May, 2019

Thumbs up for indigenous declaration

Canberra has officially endorsed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, reversing a Howard Government vote on it.


The previous government blocked the declaration in 2007, on the grounds it would elevate customary law above Australian law.

But on Friday, Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin said endorsing the declaration was an important symbolic step for building trust and improving relations in Australia.

“Today, Australia changes its position,” Ms Macklin said.

“We do this in the spirit of rethinking the relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians and building trust.”

Key election promise

Signing the UN declaration was one of Labor\’s election promises in the run-up to the November 2007 vote.

The declaration sets out the rights of the world\’s estimated 370 million indigenous people.

Unlike a ratified treaty, it is non-binding, but is designed to be used as a set of guiding principles.

Legal expert Megan Davis said suggestions the charter would favour Aboriginal rules above domestic law were misguided.

“The declaration is non-binding and has no legal effect in Australia; there\’s no way it could elevate Aboriginal customary law above domestic Australian law,” she said.

Non-binding agreement

Ms Davis, director of the Indigenous Law Centre at the University of New South Wales, said it would be used by Aboriginal people in negotiations with local and state governments, as well as in the courts.

“Politically and legally it will be used a lot.”

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner Tom Calma said Labor\’s endorsement of the declaration must be backed by a renewed commitment to improve Aboriginal health.

“Formal support for the UN declaration specifically protects the right of indigenous peoples to participate in decision making in matters that affect their rights,” Mr Calma said.

“The next step is to develop a comprehensive, long-term and properly resourced national action plan to achieve indigenous health equality and to do it in genuine partnership with indigenous peoples.”

College tries porn to distract drinkers

An attempt to distract university students in Maryland from late-night drinking with a feature-length porn movie has been blocked after state senators threatened to cut funds for the college.


The two-and-a-half-hour “Pirates II: Stagnetti\’s Revenge” – the most expensive pornographic film ever made, at a cost of $US10 million ($A14 million) – would have been shown at a University of Maryland student union theatre on Saturday.

Organisers at the College Park campus, 16km north of Washington, had championed educational aspects of the screening, with health group Planned Parenthood planning to hold a presentation on safe sex practices beforehand.

The event was also previously seen by university officials as an “alternative to late-night drinking and other dangerous activities,” the Baltimore Sun reported before the cancellation.

Republican state senator Andy Harris, however, proposed an amendment to the state budget to deny millions of dollars in funding for any educational institutions that screen a porn movie.

Harris said he had been “shocked and dismayed” to hear the college was going to screen the movie, and denounced what he described as the “dangers of pornography.”

He said he was “extremely concerned that the policy of our public colleges and universities would allow \’hard core\’ pornography” to be shown.

“I am pleased to know that the university did the right thing and cancelled this movie. However, I remain concerned that they do not have a policy prohibiting this,” the senator said in a statement after the university reversed its decision.

Harris added he was “working to seek assurances that this will not happen again.”

The Sun said that during a lengthy debate Thursday morning at the state legislature in Annapolis, Maryland, senate president Thomas Miller indicated he would back Harris\’ threat to cut millions of dollars in funding.

Linda Clement, the university\’s vice president of student affairs, denied the cancellation was linked to threats made by state lawmakers.

“No, we cancelled the (showing) because the educational context of the movie has been lost in the titillation that\’s been associated with the movie itself,” according to Clement\’s spokesman Millree Williams.

“That\’s hard to believe,” responded Adam Kissel, director of the Individual Rights Defence Program at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The university\’s claim, he said, was extremely unlikely because beforehand “university administrators had known about it, had expected it to go on and they had no problem with it.”

Kissel said his education rights group was “very concerned” about the likely constitutional violation, namely the First Amendment that protects free speech.

“Strictly based on the plot and the trailer, the movie has plenty of action beyond the sexual action – it has a plot, it has intrigue, just like any movie.

“So it\’s almost 100 per cent certain that the university is violating the free speech rights of the students,” said Kissel, noting that a First Amendment case was strengthened because of the educational component of Planned Parenthood\’s presentation.

Digital Playground, the adult film company behind “Pirates II,” said on its website it had already shown the film to thousands of students on several college campuses this year, including the University of California, Los Angeles; Northwestern University in Chicago; and Southern Connecticut State University.

On-campus showings of X-rated movies such as “Behind the Green Door” and “Deep Throat” stirred sensation and controversy in the 1970s and 1980s, but porn has become commonplace on campuses over the past decade with virtually unlimited access to X-rated material via the internet.

