Government puts China extradition deal on ice amid cross-party criticism

The government has shelved a controversial move to ratify an extradition treaty with China, as parliamentarians from both the opposition and the government’s own ranks expressed concern over the ethics of the deal.

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Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announced the government would withdraw its ratification bill from the Senate on Tuesday morning.

“The Australian Government decided not to proceed with the ratification of the extradition treaty with China at this time,” she said. 

Malcolm Turnbull decided to pull the bill after receiving a phone call from Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, who informed the prime minister Labor’s shadow cabinet had decided not to support the bill in a meeting on Monday evening. 

Ms Bishop said the government’s conversations with Labor had been “constructive”, but said it remained the government’s policy to implement the deal eventually. 

She said she would now hold further talks with China’s ambassador to Australia, as well as continuing meetings with the federal opposition. 

“China has asked us to uphold our end of the deal,” she said.

The ratification of the treaty would allow China to make official requests for alleged criminals residing in Australia to be extradited for trial in Chinese court, and vice versa. 

Politicians from Labor, the crossbench and within the Coalition expressed concern over China’s human rights record and judicial processes. 

Tasmanian Liberal senator Eric Abetz was among a group of Coalition backbenchers who met with Ms Bishop on Monday evening to discuss their concerns. 

“In China, the life of a defence lawyer is pretty poor, because I think in about 99.9 per cent of cases people are actually convicted,” Mr Abetz said. 

“I don’t think that’s because of the strength and expertise of the prosecutors, I think it’s more that the cases and the judicial system may be stacked in a particular direction.” 

“There are fundamental human rights issues here…and I expressed quite a few of those to the foreign minister, and we had a good discussion,” he said. 

The government had offered assurances that there were safeguards in the treaty that would prevent human rights abuses. Ministers would have powers to prevent extraditions where they had concerns about the treatment the accused might receive in China. 

“I have faith in our legal and political system to ensure that those safeguards would work,” Ms Bishop said.

“And likewise, it’s in Australia’s interest to be able to extradite back to Austrlaia any Chinese national who may have committed a crime here and returned to China.” 

But Greens senator Nick McKim said his party was not convinced by those safeguards, describing the Chinese government as a “junta” and its judicial system as a “convictions factory”. 

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The Turnbull Government’s move to ratify the treaty came just a day after Chinese Premier Li Keqiang concluded a four-day visit to Australia. 

The agreement has been on hold since it was signed by then-prime minister John Howard in 2007.

Ms Bishop says the treaty has been supported by every subsequent government since then.

But on Tuesday, Labor confirmed it now opposed the treaty. Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said the opposition was calling for a “full review of the entire extradition system,” including deals with other countries. 

The treaty has also drawn opposition from the legal community, including the Law Council of Australia.

China’s Li Keqiang during a five day visit to Australia. last week. AAP

Former prime Minister Tony Abbott on Tuesday said he would be cautious about ratifying this treaty now.

“In my judgment, China’s legal system has to evolve further before the Australian government and people could be confident that those before it would receive justice according to law,” he told The Australian on Tuesday.

Malcolm Turnbull on Monday described the treaty as an important part of Australia’s co-operation with China on law enforcement.

Former Liberal senator Cory Bernardi, now of the Australian Conservatives party, had introduced a motion to disallow the treaty’s ratification. 

“[It] doesn’t strike me as an open and transparent legal system,” he told ABC radio.

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If ratified, Australia would be the third Western country to enter into an extradition agreement with China, joining Spain and France. 

Australia would be the first of the so-called Five Eyes intelligence alliance with the US, UK, Canada and New Zealand to do so.

The move comes as the Chinese government continues its anti-corruption campaign and its so-called “fox-hunt” operation of returning corruption suspects overseas.

The Chinese Public Security Ministry says more than 850 fugitives were returned to China last year, mostly from Southeast Asian countries.

The Chinese government has previously released lists of fugitives they believe to be hiding in Australia, the US, New Zealand and Canada.

Andrew Byrnes, professor of International Law at the University of New South Wales, told SBS earlier in March many people in the legal community were concerned about the treaty.

“The Chinese legal system in many respects falls a long way short of the accepted international fair trial standards,” Professor Byrnes said.

“Normally when we deal with those sorts of situations we don’t enter in to extradition treaties with countries where we have real concerns.”

– with AAP

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Rain, wind from Debbie batter Mackay

Mackay has been battered by cyclone Debbie’s rain and wind gusts but the north Queensland town appears to have escaped being inundated by a tidal storm surge.

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The Bureau of Meteorology indicated Category 4 Cyclone Debbie made landfall on the north Queensland coast around 1pm on Tuesday.

More than 20,000 people were evacuated from the Mackay region on Monday amid fears the cyclone would flood low-lying areas with its storm surge set to come in on a predicted 3m high tide.

The storm’s landfall came almost three hours after high tide in Mackay and local councillor Laurence Bonaventura said it appeared the city had avoided any serious flooding.

“No inundation of houses, in that respect, that we know of,” Cr Bonaventura told AAP.

“None that we know of from tidal surge anyway.

“Drainage is swollen but coping in most areas.”

