Opinion pieces

Legislative Council needs to act on Uni plans

As the public momentum against shifting the University into the city grows, we are witnessing a uniting of the community like no other recent issue. In the meantime, the University authorities are responding by bombarding us with meaningless platitudes. Disturbingly, I'm also receiving communications such as this, "Please forgive the anonymity of my approach, but as an academic at the University, I fear repercussions, if ever it became known I had written to you". This is not an isolated example.

Since having raised my opposition to the move in the Senate (being the first elected representative to express such misgivings) I have been heartened but also admittedly surprised at the strong public sentiment which has been unleashed. In response, the University authorities apparently believe they can appeal to us by talking about Sandy Bay being a 'snobby suburb' and climate change and anything else in between. The University authorities are spending up and spending up big with what is ultimately public (our) money in an attempt to silence the ever-growing number of critics (us). The desperation which is becoming more apparent by the minute sees expensive brochures, full-page advertisements, and spin doctors. They don't convince; if anything, they are counterproductive. It reminds me of the ill-fated Work Choices campaign when the government, recognising deep-seated opposition, thought increasing the public spending on advertising would simply fix the problem. It didn't. It made the situation worse – far worse.

The University authorities seem to be taking the same failed approach pumping out more propaganda at our expense, thereby alienating the public even more.

The difference being the government was answerable to the people, whereas the University is a law unto itself and accountable to no one - necessitating a Legislative Council inquiry.

As one of the few who reads the University's material, I've noticed how all manner of extraneous issues are addressed apart from the two fundamentals – will the move, and if so, how, improve the quality of education/graduates and research?

Instead, we are told Sandy Bay is perceived in a certain light and may be a turnoff to some. Is there anyone who really denied themselves a tertiary education because they did not want to set foot in this allegedly elitist suburb? Who thought that was an argument? Let alone even put it forward? When that predictably and spectacularly failed, the authorities switched mode and we hear of the alleged high crime rate in this now apparently formerly elite suburb.

In case all things environmental push your buttons, the destruction of buildings, bulldozing, and development with all the associated greenhouse gas emissions are studiously avoided and we are regaled with assertions of environmentally friendly infill housing and green bond money emanating from "overseas sources". Their commitment to the environment rather than easy money is worthy of investigation.

And if it's the arts that push your buttons they will have a precinct for you. If it's innovation they will have a hub and if it's sporting, well, they will have a precinct for you as well. All with our money so they can facilitate a completely unnecessary move.

As the University authorities are going into full PR mode at our expense, patronisingly telling us how all the former and current professors, academics, researchers, and students are wrong in opposing this unnecessary and detrimental move, one wonders whether the focus is really on academic excellence.

The prospect of a university's corporate players determining the re-purposing of the idyllic Sandy Bay site is concerning. To allay our fears our views are actively, genuinely, sincerely, and openly welcomed we are told, except, of course, on the fundamental issue of the move itself. No move, no need for all this expensive PR.

Given the University authorities' commitment to transparency and openness, we will soon be told about the cost of the PR campaign, the cost of consultants, and the staff time siphoned off to promote and facilitate this unacceptable move. Accompanying this information will be the list of staff members sacked and courses slashed to pay for it, or has all the funding come from a magic pudding?

The time has come to put a halt to the move. The Legislative Council needs to act.

Bill Shorten must Getup! and explain payments

Honesty and transparency are two attributes rightfully required from leaders of organisations. No questions, no caveats – just expected.

Well, spare a thought for the members of the Australian Workers Union whilst led by Bill Shorten, Labor luminary and would be Labor leader.

Devasting findings by the Registered Organisations Commission (ROC) on the 24th of February 2022 should see Bill Shorten drummed out of public life and Labor and Getup! repay tens of thousands of dollars to the ripped-off AWU members.

The largely unreported findings exposed the truth of what the writer has been saying for over four years – unauthorised, illegal payments of AWU members’ money was being used to bank roll the ugly Getup! movement and Labor campaigns.

If the payments (including $100,000 to Getup!) made from AWU accounts were above aboard, in the interest of members and non-controversial, why weren’t they brought forward for authorisation and public disclosure to members as required by law?

The public independent watchdog set up to protect the interests of members of both trade unions and employer organisations, the ROC, undertook a thorough investigation of the AWU for the period Bill Shorten was its national secretary. Why the investigation?

