Monthly Archives: July 2019

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Private school to pay back $4.3 million after making illicit profits

A private Sydney school will pay back $4.3 million in taxpayer funds to the NSW government after it was found to have illicitly operated for profit for seven years.
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The repayment agreement between Lakemba’s Rissalah College and the NSW Education Department also states the school would lose all future funding if it ever employed, contracted or paid its former long-time principal, Ali Roude, or members of his family.

Mr Roude, an Order of Australia medallist, his wife Susan and his sister Nada, were sued by the 430-student primary school for allegedly benefiting from large unauthorised transactions.

The Roudes, who strongly denied the allegations, agreed to pay the school $300,000 as part of a separate 2015 settlement, without admitting fault.

Staff have previously complained of a severe lack of money in the school. One former senior teacher said in 2015 that staff had been forced to cut used stamps from old envelopes for reuse.

After a four-year legal battle, the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal declared in July the school’s future funding would be conditional on improved governance and paid on a month-to-month basis.

An Islamic community leader, Mr Roude, told Fairfax Media he had done nothing wrong and the school had been cleared by six audits.

“It’s a case of injustice,” Mr Roude said. “But because we are locked up with the deed of settlement, I can’t make any further comment on the case.”

Mr Roude was the principal between 2007 and 2013, the period in which the school was found to be in breach of the Education Act. The Act makes it illegal for the NSW government to provide public funding to a school operating for profit.

The school has also been referred to the NSW Education Standards Authority, the Australian Taxation Office and the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission for investigation.

The July agreement states that Rissalah will miss out on 40 per cent of its state funding each year, roughly $567,000, until the $4.3 million is repaid.

Principal Naslie Styer, the fourth head of the school in four years, did not respond to written questions, including how the funding cut would affect students or whether parents had been formally notified.

The tribunal ordered that “future financial assistance is conditional upon the school board communicating with parents and the school community on the outcome of the investigation and the sanctions applied”.

Almost all Rissalah’s students come from non-English speaking backgrounds. It receives more than $6 million a year in federal and state taxpayer funding, up to 80 per cent of its annual budget.

The school charges students $2600 a year in tuition fees. It owns more than $8 million in real estate and despite litigation costs last year advertised for a project manager to help a transition towards a K-12 program.

Samih Zreika, a director of Rissalah College since 2000, said the tribunal settlement was “really unfair” and had been accepted against his own wishes.

“The management is very weak,” he said.

Mr Zreika defended Mr Roude as having done “everything for the benefit of the school, to grow it up”.

Mr Roude’s wife, Susan, was employed as a school administrator and his sister Nada as head of community strategy. His niece, Roukaya Dannoun, another Rissalah employee who allegedly received an unauthorised payment, settled with the school along with the Roudes on a no-admissions basis.

In 2013, Rissalah became the first of seven Islamic schools to have its funding frozen after claims of financial mismanagement. Respected former PLC principal Bill McKeith began work on an “emergency repositioning” and funding was restored the following year.

Ali Roude, pictured leaving his home, was principal of the school in the years when it was found to be operating for profit. Photo: Ben Rushton

Mr Roude, who lives in a five-bedroom, five-garage stone home in Greenacre, with a letter R painted on top of its wrought-iron gates, had his contract terminated in June 2013.

But two years later, and just months after the $300,000 settlement, the board sought legal advice on a plan to allow Mr Roude to return, in a newly created chief executive role. Lawyers for the school strongly advised the board not to pursue the move.

Mr Roude remains deputy chairman of the Islamic Council of NSW, which has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in public funding per year. iFrameResize({resizedCallback : function(messageData){}},”#pez_iframe_tipstar_546″);

He is also chairman of the Voice of Islam radio station, which broadcasts recitations of the Koran, Friday sermons, talk shows, and trivia from the Lakemba premises it rents from Rissalah.

