he is giving an explanation in relation to the question that was asked. The minister has the call.
  • Mr SCHWARTEN: Thank you, Mr Speaker. Mr Speaker, he was taking from the poorest people in those circumstances by ensuring that we funded education last, that we funded disability services non-existently, by giving those cheap royalties to multinational companies. What was the third one? The third one was that he allowed the coal companies to do what no other government has done and that is borrow—
  • Hon. JC SPENCE (Sunnybank—ALP) (Leader of the House) (11.03 am): I move—
  • That the minister be granted an extension of time so he can be further heard.
  • Mr SCHWARTEN: Good.
  • Mr SPEAKER: Leader of the House, do you want to place a time on that?
  • Ms SPENCE: No.
  • Question put—That the motion be agreed to.
  • Motion agreed to.
  • Mr Springborg: Give him another shovel. He’s worn out the other one.
  • Mr Seeney: Keep digging, Robbie.
  • Mr SCHWARTEN: I know they do not want to hear how for generations the people of Queensland have been robbed because of their government and its decisions to underfund the basic services in this state. It has taken us 20 years in government to try to turn that around, because they did everything they could to kowtow to multinational companies in this state at the expense of the poor in this state. All the teachers in Queensland, the lowest paid in Australia; police officers, the lowest paid in Australia; nurses, doctors, the public health system—run through the floor, all because they would rather subsidise the multinational coal companies in this state.
  • Let us have a look at the deal on the table at the moment. The prospectus of the QR float says
  • that there is a facility for $3 billion already there to borrow. That is $3 billion that is on the public account otherwise—
  • Ms Bligh: That is for the next two years.
  • Mr SCHWARTEN: In just two years, yet we see every single day people who sit opposite say that we should be borrowing more for infrastructure—roads, bridges and all the rest of it. I agree with all of that, but I do not agree with borrowing on the public account to—
  • Mr Horan: The poor old railways workshops. They’re all gone.
  • Mr SCHWARTEN: I have said this to them, too, and most of them get the message, I tell you.
  • Decent people in the Labor Party certainly do, because decent people in the Labor Party know you for the scum you are. They know you for the rorters that you are.
  • Mr Elmes interjected.
  • Mr SPEAKER: Order!
  • Mr SCHWARTEN: They are scum, Mr Speaker.
  • Mr SPEAKER: Order! The language is unparliamentary. You will withdraw it and when you
  • withdraw it, I want—
  • Mr SCHWARTEN: I will withdraw it.
  • Mr SPEAKER: Member for Noosa, you are interjecting far too much. I warn you under standing order 253(1). 26 Oct 2010 Questions Without Notice 3783
  • Mr SCHWARTEN: The bottom line is this: we have decided as a government that we will invest in the future of education, because what is it that keeps this state going? It is people who get jobs. We privatised the forestry, which they opposed—$603 million that was returning three million bucks. What was the announcement in Rockhampton last week? It was that the new firm was investing in that business, planting thousands more trees. Guess what? They are going to build a new sawmill. Are they putting it on the public account? No, they are not. But there will be more workers there who will be working under award conditions as members of the Australian Workers Union who will have all of their conditions that you people want to take away. The final point—
  • Mr Springborg: What about Simmo?
  • Mr SCHWARTEN: Yes, I am happy to get to Mr Simpson, because people like Mr Simpson were not around during the SEQEB dispute, when 1,200 ETU workers and every member of our family put 10% of their pay—
  • Honourable members interjected.
  • Mr SCHWARTEN: Mr Speaker, I would like to make this point.
  • Mr SPEAKER: Order!
  • Mr SCHWARTEN: I was around—Simpson was not—in 1980—
  • Mr Robertson: 1985.
  • Mr SCHWARTEN: He was not around in 1980, either, in the street-marching stuff. In 1985 he was nowhere to be seen in the SEQEB dispute. I was down here in a number of these rallies and I saw what happened as the police were put on the backs of workers at the instruction of Bjelke-Petersen. I stood in this parliament and voted to restore the conditions of the employees who had been robbed by your side of parliament. In 1975 my father worked for the works department when overnight it was privatised. All of the new school buildings were privatised. They were given out to private enterprise. Guess what happened? He left that job with eight hours pay in his pocket—no relocation expenses, no superannuation. What have the railway workers got? A 14% wage increase that 92% of them supported. The people I know in the railways have got that in their pockets. They have a 14% wage increase, guaranteed superannuation, a guaranteed job and are going into an industry that pays well beyond what every other industry in Rockhampton pays. I go on to building sites and I talk to families. I see blokes who do not know where their next job is coming from. They are members of the ETU, and Peter Simpson has never been near them. You have never once heard him say anything about the plight of ETU workers who are struggling to know where their next job is going to come from. He is too busy worrying about 300 or so workers who are guaranteed a job in Queensland Rail. That is what I object to. That is why I wrote the letter to the editor, because there is nothing Labor whatsoever about sponging on the taxpayers’ account by multinationals. I do not support that. No decent person would. And if anybody on that side had any conscience whatsoever, they would reveal to Queenslanders what exactly they intend to do. Are they going to go down the path of what the other economies are doing and slash jobs? Are they going to do that? Are they going to cut the capital works, like the tories did in 1929? Is that what they are going to do, and have 23 and 24 per cent unemployment in this state?
  • Mr Dickson interjected.
  • Mr SCHWARTEN: You do not like to hear the story. You do not like to hear the truth, but that is the reality of it. You stand condemned—
  • Mr SPEAKER: The honourable the minister will direct his comments through the chair.
  • Mr SCHWARTEN: The honourable member stands condemned not only for his ignorance but for the fact that he is selling out the people on the Sunshine Coast who we are trying to borrow money for to build a hospital.
  • Mr SEENEY: I rise to a point of order. I call your attention to the comment that the minister made that QR was a rort. I move that the minister’s statement be incorporated in the prospectus for the QR float.
  • Mr SPEAKER: It is out of order to have a motion moved in the middle of question time that would interfere with the sessional orders. So there is no point of order.