Because some honest senior officials had misgivings over the funny money payment to Getup! and Labor by certain officials. Bill Shorten, the man who was within a whisker of becoming our Prime Minister, was the national secretary of the AWU during the period in question and a founding director of Getup! to which $100,000 of members’ money was given. No conflict of interest, of course.

And nor was there, of course, a conflict of interest with the non-disclosed payment of $25,000 to the Labor campaign in a seat called Maribyrnong. That Bill Shorten was the Labor candidate for Maribyrnong was one suspects, mere coincidence. These huge payments were made without authority and in breach of the AWU’s own rules. In all, over one-quarter of a million dollars, $263,500 to be exact – was so illegally paid.

As if such outrageous malfeasance was not sufficient injury inflicted on the long-suffering AWU membership, the AWU leadership then engaged their members’ funds to the tune of an eye-watering $1 million in a doomed and failed attempt to halt the investigation through court proceedings. This delayed matters by three years.

The desperation of the AWU leadership to block the sun from shining in on their malfeasance was as breathtakingly audacious as it was an abuse of members’ money and a waste of the Courts’ time.

And through it all, those of us championing the cause of the AWU membership were vilified, slandered and abused. Persistent attacks, it appears, was their only form of defence.

Exposing illegal payments was “union bashing”. Outing Getup! for its rank hypocrisy of demanding transparency while it quietly took $100,000 of tainted money earned all sorts of online abuse. Getup! should repay the $100,000 AWU money immediately.

Any decent organisation would – which is of course is the reason Getup! won’t.

Remember Getup!’s truly ugly campaign of untruths and intimidation in Bass in 2016? It seems a practise run for hounding out star newcomer Nicole Flint who is now leaving parliament because she can no longer stand the abuse of this immoral, vicious left-wing outfit.

Given an election is in the air, await Getup!’s self-serving protestations about honesty, transparency and integrity for everyone but itself.

The questions Mr Shorten must answer are clear:

  •         Who made the payments?
  •         Why were the payments made in breach of the Union’s own rules?
  •         Why were the payments not disclosed to the members?
  •         Why did he, as Labor leader, not want a ROC?

And why did Labor, under parliamentary privilege, attack the ROC including making allegations of misconduct other than to please its union masters. Of the allegations against the ROC Justice Bromberg said, “the AWU has not presented any evidence or even suggested a case concept or narrative that provides a motive for the knowing and deliberate conduct that it ascribes to (the ROC)”!

A damning judicial slap-down. Mere repetition doesn’t obviate the need for evidence to sustain an assertion. Every desperate legal argument by the AWU was rightly thrown out at further great expense to members.

After four years, the ugly truth about union abuse of members’ money has finally been told – even if many questions remain unanswered.  

Beauty can be a beast

Looks can be deceiving.

But what on earth could be deceiving about an English cottage garden – tranquil, colourful, a haven for honey bees with various scents wafting through the air.  It’s a place where you could tarry and wish for the world to stop.  Paradise on earth.

So why wouldn’t we seek to replicate such an oasis of stress relief in our own garden?

Many of us have and replicated such picturesque gardens.

But in that array of blossom nirvana often lurks foxglove – a plant which is a noxious weed infesting road verges, agricultural land and our nature reserves.

Foxglove, that beguilingly tall plant, with its shaft of dozens of beautiful blossoms neatly nestled in our gardens, has turned from garden beauty to a feral pest.

With its huge shafts of floral beauty comes a seed load which makes it an absolute super spreader. 

Its toxic foliage has earned it various monikers such as dead man's bells and witch's gloves, and the plant nearly earned its license to kill when the toxin derived from it was used to poison James Bond in the film Casino Royale. The toxin can be absorbed through the skin, so handling without gloves will leave you shaken and stirred.

What’s more, it is likely to be around for a while with seed laying dormant for up to 80 years.  Foxgloves’ will to live and thrive is almost inspirational.

Correspondence to authorities about this ever-encroaching menace is met with an unfortunate lack of urgency.  Words aplenty and action not so much.

It seems that because it can’t be eradicated focus is elsewhere.

Whilst we are busily transitioning the regulation of declared weeds from the Weed Management Act 1999 to the Biosecurity Act 2019, there are to be no new weed declarations.  A simpleton might ask why can’t the apparently necessary regulatory transition take place whilst also encouraging those who haplessly or unwittingly (like the writer) harboured foxglove in their garden to remove it as a matter of priority on the basis of good environmental stewardship.

Genuine and practical environmentalism always unites our community.

