Looking at Australian politics from a libertarian/conservative perspective...  

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30 April, 2006


Three news items:

Prominent Leftist wants tax cuts

There is a lot more economic rationality in the Australian Left than there is in most Leftist parties

Paul Keating has delivered a scathing assessment of the party he led for four years, saying he doubts Labor can ever recover the reformist zeal it once displayed and criticising its failure to offer a reduction in the top tax rate. The former Labor prime minister has revealed he urged Mark Latham to reduce the top income tax rate from 47 per cent to 39per cent as part of his 2004 election platform, saying it "would drive (John) Howard mad". But Mr Latham ignored the advice. In a rare concession to his opponents, Mr Keating says "the Liberals have actually showed more promise in understanding the need to open (the economy) up than the Labor Party does".

But Mr Keating, who as treasurer delivered the last cut in the top income tax rate in the 1980s when he reduced it from 60 to 47per cent, says both Labor and the Coalition lack the "conscientiousness and urgency" to pursue economic reform. Mr Keating's frank comments were given in an extensive interview with The Weekend Australian journalist George Megalogenis and appear in his book, The Longest Decade, to be published on Monday. Mr Keating describes the party he led as "a pretty modest beast" for most of its history. Although he says he supports current leader Kim Beazley, his remarks will be seen as an attack on his approach at a time when he is vulnerable over low approval ratings in the opinion polls.

Mr Keating says that, since he lost office in 1996, Labor "has gone back to the old anvil". "It's walked away from financial innovation, from the opening up of the economy and the whole meritocracy model of widening its own appeal to single traders, to sole operators of business, small business. "And you may say, 'Well, will we see the likes of the 83-to-96 government again?' Well, maybe, maybe not. Institutionally, you could have no confidence that the Labor Party could now breed it. In fact, it probably never bred it; it was more good luck than good management."

Mr Keating says he rang Mr Latham just before the last election to wish him luck. Mr Latham responded that he expected a struggle but he was happy that he had highlighted during the campaign the need to "ease the squeeze" on families. Mr Keating says he responded: "Listen mate, you know what the squeeze on families is in Sydney, how they move up from a two-bedroom apartment to a terrace house, how they trade in their Commodore for an Audi, that's the squeeze on families." Mr Latham had responded: "You're joking."

Mr Keating says economic conditions have been kind to Peter Costello and John Howard. "It's been too easy," he says. "Let's make this point, this treasurer and this prime minister have never had a quarterly set of national accounts which would have been a disappointment to them. They didn't have to find, or fathom, a way to reduce inflation (like I did)."

The Longest Decade also includes an interview with Mr Howard, who says the previously Labor-voting blue-collar workers who had become self-employed as a result of economic deregulation were "a natural fit for me". "A lot of those people are socially conservative. They don't like all this trendy stuff (such as a republic and Aboriginal reconciliation)," he says....

The book reveals that, despite being antagonists throughout their careers, Mr Howard and Mr Keating share some common views, including on economic reform, their distaste for former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad and the republic.

More here

Families: More Left/Right consensus

To a degree

Labor leader Kim Beazley has defended John Howard's tax benefit for stay-at-home mothers, arguing it does not discourage women from working. In the latest in a series of steps to de-Lathamise the Labor Party's policies, Mr Beazley has told The Weekend Australian that lack of childcare was keeping women out of work, rather than government payouts keeping them at home.

"I don't actually think that, while Family Tax Benefit (Part) B is meant to attract women away from the workforce ... compared to the other disincentives it's significant," he said. "If you're going to provide for the next generation you do have to focus on families. There has to be a bias in the system towards families. "The biggest disincentive to women working is access to childcare; that's the biggest problem. The second-biggest problem is reward."

Mr Beazley attacked the Government for allowing millionaire families to get money under the benefit, and called for a $250,000 income limit. "Family tax B ought to have at least the means test applied to it," he said.

Mr Howard accused Labor this month of wanting to take benefits off mothers, in an aggressive speech naming families as the chief tax battleground. The Prime Minister said the ALP in government would dismantle the $13 billion Family Tax Benefit in favour of tax cuts for individuals and said the "people who will suffer most will be Australian women".

Mr Beazley told The Weekend Australian that he did not think the family payments system should be further expanded. "The more effective way of dealing with it may be through reductions in taxation as opposed to increases in family payments," he said.

More here

State Labor leader backs migrant crackdown

More recognition that it is Australian conservatives who now speak for working-class voters

Premier Peter Beattie has backed a Commonwealth proposal for prospective migrants to understand basic English and Australian values before they are allowed into Australia. Mr Beattie said migrants had made a "great contribution" to Australia and the proposal was reasonable to ensure people with the same democratic values entered the country. "I don't think it's unreasonable to expect certain standards . . . I don't think it's unreasonable to ensure that migrants that come here have an ability to understand English . . . Why wouldn't we expect people to be committed to the democratic values that we subscribe."

Federal MP Andrew Robb, parliamentary secretary to Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone, has said he would consider the introduction of a compulsory citizenship test. Prospective immigrants may have to pass an English test as well as learn Australian values, customs, laws and history. Mr Robb said English-speaking migrants were more likely to find work and this helped them to integrate better into the community and possibly combat problems like terrorism.


Health fund reforms will benefit all Australians

An editorial from "The Australian" newspaper

When it comes to paying for their healthcare, Australians enjoy a system that for the most part strikes a sensible balance between the laissez-faire market of the US, that leaves millions unprotected, and the dangerously bureaucratic and inefficient socialised medicine schemes of nations such as Canada and Britain. But this does not mean there is not room for improvement. When Medibank, which later became Medicare, was first introduced in 1975, it was a breakthrough that provided universal healthcare and cost containment. But its creaky big-government model became as out of date as national wage cases, and led to long queues and rationing, and Australians have since sought - and received - far more choice in their healthcare.

After the policy changes of the late-1990s designed to increase the take-up of private health funds, enrolment numbers are once again flagging with 43 per cent - just under nine million people - of the nation covered by private medical coverage. Sensible reforms, such as those proposed this week by the Howard Government, can help reverse this trend. Scheduling out-patient treatments and preventative as well as lifestyle measures such as gym memberships once considered "extras" under basic hospital cover should reduce hospital admissions while saving money and lives. Diabetes claims 3300 Australian lives a year and costs $1.2 billion a year. Obesity is thought to cost the nation another $1.2 billion. And smoking kills 19,000 Australians a year through various preventable diseases, at a cost of some $21 billion. To save even 10 per cent of these costs and lives would be a boon for the health system and the country.

Other reforms are similarly encouraging. Dropping lifetime health cover penalties for fund members who retain their coverage for more than a decade removes another disincentive to signing up. And greater transparency about out-of-pocket costs is also a big win for consumers. Some 43 per cent of health fund members who stay in a private hospital wind up with a bill averaging $720, often not realising they will be slugged with extra charges. In addition to all this, the Government is also set to put Medibank Private up for sale. This is a sensible move for a host of reasons, not the least of which is that it removes the conflict of interest inherent with having a health insurance policy-maker owning a private insurance company.

With these reforms completed, the next step will be clear - namely, the Government should stop meddling in the rates set by private health funds. The industry is already competitive and price-sensitive, and at least one health fund's current advertising campaign uses its history of modest premium increases as its primary selling point. And given that health fund membership is reasonably elastic, it is in the health funds' interests to stay competitive with one another lest members get fed up with the cost and hop back into the public pool. There is no reason to require private health funds to continue to get approval for their premiums from Canberra.


Catholics prepare for fight on homosexual adoption

A law banning gay and lesbian couples from adopting children will be reviewed by an inquiry into NSW adoption legislation. The Minister for Community Services, Reba Meagher, said individual homosexuals could adopt under current laws but the review would consider proposals to remove a ban on same-sex couples. In the past five years similar bans have been overturned in Western Australia, Tasmania and the ACT. "This is an area of government policy that generates emotion on both sides of the debate," she said. "The review process is a fair way to canvass those views and look at the issue in a systematic way." Ms Meagher said she did not want to pre-empt the review's findings by expressing her opinion on same-sex adoptions.

The Catholic Church is likely to staunchly resist any attempt to endorse gay adoption. The Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, told the Herald this week that children had a right to a "mother and father". Dr Pell said the church would present the review with "sociological findings" on children who grew up in marriages, de facto heterosexual relationships and same-sex partnerships. He said there was "significant evidence about the benefits of marriage" over same-sex partnerships. Dr Pell said he could "never anticipate" the church's welfare and adoption agency, Centacare, working to place children with same-sex couples.

The Prime Minister, John Howard, also opposes adoptions by same-sex couples. The NSW Government overhauled adoption laws in 2000 but rejected a recommendation by the NSW Law Reform Commission to extend adoption rights to gay couples. The resulting Adoption Act 2000 requires the minister to report to Parliament within six years on whether the law fulfils its aim of serving the best interests of children. The Department of Community Services is conducting the review and will report to Ms Meagher by November. "We want to place as many vulnerable children as possible into homes that are loving and stable," Ms Meagher said. "That is why our policy does not preclude unmarried people in same-sex relationships from adopting if they are able to care for a child and provide a safe, secure and loving environment."

The NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby is preparing a submission to the inquiry, saying current laws cause uncertainty for families with same-sex parents and prevent homosexual step-parents from making legal decisions about their children's medical condition or inheritance. "The act needs to be modernised and reflect the fact that gays and lesbians are parents and there is no difference between our families and other families in society," said a spokesman, David Scamell.


29 April, 2006


Comment from the Federal government:

The federal government will consider calls to introduce compulsory citizenship and English tests for prospective immigrants, Attorney-General Philip Ruddock says. Andrew Robb, the parliamentary secretary to Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone, has flagged the introduction of compulsory tests, which would include quizzes on Australian values, customs, laws and history.

Mr Ruddock said it was important that migrants understood their obligations in Australia. He said when he was immigration minister he introduced an adult migrant English language program that included discussions about citizenship and legal issues. "The process that Andrew is foreshadowing may require some additional commitment of funds, of resources and they're matters that the government will look at," Mr Ruddock told reporters. "He's put the matter on the agenda for us to look at. "But the purpose is a right and proper purpose, given what we understand by what it is to be an Australian and, I think, a broadly universal acceptance that if you settle in Australia you've got a responsibility to respect our constitution, the institutions, our courts, the parliament, the rule of law and what it means."


Greens (really far-Leftists) don't like it

Note the silence from the Labor Party. They cannot afford to lose any more working-class votes

A plan to check English fluency and Australian values as part of a citizenship test for prospective immigrants has been blasted by politicians and ethnic groups. Greens senator Kerry Nettle led the attack today, saying not all native Australians were fluent in English, and not all ministers epitomised Australian values. Ethnic and religious groups were also concerned the tests would unfairly discriminate against some would-be immigrants.

Andrew Robb, the parliamentary secretary to Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone, last night said he would consider the introduction of a compulsory citizenship test for prospective immigrants. The test would be on the English language and Australia's values, customs, laws and history, he said.

But Senator Nettle said: "A fluent grasp of English is not a prerequisite of being Australian. "Has Mr Robb forgotten that many Indigenous Australians do not speak fluent English? Is he suggesting that they are less Australian? "The truth is that there are no values which are peculiarly Australian, and there are plenty of Australians, some of them ministers, who fail to live up to the universal values of honesty, fairness, and respect which might be part of the test Mr Robb is talking about." She said if Mr Robb really wanted to help immigrants learn English he would be proposing language assistance. "Tests are about exclusion [Sure are!] not inclusion. If Mr Robb were genuine about wanting to help new migrants with their English he would be proposing language assistance not compulsory exams."...

The Australian Democrats said if the Government was serious about the citizenship test it should make everyone take it, not just migrants. "If Andrew Robb is serious about a compulsory citizenship test on Australian history, customs and values, he should have the courage to require all Australians to take the test," Senator Andrew Bartlett said. He said Prime Minister John Howard already had raised concerns about the standard of teaching of history and values in Australian schools. "There are already English requirements before people can take out Australian citizenship and the prime minister himself has acknowledged how poor the teaching of history and values of our country in Australian schools," he said. "Clearly many existing Australians have little understanding of the history and heritage in this country."

Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia chair Voula Messimeri said citizenship should not be a matter of passing or failing a test. "Australia has a very long and very proud tradition of accepting people from all around the world and that, by necessity, means that there will be people that arrive, and arrive to the door now, that speak no English now," she said on ABC radio. In particular, many coming from Africa would be unable speak English, she said....

Dr Ameer Ali, president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, said he too had concerns. "We have a peculiar democracy, a peculiar sense of equality, every body is like every body else. So that is the value that is appreciated, that is commendable, this typical unique Australia," he said.

More here


Feds going cold on windfarms (Hooray!)

Environment Minister Ian Campbell's campaign against unpopular wind farms will include a national code giving him new powers to veto any project facing community opposition. As Senator Campbell used the death of an endangered wedge-tail eagle to support claims that wind farms threatened birds, he vowed to defy threats of a constitutional challenge from Labor states to forge ahead with plans for the code. It would give him new powers to block any wind farm based on community opposition, not just on environmental grounds. Senator Campbell said he was close to securing a national agreement with the states, with the exception of Victoria and Western Australia. If he could not win their backing, he warned last night he would unilaterally extend federal powers as a "last resort". Senator Campbell last month infuriated the Victorian Government by stopping the Bald Hills wind farm project in Gippsland to "save" the endangered orange-bellied parrot. This week, he froze funding for a similar wind farm project on the south coast of Western Australia, which won state government approval but faced opposition from members of the local community. His hardline position came as it emerged yesterday that the rare wedge-tail eagle died after colliding with wind turbines at the Woolnorth Wind Farm in Tasmania's northwest in wind gusts of 140km/h. According to a report, it appears the eagle's wings were severed and the bird was decapitated by the turbines. Senator Campbell said the death sent a message to "those who sneer about me making a decision based on killing birds". "Wind farms kill birds very regularly," he said. "I think all those who snigger about environment ministers trying to protect threatened species - hopefully, this will be a bit of a wake-up call."

More here

Some Greenies applaud Feds on windfarms

For a good part of his life, licensed surveyor Peter Mortimer has plied the waves of the pristine beaches around the idyllic West Australian town of Denmark. "It's one of those special places where you are isolated from anything man-made. It's a totally natural environment," he said. Mr Mortimer surfs one beach in the summer when the wind dies down and another, more sheltered, beach in winter when the fierce gusts blast their way over the southern Indian Ocean. Between the two beaches lies a local landmark, Wilson's Head, and it is there that a group of Denmark locals want to plant two or three turbines to harness the same strong winds. Mr Mortimer does not like the idea of having such machines, with their huge blades spinning away, overlooking him as he's trying to catch a wave. In Denmark, population 5000, it's the battle of who's greenest. Mr Mortimer say he is not against wind farms per se, he just thinks it is idiotic to put such an eyesore in one of the few spots on the state's southeast coast that has not been developed. He says that principle applies not just for locals, but for Perth types who go to Denmark to "wash away the pressures of the built environment". Mr Mortimer is outraged that the state Government overrode the views of the local council and rezoned Wilson's Head to accommodate the proposed wind farm. He is delighted that federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell has said he will block any further federal funding of the project, which received $240,000 for a feasibility study.

More here


Africans firebombed in Queensland regional city

Molotov cocktails were thrown at the home of a Sudanese refugee widow and her seven children in Toowoomba early yesterday morning, heightening racial tensions in the city. Khamisa Abui and her children, aged 3 to 16, were sleeping at their rented house in Dalmeny St when they heard thumping on the front door. A neighbour across the road saw the flames just after midnight. "The flames were a metre high on the steps and the front porch and the door mat was alight at the front door," he said. The neighbour, who declined to be named, phoned the fire brigade and ran across the road and banged on the door to wake the family because he knew the children would be asleep. "I pulled the burning mat away from the door and looked for a hose but I couldn't find one in the dark," he said. "You could smell the petrol fumes, and there were soft drink bottles lying on the steps." Once roused, Mrs Abui brought water and the two put out the remains of the crude fire bombs before the fire brigade arrived. The neighbour said the arson attack on a family who had come from a war zone was malicious racism. "There were two adults and seven kids in there - it could have been a disaster," he said. "Those people are coming from war-torn lands. I just put it down to a brain-dead hillbilly mentality." Speaking through an interpreter, Mrs Abui said she and her children had been frightened by the attack and she was mystified as to why her family had been targeted. "I have no enemies with white people. I have no idea why they don't like us here. I came here because Australia is a safe place to be," she said. Mrs Abui was widowed when her husband was killed in Sudan, and she fled with her children to Egypt where she applied to come to Australia.


Govt mulls whistleblower immunity: "Whistleblowers who dob in cartel operators could soon be given immunity from prosecution, Attorney-General Philip Ruddock says. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) will join forces to decide if a whistleblower should be given immunity under new plans announced by Mr Ruddock today. He said quite often people wanting to blow the whistle on companies which profit from colluding on the prices they charge were usually only willing to come forward if they could be granted immunity from prosecution. "To facilitate this the ACCC and the DPP are developing joint arrangements for consideration of requests for immunity," Mr Ruddock told a conference for anti-trust lawyers today. "Currently the discretion to provide immunity lies with the director of public prosecutions and is to be exercised under guidance provided by Commonwealth prosecution policy. "International experience suggests that offering immunity in the early stages of an investigation is most effective.

