Smartcard to limit problem gambling will be optional, Federal Government admits

Greg Stolz - The Courier-Mail
Problem gamblers will not be forced to set limits on how much they plunge on the pokies despite the Federal Government vowing to mandate smartcards designed to cut players' losses.
Queensland gamblers have started voluntarily using special swipe cards to limit their poker machine losses four years ahead of the Government making the so-called "pre-commitment" technology compulsory.  More than 1000 of the state's pokies players are using new technology in-built into poker machine swipe cards to set daily limits on how much they gamble, a problem gambling conference on the Gold Coast has been told.

Coalition says ethics class letters released selectively

Sean Nicholls - SMH
The Minister for Education, Verity Firth, is being accused of selectively releasing feedback from parents about the government's plans for ethics classes after it was revealed that more submissions were made against the classes than first claimed. Ms Firth called for submissions last month after the release of a report by a University of South Australia academic, Sue Knight, on a trial of ethics classes as an alternative to scripture. Three weeks later she told Parliament her department had received 745 submissions, of which 730 were ''in favour of ethics classes continuing''. But the opposition education spokesman, Adrian Piccoli, disputes the figure. He says an analysis by his office of the 377 submissions that have been publicly released by Ms Firth shows that 40 argued against introducing ethics classes.

Baillieu promotes Lib ex-leader

Paul Austin - The Age
Ted Baillieu has promoted former Liberal leader Denis Napthine and given deputy Liberal leader Louise Asher a key jobs portfolio as he moves to stamp his government as pro-business. But environment groups fear Mr Baillieu will walk away from the Brumby government's commitment to big cuts to greenhouse gas emissions in Victoria, after the new Premier gave the environment and climate change portfolio to inexperienced frontbencher Ryan Smith. In a bigger-than-expected reshuffle of his frontbench, Mr Baillieu yesterday created a new Department of Business and Innovation, putting former Kennett government ministers Dr Napthine and Ms Asher in charge of creating more jobs as the state economy recovers after the global financial crisis.

Big guns exit in Labor shake-up

David Rood - The Age
Former premier John Brumby and ex-ministers Bronwyn Pike and Joe Helper will head to the backbench in a clear-out of Labor's leadership team as it starts its tenure in opposition. The first meeting of Labor MPs since Saturday's election defeat will today elect former health minister Daniel Andrews as leader unopposed and vote in a 22-member shadow cabinet to match new Premier Ted Baillieu's expanded frontbench. The changes mean seven ministers will have left the Brumby cabinet - including pre-election resignations and two ministers who lost their seats - as Labor seeks to rebuild for the 2014 election. Mr Andrews is expected to decide on the portfolios of his new team within days but former water minister Tim Holding is being tipped for treasury, displacing John Lenders from the role.

Gay marriage off the menu

Nigel Adlam - NT News
Flamboyant gay restaurateur John Spellman yesterday came out against same-sex marriage. "Marriage is for a man and woman who want to have children together," he said. "That's what our Lord says." Mr Spellman, who owns the award-winning Tremontana restaurant in Darwin, said he opposed the NT Labor Party's resolution to support a gay marriage law. "It can be done by legislation but should not be the same as marriage," he said.

Child porn sites accessed at NSW parliament, audit finds

Imre Salusinszky - The Australian
NSW MPs or their staff have allegedly visited child pornography sites on parliament house computers. The revelation that nine sites featuring "young people of indeterminate age" were visited comes in an independent report into parliamentary internet use by Ernst & Young. The report was commissioned by house speaker Richard Torbay and upper house president Amanda Fazio after an unauthorised audit by a parliamentary internet staffer found 35 sites visited between November last year and September this year appeared to contain adult related content.

I'm in control, not Bob, PM vows

Sid Maher - The Australian
Julia Gillard has declared she -- and not the Greens -- is in control of the government.
The Prime Minister spoke amid continuing sniping in Labor ranks about the influence of the minor party. After former NSW treasurer Michael Costa advised Labor to confront the Greens to save the Labor Party, the Prime Minister said: "Definitely, I'm in control, of course -- I'm the Prime Minister." But Ms Gillard, interviewed on Brisbane radio yesterday, said she believed the government would be able to "work productively" with the Greens on carbon pricing.

Australian child welfare declines

Ellie Harvey - SMH
Australia lags behind most other developed nations in looking after its most vulnerable children, a UNICEF report says. Australia's performance was below average in more than half of the 35 health, education and prosperity measures used in the report to compare countries that are part of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Despite being a wealthy country, Australia did not top any category. The UNICEF Australia chief executive, Norman Gillespie, said the report was a ''wake-up call'' that showed Australia was leaving behind children who fell in the bottom 10 per cent of its socio-economic make-up.

