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Polly Peck
27 February, 2009  
Capital Offences

Senate Estimate revelations … High Court in the red … Soapy Brandis finding fresh scares … Mick Kelpie for the defence … Latest phone tap harvest

imageIt is distressing to see that the High Court is not immune from the economic misery.

The court recorded an operating loss of $912,968 last financial year, and another loss of between $1.2 million and $1.3 million is anticipated this year.

Andrew Phelan, the High Court’s chief executive, reckons he needs about another $1 million a year to fix the long-term funding base.

A further $1 million may be needed to fix the leaky roof at the splendid Canberra headquarters, on top of the $3.5 million already provided for repairs that are currently underway and have caused their honours to sit elsewhere.

These details came to light at a Senate estimates hearing earlier this week and, needless to say, shadow attorney general George (Soapy) Brandis was livid:

“It strikes me as bizarre passing description that the Rudd government can find $3 billion to spend on pink insulation bats that people do not want but cannot find $1 million to repair the leaky roof of the High Court of Australia.

The court has not yet asked for the extra money to fix the roof. The government’s man on the spot, Senator Joe Ludwig, didn’t accept Soapy’s challenge to assure the Estimates Committee that there would be a funding increase.

There is a budget process to be worked through, blah, blah, blah.

* * *

imageSoapy did manage to extract the fees charged by the four members of the National Human Rights Consultation Committee.

The chairman, Father Frank Brennan (snap), is paid a very Christian $1,500 a day, while other members get $731 per diem (Mary Kostakidis, Mick Palmer and Tammy Williams).

The Attorney General, Rob (Congenial) McClelland, recently extended the committee’s deadline by one month to enable it to conduct more consultations on whether we should have a Charter of Rights.

It is now to report to the government by 31 August.

Separately, ACT Attorney General Simon Corbell has confirmed that no businesses have opted to be bound by the territory’s Human Rights Act.

Under recent changes, businesses can opt to be bound by the Act and individuals can take complaints to the ACT Supreme Court, which may make orders but cannot award damages.

* * *

imageSoapy spent considerable time during Estimates gathering jobs numbers for all the security agencies and then issued a press release (with a curious accompanying picture) to show how much tougher the Coalition is on law enforcement, citing staff cuts at certain law enforcement outposts.

However, some of the officials weren’t so convinced about the reduction in capacity that Soapy (seen here) was pointing to.

When debate turned to air marshals and CSIRO’s risk assessment model used in determining manpower, AFP top dog Mick Kelpie, of all people, answered, “You are embellishing what the threat is”.

Kelpie pushed on after another interjection from Soap. The transcript says:

Keelty: Senator, you are focusing on a terrorist threat. It might take one person to bring down an aircraft.

Brandis: Yes. That person would be a terrorist.

Keelty: That person might be a mentally ill person as well …

* * *

Congenial Rob did his own boasting on law enforcement when releasing the annual report covering telecommunications interception powers.

imageGovernment authorities had access to telecommunications data for the first time in 2007-2008. This includes subscriber information and the date and time of communications.

Congenial (pic) said it had provided, “valuable information to 45 agencies during investigations into a wide range of offences”.

Information obtained under stored communication warrants led to 45 arrests, which was 96 per cent up on last year.

The stored communication powers were only introduced last year, so the figures may be a little skewed.

However, the traditional telecommunications interceptions are still flourishing, leading to 2,542 convictions, up 13 percent, and assisting in 2,056 arrests and 3,916 prosecutions.

* * *

At this week’s Estimates hearing we also saw Greens’ Senator Scott Ludlam (WA) poking around in the nether world of counterterrorism before putting the following query to the AG’s Department:

“We have information that in one particular case a jury had brought a dictionary into their deliberations to ascertain the definition of the word ‘fostering’ when it comes to the doing of a terrorist act.”

Departmental officials weren’t aware of this particular case, but took the broader question of the interpretation and implications of the word “fostering” on notice.