Be it removing litter, recycling or removing undesirable plants from our garden will always attract overwhelming, if not universal, community pro-activity.  So let’s harness that goodwill.

Many Tasmanians (like the writer was) one suspects remain in ignorance of the foxglove’s prolific spread and the need to declare war on it.  Tasmanians would help without question.

Wouldn’t it be good if all the protesters who sit in trees, block roads and chain themselves to machinery did something practical and helped the fight against foxglove?  And how about the keyboard warriors who spread their messages of hyperbolic gloom as prolifically as foxglove spread its seed with the same devastating impact?

Local councils in particular could prioritise keeping their road verges clear of the menace.  Could Tasrail keep their track verges clear and our highway patrols do the same for our arterial roads?

A bit of coordinated community activity goes a long way, irrespective of the project.

Is it too much for the authorities to simply ask our gardening folk to remove foxglove or ask our garden shops to not sell seeds or seedlings?  You don’t need a regulatory framework to invite volunteer community action by a modest education campaign.

Who cares if foxglove fits into a particular regulatory framework when it doesn’t fit into Tasmania’s environmental framework?

Having removed the unwelcomed intruders from his own garden this Christmas break, the writer’s fingers have also been busy on the keyboard asking for action from all levels of bureaucracy, including the CSIRO which may be able to help with a biological control called a pug moth.  Well worth a “look/see” by our scientists.

The war on foxglove needs all the volunteers it can get.  There is a good number already who’ve joined the Tasmanian Foxglove Facebook page.

We can all do our bit to help stall the spread, if not eradicate, the menace of foxglove.  We had a fox taskforce in this State at great expense which found no foxes.  How about a foxglove taskforce that will have no trouble finding millions?

Foxglove, the beauty turned beast, needs our community’s co-operation to halt its spread.

It's time to live with Covid and get on with our lives

Australia and North Korea. There’s no comparison – democracy and dictatorship, freedom and feudalism, and untold wealth and unbelievable want.

The odious comparison by QANTAS boss Alan Joyce does get one pondering though about our pandemic response.

Joyce’s over-the-top North Korea analogy was borne out of his justified frustration that we could fly to London but not to Western Australia. Valid Point.

As pen was being put to paper for this column, a massive rally was taking place in Canberra expressing dissatisfaction with the Covid response. (Something that would never be tolerated in North Korea). Nevertheless, our freedoms need protection.

As the pandemic unfolded, we quietly accepted the many restrictions to “flatten the curve” – to buy us time to ready our hospitals and supplies for the expected onslaught. Thereafter our freedoms were to be restored.

Pulling together, we flattened “the curve” into a pancake. Seemingly overnight, a vaccine was developed which would protect us all. We just needed to take it and our freedoms would be restored after a certain percentage took it. 80% was needed. Then 90%. And now children as well. Soon we became one of the highest vaccinated populations in the world.

It seems there is an ever-receding finish line with calls now for freedoms to be restored only after the third jab. While elsewhere, there is talk about the need for a fourth.

Surgeons and doctors publicly questioning the ‘accepted approach’ are disciplined and denied the opportunity to practise. People in all sorts of jobs are being dismissed. Their freedom to determine what is injected into their body is summarily denied.

The heartbreaking stories of many decent Tasmanians sharing their plight with the writer are confronting. Jobs lost. Houses lost. Rental inspections denied. Futures shattered.

One such person is unvaccinated Launceston university student Jack. The result – he is denied his right to finish his education. His future dreams and plans in tatters.

In a five-page tour de force Jack has asked the vice-chancellor to meet with him to explain. The request so far has not been accepted.

Jack’s well-articulated five-pages makes one think Jack is exactly the type of person we need at our university.

Erudite and capable as our vice-chancellor is, being a fly on the wall at such an encounter would be priceless. Wise money would be on Jack.

It seems some of the vaccinated unnecessarily live in fear of the small numbers who aren’t vaccinated. To shun and deny societal involvement to those with an alternate view is simply wrong. Jack, like so many others, are decent fellow Australians.

TAFE students are similarly being denied a future. Inappropriate vaccine mandates must stop.

This heavy-handed approach is also seen with the maintenance of QR codes. Why check in if a contact is now of four hours duration? Why wasn’t it four hours before? Why check in if it’s not even being monitored?

As enjoyable as church, coffee shops and constituents are, readers will be relieved to know the writer doesn’t tarry for longer than four hours at or with them. So why check in?

The official response – “just in case”. Freedoms are innate rights. Subjecting them to government should never be countenanced “just in case”.