Warning on use of tents for refugees

Sean Parnell - The Australian
The federal government was warned more than a year ago that housing asylum-seekers in tents on Christmas Island was a dangerous move. The government was told the move would only exacerbate "challenging behavioural issues" and should be used only as an "absolute last resort". Despite the warnings, the government relies heavily on the tents, which are home to 357 of the 2779 detainees at the facility this week, and Canberra has yet to expand mainland centres or finalise an East Timor solution to cope with the boatpeople surge. Documents obtained by The Australian under Freedom of Information laws reveal senior Immigration officials discussed the risks to detainees and staff should tents be commissioned.

Charter opens door to Sharia law recognition

Peter Faris - The Australian
The issue of Sharia law and human rights is rippling around the world. In the US state of Oklahoma, voters recently approved a proposal that forbids state courts from considering or using international laws, as well as Sharia, or Islamic law. A US federal judge has suspended the certification of that change to the law because it might breach the constitutional rights of individual Muslims. In Victoria, the Charter of Human Rights actually permits the use of international laws and judgments in applying the charter.

Sartor among NSW Labor MPs expected to step down

Imre Salusinszky and James Madden - The Australian
Several high-profile NSW MPs are to announce their retirements today as parliament sits for the last time before the election next March. Speculation has focused on Environment Minister Frank Sartor and former corrective services minister Richard Amery, and today would be their last chance for valedictory speeches. Despite Labor strategists' belief that Mr Sartor has a chance of retaining his southern Sydney seat of Rockdale, which he holds by a 10.3 per cent margin, it is understood he will retire today.

Keating frowns on Labor-Greens alliance

Former prime minister Paul Keating has frowned on the federal government's so-called alliance with the Australian Greens, saying Labor should not be "conceding space". "It's the big parties that do the big changes," he told ABC television on Thursday. "The two-party system matters to this country and fracturing it won't be a good thing." Issues such as climate change had offered the Greens an opportunity to be heard, but Mr Keating predicts future issues will water down their influence.

Don't switch horses, ALP warned

Phillip Coorey - SMH
The rural independents will meet this time next year and reassess whether to continue supporting Labor, keeping alive Tony Abbott's hopes of becoming prime minister sooner than later. In an interview with the Herald, the independent MP Rob Oakeshott also warned that he and his colleagues would be unimpressed if any party changed leaders between now and the next election. Mr Oakeshott said if Labor replaced Julia Gillard before the next election was due around spring 2013, it would not automatically cancel the agreement which saw the independents supporting Labor in minority government, but ''we wouldn't be impressed … It would definitely rock the boat''. The former Labor leader, Mark Latham, predicted yesterday that Ms Gillard would be gone by the end of 2012. Labor MPs dismissed it as tripe.

O'Farrell promises Lifeline $2m a year if elected

Sean Nicholls - SMH
The suicide prevention service Lifeline would receive annual funding of $2 million in NSW under a Coalition government, allowing it for the first time to pay for the training of its volunteer telephone counsellors and technology upgrades. In a joint announcement with the Lifeline patron and former NSW Liberal leader, John Brogden, the Opposition Leader, Barry O'Farrell, committed to the funding of the service if he is elected next year. ''What we believe is that Lifeline is every bit a part of the state's health service,'' Mr O'Farrell said. ''What we believe is that Lifeline deserves to have security about its funding.'' Mr Brogden said it costs about $2500 to train a Lifeline volunteer, but that volunteers have to pay between $200 and $400 towards the cost of a registered training certificate, a situation he described as ''absurd''.

Family deaths unsettling for the PM

Michelle Grattan - The Age
Julia Gillard has a problem with authority - that is, her lack of it. Is a sudden, unexpected death better than a lingering one? Probably. Anyway, Labor has experienced the former in Victoria, and the latter will come in NSW in March, when the people toss out the Keneally government. Both the Victorian and the looming NSW experience are unsettling for Julia Gillard: the former because it underlines how uncertain incumbency can be, even with a solid majority (which she doesn't have), and the latter because NSW is the ALP's natural heartland.

Two Afghan converts to Christianity risk the death penalty

Two Afghans accused of converting to Christianity could face the death penalty, a prosecuting lawyer said on Sunday. Musa Sayed, 45, and Ahmad Shah, 50, are being detained in the Afghan capital awaiting trial, the prosecutor in charge of western Kabul, Din Mohammad Quraishi, said. “They are accused of conversion to another religion, which is considered a crime under Islamic law. If proved, they face the death penalty or life imprisonment,” Quraishi said. Sayed, a Red Cross (ICRC) employee, has already confessed. There is also "proof" against Shah, Quraishi explained.