Palaszczuk apologises for Queensland’s convictions for homosexuality

The Queensland government has introduced legislation to throw out past criminal convictions for homosexuality, with the premier delivering an official apology.

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Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk delivered the apology in state parliament on Thursday, saying sorry to the hundreds who were affected by the laws, which were repealed in 1991.

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“You have been maligned and shamed, and for that we express our deep regret for the hurt you have suffered,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

“In criminalising homosexual activity between consenting adults, the legislative assembly of this state dishonoured its citizens and institutionalised prejudice and discrimination.”

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Alan Raabe was convicted for aggravated sexual assault after a consensual homosexual act in 1988, and was in the public gallery to hear the apology.

The 63-year-old said his dreams of being a teacher had been dashed by his conviction but he was happy to finally have his record wiped clean.

“It was like a cloud lifted, somebody cared,” Mr Raabe said.

“Even at my age it still hangs over you, so to have it lifted is just wonderful.”

He singled out the Palaszczuk government for praise, saying he had been “swept under the carpet” by successive governments for 30 years before someone listened.

Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath said she was proud to introduce the bill to the house to expunge the convictions.

“The discriminatory nature of the archaic laws that existed in this state prior to 1991 institutionalised ignorance, and legitimised prejudice against people for merely expressing their sexuality,” she said.

“What this bill is intended to do is … recognise that private, consensual sexual activity should never have been a concern of this legislative assembly, or the criminal law.”

Even though homosexuality is no longer illegal in Queensland, those who had been convicted still had to declare their criminal record to potential employers to work in the public services, education and childcare industries.

The state government announced its intention to expunge the convictions last year, with the Queensland Law Reform Commission tasked with finding the best way to amend legislation.

Under the changes a person convicted of an offence will be able to apply to get the conviction expunged from their criminal record with the Director-General of the Department of Justice to handle each case.

Wayside brands govt drug testing ‘nasty’

A Kings Cross homeless charity supported by the prime minister and his family has branded the federal government’s plan to drug test dole recipients “nasty”.

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Malcolm Turnbull and his wife Lucy have backed The Wayside Chapel – which looks after the down and out of inner Sydney – both financially and personally over many years.

Reverend Graham Long says the drugs test plan announced in the federal budget shows the government’s understanding of social disadvantage “is about the same as what Kim Jong-un understands about diplomacy”.

“The random drug testing on the poor is well-intentioned but nasty,” Rev Long said in a newsletter emailed to supporters on Thursday.

“It’s discouraging that governments know that ‘getting tough on the poor’ is a message that seems to hearten those who point fingers and don’t understand.”

From 2018, 5000 Newstart and Youth Allowance recipients will be placed in two-year testing trials for illicit substances including ice, ecstasy and marijuana.

Anyone who tests positive will have their welfare quarantined and those who fail more than once will be referred for medical assessment and treatment.

Mr Turnbull said this week drug testing would help people get off drugs.

“If somebody has got an addiction to drugs and you love them, what do you want to do? You want them to get off their addiction,” he said.

The prime minister also pointed to a correlation between drug addiction and unemployment, noting random drug testing was common in many industries.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce went further, saying people on the taxpayer funded dole had an obligation to be fit for work.

“You are not going to be ready for work if you are drunk … (or) smashed on drugs,” Mr Joyce said.

Wayside Chapel is a favourite charity for many of Sydney’s well-heeled and influential elite, including NSW Governor David Hurley and his predecessor Dame Marie Bashir.

Its high profile sponsors include major commercial banks like Macquarie Group and legal firm Clayton Utz.

Turmoil continues over Trump firing of FBI director

Bearing effigies of United States president Donald Trump with the tag ‘Putin’s Puppets’, demonstrators have gathered outside the White House in Washington.

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Inside, the President was hosting talks with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, defending his latest firing of a senior official.

Asked directly why he fired Director Comey, Mr Trump answered: “Because he wasn’t doing a good job, very simply. He was not doing a good job.”

His remarks backed up a series of tweets in which he sharply criticised James Comey.

That was despite the FBI director being a man the President not long ago praised effusively for his investigation into rival presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s email controversy.

Now, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders says Donald Trump had been considering sacking Mr Comey from the day he was elected.

“I think it’s been an erosion of confidence. I think that Director Comey has shown over the last several months, and, frankly, the last year, a lot of missteps and mistakes, and, certainly, I think that, as you’ve seen from many of the comments from Democrat members including Senator (Chuck) Schumer, they didn’t think he should be there. They thought he should be gone. Frankly, I think it’s startling that Democrats aren’t celebrating this, since they’ve been calling for it for so long.”

But there are reports James Comey was seeking more funding to expand the FBI’s investigation into links between Russia and the Trump election campaign.

Democrat senator Dianne Feinstein is one of many saying they sense a cover-up.

“At a minimum, the decision to fire Comey raises questions about the appropriateness and timing of firing the person in charge of an investigation that could — I won’t say ‘would,’ but ‘could’ — implicate the administration. To have this happen, and happen now, is beyond surprising.”

Fellow Democrat Patrick Leahy has described the sacking as a scandal.

“The President’s actions are neither Republican nor Democratic. They’re authoritarian. This is an effort to undo the ties that bind our democratic form of government. All of us, both sides of the aisle, must now put country over party.”

