Friday, February 1, 2008

The Price Of Free Speech

Apparently, David Hicks is receiving offers to sell his story, with some saying that he could be paid as much as $1 Million to spill the beans. Let’s see now, almost six years under lock and key, allegedly abused and tortured, and now left a damaged man. That works out at around $170 000 a year. Nice income, but would you really want to go through what he has in order to get it?

In fact, he may never see a cent of it anyway because of Australian laws preventing criminals from cashing in on their crimes. There is some legal advice suggesting that those laws will not apply to Mr. Hicks because his conviction was recorded by the controversial Military Commission, rather than an established court of law. It is a point which will be debated, and which the Australian Government is likely to test, if the situation arises. Attorney General Robert McClelland has indicated that action would be taken against any payment to Mr. Hicks.

Either way, it remains to be seen if David Hicks accepts any of the offers, but I expect in due course some sort of arrangement will be made.

I still believe that Mr. Hicks was a foolish individual who got himself involved in things that he should not have. However, I also still believe that the course taken by the United States Government, supported by our own, was contrary to the principles of justice and democracy that we are supposed to be defending. Whatever David Hicks transgressions, he has certainly paid a heavy price for them. Should he wish to tell his tale, then I believe he should be entitled to. But should he be paid for it?

Most Australians would say no, and they would be right.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

It’s Time To Say Sorry… And Then Move On.

The Federal government has announced the date for the official apology to members of the stolen generation, and that will be Wednesday the 13th of February. It will be the first order of business of the new Parliament when it convenes for the first time since being elected. While opposition leader Brendan Nelson says he questions the need to rush into this, I suspect that once it has been done it will be largely put behind us as we all move on.

The Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin, has emphasized that the apology does not in any way attribute guilt to the current generation of the Australian people. The Prime Minister has repeatedly insisted that while there will be the apology, there will be no compensation fund. Both of these issues are matters which have been seen to be obstacles to an apology in the past.

So, is the Government right? Can such an apology be made without admitting any liability? Perhaps it can, but perhaps that is not really the question. In the absence of a fund, any compensation will be determined through the courts, and ultimately that may be the most appropriate arena for those decisions. Either way this question may continue to divide Australians for some time to come.

The important point however is this. The decision to say sorry has been made. The apology will be given. After that the debate is over and we can all move on. Hopefully, that means moving forward, and beginning to address more practical issues like health and social cohesion.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

It’s Not The Dog’s Fault.

Noah Newbold is two years old. He can’t be blamed for pulling the ears of the family dog. Cassey, the dog, is a mastiff-staffordshire cross, and can’t be blamed for behaving as any normal dog would. When Noah kept pulling the dog’s ears, Cassey turned on him and bit him on the face. Noah is very lucky to still have the sight in his left eye.

Noah’s mother, Alicia, claims that until now the two of them were great playmates and there has never been any sign of trouble between them. But the fact is that young Noah at two years old is too young to be left safely with such a big strong powerful dog. At two years old, he simply cannot understand the danger of teasing any dog, and the consequences if pushing a dog too far. When the dog weighs 50 kilos and is a potentially aggressive bread, this is a recipe for disaster.

Of course, kids and dogs can be great together, but at this early age constant supervision is essential, and even then most people would think twice about letting their child play with a mastiff. At the very least, most people would immediately stop their child from pulling the dog’s ears.

Once again, people have been caught out by forgetting that dogs are animals, and have behaviours that are not the same as cuddly cartoon characters. It’s not the boy’s fault, it’s not the dog’s fault, but Mum should know better.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Pumped Up Petrol Prices Must End

Following on from last year’s inquiry into petrol prices, the A.C.C.C. has once again chastised the oil companies. In the days leading up to the Australia Day long weekend, and also just before Christmas, the pump price of petrol swung upwards, out of step with the Singapore benchmark oil price. The chairman of the Commission, Graeme Samuel, has slammed the oil companies for not only failing to pass on savings from a fall in the international oil price, but also for presenting excuses that he says are disingenuous.

According to two of the oil companies, breakdowns and maintenance problems at their refineries caused the price spikes. Now this is so see through that it’s a joke. Such a situation might cause supply problems for an individual company, but all their competitors would still have ample supply and no reason to pump up the price. Everybody knows that the price goes up before public holidays purely to take advantage of the higher demand.

Mr. Samuel is planning to meet the CEOs of the big oil companies one by one and impress upon them the potential difficulties that they are inviting. More importantly, Mr. Samuel has hinted strongly at moves to change the landscape on the competitive playing field. He has indicated that steps have already been taken towards introducing new and independent competition at the wholesale level.

Where the threats of public condemnation and government supervision haven’t been able to do the trick, it is to be hoped that genuine competition will.