Conan the Barbarian

Conan the Barbarian

Margaret McMurdo finished-up as president of the Queensland Court of Appeal on Friday (March 24).

Everyone was at the valedictory ceremony, although Timbo Carmody could not be spotted, which was just as well because the president sent a cheerio-call to former premier Campbell Newman and his attacks on the independence of the court – a reference to the appointment of government favourite and significantly under-qualified jurist Tim Carmody as chief justice.

It was her career highlight to stand with “my sister and brother judges of appeal, senior judge administrator and the judges of the trial division between 2013 and 2015 in successfully resisting a calculated and sustained attack on the independence of the Supreme Court of Queensland by some members of the legislature and the print media”.

The ABC had a feast with a happy story – the young woman whose life was turned around as a result of Judge McMurdo, as she then was, not recording a conviction.

An emotional time was had by all.

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The Coalition party room has approved surgery to the Racial Discrimination Act on the untimely occasion of Harmony Day (March 21) to replace the words “insult”, “offend” and “humiliate” in section 18C with “harass”.

The government is also inserting a “reasonable person” test which would apply the standard of the average Joe to decide whether the average Mohamed had suffered racial discrimination or was the subject of race hate.

The meaning of “harass” would need to be litigated to the new meaning given to it in the amending legislation.

However, the legislation is unlikely to reach the courts. The Human Rights Legislation Amendment Bill 2017 is to be introduced into the senate – presumably because some Liberal MPs in the house of representatives don’t want to lose their ethnically diverse marginal seats.

The bill has little prospect of passing the senate as Labor, the Greens, three Xenophones and one Jacqui Lambie oppose it.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten theorised PM Malcolm Turnbull wanted “to be able to make the claim to the extreme elements in his party room that his government is taking action … while hoping MPs in the chamber can avoid having to vote on the issue”.

Turnbull, who’d given sixteen separate assurances that he had “no plans to change 18C”, caved to pressure from the self-purporting freedom warriors within and outside his government.

The freedom-loving libertarians are mysteriously silent when it comes to rallying for constitutional protections for free speech, reforming Australia’s onerous defamation regime, extending whistleblower protections, FOI access and doing something about the torrent of court suppression orders.

Ian Macdonald (LNP, Qld.) chair of the senate committee examining the bill, turned away managing lawyer Michael Lalor of the Aboriginal Legal Service from the only public hearing of the 18C inquiry on Friday (March 24), saying:

“The committee was of the general view that once you start having one group of any type – in this case an Indigenous group who have a particular view – then do you call other members of that same group who might have a different view.”

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On Monday (March 20), Conan Zamolo, a former youth justice officer at the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre, faced the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in NT.

Zamolo began at Don Dale in 2012 with no experience of working either with children or in correctional facilities. He said his training – “like a week’s worth” – was inadequate.

Following allegations that Zamolo had filmed Don Dale detainees masturbating in the shower, a search warrant was executed by police in September 2015. No evidence was found to support that claim but Zamolo’s phone did contain other disturbing videos which were played.

Zamolo was cross-examined by senior counsel assisting, Peter Callaghan SC. He said a video in which he was heard demanding oral sex was “a joke”.

One video showed Zamolo encouraging a boy to eat a small pellet of “something disgusting” found on a table.

Another video that Zamolo said he recorded on a smart watch showed himself barging in on an inmate using a urinal.

Callaghan asked whether there was “anywhere else on the planet”, besides Don Dale, Zamolo would film a child urinating.

Zamolo replied “no”, but said he’d only gone into the urinal because the child had been “taking ages” and he was “playing with” his new watch.

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On Tuesday (March 21) federal Liberal MP for North Sydney, Trent Zimmerman, called in the Coalition party room for compulsory voter ID for federal elections.

The Human Rights Law Centre has warned such laws may impose a barrier to ageing and younger voters, indigenous Australians, those sleeping rough, or remote constituents.

The NSW opposition leader, Luke Foley, is calling for premier Gladys Berejiklian to reject the proposal.

The Department of Premier and Cabinet is due to table its response to the recommendation in NSW parliament in mid-May.

The recommendation was initially made by NSW’s joint standing committee on electoral matters, despite evidence from the NSW Electoral Commission that voter fraud was not taking place on any meaningful scale.

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Recently retired former High Court chief justice Robert French spoke at the Australian Securities and Investments Commission’s forum on Tuesday (March 21).

ASIC’s requested speech topic was “Doing Business Across Asia”.

French admitted his only business in the region was “once, in a Japanese restaurant in a hotel in Seoul, miscalculating [the bill] and, as a result, underestimating by a factor of 10 what turned out to be the extraordinary price of a plate of selected sashimi”.

French made a timely plea for legislators, regulators and the courts to make “the business law and practice of the region or any part of it more coherent and less costly”.

He warned prospects for harmonisation are unlikely to be driven by a Trans-Pacific Partnership or Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

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A bill striking the so-called “gay panic” defence for homicide from the criminal code passed through Queensland parliament on Tuesday (March 21) night.

The partial defence had allowed defendants to reduce a murder charge to manslaughter by claiming an unwanted homosexual advance provoked the commission of violence.

The push to repeal the defence was fronted by Maryborough priest Father Paul Kelly after the killers who bashed Wayne Ruks to death in his churchyard in 2008 raised the defence at trial.

Christine Smyth, Queensland law society president, said the bill used the term “circumstances of an exceptional nature” to address the society’s argument that a similar partial defence of provocation should remain open to a defendant where the victim had sexually assaulted or raped the defendant.

South Australia is the only state where the partial defence still stands. Its premier, Jay Weatherill, promised late last year to remove the defence.

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