Male contraception trial proves successful: "A Sydney scientist working on male contraceptives has found further evidence a hormone based treatment can switch on and switch off sperm production. Doctor Peter Lui conducted a trial of the treatment three years ago in Sydney and has now collated the results of trials from the United Kingdom, United States, China, Indonesia and Melbourne. He has found a 100 per cent success rate with the injections and pills of male hormones, which prevent sperm production. Doctor Lui says all the studies showed male sperm production returned to normal three to four months after the treatment. "The main thing that we worry about long term is the reversibility - so that's no longer an issue," he said. "In terms of acute side effects, there are very few regardless of the formulations. "Now what is unanswered are the long term side effects." Doctor Lui says he hopes the contraceptive will be on the market in five to 10 years."

28 April, 2006


Two reports:

Experts stunned by tubby tots

Children as young as four are battling obesity, research shows. And children appear to be losing the fat fight as they get older. A Royal Children's Hospital study found almost one in five kindergarten kids (19.5 per cent) are overweight or obese. And just a year later 21.1 per cent were battling the bulge. Dr Joanne Williams, of the hospital's Centre for Community Child Health, said young overweight children were likely to still have weight problems as adults. "We're just watching the rates go up and up and up, and nothing's being done about it," Dr Williams said. "These kids get teased at school, their self-esteem is low, they have a poor quality of life and there are huge consequences later on in life."

Researchers measured the waistline, height and weight of 340 children aged four to six for the study, which has been submitted to the International Journal of Obesity. Dr Williams said advertising led parents to falsely believe they were feeding kids healthy foods when their diet was packed with sugar and fat.

Health Minister Tony Abbott has refused to crack down on junk food ads during children's television hours. He said parents, not the Government, should be responsible for what their children ate. But Deakin University nutrition lecturer Dr Tim Crowe said junk food TV advertising should be outlawed from 4pm-6pm to remove some temptation from households. "We have to acknowledge we are dealing with a health problem so serious that a group of children are not going to outlive their parents," he said.

Many parents did not seem to recognise when children were overweight. "We are not sure of the reasons why. Perhaps it is because they look at other kids and think their own are not fat," he said. [It's because the mothers themselves are fat!]

More here.

OF COURSE kids are getting fatter on average. It is predominantly overweight working class women who are giving birth these days. Huge numbers of slim bourgeois women now consider themselves too grand to have kids. And obesity is highly hereditary. So the increasing prevalence of fat kids is exactly what you expect now that fat women are the main ones having kids. Going on about the evils of junk food or the wickedness of advertisers is flailing at the air.

Schools to put cap back on soft drinks

Water and milk will be the only drinks allowed in some Victorian schools. The primary schools plan to scrap sugary soft drinks this year. Children will be urged to bring water bottles to class in the government-backed trial. Parents will be encouraged to pack only water and milk with lunches. Program co-ordinator and child health researcher Dr Lisa Gibbs said regular water drink breaks would improve students' attention span. Promoting water and milk was also good for teeth, Dr Gibbs said. Six government and private schools in the western and northwestern suburbs will be selected for the trial under the Go For Your Life campaign. The project could spread if successful.

"The idea in the first stage will be that if a student brings a drink into the classroom it can only be water," Dr Gibbs said. "If you have brought a soft drink, it will have to be kept in your bag during class times and only drunk at lunch time. "The eventual aim would be that you would only be allowed to bring water or milk to school." The plan coincides with a ban on sales of high-sugar soft drinks from canteens and vending machines in government primary and secondary schools by year's end.

More here

And what good is that going to do? Milk is extremely calorific and hence fattening. The kids would probably get fewer calories out of drinking fizzy drinks

More dangerous public medicine bungling

Melbourne's busiest trauma hospital is rebuilding its intensive care unit to eradicate a potentially dangerous fungus that has troubled it for four years. Just six years after it was opened, the State Government is spending $20 million upgrading The Alfred's intensive care unit, which the hospital expects to be completed in 2008. The Government initially announced the upgrade in October last year but failed to mention the aspergillus problem of 2002, instead alluding to "a range of challenges", citing emerging infectious diseases.

The airborne aspergillus fungus is no threat to healthy people. But it has the potential to harm people with vulnerable immune systems after a bone marrow, heart or lung transplant. In 2002, the hospital's intensive care unit had levels of aspergillus two to three times higher than acceptable. The hospital said levels were now "acceptable", and no patient was at risk.

The Alfred responded at the time by creating a separate intensive care unit with six beds for patients who had had transplants. Other patients are not believed to be at risk. The Alfred monitors levels of aspergillus each month and has changed the airflow management to increase the pressure within the unit and reduce the entry of outside air which may contain aspergillus.

But now the hospital wants to operate a single intensive care unit, bringing patients in from the secondary unit. The hospital's chief executive, Jennifer Williams, said a series of reviews had recommended that the safest solution was to rebuild it. "We very much want to get back to the situation we were in in 2002, where we had one intensive care unit," she said. "We don't want to put at risk those particularly sick patients in case the levels were to go up again, but they haven't gone up again. There have been no aspergillus infections since 2002 and we want this to continue."

Canberra Hospital director of infectious diseases, Peter Collignon, said aspergillus affected people when they breathed it in. It can often then form a lung infection and sometimes via the blood go to other parts of the body, but that only occurs in people who are very immuno-suppressed," he said. He said most major hospitals that cared for people with damaged immune systems would have infections caused by aspergillus, but it was difficult to know whether they picked it up in hospital or elsewhere.

Ms Williams said the unit would be built on the same site as the existing one. Planning is under way and the hospital will relocate patients when construction begins. She said it would be designed to minimise the chances of aspergillus entering the unit. "It's a matter of ensuring that the roof and the perimeter walls are completely sealed and the air-conditioning system is replaced with increased levels of air filtration capability," she said. The redesign will also boost the hospital's capacity to treat more patients, with more beds and facilities to deal with infection control, and new technology.

The Alfred acknowledged the elevated levels of aspergillus in 2002 when a patient with a compromised immune system died of aspergillus pneumonia. But it cannot be determined whether the patient contracted it in hospital or in the community. The fungus was also found in 41 other patients, but they were not infected with it. There have been no deaths or infections since.

Ben Hart, spokesman for Health Minister Bronwyn Pike, said The Alfred had tried a number of measures to solve the aspergillus problem, including building works to the air-conditioning and the roof. "But following that, it became apparent after a number of years that those measures weren't solving the problem and so therefore expert consultants were brought in to provide advice on what was the best course of action and The Alfred formed a view that the best course of action was a total rebuild," he said.


Paternity fraud under legal test

Comment by Janet Albrechtsen:

Some issues are so fraught with emotion and hurt, they don't bear thinking about. It's tempting to put paternity fraud in that basket. But science is putting pressure on the law to confront this vexed issue. When a woman dupes a man into believing he is the father of a child she conceived with another man, increasingly, DNA tests end up delivering the shattering news. A father loses a child he thought was his, one he raised, loved and cared for as his own. A child loses a father and a family collapses. When that happens, what is the law to do?

The High Court is confronting that issue right now. Liam and Meredith Magill were married in April 1988. A son was born in April 1989. Unknown to her husband, a few months later Meredith began an affair with a man, having unprotected sex until early 1995. In July 1990 a second son was born. Then, the next year, a daughter. After separating, Meredith admitted to Liam her concerns over paternity. A few years later she agreed to DNA tests. Liam learned that the two younger children were not his.

He was left devastated, suffered chronic depression and was unable to work. He sued Meredith for the tort of deceit, claiming financial compensation for his pain and suffering, but not for money spent on the upbringing and maintenance of the children.

While the Victorian County Court found that Meredith had deceived Liam when she nominated him as the father on birth registration notices, that was overturned last year by the Victorian Court of Appeal. The High Court will now decide whether the tort of deceit will hold Meredith accountable for her actions.

There are few hints as to which way the High Court will go. But few will be surprised to hear that at the hearing a few weeks back, Justice Michael Kirby pointed to international law as the guiding light. He cited Article 3 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and said it means that the starting point in any matter that comes before the court must be determining what is in the best interests of the child.

Up in the rarefied atmosphere of international law, it's a neat sounding slogan. But down in the trenches, trying to apply it to the specifics of a case like this is another matter. Kirby suggests that the "best interests of the child" test applies for the simple reason that this case involves the depletion of family income: were Liam Magill to win, Meredith Magill would be forced to pay. It's a novel argument. Taken to its logical conclusion, it would prevent any legal action against any person who also happens to be a parent. After all, any legal payout drains the family income to the detriment of a child.

Note that Kirby's focus on the best interests of the child did not extend to a child knowing their biological father. Given that adoption laws are now premised on this rationale, one might think it should also apply here.

In any event, the High Court will need to probe a little deeper than the fine sounding but vacuous provisions of international law. And the question is simple: should the law of deceit apply where a mother and wife has deceived a husband into believing he is the father of a child? The court need not mess with the law of deceit. The principles are clear. Only the facts are new because science - DNA testing - is now revealing the deceit.