One clever attack advert about US Government waste

Here's an advert produced by Citizens Against Government Waste. It's set in a fictitious 2030, with English sub-titles, looking at decades of wasteful government spending, increased taxes, and a crippling US debt.

Shakespeare at the Tanks in tropical manga. What the?

And now for something completely different.

Shakespeare with a strange twist, weaves it way to the Tanks at the Botanic Gardens from this Friday.

A Tropical Manga adaptation of Shakespeare’s darkly comic work. This adaption holds the mirror to morality and immorality, power and innocence, truth and deception, honour and dishonour, love and rejection in Measure for Measure.

On the back of two sell out seasons of Shakespeare’s The Tempest and The Merchant of Venice, local theatre group, Tropical Arts says this production reflects the diverse tropical location, communities and lifestyles of the Far North.

The cast and crew are drawn from international seasoned professionals, students, drama teachers, children and enthusiastic community actors with varying levels of experience who all share a passion for the performing arts.
  • From this Friday at 7:30pm, 29th October – 6th November (not 1 & 2 Nov)
    The Tanks Arts Centre, Collins Avenue
    Doors & Bar open: 6.30pm
    Matinee Shows: 11am, Saturday 30th October, Thursday 4th October
    Tickets: $25 - $20 conc., Group discount available

Enviro Fiesta on this Saturday

Enviro Fiesta is back on this weekend.

Supporting the work of the Cairns and Far North Environment Centre From, the fiesta is on from 10am this Saturday, till 7pm, in the parklands behind Cominos House in Greenslopes Street.

The festival features loads of local musical and performance talent, great food, markets and all the best information and views of our regional environment.

Envirofiesta is a major part of CAFNECs yearly fundraising program and helps support their work towards a sustainable future for Queensland's Far North. It's $10 entry, $5 Conc and CAFNEC members, under 15's Free. If you join CAFNEC ($30 or $15 concession) on the day, and you'll get free entry.

Australia still leads the Western world in marriage inequality

An opinion poll shows increased support for gay marriage and for Prime Minister Julia Gillard to allow a conscience vote on the issue.

The Galaxy poll was carried out on behalf of lobby groups Australian Marriage Equality and Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.

It showed that 62% (1,005 surveyed) supported allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry, up from 60% in 2009. 79% said that Gillard should allow a conscience vote.

The Labor party does not support marriage equality and Gillard has said that policy on the issue will "remain the same while I'm prime minister." She says that it is her personal view.

However, Australian Marriage Equality spokesman Alex Greenwich said that both major parties should listen and allow a conscience vote on the issue.

“Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott cannot ignore the majority of Australians who believe same-sex couples should be able to marry and the even greater majority who want a conscience vote on the issue”, Alex Greenwich said.

Federal law prohibits same-sex marriage, however civil partnerships are legal in the ACT while domestic registers are in place in some states. New Zealand passed a Civil Union Bill over five years ago. The world has not fallen in.

Tuesday 26 October 2010

Paul the Octopus turns in his grave

Paul the Octopus, who correctly predicted the outcome of games during this year's World Cup soccer tournament, has died.

  • The eight-tentacled cephalopod oracle died of natural causes, the aquarium where he lived said Tuesday.

    "We are consoled by the knowledge that he enjoyed a good life here ..." said Stefan Porwoll, manager of the Oberhausen Sea Life Center in western Germany. "We had all naturally grown fond of him and he will be sorely missed.

