The Guardian 30 November, 2005

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Letters to the Editor

So many campaigns,
so little to show for them

Violence against women and children is something that is regularly swept under the carpet. From time to time the govern≠ments would run a campaign to highlight this problem. This done, it seems that there is never a follow up with funds, refuges and assistance.

I used to work in the city years ago. At that time there were at least three centres I knew of which helped women and girls in crisis. They are long gone now, replaced by high rise developments.

A woman I used to know at the time was going through a family crisis and was provided with accommodation at a refuge. She stayed there safely with her child while receiving help with organising her accommodation. She did not particularly like the place but it was safe for her and her child.

She later had an opportunity to move into a public housing unit and finished her interrupted education. She finally got a decent job, her child did well at school ó but she readily admits now that she probably would not have managed to put her life together after the trauma of a violent relationship without the help she was getting at the time.

Many women are desperate to find a safe place to sort out their difficulties but canít. There is a critical shortage of safe accommodation for women and their children. Many have no option but go back to an abusive environment. Itís either that or being left in the street.

I appreciate public awareness campaigns against domestic violence ó but isnít it time to do something about it at long last? Things are not getting better, they are getting worse.

Olga S
Surry Hills, NSW

Guilty without a crime

I went to a meeting recently where 200 people turned up to hear a solicitor explain the finer points of the Anti-Terrorist Act No 2, 2005.

The bill outlaws among other things: urging another person to overthrow the government, the constitution, the monarch or lawful authority by force or violence.

The legal term of recklessness applies too. So reckless force is a very open term, open to interpretation.

He said the drafting of the sedition laws is very sloppy, as some very key words used in the bill are not defined at all, especially the words "force", "reckless force" and "urging" which are used repeatedly.

With this new law I understand that if you speak to someone passionately about overthrowing the government and they interpret what you are saying as urging them to commit violent acts or use "force" to overthrow the government, you could be guilty of sedition, which has a maximum penalty of seven years. Even if you didnít think you were urging violence or force and you didnít do anything yourself.

But hereís the rub: if "force" is not defined, then is a strike forceful? Is blockading a road peacefully or a logging road using force? If you ignore a policemanís lawful direction to stop protesting/ marching/blockading you could be guilty of overthrowing lawful authority. †† The other new thing here is that until now you were innocent until proven guilty and usually you could only be found guilty of having committed a crime that involves taking an action. But now you could be found guilty of looking like you might be preparing to commit a crime. For 200 years in Australia and hundreds of years before in UK Law, you had to actually commit a crime before you could be put in jail, and judge and jury would make that decision.

Now it can be illegal to plan to do something, or to urge someone else to do something. This bill would give the power of the courts to ASIO and the Federal Police to put you in jail for up to 24 hours and if they want an extension they need a judge for another 24-hour extension. But presumably not a jury, and perhaps they could hand pick some like-minded judges for this job? The law already allows ASIO to detain people for interrogation.

I imagine the police may feel that in a case of real ó as opposed to imagined or manufactured ó terrorism, they would like to prevent those who might throw fuel on the fire ó but then would media figures like John Elliot, Alan Jones and/or Howard be charged as saying things which "lead to conflict between groups"?

Jenni Cargill
Mullumbimby, NSW

Unfairness revealed

In the Saturday Australian, the truth is revealed about the lack of fairness in the Howard Governmentís IR and tax system. See Inquirer page 20, George Megalgenis, and also page 6, "Bracket creep forces battlers to carry the tax can".

It is time the tax system reflected fairness and the Government stopped using statistics that everyone knows are not correct. The Matilda Report does not even consider the time study of what people actually do with their time.

If it wasnít for the huge army of volunteers the economic situation would be a basket case in this country. Many of these are single parents who are victims of marriage breakdowns, left with their children to bring up. Forcing these people into work helps no one and not the communities that rely on volunteers in schools, sports and as carers.

These people will work when the time is right for them; in the meantime they may need to retrain until their children are old enough (ie not needed to be taken and picked up after school daily).

The Matilda Report claims every unemployed single parent is sitting around doing nothing instead of in the paid workforce. This is not true, many work hard, unpaid, keeping their local community functioning. The Government assumption is unfair and based on incorrect facts.

A tax-free threshold of $7,036 does nothing to help poor pensioners and disabled people, especially those in country areas where the cost of fuel has more than taken up this meagre rise. How mean can a government be?

To be realistic and fair the tax-free threshold should be at least $13,000. Then there would be an incentive to work more hours in the paid workforce. At the moment these people are taxed as much as the top bracket end, this is unfair.

Another problem those living with poverty have is that there has been little incentive to retrain. Many of these people are forced to take casual, poor paid jobs that cannot be filled. No one can buy a home or bring up family in a casual job. This is why we have so many disaffected young men in communities today.

Employers want to import labour rather than pay a living wage and the government condones this! Look at Europe and see what problems are further down the track from imported labour. There must be a better way and that is to train unemployed people and fast track them into the necessary skilled jobs.

I donít see many employers willing to do this. It is no good forcing people away from their local community where they have friends and relatives and moving them to live in isolation. This causes more relationship breakdowns in mental health and child poverty, even violence in the community.

"He is certainly not a good citizen who does not wish to promote by every means in his power, the welfare of the whole society of his fellow citizens", Adam Smith, Moral Sentiment.

The consequences for the Australian way of life will forced backwards. The decline is already evident on a world scale.

Show me who apart from employers will benefit by these new IR laws?

Enough political rhetoric and more democratic tax changes is whatís needed today.

Mary Jenkins
Secretary, Organisation of Underemployed People WA Inc

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