News Desk


By Australian Newsletter

The nation’s most severe restrictions on the sale of alcohol would be imposed across the entire northwest of Australia, including in the tourist hubs of Broome and Kununurra, under a secret proposal by police, who consider the region in unprecedented crisis.  West Australian Police Commissioner Chris Dawson, who oversaw an investigation into child abuse and domestic violence in remote Aboriginal communities as head of the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, is on a collision course with the McGowan Labor government and the Australian Hotels Association (AHA) over how to protect children from alcohol-related harm in the Kimberley.

After consulting frontline workers and indigenous leaders, Mr Dawson asked the WA Director of Liquor Licensing for a radical crackdown on bottleshops in the region.  The director has been contemplating a police proposal to ban bottleshops in the region from selling anything but light beer.  Full and mid-strength beer, including wine and spirits, would be confined to restaurants, pubs and other licensed premises.  WA Premier Mark McGowan has said he prefers a banned-drinkers register over blanket restrictions, an approach favoured by the AHA.  Such a register has been in place in the Northern Territory since 2017 and is designed to block known problem drinkers at the point of sale.

“This application has been made out of concern for the harm excessive alcohol consumption is doing across the Kimberley,” Commissioner Dawson said.  “These harms impact upon law and order in the community and the health and welfare of community members, and can only be addressed through a whole-of-government and community effort.”  Senior Aboriginal Ian Trust, executive chairman of the Kununurra-based Wunan Foundation, said alcohol abuse was so rife in the east Kimberley that it was beginning to damage the economy.  “If the community is not safe, nobody wants to live there,” he said.  “We have had many business people come to us wanting to sell out.”

Mr Trust said the effect of alcohol abuse was devastating for children in Kununurra.  About 70 local children, most of them indigenous, were periodically in trouble with police for crimes they committed in small groups while roaming at night, he said.  Home was often not safe for these children, Mr Trust said.  One boy recently cried on his cell floor at the Juvenile Detention Centre in Perth when told he was going home to Kununurra; he wanted to stay in jail.  “He was saying nobody loves me,” Mr Trust said.  Mr Trust said he supported a region-wide ban on the sale of full and mid-strength takeaway alcohol.  “We have got to try anything,” he said.

Twelve years ago indigenous women of Fitzroy Crossing enlisted the support of then police commissioner Karl O’Callaghan to ban the sale of full-strength takeaway beer.  Emergency department attendance fell 36% in the first 12 months of the ban.  Two years later, the same ban was rolled out to nearby Halls Creek, once described as “the Gaza Strip of the Kimberley” because of alcohol fuelled violence.  A subsequent study found the world’s highest rate of foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) among children born in and around Fitzroy Crossing before the alcohol restrictions.  The disorder causes lifelong brain damage to a developing foetus when a pregnant woman drinks.

WA Police were prompted to investigate the extent of alcohol-related crime and harm in the Kimberley after WA Coroner Ros Fogliani’s 2019 report into the suicides of 13 indigenous youth in the region between 2012 and 2016.  “Almost all of the young people grew up in homes marred by the effects of high levels of alcohol abuse, and this was also deeply unsettling for them,” she wrote.  “The level of alcohol abuse in the home compromised the ability of the parents to properly care for their children who had to be placed into the care of other family members for extended periods.  “A number of the young persons had abused alcohol or other drugs from a young age.

Some of the children had presented to hospital emergency departments for treatment of alcohol-related trauma during their teenage years.  “In seven of the cases, there was significant alcohol use in the lead-up to the deaths, and at least two of the young persons had very high blood alcohol levels when they died.  “Regrettably, they were able to buy large quantities of takeaway alcohol during the day and night of their deaths.”  Mr O’Callaghan doubted severe takeaway alcohol restrictions would harm tourism in the Kimberley if sensible exemptions were made for travellers.  The Kimberley’s indigenous population at the 2016 census, was 50.1 per cent of residents.

“The argument is about saving lives, not making sure retailers can continue to make big profits” Mr O’Callaghan said.  “The residents don’t want people affected by alcohol lying around in parks, causing problems in public or being violent.”  The AHA objected to a police request for alcohol restrictions across the Pilbara in 2017 and is expected to push back hard against the latest proposal for the Kimberley.  Retailers in the region have signed up for reduced hours of alcohol sale and even snap closures. WA Tourism Minister Paul Papalia plans to introduce a banned-drinkers register in towns south of the Kimberley, which could be expanded elsewhere if successful.

“The state government is proposing a trial of a register across the entire Pilbara,” Mr Papalia said.  ‘This trial will be the first of its kind to be assessed in a completely independent fashion by the University of Western Australia.”  Yawuru leader Peter Yu favours a banned-drinkers register over restrictions that would apply to all.  “People have to realise that alcohol is a major factor in the ill health, death, dysfunction, disorder and costs in this region,” he said.  “Everybody has to play a role whether it be the licensees, publicans, health workers or the families themselves.”

