Downs Under #7

September 14, 2006

State Government tries to dodge spending inquiries
The Bracks Government recently launched a legal bid to delay the release of information on Victorian projects until after the State election, due to take place on the 25th of November.

The reports in question are assessments of major spending committments like a new freeway (Eastlink) and an enormous redevelopment of one of Melbourne’s main stations. I fail to see how Steve Bracks thinks that this latest legal manouvre can possibly make him look any better. The Freedom of Information Act request from Deputy Liberal Leader Louise Asher was initially turned down.

After a lengthy tribunal process, access was finally granted, which prompted this latest challenge in the Supreme Court to stop the documents geting out.

The official reason Bracks’ Government gave for turning down the initial request was that the records would include discussions that had taken place amongst cabinet members. As the state Ombudsman said in a recent report, there are well-founded concerns that government officials had in the past interfered, obfuscated and otherwise made the FoI process more difficult for people when it came to potentailly embarrassing or difficult issues.

Personally I think this tactic will backfire when it comes to election time. Nobody likes their elected leaders to weasel out of their committments in such a blatant way, and Bracks is already in enough trouble with the electorate over his broken “No Tolls” promise for the new Eastlink freeway. One to watch out for in the next couple of months.

Don’t agree with our values? Stay out.
So comes the latest decree from opposition leader Kim Beazley, who is this week arguing that visitors and migrants should be forced to sign a statement saying they agree to follow Australian values, upon penalty of being denied entry to the country.

This is an apparent attempt to outdo John Howard’s call last week for muslims to integrate more; perhaps Beazley is trying to court some of the PM’s right-wing electorate? Pleasingly, the Labour party leader attempted to quantify “Australian Values” – something that often remains undefined, as I have bemoaned on this site in past columns. All visitors, even tourists, would have to declare their:

Respect for Australia’s institutions, including its democracy, laws, courts, parliaments, armed forces and police, different religions and cultures, for the equal treatment of women, and for hard work.

Hard work particularly tickles me, surely tourists didn’t come on holiday to work! Picture a collective rolling of the eyes, because that’s what many of the people I talked to about this did when discussing this issue. Beazley said the values of “respect for each other, mateship, fairness, freedom and respect for our laws are the front line in the struggle against extremists and terrorists”.

Sadly, he did not elaborate on this. Mind you, in these days of sound-bite politics this is not entirely surprising. I would not be the first person to point out the ridiculousness of the idea that ticking a box on a visa form would somehow prevent terrorism. And what of Australians visiting other countries? Should they be expected to make a similar declaration when on holiday overseas?

This is a patently-absurd proposal. All visitors and immigrants are subject to Australian laws, this should be enough.

Solomons kick out Aussie ambassador, Howard retaliates
Relations between the Solomon Islands and Australia continue to fail this week, following the expulsion of high commissioner Patrick Cole. His crime? Consorting too much with opposition groups. For those not in the know, there were riots in the S.I. earlier in the year, and two allegedly corrupt politicans have been supported by Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare in a commission set up to investigate the riots. The commission is generally regarded to be corrupt.

Sogavare has outright refused to accept Patrick Cole back into the country, and appears unfazed by the threat of harsh visa conditions for Solomon Island diplomats. Foreign Minister Alexander Downer insists that any response from Australia will be commensurate to the actions of the Sogavare government. This will probably mean an end to diplomatic immunity and much tighter visa restrictions.

Given that Australia has spent nearly a billion dollars over three years bringing peace, restoring law and order and otherwise supporting the Solomon Islands, it will be interesting to see how this latest stramash affects humanitarian efforts. At this point in time it seems neither side is willing to alter their position.

And finally…Pregnant Cow Prosthesis
Tasmanian farmer Geoff Heazlewood clearly loves one of his prize heiffers a little too much. No, I’m not implying anything… Theresa, apparently a “top breeder” had her leg amputated earlier this year after fall down an embankment. Her loving farmer is coughing up for a prosthetic limb, in order to realign her spine. When questioned over his extraordinary actions, Heazlewood said,

“I think most farmers, particularly stud breeders, will go to extraordinary lengths for their animals.” Indeed.

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