Australian Politics 2015-09-14 15:54:00

We must save those at most risk

Piers Akerman

OPPOSITION foreign affairs spokesperson Tanya Plibersek could not utter the word “Christian” yesterday when discussing the range of characteristics that might make a victim out of a person stuck in the Middle East conflict.

Instead, she said we shouldn’t choose people according to their religion when selecting the 12,000 extra refugees the Abbott government has generously agreed to ­accept from the UNHCR and resettle here.

She’s been supported by Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohamed, Australia’s grand mufti, who erroneously believes that choosing refugees based on religion or ethnicity was the very kind of sectarian thinking “that got Iraq and Syria into the problems they’re facing now”.

They should consult the Koran and review the phrases favoured by Islamists and extremists if they want to find creepy justifications for the crisis.

Daesh, or IS, the most barbaric force unleashed since the defeat of Nazism and Communism, has singled out Christians and Christian women, particularly, among other minorities for the most inhumane treatment, including rape, slavery and of course, torture, crucifixion and murder.

Should we not be attempting to provide refuge for these persecuted groups, some of whom belong to sects that claim to pre-date Christianity?

Plibersek and some others in the Labor Party are attempting to hide behind the absurd politically correct rationalisation that extending help to those who have suffered the most cruelly would place Australia in breach of some form of anti-discrimination protocol.

In this, and in some other responses to last Friday’s tragic picture of a dead boy, the compassionistas have revealed their true faces.

Even as Immigration Minister Peter Dutton was in Europe seeking the views of the UNHCR on how best to assist in this global disaster, Anglican priest Father Rod Bower was telling a dial-a-mob in Hyde Park that: “This human carnage has not moved the stone cold heart of the Abbott government to take in one extra refugee,” and that some “mantra of national security” was being invoked.

Message to Fr Bower: In future, hold your comments until the adults have given consideration to what action is necessary, and further, if failed states like Syria and ­Afghanistan actually had genuine national security ­regimes there would not be a refugee crisis.

Another to add a shrill voice to the debate was Joumana Harris, the president of the United Muslim Women Association.

“What we witnessed and what we felt over the last few days was enough to move mountains, and yet we stand here almost begging those we entrust to speak in our name to open their hearts while they discuss when is the best time to drop the first bomb,” she told the same crowd, overlooking the evidence of unspeakable crimes committed by Daesh over the past few years.

Harris would have had more credibility if she was noted for her campaigns against female genital mutilation or Daesh, or the Taliban, but she hasn’t made the headlines with her views on those issues.

As the bleeding hearts were calling for an open-door border policy, the ABC aired an interview with a Syrian refugee, Katia Alsommoh, who pleaded for Christians and other religious minorities to be given priority, saying she had seen photos of refugees in Germany and Sweden who had been members of IS and Jabhat al-Nusra.

While being generous, we must also carefully screen those who we accept. Sweden is now the rape capital of Europe, with first- and second-generation refugees being blamed for much of the ­increase.

Sweden has been taking in a larger share of asylum seekers than any other EU state. Its population is about 9.6 million, and asylum was granted to more than 33,000 refugees last year.

In 2014, 6700 rapes were reported to the Swedish police, an 11 per cent increase from the previous year.

In response to a crime wave, Norway last year deported 7259 people and the crime rate dropped 30 per cent. The government’s goal for 2015 is to forcibly return 7800 people.

On Monday, Denmark began advertising in Lebanese newspapers to discourage migrants travelling to the country. One in four people living in Lebanon fled the war in Syria.

Denmark’s advertisement noted that welfare has been cut by 50 per cent, temporary residence permit holders cannot bring their families to Denmark in the first year, permanent residence is granted only after a minimum five years, strict language requirements apply to obtain a permanent residence and those who are refused refugee status will be speedily expelled.

Australia must not compound the problem that already exists in areas of Sydney and Melbourne where groups of Islamic migrants from Lebanon, Afghanistan and Somalia fail to respect our laws and culture. We must welcome those most at risk


Court finds Gillard crony misused union money

A court has found former union boss Craig Thomson paid for escorts and political activities with HSU money.

Disgraced former union boss Craig Thomson is facing financial penalties after the federal court ruled he did pay for escorts and political campaign activities with Health Services Union money.

The Fair Work Commission sued Thomson, seeking penalties and for compensation to be paid to the HSU, for transactions he charged to the union between 2003 and 2007.

