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The human tide too big to be turned

Few Australians would be aware that the so-called Pacific solution for dealing with unauthorised boat arrivals might have had a model in one element of the United States border program. Quietly, the Americans have been intercepting Haitians and Cubans on the high seas for more than a decade, either bundling them directly home or taking them to the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay for processing.
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The Melbourne legal academic Azadeh Dastyari (sister of the NSW Labor secretary, Sam) has researched the US scheme in depth and believes it may even have inspired the Howard government's offshore processing scheme. She says it reached its height under George Bush senior, when more than 50,000 Haitians were stopped on the high seas and sent back in the early 90s.

''The reason most people don't know about it is because its happening to very small numbers now, only 40 or so a year,'' Dastyari says.

She believes the scheme had only a marginal deterrent effect and that the drop in arrivals usually reflected periods of more stability in Haiti. ''Its push factors rather than pull. Every time there was an incident [in Haiti] the numbers would soar again.''

Britain under Tony Blair also flirted with the idea of ''transit processing centres'' external to European Union borders, teaming up with the Danes to float the idea in 2002-2003. It eventually sank under a fierce barrage of European Union criticism.

Around the world, none of the industrialised countries has found a foolproof way to keep desperate people seeking refuge confined within official channels.

In Europe, they drown in the Mediterranean and they drown in rivers.

A recent Greek Council for Refugees report, looking at illegal border-crossers entering from Turkey over the Evros River, made the chilling finding that ''there are high numbers of children found dead either from drowning in the Evros River or from hypothermia. Most of their bodies remain unclaimed''.

Greece is now building a fence across the land section of its border with Turkey and this year has launched a series of crackdowns on migrants and asylum seekers.

Italy tried towing boats back to Africa but was shot down by the European Court of Human Rights, and the courts also stepped in to stop Belgium returning refugees to Greece because Greece was no longer deemed safe for those claiming asylum.

Europe-wide, a pact known as the Dublin Agreement, in which rejected asylum seekers can be sent by one country back to the place where they gained entry to the EU, is under strain.

Arab Spring turmoil has sent tens of thousands into Europe, many entering through Greece and Italy.

Italy's Immigration Minister, Sonia Viale, complained last year Italy was being left to cope alone with the tide of human misery.

Europe is struggling to come up with a common asylum system it had pledged to bring in this year.

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Australians lead in fitting solar panels on homes

Shining homes ... about 392,500 new household solar systems were switched on last year.AUSTRALIANS put more household solar panel systems on their roofs than anyone else in the world last year, new data from the Clean Energy Regulator and the International Energy Agency show.
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The statistic astonished many in the solar industry, given Australia's small population compared with renewable energy market leaders such as European Union countries, China, Japan and the United States. About 392,500 new household solar systems were switched on last year.

Australia still generates far less solar electricity than those countries, but the nation's preference for small, individual panels mounted on detached, owner-occupied suburban homes means a greater number of systems were actually installed.

''It took me by surprise that we were first, because Germany and Italy are so big,'' said Ric Brazzale, the president of the REC Agents Association, a body representing traders and creators of renewable energy certificates.

''Australian support for solar has had a lot of support at the residential level, and all political parties in the country have supported residential solar. Elsewhere in the world, most policy is geared towards much larger-scale commercial projects.''

Altogether, 785 megawatts of solar power was installed in Australia last year, virtually all in the form of small-scale panel systems on homes and businesses.

This meant Australia just scraped in ahead of Japan and Germany, which deployed about 759 megawatts of small-scale solar power - although that represents only about 10 per cent of total German solar production. Similarly, in other big solar nations such as the US and China, government incentives emphasise big solar power plants, and only a small proportion of renewable energy comes from household rooftop panels.

The end of generous state feed-in tariffs, such as the NSW Solar Bonus Scheme, had created a late rush to get panels on roofs, said Nigel Morris, the director of market analyst Solar Business Services. Mr Morris analysed the data, which was then scrutinised by others in the industry and found to be accurate, after cross-referencing with International Energy Agency figures for last year.

''In terms of total megawatts, Japan and Germany still beat us,'' he said. ''In Australia you have a combination of factors, but especially the renewable energy certificate system that's optimised for [rooftop solar] systems of 1.5 kilowatts. Our market is designed to favour small systems.''

Based on an average household size of 2.5 people, nearly 4 million Australians now live in a house or work in a business with solar panels on its roof.

The amount of electricity generated by rooftop panels has increased almost tenfold between 2009 and 2011, and continues to grow despite rebates and tariffs being wound back.

Altogether, renewable energy made up about 7 per cent of Australia's total electricity generation last year. Much of that came from hydroelectricity in the Snowy Mountains Scheme, the federal government's most recent Energy in Australia report shows.

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Slipper withdraws allegation over release of diary extracts

THE Speaker of the House of Representatives, Peter Slipper, has formally withdrawn the allegation that James Ashby ''unlawfully'' sent extracts of his diary to a political rival and a journalist.
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In the Federal Court yesterday, Ian Neil, SC, for Mr Slipper, said the decision was made in response to Mr Ashby's claim that he was justified in leaking the extracts under the implied freedom of political communication in the constitution.

