Australian motel discriminated by barring prostitute, court finds

A Queensland motel illegally discriminated against a prostitute by barring her from staying there, an Australian tribunal ruled this week, in a decision cheered by sex workers and their advocates.

“Not everyone would choose to do the job I do, but it's not right that they can treat me like a second-class citizen,” the sex worker told The Australian newspaper. "They wanted me to go away, but I am a tenacious little terrier and I would not give up."

The woman, identified as “GK” by the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal, had repeatedly stayed at the hotel before the owners discovered she was bringing clients to her room and banned her, according to Australian media. She is now seeking damages. An attorney for the owners of the Drovers Rest Motel in Moranbah told the Australian Associated Press that they were weighing an appeal.

Prostitution is legal in the northeastern Australian state of Queensland for sex workers who work alone or in a licensed brothel. The Scarlet Alliance, a national association for sex workers, argued that prostitutes working from rented rooms were entitled to the same rights as businessmen and women using their laptops to do work in their hotels. Worries about noise were a red herring, it said.

If a sex worker was doing business in the adjacent room, “you wouldn’t even know they were there!” the group said on Twitter. “Sex workers make great neighbors, we ALREADY work from hotels all over Australia!”

The Accommodation Assn. of Australia, an industry group, said owners should have the responsibility for deciding who can stay in their motels “to preserve the amenity of the establishment for the benefit of all guests.” In a statement this week, the group said it might reach out to the Queensland or federal government to go over the problems the judgment might raise.

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South Korea said to be scrapping whaling plan after outcry

South Korea dropping whaling plan

After an international outcry, South Korea is dropping a hotly debated plan to hunt whales for research, a senior government official told Yonhap News and the Associated Press on Tuesday.

"Discussions between government ministries have been concluded in a way that effectively scraps the plan to allow whaling in coastal waters," the senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity, was quoted as saying by Yonhap. "Even if it is for scientific research, we have to take into consideration that this has emerged as a sensitive issue at home and abroad."

Although the South Korean decision hasn't been officially announced, the news was cheered by environmentalists and Australian government officials, who were outraged earlier this month when South Korea said it would use a loophole in global whaling rules to hunt minke whales off its shores.

South Korea had argued at the International Whaling Commission that after the country faithfully obeyed the whaling ban, minke whales had flourished, thinning fish stocks. Hunting the whales would address the complaints of local fishermen and help scientists "analyze and accumulate biological and ecological data," South Korean delegation leader Joon-Suk Kang said at this month's meeting in Panama.

Although hunting whales for research is allowed under global rules, critics argue that the practice is simply a cover for commercial whaling, because the carcasses can be later used for human consumption. Japan has long used the same loophole to continue whaling, to the outrage of environmental groups that say the kills are unnecessary because scientific studies can be done without hunting whales.

There were already hints that South Korea was reconsidering its controversial plan: Last week, Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr said a South Korean official had assured him at a summit in Cambodia that research whaling would not move forward, drawing applause from Australian officials and activists.

"Clearly the Korean foreign minister saw this as an issue simply not worth the hassle," International Fund for Animal Welfare campaigner Matt Collins wrote Friday after the Australian news broke. "Let us hope that last week’s dipping of the toe in the water isn’t heralding a process whereby Korea continuously floats the idea in the hope that when it actually transpires the world will just accept it."

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Photo: South Korean animal rights activists hold dolphin- and whale-shaped balloons during a rally in Seoul on Tuesday to oppose the government's recent plan to resume whaling. Credit: Lee Jin-man / Associated Press


Australia lawmakers deadlock on sending asylum-seekers elsewhere

Boat

The horror of desperate people drowning at sea as they flee their countries for Australia aboard rickety boats has jolted that country again. Something must be done to stop people from risking their lives, Australian politicians and pundits pleaded after the second such disaster in less than a week.

But Australian lawmakers are split over what to do, as the latest bill aimed at halting the boats failed Thursday after hours of impassioned debate. The chief idea that has been championed to help the needy refugees remains a disputed one: Send them somewhere else.

The idea of "offshore processing" -- sending people who come by boat to another country to have their cases considered -- has dominated the Australian debate over asylum-seekers. Pushing refugees elsewhere is meant to dissuade them from risking their lives to get to Australia.