On Friday, Justice Christopher Jessup found Thomson did improperly use HSU money during his time as secretary.  Thomson did not defend himself against the workplace relations tribunal’s claim.

In March, he left the court and did not return after Justice Jessup dismissed his application to have the matter thrown out on the grounds he was mentally unfit.

On Friday, Justice Jessup published a ruling in which he found Thomson had used union money for his own benefit.

Starting on April 7, 2005, Thomson used HSU credit cards to pay for a string of escorts in breach of the Workplace Relations Act.

Justice Jessup said he was not persuaded transactions relating to an escourt visit in April 2005 were in keeping with Thomson’s duties as HSU National Secretary.  He found further spending on sex workers in May 2005, June 2005 and September 2006 was also in breach.

A June 2005 job sheet for a Sydney brothel indicates about an hour and a half in the ‘Red Turbo Spa Room’ was paid for by the Health Services Union.

Thomson told union staff to record the spending as ‘meeting expenses’.

In September 2005, Thomson charged $3575.68 for food, flights and travel to the Health Services Union, which Justice Jessup said was also a breach, as it appeared Thomson was spending the time house hunting.

It was around this time Thomson is believed to have relocated the HSU National Office from Melbourne to Sydney.  ‘From the evidence, it is unclear whether anyone other than the respondent himself ever worked from this office,’ Justice Jessup said.


No free trade for Australian sugar

Leaders of the Australian sugar industry made a pitch to reporters recently. They said their country should be allowed to expand sales of sugar to the United States as part of the Trans Pacific Partnership, the free-trade agreement now being negotiated by a dozen Pacific Rim countries.

The case for letting the agreement — known as TPP — open the U.S. market to more Australian sugar makes sense, said Warren Males, chief economist for Canegrowers, the trade group representing about 80 percent of Australia’s sugar producers, “if you take the politics out of it.”

The problem for the Aus­sies and anyone else who tries to buck the United States’ muscular sugar lobby is that politics can never be removed from the equation.

Australia is the latest country to try to use a free-trade agreement to break through the program of fixed prices, loan guarantees and import quotas that protect the U.S. sugar industry, including Minnesota’s nation-leading sugar beet producers.

Virtually everyone else has failed. Even the Mexicans who supposedly won unlimited access to the U.S. sugar market under the North American Free Trade Agreement got hammered by the sugar lobby in an unfair trading case in 2014.

Meanwhile, there is no doubt that expanding Australian access beyond a certain level could be a deal breaker for U.S. sugar producers and their Congressional backers who get to vote on TPP.

The U.S. is projected to produce 8.45 million tons of sugar in 2015-16. Australia is projected to produce 4.8 million tons in the same period.

Rep. Collin Peterson, whose U.S. House district spans most of Minnesota’s sugar beet fields, called the notion of an undersupply in U.S. sugar “nonsense.”

“We could easily produce the amount of sugar needed in the U.S. without any imports,” Peterson maintained.

The Obama administration has “got enough trouble with this [TPP] agreement without getting the sugar people upset,” he said.

Peterson said the U.S. trade representative’s office has told him that U.S. negotiators “might give [the Australians] something, but it won’t be substantial, something the [U.S. sugar] industry could live with.”

Minnesota’s U.S. senators, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, stand squarely in defense of the state’s sugar beet industry.

“Currently, 40 countries are allowed to import sugar to the U.S., including Australia, so they already have access to our market,” Klobuchar said in a statement to the Star Tribune. “The global sugar supply remains at a surplus, and prices are currently low. I have concerns about Australian proposals to increase access because Minnesota is the number one producer of sugar beets in the country and sugar beets employ tens of thousands of people in the Red River Valley. These jobs are important to our state.”

In a statement, Franken said the U.S. sugar program “supports thousands of jobs in our state and provides billions of dollars in economic benefit to the entire region. As our sugar producers continue to address the illegal dumping of sugar from Mexico into domestic markets, I believe that this is the wrong time to be increasing imports from other countries like Australia.”

Even as they push for increased U.S. sugar sales, the Australians know what they are up against. The U.S. sugar program provides America’s growers and refiners billions of dollars more per year in economic benefits than they would receive “if exposed to the world market,” Males contended. But, he added, while sugar makes up less than half of 1 percent of U.S. agriculture, its lobby contributes very heavily to the election campaigns of members of the U.S. Senate and House.