Cr Bonaventura said rainfall in the Mackay region had been heavy but not constant, coming in squalls which gave drains a chance to clear between falls.

Another Mackay councillor, former Queensland State of Origin rugby league player Martin Bella, said waiting for the storm to arrive had been difficult for residents.

“We’re pretty good at the moment, to be honest it’s just so bloody tedious because the damn thing is just so slow moving,” Cr Bella told AAP.

Social media footage of Sarina Beach, south of Mackay, shows the beach and adjacent road covered in sea foam whipped up by the churning waters.

Cr Bella said the biggest risk to the region would probably be fallen trees or trees at risk of toppling due to saturated ground.

Local resident Felicity Mackintosh told AAP trees and falling branches were her main concern.

“Trees are going to fall over because everything’s waterlogged,” she said.

The BoM is forecasting between 300-400mm of rain to fall across the Mackay region on Tuesday with possibly another 400mm forecast for Wednesday.

Ergon Energy says around 34,000 customers have lost power mainly in the communities of Airlie Beach, Cannonvale, Proserpine, Bowen, Mackay and the northern beaches of Mackay.

Hundreds of workers are on standby to restore power but won’t begin their work until conditions are safe enough to do so.

Bulldogs players declare faith in Hasler

Canterbury players have declared their faith in Des Hasler to lead the Bulldogs out of their early-season funk as pressure mounts on the coach to keep his job at Belmore.

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Last week’s 36-0 defeat to Manly – their second biggest loss under Hasler – has left the Bulldogs near the bottom of the NRL ladder with one win over the opening month.

The result forced Bulldogs chairman Ray Dib to defend Hasler’s position at the club, however that stance may change when the board meets on Thursday.

Veteran prop Aiden Tolman denied Hasler’s game plan needed urgent change in light of a reported deadline – believed to be by round 10 – to retain the clipboard.

“I don’t think he needs to change. Obviously we need to improve a few things from last week. I suppose that’s where you’ll see the change,” Tolman said on Tuesday.

“But in terms of our footy structures, I don’t think that really needs to change too much.”

Tolman rejected claims the players had no more belief in their coach.

“That’s the question that’s always going to be asked, but at the end of the day it was our performance on the weekend that cost us the game. Des wasn’t out there,” he said.

However Tolman did admit feeling the growing pressure to deliver victories after being held scoreless for just the second time in the Hasler era.

Their combined 54 points over the opening four weeks is also the lowest in the league.

“Since I’ve been here, even though we’ve been in every finals series in the past five years and two grand finals, there’s always been pressure,” he said.

“At the moment we’re (1-3) and we’re not going to great, so that pressure builds a bit. But we’ve got full support here from Des and moving forward that’s the way it’s going to continue.”

Lock Greg Eastwood said Hasler’s successful coaching career, which includes two premierships at Manly, proved that he knows how to get their season back on track.

The Bulldogs lost five of their first six games in 2013 before storming back to make the finals.

“Des has our full support at the moment,” he said.

“The board and CEO decide (on his job). For now, Des has our full support and we’re right behind him. We’ve been to six finals in the last six years he’s been here. He’s got the right formula.”

Disability care a ‘catastrophic’ failure

A “catastrophic” failure to protect people in Victorian disability care from assault and sexual predators is being investigated after families of victims say they were ignored.

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Anne Mallia told the ABC’s Four Corners program her son was groomed by a predator while he was in care with Autism Plus in Victoria, but her reports were ignored.

Maria Thomas also told the program her son was being targeted by the same man, but when Autism Plus urgently asked the Department of Health and Human Services to move the man, the request was rejected.

“(My son) was sexually assaulted in the shower while he’s having a shower,” Ms Thomas told the ABC.

Beverley Swann said her brother had been assaulted in a Lifestyle Solutions home and it was covered up.

Jean Hislop said her son was sexually assaulted by a staff member in a home run by the Victorian DHHS.

Autism Plus general manager of operations Edward Boghikian said he welcomed the government investigation into the claims, but was legally prevented from commenting on the case.

“We’re bound by confidentiality and we hold the privacy of our clients in such regard that even in the face of public scrutiny we still will not breach it,” Mr Boghikian told AAP on Tuesday.

When asked if he was confident the department would properly handle an issue if he contacted them, Mr Boghikian said: “I can’t answer that question, it was a good question, but I can’t answer that.”

Victorian Human Services Minister Martin Foley said the department’s interactions with Autism Plus and Lifestyle Solutions were being reviewed.

“It is also evident that my department needs to do more to ensure people with a disability are not continued to be let down in any way,” Mr Foley said in a statement.

Premier Daniel Andrews said the government would learn from the “tragedy” and the pain caused to families.

“When something like this happens, you must acknowledge that it is a catastrophic failure,” he told reporters.

Lifestyle Solutions chief executive Andrew Hyland said he was “deeply saddened” by the stories.

“Where shortcomings were identified, the findings have informed improvements in our policies and procedures,” he said in a statement.

The Australian Federation of Disability Organisations said a 2015 Senate inquiry recommended a Royal Commission into abuse in disability care.

“We need providers to be held accountable for what happens on their watch,” chief executive Ross Joyce said.