Those who claim there is a public policy argument in letting sleeping dogs lie assume that preventing litigation of this kind will make for happy families. It will do no such thing. It will only encourage women to perpetrate fraud in an age when science can uncover the truth. And there is no turning science back. Legal disputes over paternity fraud do not create the unhappiness. They are merely the aftermath of mothers deceiving men.

As in every other sphere of life, the only way to encourage responsibility is to make people accountable for their actions. The law has an important role in sending powerful messages capable of shaping behaviour in the future. Far from creating more unhappiness, legal sanctions for paternity fraud will, in the long run, encourage mothers to be honest about paternity.

That is why, if the High Court decides that the laws of deceit do not apply, in effect allowing women to engage in paternity fraud at will, parliament will need to step in. As the Australian Medical Association has said, this is a time bomb ready to explode; the AMA suggests that in Australia there are 200,000 families where the "presumptive father is not the biological father".

Unfortunately some feminists refuse to acknowledge the reality of paternity fraud. Following the Victorian Court of Appeal's decision against Liam Magill, the former Victorian convener of the Women's Electoral Lobby, Lisa Solomon, announced: "Women are moral, reasonable, rational beings. It would be a very rare instance where a woman would name someone who wasn't the father of the child."

For Solomon, it was about vindictive men using DNA tests to avoid paying for children. Get the picture? Women, good. Men, bad. Phew. Nothing like a little sex stereotyping when it suits. Leave aside the rank hypocrisy of feminists resorting to the kind of sweeping generalisations that would send them ballistic if made in the reverse. The real problem is that gender-blinkered statements get us nowhere in sorting out what to do when paternity fraud happens.

If a mother gives birth to a child and is negligently given the wrong baby in hospital, no one would question her right to claim damages. Deliberate paternity fraud should be no different. It's not a person's sex that matters. It's the damage caused by another that counts.

One suggestion is that paternity testing be made mandatory whenever a birth is registered. A correspondent from University College in London emailed during the week with the following idea: "As long as BDM [Births, Deaths and Marriages] registries are kept, they might as well be kept accurately. I would give about 10 months' notice before the new regulation or legislation takes effect. That's enough time for people to adjust their behaviour (or improve their contraceptive methods). With complete transparency and accountability, responsible adults will be better empowered." It's an interesting idea. Short of that happening, paternity fraud is here to stay. And so the question is whether we condone it or condemn it. If the High Court or parliament shies away from the issue, that will amount to society, in effect, condoning fatherhood founded on fraud. And that has to be the worst of two difficult options.



More from Australian fashion week:

More than you ever wanted to know about it here

Dog nabs cop!

A detective accused of stealing bags of drugs from a house he was investigating was nabbed running from the scene by a police dog, a court heard yesterday. Sen-Det David Miechel, 36, allegedly robbed an Oakleigh drug house with informer Terrence Hodson on Grand Final day 2003. The Supreme Court heard a neighbour of the Dublin St house called police after seeing men dressed in dark clothing approach the front door and smash the porch light. The pair are accused of packing bags of drugs, mainly ecstasy and throwing them over the back fence to be collected later.

Prosecutor Chris Ryan told the jury a video surveillance system allegedly caught the pair entering and leaving the house. Sen-Det Miechel has pleaded not guilty to eight charges, including trafficking a large commercial quantity of drugs, burglary and assaulting police. Mr Ryan said neighbours noticed Sen-Det Miechel and Hodson walking towards a nearby school after the burglary. Police arrived soon after and set two dogs out to track them. The court heard one of the dog handlers saw Sen-Det Miechel running from the school and gave chase. Sen-Det Miechel allegedly scaled fences trying to evade the dog and assaulted Sen-Constable Harold Boniwell when he was caught.

More here

27 April, 2006

A very dubious ID card plan announced

Australia is going to have a "Clayton's" ID card -- the ID card you have when you are not having an ID card

Prime Minister John Howard has announced the Federal Government would not proceed with a national identity card. But the Government would go ahead with an access card - generally referred to as a smart card - for health and welfare services, Mr Howard said. "The savings will be significant in relation to fraud." The new card would cost about $1 billion to introduce, Mr Howard said. Mr Howard said the card would eventually save up to $3bn a year.

But there would be a cost with its introduction. "I'd be surprised if you had any change out of $1 billion over a period of four years for its introduction," he said. Mr Howard said the new card will have enhanced security features, such as a biometric photograph on the front - but it will not contain fingerprints. "It will be necessary for everybody who needs a card to apply for one," he said. "It will not be compulsory to have the card."

Mr Howard said the Government had sought to strike the balance between ease of access, enhanced identity security and personal privacy. "There is no model around the world that immediately hits us in the face as being the perfect answer to this, and we have looked around the world," he said. "After a very good discussion I think we have struck a very good balance."

Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said cabinet had conducted a full and complete discussion of the proposal. "These are not simple issues. They require developing a balanced approach, which weighs up all of the issues," he said. "In terms of the advice that was given to us, the appropriate balance is that which we have struck." Mr Ruddock said there was a national identity fraud strategy and today's announcement reflected ongoing work on better ensuring people's identities remained secure. "It will give our agencies who need to be able to make appropriate inquiries, within the framework in which data sharing is possible, a proper capacity and an enhanced capacity to be able to do their work," he said.


School assessment goes full circle in Queensland

Back to the old ways

The report cards of almost all Queensland students will use an A to E grading system from the end of this year. An overhaul of the school reporting system will give parents of all students in Years 1 to 10 twice-yearly assessments in plain English and access to two parent/teacher interviews a year. Education Minister Rod Welford said the changes meant that all students from Years 1 to 10, but not Prep, would be graded from A to E in each subject, with clear explanations of what each grade meant. Year 11 and 12 students are already assessed on a five-tier rating system (Very High Achievement ranging to Very Low Achievement) as part of the Overall Position (OP) process. The measures will apply to state, Catholic and independent schools and take effect at the end of this year in many schools and in all by the start of 2008.

"We want clarity and consistency so parents can understand their child's progress," Mr Welford said. "The reports will be more understandable." The Minister said reports had become too confusing with wide variations in styles. Some schools grade students by numbers such as 1 to 7 or 1 to 5, others use measures such as VHA (very high achievement) or SA (satisfactory achievement), while others use codes such as AV (achieving well) or ED (experiencing difficulties). Some schools assess students according to three different grades, others four and some five. And while some schools offer two parent/teacher interviews a year, many offer only one.

Queensland Council of Parents and Citizens Association spokeswoman Wanda Lambert said it was vital that gradings were consistent between schools. "We need to feel confident that . . . an A in Cape York is worth the same as an A for someone of the same age in Burpengary," she said. Queensland Teachers Union President Steve Ryan said teachers had no problem using the A to E grading system in most year levels. But he said the union did have problems with its use in early primary years. "We believe it could be categorising children very early," Mr Ryan said.


New dams at last

It looks like the water shortage in Queensland has finally trumped the dam-hating Greenies. NSW take note

The $1 billion the Queensland government expects to earn from the sale of its power retailers will be used to build two new dams and set up a special infrastructure fund. Premier Peter Beattie said today his government would sell the retail arms of its power suppliers Energex and Ergon Energy, in a trade sale expected to earn more than $1 billion. The sale will take place in several tranches before the end of the year, ensuring the state market is ready for full retail contestability from July 1 next year.

Deputy Premier and Treasurer Anna Bligh said the sale would not influence the government's Budget, which was in good shape and expected to deliver a "very healthy surplus" when brought down on June 6. Instead, the expected $1 billion windfall would be ploughed into a Queensland Future Growth Fund, to be managed by Treasury, with legislation ensuring proceeds are spent solely on infrastructure needs. The fund's first projects include financing two new dams, located along the Mary and Logan rivers in south-east Queensland, to be built by 2011.

The Mary River dam, north of Brisbane, will service Gympie and the Sunshine Coast - it will rival the size of Brisbane's Wivenhoe Dam. A second dam would also be built along the upper reaches of the Logan River, either at the already-proposed Wyaralong Dam site or at Tilleys Bridge, near Rathdowney, providing water to western areas including Ipswich, Springfield and Beenleigh. Two new weirs will also be built in central Queensland and $300 million invested in clean coal technology.

Opposition leader Lawrence Springborg said while he approved of the decision in principle, the government's move was a "fire sale" to cover up black holes in its next budget


Australian fashion week kicked off yesterday

And, for once, some of the fashions don't look too bad

Paris, Milan, New York ... and now, Sydney. Organisers of Sydney's Mercedes Australian Fashion Week (MAFW) say the annual event has surpassed London's rival fashion festival. "We have eclipsed London in terms of size, participation and attendance," MAFW founder Simon Lock said. "So on the ladder of fashion weeks, we could probably put ourselves at number four at the moment." MAFW, Australia's single largest fashion event, was founded in 1996 to bring local designers to world attention and is credited with launching labels such as Collette Dinnigan and Sass and Bide overseas.

