Crown Prosecutor Margaret Cunneen defends comments on child sex abuse decision

“Most regrettable”: a live feed image as Margaret Cunneen gives evidence at the royal commission.Crown Prosecutor Margaret Cunneen, SC, has led countless scathing courtroom examinations over a career spanning more than 30 years.

But on Thursday the experienced silk was herself feeling the heat, as the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse examined her role in the decision not to prosecute the former Australian swimming coach Scott Volkers.

During a tense three hours of questioning that Ms Cunneen’s own barrister at one point suggested had “the whiff of a personal attack”, the prosecutor was grilled on why she told Queensland authorities there was “no reasonable prospect” of gaining a conviction against Mr Volkers.

In this advice, Ms Cunneen expressed scepticism about a doctor’s finding that one of Mr Volkers’ alleged victims was suffering from major depression stemming from an alleged assault 14 years before, in which he touched her breasts.

“Dr Cotter’s evidence seems, in view of the trivial nature [relative to the nature and duration of most sexual assaults which come before courts] of the allegations, almost fanciful,” Ms Cunneen said in the advice.

“It is legitimate to consider whether 12-year-old swimmers even had breasts,” her advice also stated.

On Thursday, Ms Cunneen categorically denied that this represented her own personal opinion.

“That is my opinion of the view a jury would form, given the usual robust submissions by defence counsel,” Ms Cunneen said.

“Unfortunately, a prurient couple of paragraphs would be read from it [her advice] to these ladies, who were caused distress, which is most regrettable, because my life’s work has been to try to make this whole process for victims easier and more pleasant …”

The prosecutor, who chaired last year’s special commission of inquiry into child sex abuse in Newcastle, was also grilled extensively on the doubt she expressed about the possibility that a 13-year-old girl wearing tight swimmers could experience an orgasm while being sexually abused.

She repeatedly referred to the need to convince a jury beyond reasonable doubt, drawing a stern response from the Chair of the Commission, Justice Peter McClellan.

“Where is the balance, Ms Cunneen?” he asked.

The following exchange also took place.

Ms Cunneen: “I’ve seen thousands of victims, too. I, too, was sitting in a commission of inquiry listening to very large numbers of victims saying the same.”

Justice McClellan: “Sorry, large numbers of victims in an inquiry?”

Cunneen: “Yes, in the inquiry that I conducted, your Honour.

McClellan: “There were large numbers up there, were there?”

Ms Cunneen was also asked why she had advised that proceeding with the Volkers prosecution could harm the general cause of prosecuting sexual offenders.

She replied that she had  “a very personal interest over many years of hoping that the message got out to the community that the cases that we were prosecuting are strongly backed by the evidence, that we were putting them up because we really expected to get a conviction …”

“It was important, especially in those days … that it didn’t come across as zealous prosecutors putting up very old, relatively minor cases that then are not guilty, and everyone would say ‘Oh, they prosecuted that Volkers, he wasn’t guilty, those girls were lying’.”

The examination will continue on Friday.

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Victoria’s jobless rate hits 12-year high

Victorian Premier Denis Napthine. Photo: Ken IrwinRising unemployment could become a political headache for the Napthine government ahead of the November state election, with Victoria’s unemployment rate reaching its highest level for more than a decade with the loss of almost 16,000 jobs over the past year.

Despite this, an increase in full-time employment has raised hopes that the job market is staging a tentative recovery after being hit by the long-term loss of manufacturing work and the confidence-sapping impact of the federal budget.

Figures from the Bureau of Statistics have revealed Victoria’s employment rate rose to a seasonally adjusted 6.5 per cent in June, up from 5.9 per cent a year earlier.

Less than five months out from the November 29 election, the outlook for employment in Victoria remains patchy.

Although the figures can fluctuate wildly from month to month, the state economy appears to have lost almost 15,900 jobs during the 2013-14 financial year.

But the pain has been confined to part-time employment. During the year, full-time employment rose by 19,900, although this was more than offset by the loss of 35,800 part-time positions.

Treasurer Michael O’Brien said Victoria had been leading the nation on full-time employment growth, with the state also recording a relatively high proportion of working-age people in work or actively looking for a job.

”The Victorian Coalition government has created more than 62,200 jobs since coming to office, and will continue to create jobs through the delivery of our $27 billion job-creating infrastructure program announced in this year’s state budget,” he said.

