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Austria tiring of being ‘ashtray of Europe’

Guests puff on cigarettes in a Vienna bar. Photo: AFP

Austria is tiring of its reputation as “the ashtray of Europe” — at least according to the results of a nationwide petition backing a ban on smoking in cafes and restaurants.

Pressure is now mounting on Austria's far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) to drop its opposition to a referendum on the issue after the petition organised by Austria's medical association garnered 881,569 signatures.

The result, which represents 14 percent of the electorate and more than 10 percent of the population overall, is the seventh largest for a petition of its kind, according to public radio Ö1.

Austria is one of the last European countries where smoking is still permitted in bars and restaurants despite calls for bans dating back 13 years, prompting anti-smoking groups to dub it the “ashtray of Europe”.

That looked as though it would change when in 2015 the previous government — a “grand coalition” of the centre-left Social De..

Guests puff on cigarettes in a Vienna bar. Photo: AFP

Austria is tiring of its reputation as "the ashtray of Europe" — at least according to the results of a nationwide petition backing a ban on smoking in cafes and restaurants.

Pressure is now mounting on Austria's far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) to drop its opposition to a referendum on the issue after the petition organised by Austria's medical association garnered 881,569 signatures.

The result, which represents 14 percent of the electorate and more than 10 percent of the population overall, is the seventh largest for a petition of its kind, according to public radio Ö1.

Austria is one of the last European countries where smoking is still permitted in bars and restaurants despite calls for bans dating back 13 years, prompting anti-smoking groups to dub it the "ashtray of Europe".

That looked as though it would change when in 2015 the previous government — a "grand coalition" of the centre-left Social Democrats (SPÖ) and centre-right People's Party (ÖVP) — voted through a ban that was meant to take effect in May this year.

However, after elections in October 2017, the FPÖ and its leader Heinz-Christian Strache — himself a keen smoker — made dropping the ban a condition of joining a coalition with the ÖVP of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

As a result, smoking in bars and restaurants stayed legal as long as it was done in a separate area — although this rule is not always rigidly implemented.

No separate area is necessary in establishments smaller than 50 square metres (540 square feet) if the owner is happy to allow smoking on the premises.

The situation is an "aberration" which is "contrary to the trend across the rest of the world", according to the medical association, which stresses that 13,000 people die each year in Austria from smoking-related causes.

According to Eurostat, 30 percent of Austrians over the age of 15 smoke — the third-highest proportion in the EU — and it has some of the EU's cheapest cigarettes.

'Election campaign joke'

The impressive level of support for the anti-smoking petition has put the FPÖ in an awkward position: the party has said it is keen to promote "direct democracy" but has consistently refused to entertain a referendum on the smoking issue.

"If the call for direct democracy is more than just an election campaign joke, the government has to allow a referendum," said new SPÖ leader Pamela Rendi-Wagner.

The FPÖ has put its own gloss on the results of the petition.

According to prominent FPÖ MP Walter Rosenkranz, the high level of participation "demonstrated a desire for more direct democracy among the population".

At the same time, party leader Strache stressed that "more than 85 percent" of voters did not sign the petition and that it had not achieved the threshold of 900,000 beyond which the party had promised a referendum at some point
after 2021.

However, the Austrian press largely echoed the Kronen Zeitung tabloid when it said "it will be difficult for the FPÖ to explain why they're not organising a referendum straight away".

Several prominent ÖVP politicians have also come out in favour of a referendum, including the mayors of Graz and Salzburg.

Even though he was also part of the previous government that backed the law, Chancellor Kurz has maintained a studied silence on the issue.

Strache, who is also vice-chancellor, claims the current setup maintains "freedom of choice" and protects "the interests of non-smokers, smokers and restaurateurs".

However, a growing number of establishments are themselves becoming smoke-free.

The country's Economic Chamber, which represents businesses, says that "not a single establishment set up this year has set aside a smoking area".

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Australia

Michelle Guthrie suing ABC after being dumped as managing director

Former ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie is taking the broadcaster to court over her dismissal, with sources confirming she will claim the board “had no reason to trigger the termination clause”.

Key points

Ms Guthrie was sacked last month, mid-way through her five-year tenure
At the time of her sacking, Ms Guthrie said she was considering her legal options
By the end of that week, the broadcaster's chairman Justin Milne had resigned

Ms Guthrie has begun the formal legal process and lodged paperwork at the start of this week.

A spokesperson for Ms Guthrie told the ABC she had lodged a claim with the Fair Work Commission, but did not confirm what damages were being sought.

The ABC also confirmed Ms Guthrie had made a complaint, but according to a spokesperson, “details of the complaint are not a matter of public record”.

