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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Lower classes being seen as lesser humans

AUSTRALIA rolled its eyes when Tasmania boasted four out of seven finalists in television show Bogan Hunters.

“The seven biggest bogans in the country have been found and it may come as little surprise to some that four of them are from Tasmania,” one News Ltd piece sighed.

Esteemed publication The Daily Mail nodded along: “They market themselves as a state full of untouched wilderness, craft beer and edgy art exhibits, but Tasmania can’t shake its reputation as the bogan capital of Australia.”

Instead of laughing and dismissing these people, a decent society should try and address the issues of unemployment, alcohol and drug abuse, poor education and health issues that flow from generation to generation.

It seems most Tasmanians would rather ignore this element of society. George Town residents have told me their lower classes are either non-existent or nocturnal.

Pretending poor people -“bogans” – don’t exist or completely separating them from the rest of the population only serves to further marginalise an already disadvantaged group of people.

Off the record, journalists hear politicians joke about bulldozing poor areas, event organisers whisper about ticketing events to “keep out the bogans” and Launceston business owners whinge about the riff-raff that hangs around the mall.

One CBD retailer moaned in a public meeting that the three op shops on Launceston’s Charles Street were bringing down the tone of the area.

“What’s next?” she asked.”A brothel?”

And call a spade a spade: repeated attempts to move Launceston’s Metro interchanges is about nothing more than keeping “the anti-social element” out of the CBD.

A University of Melbourne study found that Australians viewed people of a lower-class as animal-like.

Although viewed as warm and competent, peoples’ perception of our disadvantaged overlapped with that of rats, dogs and apes.

Plainly, Australians view its lower classes as lesser humans.

No wonder people were so upset with Glamorgan Spring Bay Mayor Bertrand Cadart when he said Tasmania ranged from “the most bogan of bogans … to the greenest pains in the arse”.

But typically for Tasmanians, instead of accepting Cr Cadart’s view and looking at the bigger issues, people flew to deny the label.

A third of the state is reliant on government benefits. The portion that is employed has the lowest average income in the country – 13 per cent of Tasmanians live in poverty.

The Tasmanian Council of Social Services has argued that the federal budget will only make this situation more dire.

For Tasmania to isolate such a large portion of its residents only takes away a large portion of the ideas, resources and opportunities.

The poor aren’t the problem – it’s the people who judge them and exploit them.

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Learn the facts about boats first

DEFENDERS of genuine asylum seekers may need to moderate their comments in light of the recent interception of a boat in international waters.

The return of 41 Sri Lankans to their country via an Australian customs ship to the Sri Lankan navy on Monday has attracted international attention.

Unfortunately the level of hysteria does not match the facts.

Of those 41 people returned, 37 were from the ruling Sinhalese class – the dominant ethnic group.

Four were Tamils with only one having some grounds for asylum.

However, far more revealing were the reasons they took the perilous and long boat trip from Sri Lanka because it clearly was not about oppression in their home country.

Fairfax reporter Jason Koutsoukis spoke to the families in Galle where most had paid one million rupees, about $8200, to people smugglers.

Punchi Banda Podinilame had a son, son-in-law and seven other relatives on board and said, “they left for economic reasons,” – “they wanted work, they wanted jobs, they were told this was easy to find in Australia.”

One of the passengers Anthony Fernando was quoted, “I went to Australia to find employment and then settle and bring my wife and family,” while another thought he was going to New Zealand, “my dream was four houses in New Zealand.”

Four people smugglers are now behind bars and their prosecution will send a strong message.

Immigration to Australia must be about the orderly transfer of genuine asylum seekers from UNHCR camps where many have been waiting for years.

The biggest tragedy of the boat people era is the 1200 people who have died at sea – this seems to be forgotten in the human rights legal hyperbole.

Yes, the federal government’s policy of off-shore processing is tough, very tough.

However, the alternative of families dying at sea is far worse.

If nothing else the publicity surrounding these two interceptions will reinforce the policy that if you want to come to Australia there is a proper process, and that doesn’t involve paying people smugglers. – MARTIN GILMOUR, editor

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Cameron admits price of failure

KATHMANDU founder Jan Cameron has virtually ruled out a second attempt to regain control of her discount retail empire, saying “I failed and have paid the price for that failure”.

Ms Cameron, who appointed administrators and receivers to retail holding company DSG Holdings Australia last week, appears to have no plans to buy back DSG’s 100-plus profitable Sams Warehouse and Crazy Clarkes stores.

Rather, the 60-year-old philanthropist, environmentalist and animal welfare advocate is relieved that her five-year foray into the discount variety sector has come to an end.

“I’m relieved that I can stop worrying and trying desperately to make the company work,” Ms Cameron told Fairfax Media.

“I don’t feel bitter (but) disappointed for all the staff. Some of them are finding jobs but it will be very difficult for others.”