Slideshow here. More here

Boob job quarrel

Women aged under 20 should not be allowed to have breast implants, health experts claim. With more young women opting for cosmetic surgery, they say 18, the age at which doctors can approve requests for implants, is too young. This is also the message from a national cosmetic surgery conference being held in Adelaide today, where women in their 20s can have half-priced breast implants. Patients will get the usual $8000-$12,000 price tag halved as their surgery is in front of an audience of medical professionals in workshops at the Norwood Day Surgery. Australian Medical Association state branch president Chris Cain has criticised a Big Brother housemate for getting breast implants at age 19 and flaunting them on national television. Sydney retail manager Krystal revealed on the Channel 10 reality show that she had had breast augmentation a few months ago.

Her mother and fellow housemate, postal worker Karen, 36, had the same surgery done at the same time.

More here

26 April, 2006

The one day of the year

Playing of the Last Post at dawn services in cities and country towns around the nation to mark Anzac Day will have special poignancy this morning. Just one Australian World War I veteran survives. John Campbell Ross, 107, a Victorian, enlisted in the army in February 1918 but did not serve overseas. Mr Ross was 18 when he joined up, and is now the last link with a war that saw nearly 62,000 killed and 137,000 wounded. But while the 421,802 Diggers who fought at Gallipoli, on the Western Front and in the Middle East have now all died, the place names where they saw bloody battle and fell in their tens of thousands remain very much alive for younger generations. Anzac Cove, Lone Pine, the Nek, the Somme, Bullecourt, Villers-Bretonneux, Pozieres, Ypres, Amiens and many more battlefields are ingrained in the national consciousness. The fact that Australian Diggers are on duty in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Solomons adds a sombre note to the marking of this year's Anzac Day. As Australians reflect today on the commitment and sacrifice involved in serving one's country, they will be thinking of the families of the nine Australian service people who died serving humanity in the Sea King helicopter crash in Indonesia in March last year, of Australian Protective Services officer Adam Dunning, 26, who was shot on patrol in Honiara in December 2004 and of Private Jake Kovco, 25, who died of a gunshot wound in Baghdad on Friday, the first Digger to fall in the Iraq conflict.

Concerns expressed recently about the tradition of observing Anzac Day fading with the passing of Australia's World War II veterans, who are now approaching their nineties, are unfounded. It is true that in the aftermath of the anti-war demonstrations over Australian involvement in the Vietnam War, interest in Anzac Day, mainly among among baby boomers, reached its nadir. On April 26, 1975, The Australian covered the marking of Anzac Day in a single story; in 1985, reports of anti-war protests were included in its coverage. Two decades later, however, disdain for Anzac Day among the young is a thing of the past. Thousands of young Australians flock to Anzac Cove on April 25 every year, while enthusiasm is increasing for revisiting other legendary battlefields such as France, Tobruk and the Kokoda Track, and for paying homage at sites such as Sandakan in North Borneo, where hundreds of Australian prisoners of war perished in death marches forced by the Japanese.

Record crowds line the streets for Anzac parades and increasing numbers of children are joining the thinning ranks of veterans, donning their grandfathers' service medals with pride. It is understandable that some Diggers are unsettled by the involvement of children, fearing their participation injects a carnival element into what is traditionally a solemn occasion for remembering fallen mates. These concerns must be taken seriously and handled sensitively. At the same time, Anzac Day has broadened in recent years into an occasion honouring not only the contribution of Australian servicemen and women overseas and on the home front in the world wars, but in a range of conflicts going back to the Sudan war of 1885. Few today would be aware that more than 16,000 Australians fought in the Boer War from 1899-1902, nearly as many as served in Korea in 1950-53. Even fewer would be aware of Australia's role in the 1962-66 confrontation, or Konfrontasi, between Malaysia and Indonesia over the future of Borneo. Australians have also served in conflicts in Korea, Malaya, Vietnam, Afghanistan and in both Gulf wars, and in peacekeeping missions such as the present assignment in Solomon Islands and the recently completed one to East Timor.

The tally of more than 100,000 Australians killed in the 1914-18 and 1939-45 wars dwarfs the 1,500 killed in action in less epic battles. But if the younger generation sees embodied in the 8,000 Diggers who fell at Gallipoli the core Australian ideals of equality, mateship, a fair go and refusing to be bound mindlessly by hierarchy and tradition, these characteristics equally flourished among Australians on other battlefields. Maintaining the Anzac Day tradition will require participation by veterans' descendants. It is up to the Returned Services League to negotiate their involvement in a way that does not turn the occasion into a lighthearted family outing.

The enthusiasm of Australia's young for commemorating the sacrifices of previous generations of Diggers has not translated into long queues at army recruitment offices. Last year, the defence force missed its recruitment goal by 1000. If current trends continue, the defence force will fall to 48,500 personnel by 2010. This presents a real challenge to planners looking to bulk up the already-stretched Australian military to 55,000 personnel. To stem the tide, military planners have discussed loosening entry standards, including fitness requirements and the barring of potential recruits who admit to having tried illegal drugs in the past. The ADF also appears poised to take greater advantage of the Australian Defence Force Cadets program after internal studies found the Cadets to be an under-utilised resource. The Howard Government is also poised to return to the old days of the Ready Reserve, which it scrapped 10 years ago. In a tacit admission that ditching the elite force was a mistake, next month's federal budget is expected to include funds for a 3000-member "High Readiness Reserve". Reservists in this group will receive higher pay and better training and will, in return, be expected to be able to deploy to trouble spots within 30 days.

April 25 is not just about commemorating a disastrously managed landing by raw Australian recruits on the coast of Turkey. And it is not about glorifying war. It is, rather, about reflecting on the spirit of Anzac that lives on and inspires Australians. Diggers and Turkish soldiers sharing rations between trenches in 1915 exemplified this humanity, which has engendered a close relationship between Australians and Turkish people. More than 86,000 Turks died at Gallipoli, yet Kemal Ataturk, the Turkish commander and founder of modern Turkey, pledged that the Australians who died at Anzac Cove would lie there in honour. It remains, quite simply, the one day of the year.


Note: "The One Day of the Year" is the name of a play by Alan Seymour that was intended to deride Anzac Day. But the term has since been adopted as expressing the importance of Anzac day. Similarly, Donald Horne's book "The Lucky Country" was intended as derision of Australia but the term has now been adopted as a term expressing happiness with Australia and pride in its achievements.

Big crowd in Brisbane

(Note that the Union Jack is quartered in the Australian flag. Slideshow of the march here)

Thousands attended Brisbane's ANZAC Day service held at the Shrine of Remembrance. Former soldiers, and thousands of young and old alike, and hundreds of schoolchildren filled Anzac Square to overflowing before 4am. As the service approached, a party of ex-servicemen marched through the city to the Shrine of Remembrance. The service began at 4.28am, the time of the Gallipoli landing.

In Canberra, principal Air Force chaplain (Anglican) Royce Thompson used his address to more than 20,000 people in the pre-dawn darkness to draw on the Anzac legend. Reverend Thompson said the thousands of Australian men and women serving overseas were continuing the Anzac tradition by facing evil at every turn. "It is a time to be inspired by their sacrifice and courage, so that we might play our part in seeking to confront the evil in our world," he said.

In Sydney, Air Vice-Marshall John Quaife said that while today paid respect to the events of 1915, those who fought and died in subsequent conflicts would never be forgotten. A special thought should especially be given to those in service now, he said. "Today our thoughts should be with those young men and women in the Solomon Islands, in the Middle East, in Timor, in Iraq and Afghanistan," he told the service.


Semi-urgent patients missing out in Victoria's hospitals

One in four patients waiting for surgery is not treated within the Government's benchmark times, according to the Australian Medical Association. AMA state vice-president Dr Doug Travis said doctors were tired of telling patients their surgery had been postponed or they would have to wait months for an operation because of a shortage of hospital beds and doctors. Dr Travis, a surgeon in the public hospital system, claimed analysis of the State Government's Your Hospitals report released last week showed the Government aimed to treat only 80 per cent of semi-urgent patients within 90 days compared with the national benchmark of treating 100 per cent within 90 days. But he said the Your Hospitals report showed only 73 per cent of patients were treated within 90 days. "Doctors list patients as semi-urgent because they need to have their surgery within 90 days, but the Government does not seem to care that more than one in five people can't access the surgery they need in the time frame they need," he said. Dr Travis said it seemed the Government had decided to lower the benchmark to make the figures look good instead of investing in more doctors, nurses and beds.

The AMA has asked the State Government to include an extra $100 million in Victoria's 2006-07 health budget to pay for 300 extra beds and help ease demand in emergency waiting rooms and minimise elective surgery cancellations. Opposition health spokeswoman Helen Shardey said the report's presentation was dishonest. "If you're going to have a performance indicator, that's what you need to report on," she said.