    His prescience attracted a legion of news reporters and photographers. It also inspired a special clothing line and mobile phone applications, the center said. A documentary film on Paul is scheduled to debut soon. And donations made in Paul's name helped pay for a permanent sea turtle rescue center on the Greek island of Zakynthos.

    The sea center has Paul's body in cold storage as it finalizes funeral plans.

    "We may decide to give Paul his own small burial plot within our grounds and erect a modest permanent shrine," Porwoll said. "While this may seem a curious thing to do for a sea creature, Paul achieved such popularity during his short life that it may be deemed the most appropriate course of action."

    He was 2 and a half.

AUDIO: Warren Entsch slams Wilderness Society in Federal parliament

It was music to Colin Riddell's ears.

Federal MP for Leichhardt, Warren Entsch gave one of his first speeches to the Federal Parliament, on a subject dear to his heart: the protection of the endangered Dugong sea cow.

Colin Riddell has been campaigning for over two years for greater protection of the rare coastal sea creature, following several private videos that have come to light showing Dugongs slaughtered live on the North Queensland Coast.

Warren Entch, in a five minute speech last evening, said people had been educated by Wilderness Society propaganda. He said that a national dugong and turtle protection plan had been neglected by Labor for far too long.

Together with Gregory Hunt, Entsch released a joint statement, saying they were leading the charge to launch a national dugong and turtle protection plan.

"I want to deal with three elements in this. The first is the threat. We heard on 7th October in Abu Dhabi at the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals that the dugong is facing extinction globally within the next 40 years," Warren Entsch said. "We know that already, in areas such as Mauritius and Taiwan, in many of the straits of Indonesia and in many other parts of the world, the dugong has suffered from local extinction. It is facing local extinction in many other areas, and the threat and challenge around the world is that this magnificent, iconic species will not be available and will not be part of the world to be inherited by our grandchildren."

Entsch acknowledged James Epong, a local Indigenous leader, and Colin Riddell, as a passionate advocate for turtle and dugong protection.

"They have been great motivators, along with Bob Irwin and the broadcaster Derryn Hinch, all of whom are among the many people committed to these species," Greg Hunt said.
Entsch is now calling for a crackdown on illegal poaching.

"This poaching has been done in the name of Indigenous communities who are furious that their good name has been exploited by those who have no business pillaging their resources. Secondly, there must be an enforcement process," Entsch said. "To that end, the coalition announced $1.6 million during the course of the election campaign for Indigenous rangers and for Customs officials to enforce the law and make sure that there would be no quarter given."

"Thirdly, there would be $1 million allocated to marine debris clearance and marine protection for these animals—so a $2.6 million package. The last thing is to work towards a moratorium with the support of Indigenous communities while we gather the numbers and find what is necessary to protect these majestic creatures. I commend to the parliament, on a bipartisan basis, the push for a national dugong and turtle protection plan."

Warren Entsch's media adviser 'devastated' at company collapse

The Federal MP for Leichhardt's senior media advisor is believed to be devastated following the voluntarily liquidation of her media business, leaving debts of $267,000 to over 70 Cairns' businesses, as I blogged on Friday.

Last evening Trent Evans from 7 News picked up the story. He talked with some of those owed money outside the creditors' meeting yesterday.

However discussions inside the meeting were very icy, when it was revealed there was no money to pay those owed money. 72 creditors are listed on the Liquidator's documents, including many local media organisations and some former employees.

"Warren Entsch's media advisor is in hot water over unpaid debts, owing over $250,000, while Danae Jones continues to collect a taxpayer-funded wage," the 7 News broadcast introduced.

"I haven't been paid for a month," former employee Petra Lovey told 7 News. "It has sent me back already of course. I have not been able to find another job, so it's tough."

7 News' Trent Evans also highlighted the ownership of the property on McLeod Street, that is now for sale.

"The building used by the liquidated business is owned by another of Ms Jones' companies, the S4 Group, it's now on the market for more than $1 million, but she is not legally required to use any profit to repay debts," Trent Evans said.

At the creditors' meeting the liquidators said that when Ms Jones first lodged the application for voluntary liquidation with ASIC, it looked like there was only" around $13,000 of recoverables," yet KPMG as liquidators, were seeking $15,000 in fees. It is understood that Ms Jones gave a personal guarantee for the shortfall.

However at the meeting it was revealed that there is now only "around a couple of hundred recoverable." It also came to light that they only discovered the full extent of the property ownership via "the internet."

"We're not planning to play out this particular case in the media, it is just our company policy, so creditors can get the best outcome," the spokesperson from KPMG told the meeting.

It was rather odd that the Cairns Post, in their brief three-sentence mention, deliberately excluded the prominent role that Danae Jones now enjoys, as senior media advisor to our local Federal MP, Warren Entsch.