Ms Guthrie was last month sacked from the position, mid-way through her five-year tenure.

At the time of her departure, then-ABC chairman Justin Milne..

Former ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie is taking the broadcaster to court over her dismissal, with sources confirming she will claim the board "had no reason to trigger the termination clause".

Key points

  • Ms Guthrie was sacked last month, mid-way through her five-year tenure
  • At the time of her sacking, Ms Guthrie said she was considering her legal options
  • By the end of that week, the broadcaster's chairman Justin Milne had resigned

Ms Guthrie has begun the formal legal process and lodged paperwork at the start of this week.

A spokesperson for Ms Guthrie told the ABC she had lodged a claim with the Fair Work Commission, but did not confirm what damages were being sought.

The ABC also confirmed Ms Guthrie had made a complaint, but according to a spokesperson, "details of the complaint are not a matter of public record".

Ms Guthrie was last month sacked from the position, mid-way through her five-year tenure.

At the time of her departure, then-ABC chairman Justin Milne said directors had resolved it was not in the best interests of the broadcaster for Ms Guthrie to continue to lead the organisation.

He said the board had made the decision in the interest of "the millions of Australians who engage with ABC content every week".

He would not be drawn on exactly what had led to the decision "out of respect" to Ms Guthrie, however when pressed, said her "leadership style" had been a factor.

At the time, Ms Guthrie said she felt her termination was unjustified and that she was considering her legal options.

"While my contract permits the board to terminate my appointment without cause and with immediate effect, I believe there is no justification for the board to trigger that termination clause," she said.

"At no point have any issues been raised with me about the transformation being undertaken, the Investing in Audiences strategy, and my effectiveness in delivering against that strategy."

Ms Guthrie was sacked on Monday, September 24, and by the end of the week Mr Milne had also resigned amid accusations he interfered in the broadcaster's editorial independence.

In the days after Ms Guthrie's acrimonious departure, explosive reports in Fairfax and News Limited publications claimed Mr Milne had urged the then-managing director to sack two prominent reporters because the Government "hated" them.

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Australia

Unions furious about Government’s decision to join casual workers court case

Related Story: Unions slam push for 'perma-flexi' workers that would see casual loading slashed

The Federal Government has joined a court case trying to stop casual workers “double dipping” on leave entitlements, arguing recent decisions have caused “anxiety” among small businesses around the country.

Jobs Minister Kelly O'Dwyer said a case currently before the Federal Court risked allowing casual workers to claim leave entitlements on top of their casual pay loading.

“It's generally one or the other, but not both, and the certainty needs to be made very clear,” Ms O'Dwyer said.

“That's why the Commonwealth is intervening in this particular case, small businesses need that certainty.

“Each and every day they face decisions about whether or not they employ people, and that is somebody's future.”

Labour hire firm WorkPac has brought the case against an employee, after the Federal Court ruled against the company in a similar dispute to allow a cas..

Related Story: Unions slam push for 'perma-flexi' workers that would see casual loading slashed

The Federal Government has joined a court case trying to stop casual workers "double dipping" on leave entitlements, arguing recent decisions have caused "anxiety" among small businesses around the country.

Jobs Minister Kelly O'Dwyer said a case currently before the Federal Court risked allowing casual workers to claim leave entitlements on top of their casual pay loading.

"It's generally one or the other, but not both, and the certainty needs to be made very clear," Ms O'Dwyer said.

"That's why the Commonwealth is intervening in this particular case, small businesses need that certainty.

"Each and every day they face decisions about whether or not they employ people, and that is somebody's future."

Labour hire firm WorkPac has brought the case against an employee, after the Federal Court ruled against the company in a similar dispute to allow a casual truck driver to claim leave entitlements.

"This is a new test case particularly looking at the offset arrangements," Ms O'Dwyer said.

"I am intervening in this case to clarify what was not clarified in the previous court decision.

"The anxiety that this has created among small businesses right across the country is one that needs to be settled and settled very quickly."

Unions are furious with Ms O'Dwyer's decision, accusing the Minister of fundamentally misunderstanding both the law and the circumstances of the case.

Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) President Michele O'Neil said the truck driver in the first case had been employed for two-and-a-half years, and was paid 30 per cent less than permanent workers at the company.

"What the company did was, instead of employing him as a permanent worker as they should have, they used a labour hire firm to bring him in on a rate that was 30 per cent less," Ms O'Neil said.

"So how is that worker doing anything other than ensuring that his rights are protected? And that's what the court has done.

"The court has looked at the circumstances and said, 'This isn't casual, this is fake casual and he's entitled to be paid his accrued annual leave'."