But Republican senator Lindsey Graham says “both sides of the aisle” had issues with Mr Comey and replacing him as director provides the chance for a fresh start.

“The burden’s now on the President to pick somebody that, if possible, can unite country. I don’t know if that’s possible now, but he has an obligation to pick somebody who’s qualified, somebody who is respected.”

Meanwhile, the country at the centre of the election-interference allegations is watching on bemused.

Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, has dismissed the significance of the developments as he arrived for further talks with US secretary of state Rex Tillerson.

(Reporter:) “Has the Comey firing cast a shadow over your talks here?”

(Lavrov:) “Was he fired? You’re kidding. You’re kidding.”

(Reporter:) “What about … what about the Russian investigation?”

In a later media conference, Mr Lavrov told reporters it was humiliating for Americans to hear Russia was controlling the country’s political situation.

“How can a great nation, a great country, speculate in such way? I think that politicians are causing great damage to the US political system on the whole by suggesting that somebody is governing America from the outside.”

He says there is not a single fact or piece of compelling evidence to prove Russia meddled in the presidential poll.

 

Blowback from banks over Budget levy

It’s one of the biggest revenue-raising measures in the Budget: a new levy on the country’s five largest banks that will bring in more than $6 billion over four years.

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The federal Treasurer said he expected industry resistance, and the pressure has been mounting.

Andrew Thorburn is the head of the National Australia Bank.

“A tax, Prime Minister, is borne by people: customers and shareholders of any company. Normal folk. Secondly, let’s work together. Let’s look forward. Let’s build a plan that can make a better Australia. I and we want to be part of that. Let’s not make this us versus them and adversarial.”

But Treasurer Scott Morrison is standing firm.

The five banks earned a combined profit of around $30 billion last year, so the government says they should be able to absorb the tax without passing the bill to their customers.

“I want banks to be unquestionably strong, but I also want them to be unquestionably fair and I want them to be unquestionably competitive for consumers as well. The four major banks have taken up a much bigger space in our market over the past 12 years, and particularly since the Global Financial Crisis.”

Crossbench senator Nick Xenophon says the Treasurer has a point.

He says the levy will help smaller banks compete, and any move by the biggest five to shift their costs on to consumers will only drive them away.

“If the banks, the big banks, want to slug their customers – which they shouldn’t – if they take steps like that then I think that will actually drive more people to those smaller banks, those regional banks like Bank of Queensland, the Bendigo Adelaide Bank and those community-owned banks such as People’s Choice, which will give people, I think, more of a choice and more competition in the marketplace, which is a good thing.”

The banks met Treasury officials to discuss the new levy, wanting to know how the government’s estimates were calculated.

But the head of the Bankers’ Association, Anna Bligh, says Treasury failed to answer their detailed questions.

“The government’s attacks on the major banks is now fraught with even more uncertainty after bank representatives left a meeting with treasury officials this morning with more questions than answers.”

Scott Morrison, though, says the levy is here to stay.

And with Labor indicating it will support the measure, it should easily pass into law.

“This levy is in. This tax is staying, on the banks. This is a fair and reasonable tax.”

ADF reviews risk and safety after second defence training death

Soldier Jason Challis was killed on Wednesday afternoon in the Mount Bundey Training Area, near Darwin.

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In a statement, the Defence Department said he was “taking part in a routine training activity”.

It’s believed he was shot during a live fire exercise, where soldiers fire real ammunituion at targets, buildings and empty areas.

Northern Territory Labor politician and former infantry soldier Luke Gosling says it was a tragic incident.

“This young Australian soldier received a gunshot wound to the head. The combat medics and his mates around him tried valiantly and conducted great first aid on him and got him to the Royal Darwin Hospital where the teams were just unable to bring him back.”

The Army has suspended training activities for its three combat brigades across Australia as it reviews risk assessment procedures and safety measures.

The Defence community says it’s an appropriate move but it shouldn’t lead to a permanent ban on live fire exercises.

Live firing exercises have been happening in Australia for decades and occur frequently for soldiers in combat roles.

Some special forces soldiers go through periods of doing them on a daily basis.

The Australia Defence Asssociation’s Neil James says it forms a vital part of training.

“The safety procedures and protocols the Army has are particularly good because they’ve been doing it a particularly long time. The bottom line here is you train as you fight and there’s no point having completely safe training because then you’ll have higher casualties in combat. You always have to strike a balance.”

Mr Gosling says the death warrants a close look at live fire training.

“The investigative teams will get to the bottom of that and make recommendations so we can mitigate those risks more. I do point out though that this training is inherently dangerous. It involves soldiers moving and firing weapons.”

Northern Territory police are investigating the death and will prepare a report for the Coroner.

The Mount Bundey Training Area has been used by Defence since 1992.

Before that, it was grazing land.

It’s now used by the Australian Defence Force, the United States Marine Corps and Singapore’s military for training.

In 2004, a soldier died there from heat stroke but Defence has been facing more recent tragedies.

In 2009, a commando was killed in a live fire exercise in South Australia which led to a $200,000 fine to the Defence Department.

On Thursday last week, a soldier was killed when he was hit by a tree branch while training in Queensland.