Go on holidays … for the economy

An advertising campaign launched by Tourism Australia aims to encourage workers to tap into an estimated $33 billion of accumulated holiday leave.


The scheme is supported by employer groups and aims to boost workplace productivity in stressful economic times and stimulate the domestic tourism industry, says Tourism Australia managing director Geoff Buckley.

“If we can unlock some of this leave and get people to use it to holiday in Australia, it would be of great benefit to our $65 billion domestic tourism industry,” Mr Buckley said.

One in four full-time employees has accrued 25 days or more of annual leave, he said.

“Stockpiling leave and not taking a break contributes to many workplace concerns such as lack of productivity, staff retention, employee commitment and morale,” Mr Buckley said.

Workers who dodge taking leave and stockpile holidays cost the economy $14.81 billion a year, research by Medibank Private found.

The 2008 study found that people who turned up to work stressed, or took sick leave because of stress, cost employers $10.11 billion annually.

It found that 3.2 days for each worker were lost every year because of workplace stress.

Workplace stress reduced business productivity and led to lower rates of economic growth, as well as reduced consumption, investment, trade and production.

Workplace stress can also affect employee health and has been linked to mental and physical health conditions including nervousness, tension, anxiety, depression and heart conditions.

Director of psychology services at Health Services Australia Dr Peter Cotton said the research was a good indicator of the changing nature of the workplace.

“Certainly, evidence is accumulating that when people are stressed … they aren\’t engaged, aren\’t motivated, and hence their productivity is much lower.

“People who perform well tend to have a balance in their work and family life,” Dr Cotton said.

“They\’ll often work for periods of extended hours on various projects, but they\’ll balance that out by taking a solid long weekend.”

“Where you don\’t have that balance, that can still impact in terms of reductions in productivity.”

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) said the leave initiative would help reduce stockpiled annual leave and stimulate Australian tourism.

ACCI chief executive Peter Anderson said the scheme benefited employers by developing a healthier, more motivated and productive workforce and reduced current and future financial liabilities.

“Tourism is a major driver of the Australian economy, employs 480,000 people Australia-wide and is the life blood of many Australian communities,” Mr Anderson said.

“(Accumulated leave) is bad news for the health of both business and employees.

“It\’s a simple lose/lose situation that can no longer be ignored.”

Tax havens fume over G20 list

Luxembourg, Switzerland and Liechtenstein on Friday blasted a G20 offensive against tax havens, regretting their inclusion on an international “grey” list of offshore financial centres.


“I think that the treatment given to some countries is a bit incomprehensible,” Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker told journalists as he arrived to chair a meeting of eurozone finance ministers in Prague.

After G20 leaders agreed to crack down on tax havens on Thursday in London, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development published a list of countries that still needed to implement internationally agreed tax standards.

While Luxembourg, Switzerland and Liechtenstein figured on that list, they escaped being put on a list of countries that had not even agreed to international tax standards.

In reaction to the list, the Swiss finance minister issued a statement saying that “President Hans-Rudolf Merz regrets this procedure.”

“The list does not specify the criteria on the basis of which it was drawn up. Switzerland is not a tax haven,” it added, remarking that it was “particularly strange” that Bern was not consulted on drawing up the list even though it is an OECD member.

Liechtenstein said that it hoped to be struck from the list.

Luxembourg along with Austria and Belgium are the only three EU members that have bank secrecy laws on their books, which they have agreed to ease after coming under fierce pressure from other European countries ahead of the G20 summit.

Juncker renewed criticism of the way the lists were drawn up, remarking that several US states with tax-friendly laws were not put on either list while Luxembourg was.

He had said on Tuesday that if Luxembourg were put on any international list of offshore financial centres then Delaware, Nevada and Wyoming should also be named and shamed as tax havens.

As part of efforts to infuse the global financial system with more transparency, G20 nations agreed at the London summit to bring an end to tax havens that fail to provide information when requested.

Austrian Finance Minister Josef Proell downplayed Austria\’s inclusion on the “grey” list and said it did not affect the country\’s banking secrecy laws.

“The talks are over for us because the proof is there on the grey list that we have taken steps in the right direction,” he told journalists as he arrived for the meeting with eurozone counterparts.

“From Austria\’s point of view, national banking law will not disturb banking secrecy,” he said, adding that changes would entail improving the exchange of tax information with other countries when there is suspicion of wrong-doing.

German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck, who has led international efforts to crack down on tax havens, welcomed the new pressure on offshore financial centres.

“We cannot allow German taxpayers to be invited to put capital in these tax havens with the clear intention to hoodwink us, you and me,” he said.