The Djokovic expulsion, whilst highly popular, lent itself to serious questions and a few great one-liners providing blessed relief to a heavy topic.

How could someone who tests negative to Covid be a threat to public health? That said, the law, even if it is an ass, needs to be applied across the board.

Djokovic will now go down in history as the only sportsman to be disqualified for not taking drugs and as the only player to lose an Open by missing just two shots.

Opening the borders needed to happen. Covid restrictions need to be wound back. With the best will in the world we were simply holding back the inevitable, at great cost, inflicting cruel mental health consequences and economic costs our grandchildren will be paying back for their whole life.

The Canberra rally is an expression of growing frustration to which authorities must respond and quickly. To dismiss these decent Australians’ concerns is to foster unnecessary division.

For the record, the writer is vaccinated.

In pursuit of truth

“The first person to speak in court always seems right until his opponent begins to question him.”

We should hold onto this profound wisdom which is the foundation of the right to examine witnesses. It is found in the Good Book at Proverbs 18:17. The capacity to test evidence, probe assertions, and put forward counter propositions is the civilised, objective method by which we seek to find the truth. Perfect it is not, but it is still the fairest and the best route to truth – for the finding of facts, be it scientific or legal or the examination of history.

In a former life as a lawyer, this was often found to be the case.

Horrid allegations or strong emphatic denials made in the office collapsed under examination by prosecutors or opposing counsel.

Many examples spring to mind from criminal, civil, child protection, road accidents, and other areas of personal interactions which required a judicial determination.

That is why personally cross-examining clients in the office was conducted to test the assertions made and avoid wasting the court’s time and to provide a taste of what might be expected.

The right to examine an accuser is fundamental if justice is to prevail. Natural justice demands the right to defend oneself and test the accusations being made.

We need to protect this right for all of us, yet this cornerstone of our highly sophisticated judicial system is regrettably being eroded.

Too often in public discourse we hear the plea that to test the assertion would be to re-traumatise the victim. This is a real issue to which we must be sensitive, but to be fair we need to treat everyone the same. The accuser is not a victim nor the accused a perpetrator until the facts have been determined by an independent judicial body. Until such a determination is made, both accuser and accused must be treated with dignity and fairness.

The notion that we need to ‘believe the victim’ before their assertions are thoroughly tested does everyone a disservice. It suggests pre-judgment, bias, and favouritism.

Real life experience shows that accusers can tell untruths as can the accused – albeit it is more often that the accused is found wanting.

An unfortunate case which springs to mind relates to a woman’s allegations against a man. Without retelling the details, a robust cross-examination exposed the multiple flaws in her accusations and finally led to her acknowledging the falsity of her claims.

The mental anguish, alienation, and sheer hell the accused suffered prior to his name being cleared was indescribable.

The journey for the validated victim is undeniably similar. This is why both the accuser and the accused need to be treated equally with respect and fairness until the matter is resolved.

In recent times we have had commissions of inquiry or public pile-ons ruining peoples’ lives before the facts are actually established. Allowing people to tell unchallenged stories is not necessarily an exercise in truth-telling. It’s an exercise in storytelling – that’s all. Only after verification and testing can we value its validity.

Examples of the disservice of not testing evidence are the cases of Gunner and Cubillo. These two celebrated names were part of the “Bringing Them Home Report” which presented the two stories of indigenous people allegedly taken against parental will – the stolen generations. The cases, when actually tested in court, fell at the first hurdle with a wealth of documentary evidence contradicting what had been asserted.

Cases such as this then provide grist for the mill for those who would want to deny that there was any inappropriate placement of individuals by the authorities.

Testing recollections, seeking evidence which is contrary or provides an alternate perspective allows us to progress to the truth – be it in issues as diverse as interpersonal relations or science.

Those of us truly confident in our position should not be scared of having our view tested. If correct it galvanises our position. If found wanting the testing will hopefully help us modify our position.

Ultimately, genuine, fearless pursuit of truth does not care for an individual’s sensitivity or have regard to a person’s “offence” threshold.

Objective truth remains exactly that, objective truth. No amount of de-platforming, silencing, or oversensitivity can or will change the truth.

We need to cherish truth and the procedures by which we can objectively arrive at the truth.

About Eric

Eric Abetz has been a Liberal Senator for Tasmania since 1994 and has served in a range of Leadership, Ministerial and Shadow Ministerial roles.

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Senator.Abetz@aph.gov.au

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