The NSW Department of Education warned Rissalah in 2014 against selling the property to the radio station, arguing the sale would not be “at arm’s length” given they shared directors.

A spokesman for the department said the NSW Minister for Education, Rob Stokes, was considering next steps in regards to the school.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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Family’s uncertain future after visa crackdown

Like most children born in Australia, Samuel* is a happy and healthy toddler, who loves animals and visiting the zoo.
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But a federal government decision to cut almost all support for dozens of Australian-based asylum seekers may change his future.

Samuel was born in Australia after his parents – along with 370 other asylum seekers captured under the new visa crackdown – were transferred from offshore processing centres for medical treatment.

News of the Turnbull government’s decision to cut income and accommodation support to up to 100 asylum seekers has thrown Samuel’s parents into a tailspin.

Family groups are not part of the first batch of asylum seekers to be targeted by the new “final departure” visa cuts, but Naomi* said she felt like her family could be sent to Nauru within six months.

“I’ve never seen my husband like this,” she told Fairfax Media.

“Ninety-nine per cent of our worry is for our son. One per cent is for my husband and me.”

Samuel, pictured above, was last publicly seen in early 2016 as part of a campaign featuring the faces of numerous asylum seeker babies who were born in Australia but wanted by the government to return with their families to Nauru.

Since then, Naomi and Samuel have enjoyed a relatively calm and stable life in Australia.

Even though the government saw the High Court refuse a challenge from human rights advocates for a big group of asylum seekers living here for medical reasons to remain in Australia, Naomi said it appeared to be happy enough to let many of them remain in the community.

For Samuel, this has meant enjoying all Sydney and Australia has to offer. Visits to the zoo and playing with other kids in a nearby park have been highlights of his young life.

The prospect of their meagre income support and accommodation disappearing has Naomi despairing about what the future might hold for her family, and in particular, what Samuel stands to lose.

“My husband and I have been through so much,” she said.

“The experience of Nauru traumatised us. But we are very proud of ourselves that our son was born in Australia and has had the privilege of possibilities here; the fresh air, the freedom.”

A spokesman for Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said that “every IMA [Illegal Maritime Arrival] transferred from a regional processing centre to Australia for temporary medical assistance was aware that once their medical needs were met they would return to Nauru or Manus”.

He said people would be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has slammed the plan to end income and accommodation support, describing the move as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s “weakest move yet”.

In a strongly worded rebuke, Mr Shorten said the decision was a “new low” from the government.

Mr Shorten said that kicking people onto the streets with no support is “needlessly cruel and really, really dumb”.

“It won’t fix anything. It’s just hurting vulnerable and sick people for the sake of it,” he said.

But Human Services Minister Alan Tudge??? has defended the move, declaring the asylum seekers won’t be receiving any further taxpayer support.

Mr Tudge said the asylum seekers facing the new conditions had received medical treatment in Australia “and consequently now they are required to go back to Nauru, or to PNG, or indeed back to their home country”.

“That is what this is about, and it is consistent … with the principle that anybody who arrives by boat to our shores, won’t be settled in Australia; they will be settled elsewhere. That is what this is about,” he told the ABC.

The Greens have vowed to try and use Parliament to stop the government’s move. Leader Richard Di Natale said on Sunday the minor party was seeking advice on whether the use of a new “final departure Bridging E Visa” – expected to be issued to asylum seekers from Monday – can be overturned when the Senate returns in a week’s time.

“We do call on members of the crossbench and the Labor Party to support us in doing everything we can to stop this unspeakable cruel act getting through the Senate,” he said.

Human rights lawyers believe that about 370 people, including more than 50 babies born in Australia and 66 children born overseas, are highly likely to be captured by the government’s decision to place new bridging visa conditions on dozens of asylum seekers as of Monday.

The cohort also includes 83 single men and 14 single women. More than 20 of the asylum seeker women have suffered sexual assault or rape in their past.

“This decision is about politics not people,” said Amy Frew, a lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre.