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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By Australian Newsletter

Alarming research by the Royal Melbourne Hospital (RMH) has revealed more than 90% of drug-fuelled attacks against hospital workers are by patients on ice.  The extent of methamphetamine violence in hospitals was collated by taking saliva samples from patients responsible for attacking staff.  After gaining ethical approval to collect saliva without needing consent, RMH emergency department staff tested “code grey” cases, which require security guards to be called.  This included unconscious patients or those who had been chemically or physically restrained.  Drugs were found in 40% of attacks, with 92% of those testing positive for methamphetamine.

A total of 229 samples were taken from August 2016 to March 2017, with results showing 85 patients tested positive results for ice, 16 for heroin, seven for cannabis and six for cocaine.  Eighteen were revealed to have used more than one drug.  To coincide with the research, the RMH emergency department released footage of rampaging patients hitting staff with computer monitors, throwing furniture, punching nurses and even spitting in their faces.  Executive Director at National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre Len Notaras said the study highlighted the increasing amount of occupational violence that has been happening in hospitals across the country.

“I’ve been in emergency medicine for a long time and I’ve gone through the heroin epidemic and now we have got this,” he said.  “Methamphetamine is a completely different drug.  This is violence, whereas heroin causes you to go to sleep.  It was a completely different phenomenon.  He added the research will help emergency workers to start designing different models of care to de-escalate and diffuse violent situations.  “We have a duty of care to patients, we don’t want them to hurt themselves, but by the same token we have to make sure we have got a duty of care to ourselves and to other patients, staff and equipment in the area,” he said.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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By Australian Newsletter

Child sexual abuse material is spreading “exponentially” over social media via networks of paedophiles who groom thousands of children, sometimes within seconds of contact.  Almost a million Twitter accounts were suspended for posting child sexual exploitation material last year, the company said.  Facebook and Instagram said they removed 21 million child nudity and exploitation posts in the nine months between July 2018 and March 2019. And YouTube reported taking down 1.9 million videos due to “child safety” issues between September 2018 and March 2019.

Twitter says it finds 96 per cent of child abuse accounts before users report them, and Facebook boasts a 99.2 per cent rate of catching child-exploitation posts before users report them.  But there are reasonable doubts about these detection rates, according to Dr Michael Salter, associate professor of criminology at University of NSW.  “I’ve just come back from two months in North America discussing these issues with some of the key players who are taking these child-abuse material notifications from the public,” he said.  “And I find that number of 99 per cent detection very difficult to believe.

“We need a clear set of eyes on the scale of this problem, the origin of this problem and the level of oversight and independent scrutiny,” Dr Salter says.  “We have exponentially increasing notifications of child-abuse material in every known agency and authority that takes these reports that are independent of industry.”  Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, reportedly became the leading platform for child grooming in the United Kingdom this year, with more than 5000 local reports emanating from its site there.  The Australian Federal Police (AFP) deal with about 1000 reports of child exploitation material each month.

“The AFP Assessment Centre is now receiving more and more reports of children aged as young as four producing sexually explicit material and uploading this material to social media platforms,” an AFP spokesman said.  A child can be groomed in seconds and some grooming operations use multiple platforms, with multiple identities, the spokesman said.  Offenders often use apps as a gateway, and then direct children to other platforms to elicit photos and facilitate meetings, the AFP said.  Police report offenders targeting parents or carers for access to children through social media with offers of free products or requests for children to model clothing.

Responding to claims its platform is used to facilitate child exploitation, YouTube said it disabled comments from “tens of millions of videos that could be subject to predatory behaviour” in February.  And last month YouTube banned live streaming by minors unless “clearly accompanied by an adult”.  Youtube is reportedly being investigated in the United States for allegedly violating children’s privacy.  More than 400 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute and despite it not being meant for anyone under 13, the platform regularly “terminates” accounts the company believes to be held by someone under 13 as it violates their policy.

University of Melbourne Research Fellow Dr Gemma McKibbin said it was common to hear about grooming on these platforms but that children were also groomed playing online games.  “We don’t give children cars and expect them to drive but we do give them Ipads and phones and expect them to negotiate adult content and potential grooming,”  Dr McKibbin said.  Perpetrators often show pornography to children to desensitise them and then manipulate them to believe they’re in a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship, which means if adults recognise the grooming, children may protect the perpetrator and won’t make statements against them, Dr McKibbon said.