Another stupid windfarm bites the dust

Federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell infuriated another state government yesterday by overriding plans to build a wind farm. Less than a month after he blocked a wind farm in Victoria to "save" the orange-bellied parrot, Senator Campbell froze funding yesterday for a similar project near Denmark on the south coast of Western Australia. The minister said he had written to Regional Services Minister Warren Truss asking him to refuse further requests for funding for the project. "Senator Campbell strongly opposes further funding for the Denmark Community Windfarm group until the expressed wishes of the local community are taken into account through the introduction of a national wind farm code," Senator Campbell's spokeswoman said.

Earlier this month, the minister set off a war between Canberra and Victoria when he invoked rarely used federal powers to block the $220 million Bald Hills wind farm in Gippsland on the grounds it could kill one rare orange-bellied parrot a year. The Victorian Government has demanded he reconsider.

Last night, West Australian Planning Minister Alannah MacTiernan described Senator Campbell's latest decision as tragic. "It is a joke that at a time when we have got some really hard issues to deal with, we've got an environment minister who has no interest in sustainability, that at a national level we are not only getting zero leadership, we're getting minus zero leadership," she said. "These are big issues. We need leadership at a national level and Campbell is as much a joke as (Denmark area MP) Wilson Tuckey is as an environment minister. Other than going around and doing a bit of bashing of the Japanese on whales, he hasn't shown any capacity to deal whatsoever with the big issues we are facing."

Ms MacTiernan has been accused of ignoring advice from a state government planning committee that voted three to two against the proposed wind farm. But she said a departmental report prepared on the project was "substandard and flawed". The report excluded information from Western Power recommending the wind farm site, and ignored advice from its own department that the farm was not visually obtrusive, she said. "This has got nothing to do with this report, because Campbell, well before he had ever seen this report, had been down there (at the proposed site) with Wilson Tuckey trying to stir the possum," she said. She said the project was formally opposed by only about 60 families, including many who did not live at Denmark.

Senator Campbell will also have the final say in the development of a new iron ore mine in northern Western Australia, which yesterday won state government approval despite the possible presence of a bird even rarer than the orange-bellied parrot - the night parrot. The West Australian Government gave its final environmental approval for Fortescue Metals Group's iron ore mine at Cloud Break in the Pilbara, part of a $1.8billion development stalled by sightings last year of three night parrots, which were once thought to have been extinct.

State Environment Minister Mark McGowan was critical yesterday of Senator Campbell's decision to block the Bald Hills wind farm on environmental grounds, saying it had been possible to approve the Pilbara mine by imposing strict conditions. "I would be surprised if Senator Campbell was to knock back this (iron ore mine). I'm positive he won't knock it back. His decision in Victoria was based on it being a marginal seat - it was not environmental," he said.


25 April, 2006

ANZAC day today

Australia's only real national day more popular than ever

Nearly 90 years ago in London, a young Winston Churchill spoke presciently about how future generations of Australians would likely remember the original Anzacs. Churchill looked forward to a time 100 years in the future when the movements of "every battalion, of every company" would be elaborately unfolded and their descendants would seek to trace some connection with "the heroes who landed on the Gallipoli peninsula, or fought on the Somme, or in the great battles of France". Australians in the 21st century and beyond would look back on the earth-shaking World War I and preserve as "sacred memories" the names of the original Anzacs, Churchill predicted in 1918.

Nearly a century later, popular interest in the Anzac legend is at an all-time high. Thousands of young Australians will flock to Gallipoli's shores on Tuesday for the 91st anniversary of the 1915 landing. Anzac Day is now firmly entrenched as Australia's one true national day and the dawn service of April 25 has all the feeling of a civic religious ritual.

As official war historian Charles Bean correctly foretold long ago, the World War I Australian Imperial Force is not dead. "That famous army of generous men marches still down the long lane of its country's history, with band playing and rifles slung, with packs on shoulders, white dust on boots and bayonet scabbards and entrenching tools flapping on countless thighs -- as the French countryfolk and fellaheen of Egypt knew it," Bean wrote on the final page of his epic official history, published in 1941.

But with the 100th anniversary of the original Anzac Day just over the horizon in 2015, the centrepiece of the April 25 commemorations, the traditional Anzac Day march, faces new challenges. The last of the 330,000 men of the First AIF [Australian Imperial Force] who went overseas in 1914-18 have all gone. Now Australia's greatest fighting generation - the nearly one million veterans who served in World War II - is also rapidly fading away. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, there are now about 467,000 defence veterans in Australia, including 161,000 World WarII servicemen and women and 49,500 Vietnam veterans. By 2015 that number will drop by about 40 per cent to an estimated 287,000. Of these, 35,000 will be survivors from World War II and 42,000 Vietnam veterans.

For the Returned and Services League - the organiser of the Anzac Day marches since its inception in the 1920s - the demographic shift promises to provide a new dimension to the ever-changing cultural phenomenon that April 25 has become. Much will depend on the future of the 170,000-strong RSL as it struggles to retain a strong and vibrant national membership. As the number of war veterans falls away, the RSL and individual commemoration committees across Australia confront a new, multifaceted debate about the future character of the march: who else should be permitted to take part and how flexible the rules should be? In Melbourne, the RSL wants to ensure the march remains protest and toddler-free and wants a ban on Diggers' photographs being carried by their descendants.

Since the '30s, the pessimists have been predicting the demise of the Anzac Day march as veteran numbers declined and public interest waxed and waned. The first marches were in 1916 on the anniversary of the Gallipoli landing. In London, 2000 Diggers marched to a rapturous reception and in Australian cities smaller numbers of servicemen took part. On Anzac Day in 1919, in London, 5000 Australian soldiers led by general John Monash marched past Australia House in the Strand, with the salute taken by the prince of Wales and the British commander, field marshal Douglas Haig.

In the '20s, the march became the principal focus of Anzac Day celebrations, with the dawn service generally attended only by veterans. In 1927, 28,000 veterans marched in Melbourne. Twenty years after the landing, the big city marches had become huge events. Their numbers grew steadily following the influx of World War II veterans. Since the '90s, the resurgence of interest in Anzac Day has drawn bigger crowds on to the streets of Sydney and Melbourne even as the ranks of veterans have thinned.

In recent decades, many Allied veterans from World War II and later conflicts - among them French, Dutch, Poles, Greeks, Russians and Vietnamese - have been included in Anzac Day marches. The ranks have also been augmented by school cadet units; other youth and community groups, such as guides and scouts; and, particularly in country towns, many descendants of veterans who served in both world wars and Korea and Vietnam.

The RSL's national president, Bill Crews, is unfazed by suggestions the Anzac Day march may one day be a historical memory. He points out Vietnam veterans will still be marching and will be joined by thousands of other ex-servicemen and women who have served in dozens of recent peace-keeping operations, including Iraq and Afghanistan. "There is still a large number of ex-servicemen and women who will be out there to maintain the commemoration of Anzac," he says. "Beyond 2015 it depends largely on the extent to which the defence force is committed to operations over the next 10 years and beyond. That, of course, is the only source of new veterans."

Crews notes the Anzac Day marches are now scattered with non-veterans but says the RSL remains cautious about opening the march to all comers such as family groups, noting that the main city marches still last several hours. Adrian Clunies-Ross, chairman of the Australian War Memorial and a retired general, says even if there aren't sufficient veterans, Anzac Day ceremonies will endure. There is now far more interest in Australia's military history in schools, he says. "The people who are very enthusiastic about it these days are the young. It's going to be a viable concern for a long time to come." Clunies-Ross also points to the soaring numbers attending dawn services as a good omen. In Canberra last year, about 25,000 people attended, a huge increase on a generation ago when a few hundred gathered.

As author George Johnston observed, the Anzac legend derives from something almost unique in the Australian psyche which "instinctively seems to transmit itself to Australian character". In words written nearly half a century ago, which still resonate today, Johnston concluded: "Anzac is the closest we have ever come to a national-religious feeling, to finding a symbol of the human, perhaps even of the particularly Australian spirit."


Crooked Australian Leftist historians again

The history wars are still simmering at the controversial National Museum of Australia, with the recent $30,000 acquisition of a painting, Mistake Creek Massacre, being rejected by the collection committee of the museum's governing council at its last meeting. The painting, by the Aboriginal artist Queenie McKenzie, depicting a contested frontier event, was bought by the museum's collections division in November, but will not be included in the museum's National Historical Collection. Instead it will be relegated to deep storage along with Bill Leak's Holocaust cartoon, never to be seen again, at least under the present council and Federal Government.

The fact the painting was bought when the cash-strapped museum is supposed to be relinquishing its politically correct black-armband view of Australia's history could be seen as an embarrassment for its newish director, Craddock Morton. But Morton justifies the purchase as a "very useful historical artefact" by a well-regarded artist, and, even if it "shows an event that didn't happen, it raises the general question, what is evidence?" In the archives it is still available "under some council in the future". Morton stresses his commitment to the recommendations of a 2003 review by a Government-appointed panel led by the sociologist John Carroll, and vows the collection must adhere to "scrupulous historical accuracy".