“It is unconscionable to force families to choose between homelessness or certain harm in the offshore detention centres. We have had to advise all of our clients, 370 people, nearly one-third of which are children, that it appears that the government will force them out of their homes, leaving them destitute and homeless.

“These families are living in our communities. Building their lives. They have woken today to terrifying news. There are kids who will be in classrooms this week who on Sunday woke up to incredible uncertainty. They will be confused and afraid.”

The asylum seekers captured by the “final departure” visa conditions all tried to enter Australia by boat.

The majority of them are Iranians, Syrians and Afghanis from minority backgrounds. Sri Lankan Tamils and people from the Burmese minority group Rohingya are also included in the group.

While adult asylum seekers living in Australia on medical grounds have been prevented from being able to work, the children have been able to go to school.

Under the new visa conditions, children will still be able to go to school until they turn 18. Those aged over 18 are denied any educational opportunities.

Those issued with the new visa conditions will be given work rights in order for them to try to earn an income to pay for accommodation, food and other expenses while they remain in Australia.

They will also have some medical support and access to a case officer.

The government’s move is expected to place further burdens on church and charity groups.

As Naomi and many other asylum seeker mothers like her face uncertain times ahead, she is putting her faith in the Australian people to help her son have the best shot at a safe and productive life.

“People can use their voice to help the government change their mind about how they are treating us,” she said.

* Naomi and Samuel are not their real names.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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Psychologist: ‘Selena Gomez has blood on her hands’

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A scene from 13 Reasons Why, a Netflix series that deals with suicide and depression.

Netflix is under attack from Australian experts for failing to add local helplines at the end of its most controversial programs, including 13 Reasons Why which portrays a young girl’s suicide.

Child psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg says US popstar Selena Gomez, an executive producer of 13 Reasons Why, has “blood on her hands” for the “dreadful” way in which the show streaming on Netflix portrays suicide.

His criticism comes as Netflix continues to reject requests from Australian mental health groups to retrofit shows with support numbers at the end of each episode.

Dr Carr-Greg said 13 Reasons Why violated every rule on the portrayal of suicide.

“Probably 75 per cent of kids who watch it, there will be no impact, but I’m worried about the ones who have pre-existing vulnerabilities,” he said, after watching every episode.

“A bloke in Canberra told me that his daughter had watched the 13 Reasons Why without his knowledge and she had to be rushed to hospital because she tried to take her own life.”

The series has been widely criticised for glamorising suicide, with US researchers reporting that suicide-related searches were 19 per cent higher than expected in the days following the premiere.

Ms Gomez has defended the series, saying the graphic content was “real” and “honest”, but Dr Carr-Gregg rubbished those claims.

Singer and actress Selena Gomez is one of the executive producers of the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. Photo: HRC

“I think she’s already got the blood of a number of kids on her hands so I those reasons are absolutely crap,” he said.

“If one kid kills themselves as a result of watching this show, then she’s got blood on her hands and the reality is that instead of educating and informing, it has exploited the vulnerabilities of young people in the most dreadful way.”

The drama is among a host of Netflix-created dramas that target young people, and explore difficult subjects such as eating disorders (To the Bone) and autism (Atypical).

Netflix has also rejected requests from the Butterfly Foundation, which supports people with eating disorders, to add localised help information at the end of To the Bone.

In a meeting with Netflix, the Butterfly Foundation asked it to adhere to Mindframe’s Guidelines for the portrayal of eating disorders. But apart from trigger warnings at the start of the film, there are still no Australian support numbers at the end.

Christine Morgan, chief executive of the foundation, said visual portrayals of eating disorders could trigger harmful behaviour and there was a strong need for helpline information.

“The response from Netflix has been disappointing because I believe it could have adopted a more responsible approach to screening the film,” she said.

“It wasn’t as though Netflix was unaware of the triggering nature of the content of their film, they chose not to support all of Butterfly’s requests.”

