DownUnderAllOver

DownUnderAllOver

Developments around the country

DownUnderAllOver is a round-up of legal news from both State and federal jurisdictions, and contains topical articles and short pieces from Alternative Law Journal committees around the country.

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Federal Budget cuts to community legal centres

Liana Buchanan
Federal

In the week of the May Federal Budget, community legal centres learned of several decisions they say will cut free legal help and further reduce access to justice.

Fifty seven centres across Australia have been told they will lose funding in 2015–16 and 2016–17. These cuts represent a funding loss in each of those years of around $6 million and will affect the last two years of four-year funding agreements signed by the former government. This funding has been used to open new outreach offices, provide new family violence duty lawyer services, extend advice clinics for the homeless and deliver other, much needed frontline services.

(2014) 39(2) AltLJ 138

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Proposed changes to racial vilification laws hotly contested

Hugh De Kretser
Federal

A day after defending the right of people to be bigots and to say offensive, insulting and bigoted things, Attorney-General George Brandis announced details of proposed changes to protections against racial vilification in the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth).

The proposed changes seek to implement the Abbott Government’s promise to repeal the existing protection ‘in its current form’ in response to a Federal Court finding that columnist Andrew Bolt breached the laws by writing two articles that suggested that a number of light-skinned Aboriginal people pretended to be Aboriginal to access certain benefits.

(2014) 39(2) AltLJ 138

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Abortion

The Tasmanian Committee
Tasmania

New South Wales and Queensland are the only states that still criminalise abortion after a Bill introduced by Health Minister Michelle O’Byrne was passed by Tasmania’s Upper House with amendments. As a result, abortion will be removed from Tasmania’s Criminal Code and regulated under health laws like other medical procedures, with abortions allowed up to 16 weeks with the woman’s consent and over 16 weeks with the agreement of two doctors. In an Australian first, a 150-metre access zone will be established around premises providing abortions, with offenders facing a fine of up to $9750 or 12-months imprisonment for protesting against abortion.

(2014) 39(1) AltLJ 63

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Keeping things private?

Steven Castan
Western Australia

In further news relating to the continuing saga of Western Australia’s prison system, a leaked internal document from the Department of Corrective Services has raised more concerns by the state Opposition. The document, which investigates the possibility of privatisation of prisons and electronic monitoring of dangerous sex offenders in order to save costs, also identifies significant cost issues related to the privately run Wandoo prison. The prison remains only half full after more than a year of being run by the British firm Serco. The leaked document suggests that if the prison cannot be filled it should be closed. Controversy has dogged Serco, which also runs Acacia prison, after a series of escapes and alleged failings by the company. The Opposition, together with the WA Prison Officers Union, is against further privatisation and has continued to call for an open enquiry into the government’s prison transport contract with Serco.

(2014) 39(1) AltLJ 64

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Once bitten…?

Steven Castan
Western Australia

Controversy has dogged recent attempts by Colin Barnett’s government to cull sharks on the West Australian coastline ranging from questions about the veracity of the tendering process for the culling, accusations of threatening phone calls to government staff and and worldwide publicity (and condemnation) of the policy that was officially launched in late January. From a legal perspective, there has also been controversy in the decision by Greg Hunt, federal Minister for the Environment, to exempt WA from national environmental protection laws, especially in relation to Great White sharks which are a protected species. Great Whites are listed as ‘vulnerable’ under Australia’s environment laws and protected under the international Convention on Migratory Species. Environmental groups, such as Humane Society International and the Australian Marine Conservation Society have stated that the Minister has no scientific basis for the exemption and failed to consider wider marine implications of the proposed culling program. The Minister has argued that the economic damage from increased public concern plus the need for public safety due to the increase in attacks justifies the national interest exemption. The policy is not popular, with many protests being held around the country (and internationally) and potential legal action to challenge the exemption decision is being investigated. Mr Barnett has publicly stated that nothing will change his mind about the shark killing policy despite the opposition from some sectors of the community. Only time will tell if Colin Barnett and Minister Hunt have bitten more off than they can chew.

(2014) 39(1) AltLJ 64

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