Few historical facts in Australia were as hotly contested as those of the Mistake Creek massacre in which several Aborigines were shot dead. In 2001, three months after the museum opened, the outgoing governor-general, Sir William Deane, travelled to the East Kimberley with ABC TV's 7.30 Report and famously apologised to the Kija people. He said the massacre occurred "over a mistaken belief that they were eating a stolen cow . Underlying the whole story, as underlying the discredited notion of terra nullius, was the approach that our Aboriginal fellow Australians were somehow subhuman . "I'd like to say to the Kija people how profoundly sorry I personally am that such events defaced our land, this beautiful land."

But the historian Keith Windschuttle disputed the story Deane was promoting. He found the massacre took place on March 30, 1915, not in the 1930s, and was not a reprisal attack by whites over a cow, but "an internal feud between Aboriginal station hands" over a woman. "No Europeans were responsible. There was no dispute over a stolen cow, and it had nothing to do with theories about terra nullius or of Aborigines being subhuman." Deane, while later admitting he had the date of the killings wrong by 15 years or more, stated: "One cannot simply ignore the indigenous oral history [which] is remarkably strong."

So the Mistake Creek Massacre painting secreted in the bowels of the National Museum neatly symbolises the history wars that have riven Australia since the 1990s. The year McKenzie painted it, 1997, was the year Sir Ronald Wilson, in his Bringing Them Home report, said government policies of removing Aboriginal children from their families between 1946 and 1970 "amount to genocide". "Genocide is genocide," he said, setting off a rush of academic historians trying to prove him right. The report led to a National Sorry Day and a new front in the war against John Howard, who refused to say "sorry" for a genocide he did not believe had occurred.

In 2001, when Howard opened the National Museum on Canberra's Acton Peninsula in front of assembled dignitaries, what a hoot it was for his enemies. The design by architect Howard Raggatt contained subversive messages aimed at embarrassing the Howard Government, which had footed the $155 million bill with taxpayers' money. There were giant braille symbols pressed into the anodised aluminium cladding which were revealed this month to have spelled "Forgive us our genocide" and "Sorry", but which were quietly covered or rearranged by Craddock. Equating the white treatment of Aborigines with the Nazi genocide of the Jews, the design of the First Australians gallery was modelled on Daniel Libeskind's Jewish museum in Berlin, in which he used a broken Star of David to form the Nazi SS symbol.

Of course, 2001 marked the highpoint of hysteria for academic historians in their portrayal of white Australia's treatment of Aborigines as "worse" than the Jewish Holocaust, containing perhaps four different kinds of genocide, deliberate and systematic killing. Australians were being asked to believe that the relatively benign and tolerant society they lived in was rooted in the worst of all evils.

Into the middle of this happy academic consensus stomped Windschuttle with The Fabrication of Australian History, published in December 2002. The first of three books forensically analysing the evidence of Aboriginal deaths in early Australia, it caught out some famous historians in, at best, sloppiness and, at worst, deliberate falsification in their enthusiasm to have a home-grown holocaust.

In an article in this month's Quadrant, Windschuttle runs through some of the ad hominem attacks that ensued, including an accusation in an academic journal by the historian Dirk Moses that he suffered from "castration anxiety". A "little exercise in left-wing McCarthyism" by the historian Bain Atwood to investigate Windschuttle's past employed two research assistants and was funded by Monash University. Windschuttle records the astonishing turnaround, between about 2000 and 2005, by historians he targeted, how they at first denied having used the terms genocide and holocaust and then, when caught out with their own published words, tried to use postmodern definitions of "truth" to redefine the terms. "How to explain such contortions?" asks Windschuttle. "Short-term memory loss? Incapacity to recognise self-contradiction? Wilful dishonesty to deflect criticism? A postmodernist ploy that allows words to mean whatever their users choose?"

Nevertheless, Windschuttle has stopped the genocide juggernaut in its tracks. No historian engages in such pre-2002 exaggeration anymore, which is to the benefit of Aborigines, for whom the semantic debate diverted attention from the real issues of dysfunctional communities, alcohol and drug addiction, child abuse, poor health and education outcomes. Truth has triumphed, if only momentarily. This is already being lamented, by those rendered deaf, dumb and blind by ideology, as evidence of a dreaded New Conservatism that has infected the land.


Rigid Victorian "sex offender" policy partially circumvented at last

An Orbost teacher who lost his job under controversial "zero-tolerance" laws for sexual offences has reached a financial settlement with the State government. The Age believes the confidential settlement is worth about $100,000 and will involve the teacher dropping legal action against the Department of Education and Training and Victoria's teacher registration body. Former Orbost Secondary College teacher Andrew Phillips was forced to resign in February last year after a compulsory police check revealed a prior sexual offence with a minor. As a 20-year-old, Mr Phillips pleaded guilty to the sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl, in 1992. No conviction was recorded and he received a good behaviour bond. The incident was consensual and the complaint was made by a third party. Under the laws, teachers convicted or found guilty of a sex offence involving a minor face mandatory dismissal.

Mr Phillips' case sparked fierce debate, with many in the community - including state and federal Labor and conservative politicians and teacher unions - calling for the laws to include ministerial discretion or an appeals process. But Premier Steve Bracks and Education Minister Lynne Kosky have maintained their zero-tolerance approach to offenders. The stance is supported by Parents Victoria and the State Opposition. Yesterday, Ms Kosky said the matters involved complex legal action and the decision took into account "the most appropriate use of taxpayers' funds" - meaning it is cheaper to settle than defend cases.

The Government stands by its legislation and policy for teachers and staff found guilty or convicted of child sex offences, she said. "The Government has acted and will continue to act in the best interests of children and places the protection of students in schools as its highest priority," Ms Kosky said. As part of the settlement, Mr Phillips, 35, will drop court action against the Government, Education Department and the Victorian Institute of Teaching as well an unfair-dismissal claim in the Industrial Relations Commission.

In his first public comment on the controversy, Mr Phillips thanked the community for their support. "I will not be returning to teaching, but the resolution of my case enables me and my family to move forward with greater confidence and security," he said in a statement to The Age.

Orbost Secondary College principal John Brazier said the settlement brought closure to what he called the worst miscarriage of justice in his 35 years of teaching. "Retrospective legislation supporting 'double jeopardy' and leading to the dismissal of outstanding teachers is not what I would expect of governments in the 21st century," he said.

The Australian Education Union, which represents Mr Phillips, said the education system had lost a good and passionate teacher because of the laws. "The union will continue to press for discretion to be included in the legislation so that more good teachers are not needlessly lost to Victorian schools," AEU president Mary Bluett said.

But Opposition education spokesman Martin Dixon said the decision to pay Mr Phillips out sent a mixed message to the community. He reiterated his opposition to discretion. "On the one hand, this sort of case involving a teacher was black-and-white and teachers with these convictions shouldn't be allowed in our schools," he said. "Yet when the community reads of the Government giving him a payout it's almost a watering down of that strong line."

Victorian Principals Association Fred Ackerman repeated calls for an appeals process in such cases. "Any process of natural justice must have an appeals process," he said.


Aboriginal genetics

The uniqueness of Australian Aboriginal people and their long association with the continent has been revealed in a landmark genetic study. Researchers analysed the DNA of more than 120 Aboriginal people and compared it with the DNA of indigenous people in the region, including Papua New Guinea, Malaysia and the Andaman Islands off the coast of India.

A Sydney scientist, Sheila van Holst Pellekaan, said her team found the Aboriginal people could be grouped into five genetic haplogroups, or super families, that were very distinct from their regional neighbours. "Australian super families are unique. This confirms they have been here a very long time," said Dr van Holst Pellekaan, formerly of the University of Sydney and now at the University of NSW.

The researchers calculated that Aboriginal people were spread widely across the continent by at least 40,000 years ago. This fits with archaeological evidence that the first people arrived here between 45,000 and 60,000 years ago.

Identification of one of the Aboriginal haplogroups also supported a genetic study last year that concluded a group of modern humans who left Africa more than 65,000 years ago and eventually populated the globe were beachcombers, moving very rapidly around the coast of India and down to Australia, long before Europe was colonised. However, the presence of the other four haplogroups could indicate a different dispersal history for these people's ancestors, Dr van Holst Pellekaan said.

Her team studied DNA in the mitochondria, or energy producing parts of the cell, which is inherited maternally. The amount of variation in the mitochondrial DNA sequence between different groups reflects the amount of time since they diverged from each other. Wiimpatja people from the Darling River area of western NSW and Walbiri people from Yuendumu in central Australia were the main participants in the study, which is published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

The most ancient lineages, two super families dubbed A and B, were widespread across Australia. People living in western NSW and the north of the country belonged to super family C, while people in central Australia belonged to the D and E groups. As expected, very ancient connections with people in India, South-East Asia and PNG were evident in the DNA of the Aboriginal people. The C and E groups, for example, shared a genetic similarity with a super family in PNG known as P. Dr van Holst Pellekaan said this was probably because they had all descended from one original population that moved into both countries long ago.