DSG’s receivers, David Winterbottom and Rahul Goyal, of KordaMentha, have received 25 expressions of interest from parties keen to take over some of DSG’s remaining stores. None have expressed interest in the entire store network.

More expressions of interest are expected before the July 17 deadline, Mr Goyal said.

However, Ms Cameron, who is estimated to have lost more than $200 million of her fortune on the venture, is not among them.

When Ms Cameron’s former company, Retail Adventures Pty Ltd, collapsed in October 2012 after racking up losses of $114 million in two years, Ms Cameron used her position as the largest and only secured creditor to buy back the business three months later.

“(Jan) can regain control, but my conversations to date have been about her exiting this business,” Mr Goyal said.

This time, there will be little to buy back.

The receivers plan to close about 40 of the remaining 143 Sams Warehouse and Crazy Clarks stores, all of which are leased, and are looking for trade buyers for the balance.

The receivers are also winding up DSG’s distribution centre in Queensland and head office in North Ryde.

This means potential buyers would need to have warehouse and logistics systems in place.

“We’re hoping to find someone who has the back office infrastructure and can add the stores onto their network,” said Mr Goyal.

“They don’t necessarily need to be in this (discount variety) space but to have the warehousing and logistics, so it could be someone in a complementary business,” he said.

“Lots of people are looking at it strategically to expand their own business as they (DSG) have some great locations with little competition.”

Ms Cameron is DSG’s only secured creditor and is owed about $100million, while unsecured creditors are owed about $15 million and DSG’s 2500 employees just under $10million in entitlements.

Mr Goyal says KordaMentha is hoping employee entitlements will be covered by funds raised by selling off stock.

Whether Ms Cameron recoups any of her investment depends on funds raised from selling the rest of the business.

“We are hoping she gets something back from this,” Mr Goyal said.

Meanwhile, Ms Cameron is still being pursued by creditors of Retail Adventures over allegations of insolvent trading and preferential payments.

Mediation talks failed last week and Ms Cameron faces a public examination of her finances next month.

According to Retail Adventures liquidator, Deloitte, part of the price DSG paid to buy back control of the business after it collapsed in 2012 was offset against Ms Cameron’s secured loans.

Deloitte believes Retail Adventures may have been insolvent at the time security was granted and the security is therefore voidable.

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Asthma alert as wood smoke levels increase

Asthma sufferers are being warned about wood smoke in Launceston. Picture: SCOTT GELSTONWITH winter in Launceston comes wood smoke, and asthma sufferers are being warned to be vigilant as levels exceed national standards.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Launceston levels of PM2.5 – known as the best measure of wood smoke pollution – exceeded national reporting standards twice in the seven days to Thursday, July 3.

Asthma Foundation chief executive Cathy Beswick said she had seen a steady rise in high smoke alerts across the state, which was concerning for asthma sufferers vulnerable to the health effects.

“It should be highlighting to the public the importance of being a good neighbour when it comes to smoke,” Ms Beswick said. “The particulate matter gets into the lungs, it causes respiratory distress, it can cause an asthma attack, it causes people to cough more and get short of breath.

“It can ultimately lead to worsening asthma conditions and we do still have death from asthma.”

An EPA spokesman said the agency was working on a community education program on the negative impact of wood smoke, with Longford one of the focus areas. He said the program wasn’t about fines or woodheater buy-back schemes, but how people used their woodheaters.

Tips include:

•After adding wood, burn fire on high for 20 minutes, especially before going to bed.•Use only dry, well-seasoned wood in your heater.•Don’t smoulder – always burn with a flame.For more specific health advice about wood smoke visit http:/ /

For updates on smoke levels in Tasmania, “like” Smoke Alert Tasmania on Facebook.

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Recycled plastic to update boardwalk

Infrastructure services director Harry Galea and Launceston acting Mayor Jeremy Ball at the Seaport boardwalk. PIcture: MARK JESSERA STRETCH of recycled plastic boardwalk will be installed at Launceston’s Seaport “before summer”, according to Launceston acting Mayor Jeremy Ball.

More than $1.2 million has been allocated by the council for the project, with the unique design expected to at least double the life-span of the timber boards.

“We’re out to tender in a couple weeks’ time to find a replacement for the ageing boardwalk,” Alderman Ball said.

“We’ve specified recycled plastic decking, which is at a slightly higher cost but it lasts far longer and I think it will give a great finish to this area.

“Timber usually gets about 15 years out of it, but this recycled plastic lasts for about 30 years.

“That really is a far longer life and saves on some of those concurrent costs, which hit ratepayers hardest.”

Alderman Ball said the priority for the council was to have the project completed by summer, in an effort to benefit surrounding businesses.

“Our aim is to make sure the work is done before the summer season starts, which is obviously really important for traders here.

“We don’t know exactly what the product will be, but we want to replicate that timber finish.”

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