Professor Jane Burns, a youth mental health expert and the mother of an autistic child, said she also has concerns about the portrayal of autism in Netflix’s series Atypical.

“The issues raised are complex, difficult to portray with empathy and without context, triggering and potentially dangerous,” she said.

“Entertainment is just that, entertainment – but the opportunity to use this popular culture as a myth-buster and really explore the power and the potential of the human psyche is often missed in cliche and story lines that leave the viewer at best lost and at worst in deep despair.”

Netflix and other streaming services are not regulated and they do not appear to be bound to an industry code of conduct.

Julie Inman Grant, Australia’s eSafety Commissioner, said the Butterfly Foundation’s request was reasonable, especially because Netflix created and streamed these controversial shows.

“They have a responsibility to put more information out there, help seeking information,” she said.

“The best way to stave off regulation would be to do the right thing and provide the protections and that shouldn’t be a heavy lift.”

Fairfax Media did not receive comment from Netflix or Gomez before deadline. Lifeline 131114Beyondblue 1300224636

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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McMahon’s blunt message for Wallabies haters

Australian back-rower Sean McMahon has a blunt message for the people who threw barbs at the Wallabies before their gallant effort against the All Blacks on Saturday.
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“What other people have to say about us, we couldn’t give two shits to be honest,” McMahon said. “We’ve got to focus on doing our game and not listen to the outside crew. [Saturday] proved that if we just focus on ourselves and our own game, we can continue to build.”

Although the Wallabies fell 35-29 to the All Blacks in heartbreaking circumstances in Dunedin, they showed enough ticker and temerity to win back the hearts of Australian rugby fans.

McMahon had his best game ever for the Wallabies; making 13 carries for 68 metres in a performance that was inspiring to say the least.

It was so impressive that even coach Michael Cheika, who is usually a little reserved in his praise for players at post-game press conferences, couldn’t contain his admiration for McMahon’s work ethic across 80 minutes.

“There’s a word for Sean McMahon and that was outstanding,” Cheika said. “He was truly outstanding. He gave it everything. That’s the Sean McMahon we know and that’s why I’ll be aiming all guns [blazing] towards Japan to try and get his contract torn up over there.

“I don’t care what it takes to make him stay here because we want him, we need him.

“Maybe it’s nice to say publicly now how badly we want a player to stay here because we love him and we want him to keep playing like that in a gold jersey.”

McMahon will leave Australian rugby at the end of the year to take up a two-year deal in Japan, most likely at the Suntory club alongside Wallabies legend George Smith.

There is the possibility McMahon could return for the 2019 Rugby World Cup, given the Japanese Top League season runs after the international Tests and does not cross over with Super Rugby.

Asked whether he had a desire to play at the World Cup, McMahon was non-committal but said it was nice hear praise from Cheika.

“If I can keep putting performances on like that, it might be something in the future that can change the opportunity for me to come back and shift the pieces around for me to get that opportunity,” McMahon said. “Right now it’s just week to week.

“It’s great to hear comments like that but you can’t let anything like that go to your head. I’m focusing on the next game and getting another opportunity for the gold jersey.

“Down the track, if the opportunity comes back for me to come back, that might happen but right now I’m focusing on the next game over in Perth and at the end of the year, I’ll focus on when I go to Japan.”

McMahon echoed the feelings of other teammates, saying they were all shattered after coming within two minutes of knocking off the All Blacks on their own turf in what would have been one of the greatest upsets in the history of Australian rugby.

“Losing like that in the last two minutes when we put a hard grit effort into trying to get the result there is disappointing,” McMahon said. “All we needed to do is finish there and get a good exit and it could have been a different story. But I think we showed a lot of grit, a lot of passion.

