February 28 to March 6 ... Human rights committee soft on tackling non-existent 18C problem ... "Recalcitrant" asylum seekers ... Uber's 'greyball' tactics… Abortion decriminalisation postponed in Qld ... Heyday for payday lender ... Former Freehills partners temporarily restrained from poaching ... Brandis' selective recall ... Week@TheKnees compiled by Sohini Mehta
THE Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights tabled a bipartisan report on Tuesday (Feb. 28) after a three-month public inquiry into "free speech".
The report floated twenty-two reform options but shied away from making any specific recommendations to repeal or amend 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which makes it an offence to 'insult' or 'offend' someone based on race.
It did, however, propose permanent parliamentary oversight over the Human Rights Commission and streamlining of its complaint processes to deter vexatious litigants.
Gillian Triggs, president of the commission, says she doesn't oppose proposed changes to the commission's operation, but added "[t]hese are suggested solutions to a problem that doesn't exist".
Recent figures provided by the commission to Guardian Australia identified only one application to the courts in 2015-16 regarding a section 18C complaint and five in 2014-15.
Treasurer Scott Morrison has accused his vocal colleagues of jeopardising the Coalition's economic message by banging on about a niche issue:
"This issue doesn't create one job, doesn't open one business, doesn't give anyone one extra hour, it doesn't reduce the cost of, or make housing more affordable, or energy more affordable."
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Last Monday (Feb. 26), former military man and Liberal senator David Fawcett said at a senate estimates hearing the Labor party had "brought the fleas" and was now attempting to "nitpick" in parliament with questions over wasteful and unauthorised spending by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
Unknown senators on the committee murmured "hear hear" and Liberal committee chair Ian Macdonald said "nicely put".
The flea also made an appearance in Nazi propaganda of the 1930s, where it was equated with Jews.
Fawcett initially said he'd intended to suggest that Labor had created the "irritation" of stress within the immigration department, but made a further late-night apology to the senate for his nasty caricature of asylum seekers.
The same morning, the department of immigration inadvertently tabled a draft statement to senate estimates. Omitted from the amended statement produced two hours later by departmental secretary Michael Pezzullo was an accusation that some asylum seekers demonstrate an "ongoing recalcitrance".
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Low-cost ride-hailing service Uber has for years used a tool called Greyball to identify and deceive regulators about the company's breaches of the law, according to a report by the New York Times.
By scanning data collected from the app and searching social media profiles and other information available online, Uber employees tagged some users as being linked to law enforcement.
A "Greyballed" user will see a set of ghost cars in a fake version of the app, or that there are no cars available.
Uber claims the tool's primary use is to prevent competitors from finding UberX drivers.
A disdain for local laws and regulation has helped thrust Uber, worth close to $70 billion, into more than seventy countries.
On Friday (March 3), Dutch MEP Marietje Schaake wrote to the European Commission asking if it planned to investigate the legality of Greyball.
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Former Queensland ALP and now Independent MP Rob Pyne withdrew two bills to legalise abortion, after the state's LNP opposition indicated its members would not back either one of them.
Both Labor and LNP MPs were offered a conscience vote. Because not all Labor MPs would've voted in favour of the bills, the votes of some LNP MPs were needed for the reforms to succeed.
Opposition leader Tim Nicholls said his MPs were dissuaded from voting for the reforms because the proposed laws would create "further risk and uncertainty".
The first bill sought to remove abortion from Queensland's Criminal Code. Only the second bill, introduced months later, dealt (clumsily) with the circumstances around which an abortion may be performed. There was a danger that one bill would pass, but the other fail.
Queensland women are "not going to forget when they go to vote at the ballot box [that] ... members of parliament want to classify them as criminals", My Pyne said.
If it's re-elected, the Labor government has pledged to act on the advice of the Queensland Law Reform Commission, to which the Crime of Unlawful Abortion has now been referred.
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The Consumer Action Law Centre has launched court action on behalf of a low-income Victorian woman who was allegedly allowed to take out 23 payday loans and 76 pawnbroking agreements by Cash Converters.
The latter had an effective interest rate of between 360% and 420% per annum.
Like others who applied for loans in-store, she missed out on any refund. By an enforceable undertaking brokered by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission last year, Cash Converters is obliged to refund small credit contracts only to individuals who applied for loans online between July 2013 and June 2016.
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On Thursday (March 2), Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) obtained a partial temporary injunction to restrain eight of its former partners from poaching clients and staff for white show Wall Street law shop White & Case. The restraint runs out in six months' time, on September 2.
Collectively, the departing partners' practice is estimated to be $30 million.
At a directions hearing on Friday (March 3), the NSW Supreme Court set aside seven days for the final hearing in late June. The reasonableness of the restraint clauses in the partnership agreement is in dispute.
Justice Hammerschlag, who presided over the hearing, said the litigants should inform the court immediately if they don’t require the full seven days because there might be "people more deserving than you needing more dates".
"Hard to imagine, but could be the case," he added.
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Attorney-General George Brandis continues to deny claims he wanted the Commonwealth to run dead in a High Court case to enable the WA Government to get first dibs on the Bell Group liquidation, ahead of the ATO.
In a heated Senate Estimates hearing on Tuesday (Feb. 28), Brandis said his statement on the Bell matter is "entirely consistent" with the account of his WA counterpart, Michael Mischin.
Mischin told ABC’s 7.30 program that Senator Brandis' was involved in February 2016. In his statement to the Senate in November last year, Brandis said "the first personal involvement I recall having in the [Bell] matter was on 3 March ".
Brandis resolved the discrepancy by feigning selective amnesia. "Unless the English language has lost its meaning," Brandis opened grandly, his use of the words "I recall" establish that he had no recollection of events before March 3.
Labor Senator Murray Watt nearly fell out of his chair laughing and asked whether other events referred to in Brandis' senate statement which took place before March 3 should be obliterated from the public record.
In the first hour of evidence, Brandis stated twenty-two times that he did not recall events prior to March 3.