Despite the surge in full-time work, unemployment across the state has been steadily creeping higher, rising from a low of 4.4 per cent in March 2011 to the current peak of 6.5 per cent, a level not seen since January 2002.

Nationally, unemployment has also increased – although not as steeply – rising from 4.9 per cent in March 2011 to 6 per cent in June 2014, with relatively solid employment in NSW, Queensland and Western Australia.

Melbourne economist MichaelEmerson, the director of Economic and Market Development Advisors, said Victoria’s jobs market had been patchy, with the long-term structural decline of the manufacturing sector partly offset by strength in the construction and business sectors.

He said business and consumer confidence had also been shaken by concerns about the future of automotive manufacturing and the federal budget, although the rise in full-time employment was an encouraging sign.

”What tends to happen is that as the economy recovers, you get more growth in full-time employment as businesses become more confident,” Mr Emerson said.

Opposition finance spokesman Robin Scott said the unemployment queue had grown by more than 53,000 since the Coalition was elected, with the state experiencing the largest monthly employment drop in the nation in June.

Using the bureau’s less volatile trend measure, Victoria’s unemployment rate was 6.4 per cent, up from 5.7 per cent a year earlier with the loss of 1300 jobs.

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Alarming 60% jump in sexual assaults on public transport

Sexual assaults on public transport in Victoria has hit a 10-year high. Photo: Paul Rovere

Sexual assaults on public transport hit a 10-year high last year, with an “alarming” 60 per cent more assaults reported than a decade ago.

The Victoria Police statistics showed sexual assaults on trams, trains, buses and taxis jumped from 167 in 2003-04 to 268 in 2012-13.

Last year’s figures also revealed almost one in 11 sexual assaults that were recorded in public places happened on public transport.

“It’s quite alarming there’s been such an increase,” Public Transport Users Association spokesman Daniel Bowen said.

“It may reflect that more incidents are being reported rather than an increase in the activity itself, but it’s still quite alarming to hear that. Everybody deserves to have a safe and enjoyable trip on public transport.”

It comes as police appealed for help after two schoolgirls were allegedly indecently assaulted on a packed mid-afternoon tram in Melbourne last month.

The two year 11 girls, travelling on a tram at St Kilda at 3.30pm on June 20, snapped photos on their mobile phones of the man they told police assaulted them.

Mr Bowen called for more staff and more security on the public transport network.

“If you look back over the decades, we used to have a tram conductor on every tram and that’s no longer the case. We used to have station staff at every station and that’s no longer the case,” he said.

“We have PSOs [Protective Service Officers] at stations after 6pm, but there are still a lot of stations that have no staff during the day.”

The statistics showed sexual assaults on public transport accounted for about 4 per cent of all sexual assaults, while more than half took place at private residences.

“Mostly people know the person that assaults them and it occurs where they feel safe,” Victorian Centre Against Sexual Assault spokeswoman Carolyn Worth said.

“Having said that, public transport is also a place you should feel safe.”

She said the statistics mean more victims are reporting incidents that can have debilitating effects.

“It’s more likely that women don’t feel as embarrassed and ashamed and come forward and say this happened and this is not ok,” she said.

“It would leave you very uncomfortable and frightened about what could happen next time.”

The assault statistics are recorded during a time when use of public transport increased by about 140 million journeys.

The increased numbers could be attributed to an rise in reporting of offences by the community, Transit police Acting Superintendent Trevor Cornwill said.

“Transit police and local members continue to patrol the public transport network while Protective Services Officers work across the metropolitan train network from 6pm to the last train every day of the week,” he said.

Police Minister Kim Wells said the government aimed to recruit, train and deploy 940 protective services officers by this November to keep commuters safe.

“This forms part of the single largest law and order recruitment exercise in Victoria’s history,” he said. “People who use trains have told us that they welcome the presence of PSOs at train stations. They make people feel safe when travelling at night.”

There are currently 801 PSOs deployed throughout the train network.

A Yarra Trams spokeswoman said criminal activity on trams is “minimal” and transit police ride on trams and trains on a daily basis with staff available to attend incidents.