Smuggling would be stopped, the government argued. "We can break the business model of the people smugglers and we have a duty to do so," Foreign Minister Bob Carr told Australian lawmakers.

Australia has tried it before: More than a decade ago, the country started sending asylum-seekers who arrived by boat to remote islands such as the country of Nauru, where their cases would be processed before deciding if they could move on to Australia. Boats were also stopped and sent back to Indonesia if seaworthy.

Rerouting refugees to Nauru was credited for cutting the number of people coming to Australia by boat. The annual number of boat refugees fell from upward of 4,000 to under 100, though experts disagree on whether the practice turned people away or other factors were behind the drop. Human rights groups argued that the scheme was a twisted way of dodging its obligation to help refugees.

The plan was scrapped when the Labor Party came to power, concerned that the isolated camps where refugees might languish for years were inhumane. But when more boats came to Australia, the government was pressed to come up with a new solution.

Continue reading »

Boat tragedy adds new fuel to Australia asylum debate

Asylum seekers

With scores of people still missing from a boat that capsized Thursday on its way to Australia, the country is agonizing again over how to handle asylum seekers who come pleading for help.

Though Australia fields fewer refugees than smaller countries such as Austria or the Netherlands, the debate has been a political football over whether people fleeing other countries by boat should be allowed onto Australian soil while their claims are assessed.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard had sought to use offshore centers to process boat refugees, arguing that step would undercut the smuggling trade. Under her proposed “Malaysia Solution,” hundreds of asylum seekers who arrived on boats would be sent to Malaysia, while thousands of people in Malaysia who were already approved by the United Nations refugee agency would be resettled in Australia.

The message was simple: If you don’t use the right channels, you won’t be allowed in easily.

“The Malaysia arrangement represented a very effective way of removing incentives for people to travel in an irregular manner,” Andrew Metcalfe, secretary of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, told the Canberra Times.

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Scores still missing from capsized boat off Indonesia [Video]

Ninety people were still missing Friday morning as Australian and Indonesian search teams looked for survivors of a capsized boat south of Indonesia, according to Australian news reports.

The boat was believed to be carrying as many as 200 asylum seekers headed to Australia. As of late Thursday, the search teams had reportedly rescued 110 people, including a 13-year-old boy. Three men were found dead.

It was unclear where the boat set off from. When Australian authorities first got distress calls late Tuesday night, the boat didn’t indicate where it was, Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said in Sydney. When they learned Wednesday morning that the boat was 38 nautical miles south of Indonesia, Australian officials advised it to go to Indonesia.

But the boat continued south despite its distress calls. Clare said that while Australian border protection officials were prepared Wednesday night to step in if their help was requested, they didn’t mobilize until Thursday, after getting “additional information that raised concerns about the safety of the vessel.”

Survivors have been taken to Christmas Island, some of them suffering injuries. The water is warm enough that those clinging to life jackets or other debris could survive 36 hours, Clare said.

"We are still in that critical window where more lives could be saved,'' Clare said.

The flow of asylum seekers to Australia, many risking their lives on crowded boats, has spurred intense political debate in Australia. Though many Australians sought to keep politics out of the tragedy, the disaster has already spurred fresh arguments over how the government has handled refugees.

"It shows what a horrible business this whole people-smuggling racket is," opposition leader Tony Abbott told the Nine Network. "Obviously it's important we stop it one way or another, but I don't think today is a day for politics.”

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Video: Jo Meehan of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority discusses the capsizing of a vessel carrying asylum seekers north of Christmas Island. Credit: Australian Broadcasting Corp.


Australia seeks to clamp down on forced labor, organ trafficking

In Australia, new legislation aims to combat  organ trafficking, forced marriage and forced labor by broadening laws against slavery and exploitation, a plan that was heralded by human rights groups as a blueprint for world efforts to stop such abuse.

"Tragically, 19th century slavery has not been abolished,” Australian Atty. Gen. Nicola Roxon said, Agence France-Presse reported Wednesday. "It has simply taken other forms."

Traffickers have funneled men and women from India, China, South Korea, the Philippines and other countries to Australia to force them into work varying from prostitution to construction.

Stories of abuse have been reported by Australian news media.  In one case, a Thai woman was reportedly recruited to be a sex worker, then forced to pay off a hefty debt to her Canberra recruiter. In another, a woman was flown from the Philippines to harvest her kidney, allegedly without fully agreeing to do so.