She said Ms O'Dwyer was wasting taxpayer funds, and was simply backing big business.

"The Minister doesn't understand the law, this is not that unusual a decision," Ms O'Neil said.

"There's been more than 20 years of precedent cases like this where the courts have said if you enter into a sham, if you have someone that's employed long term, if you have someone that's on a regular shift, regular hours, then you can't just call that person a casual and get away with it.

"So for the Minister to suggest, and for the business lobby to suggest that somehow this is an unusual case that has put at risk the whole employment of casuals is wrong."

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Australia

The South Tyrol question, explained

A South Tyrolean separatist holds a sticker saying: “South Tyrol will be free!” Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP

South Tyrol, known to Italians as Alto Adige, has been a bone of contention between Austria and Italy for decades. Here's what you need to know about the latest dispute.

The Austrian government has angered Italy with plans to offer dual citizenship to the majority German-speaking population of South Tyrol province.

As voters elect the province's parliament this weekend, with dual citizenship a hot-button issue during the election campaign, here are some facts about a region where many still feel a deep affinity to Austria.

What is South Tyrol's status?

South Tyrol, or Alto Adige in Italian, covers an area of around 7,400 square kilometres and has a population of around 500,000.

It formed part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire for 550 years until it was ceded to Italy in 1919 just after World War I. After World War II, South Tyrol and the neighbourin..

A South Tyrolean separatist holds a sticker saying: "South Tyrol will be free!" Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP

South Tyrol, known to Italians as Alto Adige, has been a bone of contention between Austria and Italy for decades. Here's what you need to know about the latest dispute.

The Austrian government has angered Italy with plans to offer dual citizenship to the majority German-speaking population of South Tyrol province.

As voters elect the province's parliament this weekend, with dual citizenship a hot-button issue during the election campaign, here are some facts about a region where many still feel a deep affinity to Austria.

What is South Tyrol's status?

South Tyrol, or Alto Adige in Italian, covers an area of around 7,400 square kilometres and has a population of around 500,000.

It formed part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire for 550 years until it was ceded to Italy in 1919 just after World War I. After World War II, South Tyrol and the neighbouring province of Trentino formed the autonomous region of Trentino-Alto Adige.

The rights of the German- and Ladin-speaking minorities were officially protected under the 1948 Autonomy Statute. But the South Tyrolean People's Party began pushing for greater provincial autonomy in the mid-1950s, and in the 1960s German-speaking militants even carried out a series of sometimes deadly bomb attacks against symbols of Italian state authority.

A revised statute came into force in 1972, devolving most powers to the provinces and setting up power-sharing between the linguistic groups in South Tyrol.

Around 65 percent of South Tyroleans identify themselves as German speakers, 27 percent Italian and four percent Ladin, a Romance language.

Are people happy with the current status quo?

Most people seem to be. The Open Democracy website reports that the proportion of South Tyroleans
comfortable with "socio-political cohabitation" between the linguistic groups rose from eight percent in 1991 to 53 percent by 2014.

While many parties representing German- and Ladin-speakers still have pro-independence statutes, the province is proud it is frequently held up as a model of peaceful cohabitation.

READ ALSO: Italy's South Tyrol: where an identity crisis lingers

Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP

What is Austria's proposal?

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz's idea is to offer Austrian passports to South Tyrol's German- and Ladin-speaking populations, but not to Italian speakers. But Vienna has not spelt out in detail who would be eligible.

Guenther Pallaver, political science professor at Innsbruck University, sees two possibilities.

"The first would be historical or genealogical, where the applicant must prove that their parents or grandparents were citizens of the former Austrian Empire," Pallaver said. "But as successive generations pass, such a lineage becomes increasingly difficult to prove."

The second variant would be ethnic and linguistic. "South Tyroleans must officially choose which linguistic group they belong to. But no language tests are carried out to verify a person's fluency," Pallaver said.

Another complication is that Austria does not permit dual nationality.

Who is for and against?

Most parties representing German- and Ladin-speakers are in favour, while most of the Italian parties are against, echoing Rome's position.

South Tyrol's Green Party says excluding Italian speakers would be problematic and could fuel resentment between the different language groups.

Some opponents also argue the scheme could be used as a back door for migrants to gain Austrian nationality.

Is a solution likely any time soon?

With no concrete proposal on the table from Vienna and fierce resistance in Rome, no solution is in sight in the near term, says Marc Roeggla, researcher in minority rights at the EURAC institute in Bolzano.

"It's very, very difficult to say. I could say it will happen within the next few years." But it all depends on what solutions Austria puts forward, he says.

READ ALSO: Italy and Austria at odds over South Tyrol dual-citizenship


Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP

By AFP's Simon Morgan

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