Maybe her media chums at the Cairns Post are still on the Latte list?

Virtual Revolution a must see

Over the last 20 years the web has changed the world, and our lives. What has it done to us?

The Virtual Revolution (four-part series screening on SBS TV tonight at 8:30pm), Dr Aleks Krotoski charts how the web is forging a new brand of politics, both in democracies and authoritarian regimes.

Tonight's episode, called Enemy of the State, Al Gore, Stephen Fry and Bill Gates are interviewed as the programme explores how interactive, unmediated sites like Twitter and YouTube have encouraged direct action and politicised young people in amazing numbers. Yet, at the same time, the Web's openness enables hardline states to spy and censor.

The BBC have put together a good overview of the series online. They also have a fun test you can do, and take part in a unique experiment to discover the impact the web is having on your brain, and discover which species of web animal you are.

Tonight's is part two. Part three screens next Tuesday (2nd November), and the final on Tuesday 9th November.

Community information meeting for Mulgrave Aquifer

Cairns Regional Council is holding a community information session tomorrow evening (Wednesday 27th October) for the Mulgrave Aquifer Project.

It will be held at 6:30pm at the Gordonvale RSL, 94 Gordon Street.

A bit of a dick

This is kinda funny, in a weird way.

From the Courier Mail and SMH today....
  • A 21-year-old man has been charged by police in Ipswich for allegedly tattooing a penis on a man's back - instead of the image he had requested.

    The 25-year-old victim had been visiting the man, an amateur tattooist, at his home in Bundamba last Wednesday when he was talked into getting a tattoo. He wanted a yin and yang symbol with some dragons, but was instead shocked to discover the 40cm tattoo was of a penis with an obscene slogan. The key word in the slogan was also misspelled, implying the man is gay.

    It will cost the 25-year-old alleged victim about $2000 to remove the lewd tattoo.

    Police said the pair had a disagreement before the tattooing.

    Ipswich Detective Constable Paul Malcolm said the victim was mortified by what happened to him.

    "The victim wasn't interested (in a tattoo) at first but he was talked into it and he said he wanted a Yin and Yang symbol with some dragons," Det Malcolm told the Queensland Times on Tuesday.

    "The bloke started doing the tattoo and there was another bloke standing there watching saying, `Mate, it's looking really good.'

    "He was told not to go out into the sun and not to show anyone for a few weeks.

    The man now faces considerable cost to have the image removed. Police said the tattooing followed an argument between the men, during which the tattooist allegedly took offence at something the other man said.

    The 21-year-old is due to appear in Ipswich Magistrates Court on November 15 charged with two counts of assault occasioning bodily harm and one charge relating to the Public
    Safety Act.
No photos have shown up as yet. People are going to say he looks like a bit of a dick when his back is turned.

They're just numbers. It's all the way you look at it

Queensland State Treasurer Andrew Fraser is pissed off at the suggestions that the State debt and our economy has been ranked behind those of other states.

He told the ABC that there are many indicators in a Commsec study that is "in the main positive is economic growth."

"While challenges remain, recovery is underway and the study does not rank the States from first to last," Fraser says. "Anyone who has reported that there is a league table cannot find a reference in this report to that being the case. Because Commsec has changed its methodology after I and other treasurers joined in in saying that it was potentially going to award the gold medal to the person in the 100 metre race who might have come last but most improved on their personal best time."

"That's not a report or a measure that has any grounding in common sense," Andrew Fraser says.

Meanwhile, it has been confirmed that Queensland is creating debt at a faster rate than it is selling-off assets. The State Parliament has heard debt will actually be higher after Labor has privatised assets, than it was when Labor first announced its privatisation plans.

Queensland’s debt was an estimated $44 billion when Labor first announced in June 2009, that it would privatise Queensland Rail, motorways, forests and ports, and after the planned sale of Rail, which is estimated to bring in between $6.3b and $7.1b, the State’s debt will actually be more.

The Opposition has asked the Government to adopt LNP’s policy and publish a detailed debt repayment strategy.

“Labor will have racked up more debt after the sale of Queensland Rail than there was when the sale was first announced. Indeed Labor will have racked up more debt after all its planned asset sales than there was when privatisation was first announced,” John-Paul Langbroek said. "Labor’s inability to rein in debt and waste was a key reason why Queensland had been stripped of its once cherished AAA credit rating."

He challenged the State Government to adopt the LNP’s policy to introduce a detailed debt repayment strategy.

“Today’s revelation confirms the economic hoax that Ms Bligh and her Labor Government are peddling by saying that the proceeds from privatisation will pay off debt," Langbroek says.

I mean, at around $70 billion debt, why should he worry about some silly report?

The Love letters from Alan keep coming and coming

SEE all the Love Letters...