“All we talked about in the sheds was focusing on now we’ve got to build and go to another level. That’s just the start of where we think we can go and we’ve got to continue to build up if we want to be the top of the table.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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McDonald’s defends not paying weekend penalty rates and shoppies union wage deal

The fast food giant pays no weekend and limited late-night penalties. Photo: AP Photo/Alan Diaz.Fast food giant McDonald’s has defended not paying its workers weekend penalty rates as it came under pressure over a controversial wage deal estimated to leave nearly two-thirds of its workforce underpaid.
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Senior executives at the burger chain were quizzed at a Senate inquiry on Friday about itsagreement with the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association(SDA) that pays no weekend and very limited late-night penalties.

The inquiry comes after a Fairfax Media investigation in 2016 found the agreement would result in nearly two-thirds of McDonald’s workers being paid less than the award – the minimum pay and conditions safety net.

The findings were based on hundreds of payslips and the leaking of an entire store’s roster that showed 63 per cent of employees at a large Sydney outlet were paid less than the award.

On Friday, Greens senator Lee Rhiannon cited pay recordsof an adult worker at McDonald’s who she said was more than $4000 a year worse off under the union deal when compared to the award. She also highlighted the case of a 17-year-old casual worker who was nearly $2000 a year worse off.

Retail and Fast Food Workers Union official Josh Cullinan. Photo: Penny Stephens

McDonald’s senior vice-president Craig Cawood defended the agreement and the higher hourly wages it paid.

However, he conceded that the burger giant had not conducted a financial analysis to check if workers were being paid less than the award overall.

“I don’t, in some ways, accept the premise of the question,” he said, noting that workers had voted for the deal and the Fair Work Commission in 2013 had approved it. He said he didn’t know whether McDonald’s would “employ the same number of people” if it had to pay award wages.

There are two separate Senate inquiries underway that stemfrom a 12 month Fairfax Media investigationinto agreements between the SDA and big employers, trading penalties and other loadings. The deals are conservatively estimated to have left more than 250,000 workers paid less than the award and saved Australia’s biggest employers more than $300 million a year.

In 2016, the full bench of the Fair Work Commission, in a landmark decision, quashed an agreement between Coles and the SDA as it failed the “better off overall test”. Evidence in that Coles case showed 56 per cent of workers were paid less than the minimum award rates.

In the Senate hearings this week McDonald’s and major employers, such as KFC and Woolworths, claimed they had not done an analysis to determine whether their workers were worse off but noted that their agreements had been approved by the tribunal.

Those agreements were approved, though, before the Coles decision last year and the Fair Work Commission says it now has a more thorough approach to checking whether workers were paid enough.

The inquiry on Friday also heard evidence from five workers from companies including Coles, Woolworths and Myer, on SDA agreements that they said had left them paid below award rates.

Coles worker David Suter said he was losing between $1500 to $2100 a year from the agreement. “Every hour and every shift I work attracts reduced penalty rates when compared to the award,” he said. “I’m not looking for a handout. I want a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work.”

The workers were part of a submission from new union the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union, which was set up late last year.

RAFFWU secretary Josh Cullinan called for a fresh parliamentary inquiry to investigate the fine detail of how many workers had been underpaid. He accused big employers of deliberately not having done those calculations or analysis.

It was time, he said, for parliament to “dig behind this and do the investigation that others have not”.

SDA national secretary Gerard Dwyer this week defended the union’s record and said loaded rates –where penalty rates are traded off for higher hourly rates –had been part of the system for decades.

He also again said the Coles decision involved a new interpretation of the law,although this has been strongly disputed.

McDonald’s Craig Cawood also supported a separate decision by the Fair Work Commission this year to cut penalty rates in fast food and retail.

He said the finding was consistent with the views of McDonald’s workers that the existing Sunday penalty rate was “neither fair or relevant”.

“As I acknowledge, the change to penalty rates does not affect us,” Mr Cawood said. Labor Senator Gavin Marshall responded that it was not possible to cut penalty rates from zero at McDonald’s.

– Sydney Morning Herald