In recent election cycles sugar program supporters have donated to hundreds of U.S. Senate and House candidates, not just in sugar-rich states like Minnesota, but all over the country. The sugar lobby is most generous with members of the Senate and House agriculture committees who play the largest role in setting policy.

University of Minnesota economist Tim Kehoe thinks the U.S. sugar program is outdated and hurts American consumers and food-producing businesses. Like many economists on the left and right, Kehoe thinks the program should be scrapped. There is no question in his mind that letting the Australians sell more sugar in the U.S. will bring prices down. But Kehoe, who helped the Mexicans negotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement 20 years ago, has watched the sugar lobby push opponents around for decades.

They may not have the clout of the seemingly all-powerful National Rifle Association, which defeated gun control legislation in the wake of the slaughter of Connecticut schoolchildren by a heavily armed teenager, but they are tending that way, said Kehoe. Politicians are “not going to pick a fight with the sugar people.”

The Australians are trying not to, either. But it’s hard.

As the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations continue, the Aussies have floated the idea of selling 750,000 more tons of sugar in the U.S. per year.

Males based his analysis on USDA figures that show growth in demand for sugar that he believes Australia can meet without hurting U.S. producers.

In his sugar beet fields near Willmar, Minn., Mark Olson begged to differ.

“My two cents is that Minnesota beet growers are going to be facing a crop where we’re going to have to leave some [beets] in the field because we can’t harvest it all,” said Olson, treasurer of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association.

The hope of free trade advocates such as the National Foreign Trade Council and the Sweetener Users Association, who helped organize last month’s Australian news conference, is that TPP is such a large agreement with so many trade issues that sugar will not be, as Trade Council President Bill Reinsch put it, “decisive.”

Kehoe said the usual rules may not apply.

“It’s the sugar lobby, not just 12 to 15 congressional districts where this is a big deal,” he said. “It’s not an economic question. It’s a political question.”

No one can say for sure if the U.S. sugar lobby will affect TPP the way it has driven bilateral trade agreements in Central and South America in recent years.

By itself, “the sugar issue in this case would not be able to derail a deal of this size,” said congressional expert Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute. But if the yes-or-no vote on TPP gets tight, as it could with union-backed Democrats allying themselves with protectionist Republicans, Ornstein said votes from representatives of sugar-producing states could make a difference.

In any case, Ornstein noted, “the sugar lobby has punched above its weight in this country.”

Peterson offered a hint of his resolve.  The congressman said he traveled to Australia a few years ago after that country had dismantled its sugar program. As his hosts sang the praises of the free market, Peterson said an old farmer motioned him behind a barn out of earshot of others.

“He told me, ‘Never give up your sugar program,’ ” Peterson recalled. “I took that to heart.”


Tassie wines hit headlines at CNN

THE accolades keep pouring in for Tasmania’s wine industry with CNN listing the state in the top 10 up-and-coming wine regions.

It follows other gongs with Tolpuddle’s 2013 pinot noir judged Australia’s top red wine in May and Bay of Fires won best sauvignon blanc at the Decanter World Wine Awards in June.

“It’s another top 10 for ­Tassie. The global accolades are coming in so regularly and consistently, it’s extraordinary,” said Wine Tasmania chief executive Sheralee ­Davies.

She said the world was ­really starting to take notice of Tasmania.

“Australian wines are well known around the world but they are very different to what we do here in Tasmania — ­different styles and different climate.

“When people try our wines they are so surprised and can hardly help but be impressed.”

Ms Davies said tourists ­enjoyed the intimate nature of Tasmania’s cellar door experience and meeting winemakers.

“It’s the hands-on, small-scale aspect they enjoy.”

In naming the state in its list the American news network praised the diversity of the wine varieties produced here.

“Some of Australia’s most vibrant new wines are ­coming out of the ­overlooked island state of Tasmania,” CNN said. “Tasmania’s southern latitude and cool, maritime climate makes for unique wines vastly different from anywhere else in the country.

“In northern Tasmania’s Tamar Valley, you’ll find crisp, dry rieslings and sauvignon blancs, as well as full-bodied chardonnays. In warmer southern Tasmania, across the Derwent, Huon and Coal River valleys, you’ll find rich, bold cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir and shiraz.”

Other entries on the list ­include Sicily, Italy; Michigan, US; and Moravia, in the Czech Republic.