Adult nudity on Facebook and Instagram last year reached its highest level since reporting began in 2017, with about 19 million posts removed in the three months to March 2019.  Messenger and other platforms are hoping to nullify the legal threat posed by illegal content on their services by moving to encrypted communication methods, Dr Salter said.  “Facebook claims that encrypted Messenger is in response to the Cambridge Analytica scandal and is linked to concerns for user privacy,” Dr Salter said.  “With encryption kids will be far less safe because Facebook is unable to tell whether an illegal activity is taking place on the Messenger platform,” he said.

“Once they are notified of abuse material they remove it.” Salter said.  Facebook employs about 15,000 people to review content and enforce “community standards” but a bug in its detection software meant they found less child nudity and exploitation content in the first three months of 2019 (5.4 million posts) than the previous quarter (6.8 million).  The social networks said they report all abuse to relevant authorities and will continue to develop solutions to block and remove exploitative content, as well as prevent grooming online.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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By Australian Newsletter

Australia’s peak Christian lobby group has told Christian Porter the government’s updated discrimination bill requires wholesale changes, as the Attorney-General prepares to re-engage with key faith groups ahead of finalising legislation to protect religious freedoms.  Mr Porter has come under pressure from leading faith, legal, business, education, health and social groups in the past week demanding his revamped religious discrimination legislation be heavily amended, delayed or dumped.  The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), which has more than 170,000 supporters, described the bill as containing “fundamental deficiencies which need to be addressed”.

In a submission lodged with the Attorney-General, ACL said Mr Porter’s draft legislation needed “considerable amendment before it is an effective religious discrimination bill”.  The ACL said it wanted to work with the government and MPs to “facilitate changes to protect Australians from religious discrimination”.  Mr Porter has confirmed he would undertake “another brief round of consultations” before a final bill was put to parliament.  He said there had been “sensible issues raised in some submissions around the effectiveness of drafting”, including in relation to Jewish aged-care and hospitals.

The bill is likely to be introduced in March before entering a parliamentary review process, and substantial amendments would be required to win passage, and bipartisan support, for a religious discrimination act.  “Naturally that bill will be subject to parliamentary committee processes, and the parliamentary committee will make recommendations that will be considered by government as the bill progresses through parliament,” Mr Porter said.  The ACL said the government had “clearly made an effort” in responding to concerns of faith groups, including addressing two of the seven issues raised by the group, but felt the new bill failed to fix “fundamental flaws”.

The Law Council of Australia (LCA) also expressed “significant concerns” about the draft bill, because of its “unorthodox features”, and warned of an adverse impact on businesses.  “These not only raise human rights concerns, but also complicate an already complex area of law,” the LCA submission said.  “By adding multifaceted and novel legal tests to existing legal frameworks, the bill is likely to create an onerous compliance burden for the business and community sectors alike.”  The rising opposition to the new legislation unveiled last year sets up a potential showdown in the Coalition party-room and with Labor unless the concerns of stakeholder groups are addressed.

Acknowledging a change to the statements of belief clause in clarifying the definition of “vilify”, the ACL said adding the words “threaten” and “seriously intimidate” would hand tribunals and courts an opportunity to “knock out an otherwise protected statement of belief”.  It said the three “most important areas of concern” raised by the ACL in its original submission were not addressed.  It said “lawful religious activity” remained undefined, “unjustifiable financial hardship” of an employer should not be a defence for discrimination against an employee who makes a statement of belief outside work and government employers should be included.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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By Australian Newsletter

The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) is disappointed with a South Australian Law Reform Institute (SALRI) report that strongly backs weaker abortion laws.  The Attorney-General released SALRI’s “Abortion: A Review of South Australian Law and Practice” report late last year.  The report recommends abortion up to and including birth, changing the word ‘woman’ to ‘person’ and banishing people praying or expressing concern about abortion 150 metres from health facilities.  “Despite the evidence presented in submissions, the report landed very close to Greens Party policy in almost every respect,” ACL South Australian director Christopher Brohier noted.

“Much of the responsibility for that lies with the Attorney-General’s pro-abortion terms of reference to SALRI. Recommending abortion up to and including birth is lamentable,”  Mr Brohier observed, “SALRI had a real opportunity to recognise rapid advances in medical science and understanding of the personhood, sensory capabilities and viability of an unborn child.  Abortion often arises due to coercion and many women have inadequate information before proceeding, leading to lifelong grief. SALRI paid mere lip service to evidence supporting these concerns, with merely one recommendation on abortion coercion.”

“It is believed the Attorney-General intends to prepare legislation allowing abortion up to and including birth,”  Mr Brohier added, “This is highly concerning. A second opinion after 23 weeks’ gestation is a fig-leaf safeguard.  How could the law justify ending a 9-month-old unborn child’s life, without any effective restriction?  As the State’s chief law officer driving this legislation, the Attorney must provide an answer.”  “ACL calls on the Marshall government to represent all South Australians, not just Greens Party voters, and react cautiously to the report,” Mr Brohier concluded.

Source: Australian Christian Lobby

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