A Metro Trains spokesman said passengers could alert the train driver by pressing the red emergency button in any carriage and security cameras are on all trains and stations. With Adam Carey and Rania Spooner*Has this happened to you? *Did you report it? *Did you take a photo of the person?  Email [email protected]苏州美甲美睫培训学校.au

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WorkCover in push to restrict union officials’ safety probes

WorkCover inspectors are being told to restrict union officials from investigating safety complaints amid claims of escalating political interference in the regulator.

Briefing documents given to WorkCover safety inspectors last week said they must follow new Napthine government guidelines restricting union officials’ ability to act on site safety issues.

The documents, obtained by Fairfax Media, order inspectors to block health and safety experts from work sites if they are union officials and do not hold a federal right-of-entry permit despite Victorian safety laws allowing anyone – including union officials – to be invited on site to deal with reported safety breaches.

Industrial law expert Andrew Stewart said if Victoria wanted to make it harder for unionists to access a site it should amend its occupational health and safety laws , as Queensland had done, rather than release “guidelines”. Professor Stewart, of Adelaide University, said provisions of state and federal laws overlapped.

“If the Victorian government thinks the right of entry should be narrower, then what they should do is put that up in legislation … and convince the member for Frankston [Geoff Shaw] it’s a good idea.”

A number of senior officials in the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union do not have federal entry permits, but CFMEU safety co-ordinator Gerry Ayres said there was no clear legal reason that site safety representatives could not invite union officials to deal with safety issues.

“It’s clear from this directive that pressure is being put on [WorkCover] to deliver political outcomes for the Napthine government,” Mr Ayres said.

A WorkCover employee of more than 15 years said: “This is the most politically involved we have ever seen the place”.

The employee said staff were also up in arms over the decision to scrap the recognised brand name of ‘WorkSafe’ and this month replace it with WorkCover, believing it reflected a “noticeable change” of the regulator becoming less hostile to businesses.

It follows accusations that the Victorian government has overseen other changes at WorkCover, including a decision to pull two TV safety ads, a freeze on press releases publicising prosecutions against companies convicted of safety breaches and organisational restructures that have led to large-scale staff turnover.

The government has also been highly critical of building unions, particularly the powerful Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, condemning it for “rogue” and “totally inappropriate behaviour”. Government MPs have repeatedly drawn attention to factional links between Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews and the CFMEU. Its criticism has been fuelled by evidence at the royal commission into trade unions accusing CFMEU officials of making illegal threats, intimidation and abuse to control work sites.

A government spokesman said on Thursday it was critical for WorkCover to provide “clear and consistent advice” to its staff about how to act within overlapping federal and state laws governing a union official’s right of entry.

The spokesman also defended changing the agency’s name from WorkSafe to the Victorian WorkCover Authority, saying it “appropriately reflects the breadth of the organisation, which is responsible for providing workplace insurance, compensation and rehabilitation, return to work support, as well as overseeing workplace safety”.

A WorkCover spokeswoman said it was appropriate for management to update staff on policy matters to ensure consistency with other government agencies.

Professor Stewart said the CFMEU and the state government were both trying to stretch regulatory limits surrounding union access to work sites.

“What the Victorian government is doing is trying to achieve executively what they might not be able to do legislatively by releasing guidelines … while at the same time it sounds like the union is trying to make an argument that particular union officials or delegates are not always acting in their capacity as union officials so as to avoid regulatory requirements,” he said.

Opposition WorkCover spokesman Robin Scott said the Liberal government had a track record of undermining the state’s workplace safety regulator.

“Workplace safety must never be subverted by political agendas,” he said.

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Oppose the budget

I DISAGREE with M. Campbell- Smith in lambasting Bill Shorten for his negativism as Opposition Leader.

He was handed the template from Tony Abbott, inarguably the most negative opposition leader we’ve had.

His tactics were taken directly from the American Republican songbook.

How short our memories are. I would like to see more bipartisanship but look what that has led to regarding refugees.

I want Mr Shorten to be hugely oppositional to the budget proposals because they are so patently unfair and unnecessary.

I do not know of any of our poorest Australians who will not suffer considerably if the proposals come into being.

The budget emergency lie whereby you repeat something so much it morphs into the truth prevents a rational consideration of measures which are fair to all to be taken to continue our triple A economy.

A good place to start might be for the same missionary zeal to be applied to tax evaders as it is to dole bludgers.

– RALPH MARSHALL, Launceston

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