Groups that combat slavery and trafficking say Australia's laws focus on the forcible moving of people but not on other kinds of coercion or fraud, such as deceptive recruitment. Sexual exploitation, which has garnered the most attention in Australian news reports, has been more easily prosecuted than other forms of forced labor.

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Syrian diplomats being expelled across Europe, elsewhere

Governments in Europe and elsewhere announced that they were expelling top Syrian diplomats in a coordinated response to last week's deaths of more than 100 people in a Syrian town
This post has been updated. See the note below for details.

LONDON -- Governments in Europe and elsewhere announced Tuesday that they were expelling top Syrian diplomats in a coordinated response to the killings last week of more than 100 civilians, mostly women and children, in an attack on a town in the embattled country.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague announced that his country was ordering three Syrian diplomats to leave within seven days as part of a concerted international effort to pressure the government of President Bashar Assad to accept a U.N.-brokered peace plan and to express "horror at the behavior of the regime," in particular the attack Friday on the town of Houla.

[Updated, 8:29 a.m., May 29: In Washington, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland confirmed the action, which she said was taking in coordination with Australia, Canada, Spain, Italy, France and Germany.

"In response to the May 25 massacre in the village of Houla, today the United States informed Syrian Charge d’Affaires Zuheir Jabbour of his expulsion from the United States," Nuland said in a statement. "He has 72 hours to leave the country."]

The German government quickly confirmed that it had given the Syrian ambassador 72 hours to leave the country. Spain said it was expelling Damascus' ambassador to its country along with four other diplomats within 72 hours.

France and Italy acknowledged that they would also be part of the effort.

The British Foreign Office said the Syrian Embassy in London would remain open, but that the charge d'affaires and two other senior diplomats had been asked to leave.

The Syrian government has denied responsibility for the deaths in Houla, where the United Nations has said that 49 children and 34 women were among 108 people killed in one of the deadliest incidents of the 14-month uprising against Assad's rule. Syrian officials instead blamed the attack on "terrorists," their common description of the opposition forces.

Continue reading »

World's most powerful radio telescope to be shared by 3 nations

Ska

REPORTING FROM JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- South African politicians and scientists were jubilant Friday after a decision was announced to locate the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) radio telescope in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

But their joy was tinged with disappointment that South Africa's bid for the entire project did not succeed. The decision was nonetheless seen as a major boost for South African science.

"The SKA will transform our view of the universe; with it we will see back to the moments after the Big Bang and discover previously unexplored parts of the cosmos.” said Dr. Michiel van Haarlem, interim director general of the SKA Organization, in a statement after the announcement of the decision in Amsterdam.

The $2-billion project will involve several thousand high-, mid- and low-frequency receiving dishes set over a huge geographical area in remote areas where there is little interference from mobile phone, radio, television and other signals. Combining all the signals from the SKA will form the equivalent of a radio telescope with a one-square kilometer dish, and will be 50 times more sensitive than any in existence, according to the SKA Organization.

The likelihood of the sites remaining quiet radio zones in the future was a key factor in their choice. The South African location is in the Karoo, in the country's southwest. But dishes will be located across southern Africa and as far north as Ghana. The Australian location is a remote area of Western Australia with dishes to be located in other parts of the continent and in New Zealand.

According to the SKA Organization, astronomers will be able to  glimpse the formation and evolution of the first stars, and investigate the nature of gravity and whether there is life beyond Earth.

South African media had earlier been confident the entire project, which will be the world's most powerful radio telescope, would go to South Africa.

South African Minister for Science and Technology Naledi Pandor said Friday the decision to split the project was unexpected. She said experts on the SKA advisory committee had agreed Africa was the best site.

"We had hoped the unambiguous recommendation of the [advisory committee] would be accepted as the most sound scientific outcome," Pandor said in a statement Friday. "We accept the compromise in the interest of science and as acknowledgement of the sterling work done by our scientists and the excellent SKA project team."

The organization is a global science and engineering project including Britain, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, China, Canada, the Netherlands and Italy, with India an associate member.