Mr Ashby's barrister, Michael Lee, SC, said Mr Ashby had a duty to expose any wrongdoing. Mr Neil said in withdrawing the allegation, the ''time, trouble and expense'' of exploring the merits of the constitutional argument would be spared.

In granting leave, Justice Steven Rares criticised Mr Slipper's lawyers for changing their case after the evidence had closed.

Justice Rares said Mr Ashby had foreshadowed using the defence, known as an iniquity, yet Mr Slipper continued to pursue the allegation. He ordered the Speaker to pay Mr Ashby's costs related to yesterday's hearing.

''It's not rocket science that an employee accused of leaking material would say it's an iniquity,'' Justice Rares said. ''Now that you have closed your case, you seek to pull back from it. Why shouldn't I make an order for costs?''

In a statement, a spokesman for Mr Ashby said: ''After repeating numerous times his allegation of unlawful conduct by us in releasing extracts of Mr Slipper's diary relevant to his alleged misuse of taxpayers' funds, Mr Slipper has now finally unconditionally withdrawn that allegation in these proceedings.''

Justice Rares also ordered Mr Ashby's team to hand over notes taken by a clinical psychologist, Louise Morrow, during consultations with Mr Ashby in April and June by close of business today.

The Commonwealth also won the right to inspect communication sent by Mr Ashby's lawyers, Harmers, to clinical Associate Professor Jonathan Phillips on June 27.

Justice Rares expressed frustration with the way the case had progressed. ''This case has taken up an inordinate amount of court time. I haven't even got to hearing the case,'' he said.

Mr Ashby, Mr Slipper's former media adviser, is suing the government and Mr Slipper under the Fair Work Act and for breach of contract.

Mr Ashby accuses Mr Slipper of ''unwelcome sexual advances, unwelcome sexual comments and unwelcome suggestions of a sexual nature''. He claims loss and damage for the ''offence, humiliation, distress, anxiety and stress … and dislocation to life''.

The Commonwealth is being sued as it could be held responsible for the Speaker's conduct because Mr Ashby was employed by Mr Slipper on its behalf.

Mr Slipper, a former Liberal MP turned independent, has stepped aside as Speaker to defend himself against Mr Ashby's claims.

The Commonwealth and Mr Slipper's application to have the case thrown out as an abuse of process will be heard in October.

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Secret tapes reveal church reluctance to report abuser

A SECRET police bugging operation caught a senior Catholic figure on tape saying it was not up to him to report a paedophile priest and encouraging a victim not to go to the authorities for fear of bad publicity.
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Abuse victim Peter Murphy has told the Herald that police wired him up to record a meeting between the church leader and victims as part of a 1994 investigation into the paedophile priest Father Peter Chalk in Melbourne.

Murphy, who was abused by Chalk, said he met the head of Chalk's order, Father Brian Gallagher, and the victims to discuss what the church was doing about the allegations.

The existence of the tapes, which have remained a secret since the 1990s, comes as the Church faces allegations in NSW and Victoria of failing to assist in bringing paedophile priests to justice and as a Victorian parliamentary inquiry into abuse of children by religious orders and other organisations gets under way.

Chalk was accused of abuse while working as a priest in Melbourne for the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, an international Catholic order that operates schools and parishes in Australia.

Mr Murphy said during the meeting the missionaries' then head, Father Gallagher, told victims that Chalk had admitted to abusing up to eight Victorian children during the 1970s and early 1980s in the outer-east Melbourne suburb of Park Orchards.

Despite Chalk's admissions - which Mr Murphy reported to senior leaders in 1987 - neither Father Gallagher nor anyone else reported the priest to police.

Mr Murphy, who has a clear recollection of the meeting independent of the recording, said he and two of Chalk's other victims asked Father Gallagher to report Chalk to police in 1994.

But he said he and the other victims recalled Father Gallagher telling them to ''try and work out some other way of resolving it without having to go to courts and all the publicity and exposure''.

''I remember the day … I asked him [Father Gallagher] if Chalk had admitted doing what he did. Gallagher said he had,'' said Mr Murphy, who was 12 when he was abused in his home by Chalk.

In a written response to the allegations, Father Gallagher said he did all he could to support Mr Murphy and other Chalk victims.

Asked last week about the recollections of Mr Murphy and other victims of him expressing a wish for police not to be involved, Father Gallagher admitted ''I would say that sentence quite differently now''.

Police did not pursue Chalk, who moved to Japan in 1981. However, his details were given to Australian immigration officers so he could be detained if he returned to Australia. He left the order in 1995, changed his name and became a teacher. He died in 2010 after being confronted by media about the allegations.

In the late 1990s Cardinal George Pell, then the archbishop of Melbourne, apologised to three of Chalk's victims who also received compensation after their complaints were upheld by the Church.

Father Gallagher said he first learnt of Chalk's abuse of children in 1993. He told the Herald he offered every support, including financial assistance for counselling, to victims, including Mr Murphy.

