Canberra, Nov 5 (AP/UNB) — A newly elected independent lawmaker said on Monday a tough policy toward asylum seekers was a major reason Australia's conservative government lost its parliamentary majority.
Kerryn Phelps on Monday was declared the winner of an Oct. 20 by-election forced when former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull quit parliament after his conservative coalition turned against him.
The high-profile medical doctor and gay rights advocate will take her seat when Parliament resumes on Nov. 26. The government now holds half of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives and may need to negotiate with independent lawmakers such as Phelps to pass its legislative agenda.
Phelps partly blamed the tough refugee policy for a voter swing against the government in the wealthy Sydney seat of Wentworth of more than 19 percent since Turnbull last won it in 2016.
Australia refuses to allow asylum seekers who attempt to reach its shores by boat to ever settle in the country. Asylum seekers are banished to the poor island nations of Nauru and Papua New Guinea where some have languished for more than five years.
"What the Australian people have said is that it's not good enough to trap people on an island offshore from Australia indefinitely for no reason other than that they sought asylum on our shores," Phelps told a Sydney ceremony that declared her victory.
"The children on Nauru must be evacuated as soon as possible," she added.
A government envoy said last week that Australia hoped to have all the asylum seeker children on Nauru brought to the Australian mainland by the end of the year.
Children and their parents were being brought to Australia at an increasing pace in recent weeks in an indication that their plight had become an electoral liability. There were only 38 children left on Nauru last week.
The government's policy has all but ended the people-smuggling boat traffic from Southeast Asian ports.
Pressure has mounted on the government from doctors and rights groups to make an exception for children, but some government lawmakers argue that would only encourage asylum seekers to put children at risk by bringing them on treacherous voyages to Australia on rickety boats.
The United States agreed in 2016 to accept up to 1,250 refugees from Nauru and Papua New Guinea. But after more than a year of screening, only 439 have found new homes in the U.S.
With the government behind in opinion polls and elections due early next year, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has already begun campaigning. He kicked off a four-day bus tour on Monday through crucial seats in Queensland state.
Morrison said his government remained functional despite losing its majority.
"It's obviously easier if there's one extra but with one less, the government will continue to function in the way you'd expect it to — in a professional way working closely with" independent lawmakers, Morrison told reporters.
Sydney, Oct 22 (AP/UNB)— Prime Minister Scott Morrison delivered a formal apology on Monday to Australia's victims of child sex abuse, saying the nation must acknowledge their long, painful journey and say sorry.
His emotional speech delivered in Parliament before hundreds of survivors followed the conclusions of a Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, the nations' highest level of inquiry.
"Today as a nation we confront our failure to listen, to believe, and to provide justice," he said, adding: "We say sorry."
The four-year inquest that delivered its final report in December revealed shocking evidence from more than 17,000 survivors and heard allegations against government, church and private institutions, as well as prominent individuals. It also heard evidence from leaders such as Vatican Cardinal George Pell, who is charged with committing historical sex abuses himself and was accused of failing to protect children.
Morrison said it was time for Australia to confront key questions.
"Why weren't the children of our nation loved, nurtured and protected? Why was their trust betrayed?" he said.
"Why did those who know cover it up? Why were the cries of children and parents ignored? Why was our system of justice blind to injustice? Why has it taken so long to act? Why were other things more important than this, the care of innocent children? Why didn't we believe?"
Morrison said nothing could be done to right the wrongs inflicted on children.
"Even after a comprehensive royal commission, which finally enabled the voices to be heard and the silence to be broken, we will all continue to struggle," he said.
"So today, we gather in this chamber in humility, not just as representatives of the people of this country, but as fathers, as mothers, as siblings, friends, workmates and, in some cases, indeed, as victims and survivors."
The lawmakers stood for a minute's silence following the apology, which came with the announcement of government plans to create a museum and research center to raise awareness and understanding of the impacts of child sexual abuse, and to ensure the nation does not forget the horrors victims have suffered.
The research center will also assist those seeking help, and guide best practice for training and other services.
The government will also commit to reporting every year for the next five years on the progress of the royal commission's recommendations.
It has already accepted 104 of the commission's 122 recommendations, including a redress payments program, with the other 18 still under examination.
The government has also established a new office of child safety, to report to the prime minister.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten joined the apology, saying Australia had failed tens of thousands of children, across generations.
"Our nation let you down. Today, we offer you our nation's apology, with humility, with honesty, with hope for healing now, and with a fire in our belly to ensure that our children will grow up safe in the future," Shorten said.
While many survivors and campaigners went to Canberra to hear the apology, many are still calling for far more work to be done to address the history of abuse.
Care Leavers Australia Network chief executive Leonie Sheedy called on the government to remove a charity tax exemption from institutions that are still deciding whether to opt in to the national redress scheme for victims.
She says she's never healed from being abused.
"You can learn to live with it, but it never goes away. It will be with me and all care leavers until the day that they put the lid on the coffin," Sheedy told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. on Monday.
Hetty Johnson, founder of the Bravehearts support group for victims, said survivors had made it clear they wanted all the royal commission's recommendations fully implemented.
"There is a lot of anger in the community," she told Sky News.
"They've made it very clear they want these recommendations implemented as they were intended and it's yet to see whether the government will actually do that."
Canberra, Oct 16 (AP/UNB) -Australia's prime minister said Tuesday that he was open to shifting the Australian Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in line with President Donald Trump's decision to recognize the contested holy city as Israel's capital.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the idea was suggested to him by a former ambassador to Israel, Dave Sharma, who is a candidate for Morrison's conservative Liberal Party in a crucial by-election Saturday in a Sydney electorate with a large Jewish population.