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Photo: An artist's impression shows satellite dishes of the future Square Kilometer Array (SKA) radio telescope. Credit: Swinburne Astronomy Productions / AFP


Australia to mostly end Afghan mission next year

Gillardafghanistan

As the U.S. and its allies refine plans to reduce their troop levels in Afghanistan and turn combat operations over to Afghans, Australia has announced that it will pull most of its forces out next year.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the move Tuesday, under which most of Australia’s 1,550 troops are likely to be back home by the end of 2013.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization plans to finish the transfer to Afghan control by the end of 2014. U.S. officials announced in February that Afghans would take over the lead combat role next year, and that American troops would shift their focus to training and advising the Afghans.

That February announcement came just a week after French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he would remove all of his country’s combat troops next year, a year earlier than planned. Sarkozy’s leading challenger in his reelection bid, Francois Hollande, has pledged to pull troops out even faster.

U.S. officials downplayed the significance of Australia’s actions. But public support for the war is falling in many countries, and in recent months U.S. officials have sought ways of heading off a push by allies to go home.    

Australia has far fewer troops on the ground than other powers  -- the U.S. has about 90,000 and Britain about 9,500. But experts say its action could threaten the political cover that has allowed countries to commit troops to an increasingly unpopular mission.

“Every little crack in this dike creates a danger of the whole thing bursting,” said Stephen Biddle, a senior fellow for defense policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. “If individual nations start defecting, the public in all these countries are going to say, ‘If these guys can do it, we can too.’”

Fifty countries are involved in the coalition in Afghanistan, though some have only a handful of soldiers and others have pulled out combat forces completely. Canada bowed out last summer. Dutch troops left in 2010. Britain is under domestic pressure to reduce its troop presence. Even Ireland, with only seven soldiers there, has faced calls to get out.

Germany, which has the third-largest force among the allies, has suggested it may take more time, not less, to finish the job. During a trip to Afghanistan last month, Chancellor Angela Merkel said she wasn’t sure whether Germany would be able to pull out by 2014, implying that it might take longer.

Several other countries still have sizable forces on the ground: Nearly 4,000 Italian troops and roughly 2,500 Polish forces were committed to the Afghan mission as of January, according to the International Security Assistance Force. Close behind are Romania and Turkey, each with more than 1,800.

Poland, whose president has complained about the costs of the Afghan mission in the past, has pledged to keep forces there through 2014, the news agency Agence France-Presse reported last month. Romanian media recently reported forces would stay through the first half of 2013 before handing off responsibility to Afghans.

The number of U.S. troops, which peaked at about 100,000, will drop to 68,000 this year. Though President Obama has insisted that a “robust” U.S. force will remain through the end of the year, what happens in 2013 and beyond is unclear. U.S. officials say some American troops are likely to remain beyond 2014, targeting Al Qaeda and its allies.

Next month, NATO will meet in Chicago to discuss how to proceed in Afghanistan. 

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Photo: Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard meets members of the 1st Mentoring Task Force during her October 2010 visit to the multinational base at Tarin Kowt in southern Afghanistan. Credit: Raymond Vance / AFP/Getty Images

 


Australian prime minister keeps job in internal party showdown

Australian Prime Minister kept her job by thrashing challenger Kevin Rudd in a internal Labor party vote
REPORTING FROM SEOUL -- Settling a political struggle many called the most vitriolic in the history of Australian politics, Prime Minister Julia Gillard kept her job by winning a Labor Party vote Monday against Kevin Rudd, the colleague she deposed in a 2010 party coup.

Gillard called her 71-31 victory among party lawmakers "overwhelming" after months of "ugly" infighting within party ranks.

"Today I want to say to Australians one and all: This issue, the leadership question, is now determined," she said. "I can assure you that this political drama is over."

Yet many maintain that the party remains deeply divided, and some embittered Rudd supporters threatened to press for Gillard's ouster. At least five members of Gillard's Cabinet backed her challenger in the vote.

In recent days, Rudd had warned that Gillard would lead the Labor Party to certain defeat at elections next year. But following his defeat Monday, he called on party members to unite behind Gillard.

"I bear no one any malice, and if I've done wrong to anyone with what I've said and what I've done, I apologize," he told reporters, saying it was time that "wounds were healed" within the party.

Various opinion polls showed that Rudd was more popular than Gillard among rank-and-file voters, but many lawmakers were dissatisfied with his performance as prime minister.

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Photo: Julia Gillard, Australia's prime minister, speaks during a news conference at Parliament House in Canberra. Credit: Mark Graham / Bloomberg


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