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Male, presumed dangerous

Battling stereotypes … preschool worker Craig d'Arcy has set up the Males in Early Childhood Network Group.As a young man eager to get into a boom industry with a robust future, Craig d'Arcy spent several years as the only male studying childcare alongside more than 100 women at TAFE and university in Newcastle.
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Early in his career, his childcare centre boss told him parents had highlighted in yellow on their child's enrolment form they wanted no male worker to go near their offspring. Two decades on, as founder of the national Males in Early Childhood Network Group, d'Arcy has heard about centres that ban men from changing nappies and is used to people thinking those who want to work with the young are either gay or have evil intent.

So he easily recognised the vein of fear about male contact with children that popped up when two men went public recently about their embarrassment over airline staff moving them away from unaccompanied minors.

''The stereotype is that men are predators who are looking for opportunities to abuse young children,'' says d'Arcy, who is co-ordinator of a Mullumbimby preschool and has six children of his own. ''There seems to be that automatic assumption.''

Most of the 2900 men who make their living caring for under-fives butt up against these assumptions regularly in a way that their 100,000-plus female counterparts do not, he says.

''It's a very common story,'' d'Arcy says.

Most paedophiles are relatives or trusted family friends but, as more perpetrators are caught awareness grows and, with it, a fear that can become out of proportion to the danger.

A Newcastle University lecturer on family issues, Richard Fletcher, knows of a school principal who wanted to cancel a program allowing grandfathers to run playground activities for children when one of the men had too much to drink, spooking the staff.

An underlying attitude that ''men are dangerous and we can't manage them'' also grips staff on some maternity and neonatal wards, where fathers ask to sleep near their partners and newborns, says Fletcher.

Anecdotally, in at least one Sydney babysitting co-operative, parents made it clear that they did not want a father to turn up alone to care for their children.

Predator fear has been woven into numerous airline policies. Virgin Australia's was revealed when a flight attendant asked firefighter Johnny McGirr to move away from two young boys, saying it was policy that men should not sit with unaccompanied minors. McGirr said he felt stripped of respect.

Nurse Daniel McCluskie said he felt he had a sign above his head that said ''child molester'' after he was shifted from his seat on a flight from Wagga Wagga to Sydney because of Qantas policy. He must pass annual checks on his suitability to work with children, but the policy apparently does not take that into account.

When the Herald asked Qantas about the origins of its policy, the company re-issued a statement saying its policy was consistent with those of other airlines around the world, is designed to minimise risk and that it reflects parents' concerns and the need to maximise children's safety.

Virgin Australia, which introduced its policy seven years ago, has now employed an organisational psychologist to conduct a review. It will include, in quaint Virgin-speak, ''researching guest feedback''.

''I understand why airlines have policies, but there is a more subtle way to enforce them than to march up to a guy and make him feel like a paedophile when he just sits in a seat,'' says crime novelist Michael Robotham.

As the father of three daughters aged 12, 15 and 18, he blames the 24-hour news cycle for the heightened perception that males are inherently dangerous to children.

''Only a month ago, I had a pool party for my 12-year-old's birthday. She had all her girlfriends there. There were 11- and 12-year-old girls jumping around the pool in bikinis. I wanted to take photographs, but in the back of my mind I was thinking: Can I take photographs?''

He no longer pulls out the camera at the beach: ''I feel I should be able to but I think society is saying I can't.''

Robotham's latest novel, Say You're Sorry, about two 15-year-old girls who go missing during their summer holidays, connects to deep fears about violated children. But he does not agree with helicopter supervision of children or the men in their lives.

''Even though I write the sort of novels that involve young girls in jeopardy, I am a complete realist when it comes to the crux of the matter. Crime statistics show that per head of the population, there is no marked increase in violent crime, child abuse and other attacks than there was 10 to 20 years ago. When there is an incident where someone tries to pick up a child, there is saturation coverage. Twenty-four hours a day, the stories dominate the headlines and the public has the perception that every second child will be snatched off the street and we have to be ever vigilant [because] our child could be next.''

Thus, when he found a four-year-old girl lost in a shopping mall, he quickly looked around for the first woman who could help because of the possibility that he would be considered a paedophile, he says.

At his Mullumbimby preschool, d'Arcy ensures a colleague is watching while he assists any child who has a toileting accident, or comforts them following a fall.

''Over time, I've learnt how to protect myself. Whenever I meet a new family my standard spiel is: I am married. I have my own children. I'm saying to them: I'm normal. I'm here for the right reasons.

''It's about being aware of that. It's something your female colleagues don't have to think about. You have to prove yourself as a male and build up trust.''

He is lobbying the federal Ministerial Council for Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs to work on lifting the proportion of men working with very young children above the 2.6 per cent it is now.

It is good for children to see men nurturing, caring, teaching and working with their female colleagues, he says.

And eventually men might be spared the experience of the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, whose account of a past flight was recalled by Forbes magazine writer Joshua Gans this week.

Johnson was delighted when the British Airways flight attendant announced he had to move away from the two restless, difficult children beside him.

''A man cannot sit with children,'' she declared.

Whereupon the children stymied his escape by declaring: ''But he's our father.''

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