Morrison said Australia remained committed to finding a two-state solution to Israel's conflict with the Palestinians.
"When sensible suggestions are put forward that are consistent with your policy positioning and in this case pursuing a two-state solution, Australia should be open-minded to this and I am open-minded to this and our government is open-minded to this," Morrison told reporters.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had recently spoken to Morrison and welcomed the Australian policy shift.
Morrison "informed me that he is considering officially recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel & moving the Australian embassy to Jerusalem. I'm very thankful to him for this," Netanyahu tweeted. "We will continue to strengthen ties" between Israel and Australia.
Morrison also announced that Australia would vote against a United Nations resolution this week to recognize the Palestinian Authority as the chair of the Group of 77 developing countries and would review the three-year-old Iran nuclear deal.
The opposition center-left Labor Party said the announcement was a desperate attempt to win the by-election in the Wentworth electorate.
When the government forced former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull from office in August, he quit Parliament. If Sharma is not elected as the new lawmaker for Wentworth, the government will lose its single-seat majority in the House of Representatives.
"Foreign policy, and Australia's national interest are far too important to be played with in this fashion," Labor lawmaker Penny Wong said.
"The people of Wentworth, and all Australians, deserve a leader who puts the national interest ahead of his self-interest, and governs in the best long-term interest of the nation," she added.
The Trump administration turned its back on decades of U.S. policy by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital and moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv in May.
George Browning, president of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network, accused the government of "aligning itself with the most erratic, reactionary and bullish U.S. foreign policy ever."
"This is an irresponsible policy that compromises the future of millions of people in the Middle East for a handful of votes in Wentworth," Browning said in a statement.
Morrison denied that the United States or the by-election had influenced his announcement.
"I have made this decision without any reference to the United States. It has not come up in any discussion I have had with the president or with officials," Morrison said.
"There has been no request, and there has been no discussion with the United States. Australia makes its decisions about its foreign policy independently. We do so in our own national interests consistent with our own beliefs and our own values," he added.
Canberra, Sep 27 (AP/UNB) — The chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Corp. resigned on Thursday over allegations that he pressured the independent national broadcaster to fire two political journalists because the ruling conservative government disliked them.
The scandal has damaged the credibility of both the governing coalition and the ABC, which is government-funded but is required by law to operate independently of party politics. The ABC is many Australians' most trusted news source.
ABC chairman Justin Milne announced on Monday that ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie, who is also the broadcaster's editor-in-chief, had been fired halfway through her five-year contract because the board did not like her leadership style.
Media reports have since alleged that Milne, who is responsible for maintaining ABC independence, had unsuccessfully pressured Guthrie to fire political editor Andrew Probyn and chief economics correspondent Emma Alberici to prevent potential cuts in government funding.
Milne, who was appointed by the conservative government last year and is a friend of former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, said he had quit for the good the corporation.
"It's clearly not a good thing for everybody to be trying to do their job with this kind of fire storm going on, so I wanted to provide a release valve," Milne told the ABC in a television interview.
Milne said his resignation was "absolutely, 100 percent not" an admission that he had failed to safeguard the ABC's editorial independence.
"There was absolutely no interference in the independence of the ABC by the government. Nobody from the government has ever rung me and told me what to do in relation to the ABC. Nobody ever told me to hire anybody, fire anybody or do anything else," Milne said.
Fairfax Media has reported that Milne wrote an email to Guthrie calling for Alberici be fired on May 8, a day after Turnbull complained to the ABC's news director about an Alberici report on government spending.
"They (the government) hate her," Milne reportedly wrote to Guthrie.
"Get rid of her. We need to save the ABC — not Emma," he added.
News Corp., citing ABC board documents, reported Milne told Guthrie in a June 15 telephone conversation that Turnbull "hates" Probyn and: "You have to shoot him."
Turnbull, who has lived in New York since he was ousted as prime minister on Aug. 24, said on Thursday that while he had complained about the two reporters' journalism, he had never asked for them to be fired.
"The bottom line is I've never called for anybody to be fired. My concern has been on the accuracy and impartiality of reporting," Turnbull told reporters.
The government on Wednesday ordered a communications department investigation into the published allegations that Milne had pressured Guthrie to fire the two journalists, warning she was "putting the future of the ABC at risk" and jeopardizing 500 million Australian dollars (360 million) in government funding the chairman wanted for his pet project to digitize the broadcaster.
The minor Greens Party has called for a Senate inquiry into the entire ABC board, not trusting a government inquiry into the government's potential involvement in the scandal.
The conservative coalition has long complained of a leftist bias in ABC reporting. But center-left governments have also complained of unbalanced reporting in the past.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison tweeted that Milne's resignation was the right decision.
Earlier, Morrison had described the interference allegations against Milne as "pretty serious" and "very concerning."
"The idea that the government has somehow got some list and is telling the ABC who should work there and who shouldn't — that's complete rubbish," Morrison told reporters.
Perth, Sep 10 (AP/UNB)— Three children, their mother and grandmother have been found dead in a house in the Australian city of Perth after a man alerted police, detectives said Monday.
The children were twin girls aged 2 and their 3-year-old sister, a police statement said. Police have not said how the five died. A man aged in his 20s alerted police on Sunday morning.
"The man currently assisting police remains in custody," a police statement said, adding "no charges have been laid at this time."
Homicide detectives and specialist forensic police will continue to comb the address in the suburb of Bedford for evidence and clues to what happened.
"That will take a period of time and it could be a number of days," Assistant Police Commissioner Paul Steel said.
"It is a tragic thing when incidents like this occur. It does send a ripple through the community of Western Australia," Steele said.