The study also supported research published last year suggesting a super family known as Q had evolved in PNG in isolation from Australia. "On current evidence, genetic exchange across the Torres Strait subsequent to initial colonisation appears to have been surprisingly limited," she said. It found no evidence for a recent scientific claim that Indian people had migrated to Australia about 10,000 years ago.

Dr van Holst Pellekaan said the forced relocation of Aboriginal people by European colonists had complicated this kind of research in Australia, because people were not always aware of their traditional affiliations. Participants in the study could learn valuable information about their maternal history, but it was only an adjunct to their oral and written histories, she said. "I have to be careful to explain it's another bit of information. It's not your full story."


24 April, 2006

Bizarre! Australia welcomes Al Qa'ida fellow-travellers

Australia has granted asylum to five men who claim their membership of an organisation accused of ties to al-Qa'ida would expose them to persecution in their home countries. The men from Syria, Egypt and India sought protection on the basis of their membership of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been banned in Syria and is considered the father of terrorist groups including al-Qa'ida. Osama bin Laden's right-hand man Ayman al-Zawahiri adopted the organisation. And earlier this month, The Weekend Australian revealed that one of the five asylum-seekers, Ahmad al-Hamwi, who arrived in Australia 10 years ago, was a senior al-Qa'ida bagman linked to 1993 World Trade Centre bomber Ramzi Yousef.

US terror expert Steven Emerson said the practice of allowing Muslim Brotherhood members into Australia was "extremely dangerous". Mr Emerson, credited with being the first expert to warn about al-Qa'ida, said Britain had a similar policy to Australia, which had led to a "high concentration of radicals" and the establishment of extremist networks there. "I am astounded at such a policy ... there is no doubt that there are ties between the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qa'ida," Mr Emerson said.

The five cases, which went before the Refugee Review Tribunal and the Federal Magistrates Court between 1996 and 2002, revealed the applicants had sought protection on the grounds they were members or associates of the Brotherhood. Two men were given protection in 2002, after the September 11 attacks in the US. The Syrian arm of the Brotherhood has been linked to the al-Qa'ida members involved in planning the attacks. In one case that went before the RRT, a Syrian revealed how he had been recruiting members to the Brotherhood without specifically mentioning the group. He said he tried to attract recruits by speaking about the aims of the group to overthrow the Syrian Government and usher in an Islamic society.

The former head of security with the French secret service, Alain Chouet, has this month written a briefing for the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Centre, warning that the Muslim Brotherhood should not be underestimated. "Like every fascist movement on the trail of power, the Brotherhood has achieved perfect fluency in doublespeak," Mr Chouet wrote. Tzvi Fleischer, an analyst with the Australia-Israel Jewish Affairs Council, said: "While only parts of the Muslim Brotherhood are terrorists, the rest are cheerleaders or apologists for terrorism."

But federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said the Muslim Brotherhood was not a listed terrorist organisation in Australia or in any of its allied countries. "It would be a flawed view to assume a person was a security risk simply because they had a link to an organisation of this name," he said. Mr Ruddock said anyone wanting to come to Australia was checked by intelligence agencies but the Government would be concerned if any new information came to light linking them to terrorist organisations. Mr al-Hamwi was, by his own admission to the RRT, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.



Far-Left education bureaucrats are finally being called to account

The muffled canon

Kevin Donnelly deplores the way literature is being swamped by an 'it's all good' attitude in our high schools

What do the works of Shakespeare and the television talent quest Australian Idol have in common? For most, especially Prime Minister John Howard, who argued this week that teaching of great literature is being destroyed by postmodernism and outcomes-based education, the answer is: nothing.

Shakespeare's works, as Harold Bloom argues in The Western Canon, represent literature at its most sublime and suggest something profound and moving about what it means to be human. Australian Idol, by comparison, deals with human nature in a superficial and predictable way and, although entertaining to some, lacks the enduring and universal quality of great literature.

Not so according to Paul Sommer, president of the Australian Association for the Teaching of English. In defending the idea that in English classrooms across Australia everything from graffiti and SMS messages to weblogs and computer games is a worthwhile "text" for study, Sommer says: "We want them [students] to be confident with a range of computer literacies and we want them to understand that texts from Shakespeare to Australian Idol are profoundly shaped by contexts and open to a range of understandings." Two teacher-academics, in a paper delivered at a 2005 national English teachers conference, also argue that Australian Idol should be included in the classroom and provide a lesson plan showing students how to analyse a judge's comments that one of the singers was overweight.

Welcome to the brave new world of "critical literacy". The Tasmanian Education Department defines critical literacy as "the analysis and critique of the relationships among texts, language, power, social groups and social practices. It shows us ways of looking at texts to question and challenge the attitudes, values and beliefs that lie beneath the surface."

The president of the ACT Association for the Teaching of English, Rita van Haren, describes teaching critical literacy as getting students to ask the following questions: "Who is in the text? Who is missing? Whose voices are represented? Whose voices are marginalised or discounted? What are the intentions of the author/speaker? What does the author/speaker want the audience to think? What would an alternative text say? How can the audience use this information to promote equity?" The task is no longer to read with sensitivity and discrimination what is written and to value what a literary work tells us about what D.H. Lawrence terms "the relation between man and his circumambient universe at the living moment".

The result? Whereas the Western canon, defined as works that best exemplify our creative urge to give shape and meaning to experience through the use of imaginative language, once held centre stage in the English classroom, the sad fact is that literature is no longer privileged. Not only are great works such as Hamlet reduced to being one cultural artefact among many, along with The Terminator and Australian Idol, but the moral and aesthetic value of literature is ignored as students are taught to analyse texts as examples of how dominant groups in society oppress and marginalise others.

As borne out by the example of SCEGGS in Sydney, where Year11 students are taught to deconstruct Othello from a Marxist, a feminist and a racial perspective, the joy of reading is reduced to a sterile and formulaic exercise in political correctness. Further evidence that the culture warriors of the Left have won the day is the way Tim Winton's Cloudstreet is taught in NSW senior English classes. In notes given to Year 12 students, they are asked to analyse Winton's book in terms of each of the following perspectives: gender (feminist), socio-political (Marxist), cultural, post-colonial, spiritual and psychological.

Across Australia, the reality is that critical literacy reigns supreme. The South Australian curriculum asks teachers to develop in students "the capability to critically analyse texts in relation to personal experiences, the experiences of local and global communities and the social constructs of advantage/disadvantage in order to imagine more just futures". In Western Australia, the new Texts, Traditions and Cultures program for Year 12 argues there is nothing universal or profound about the literary canon, as "the concept of the literary is socially and historically constructed, rather than objective or self-evident". Teachers are told they must teach that reading is ideological on the basis that "texts and reading practices enact particular ideologies, playing an important role in the production and maintenance of social identities and reinforcing or contesting dominant ideological understandings".

In opposition to critical literacy, it is possible to argue a case for the pre-eminent position of literature. One of the defining characteristics of literature is that it deals with those existential and moral dilemmas that define what it is to be human. Literature, unlike a computer manual, also uses language in a unique way. Reading involves what Coleridge termed a "willing suspension of disbelief" as the reader enters an imaginative world that has the power to shock, to awe and speak to one's inner self. Emotions such as love, despair, ambition, grief and joy are universal and, as suggested by Jung, there are symbols and archetypes that recur across cultures and across time. One only needs to read Greek tragedies such as Medea and Oedipus to realise that, notwithstanding all the cliches about millennial change, human nature is constant.

No amount of cant about readers as "meaning makers", texts as "socio-cultural constructions" and the purpose of reading being to "deconstruct texts in terms of dominant ideologies that disempower the marginalised and dispossessed" can disguise the fact that most of us read for more mundane reasons. As S.L. Goldberg said, "People are more likely than not to go on being interested in people, as much as they are in abstract theories and ideologies, or impersonal forces, or structural systems, or historical information, or even the play of signifiers. "So it is more likely than not, I'd say, that people will go on valuing those writings that they judge best help them to realise what the world is and what people are, and to live with both as realistically and as fully as they can."


Noted playwright backs PM's attack on current teaching

The celebrated playwright David Williamson, a fierce critic of John Howard, has joined the Prime Minister's attack on English literature study based on postmodern ideology. The left-leaning Williamson, whose plays are studied by Year 12 students, said that despite Mr Howard's criticism of English teaching this week there was nothing wrong with "pointing out to students that literature has an ideological content". "But to treat our best literature as being nothing more than ideology would seem to be abandoning our greatest repository of human wisdom," he said.

On Thursday, Mr Howard labelled the postmodern approach to literature in schools as "rubbish" and lashed out at Western Australia's outcomes-based education system, dismissing it as "gobbledegook". His attack follows reports that top Sydney school SCEGGS Darlinghurst had asked students to interpret Shakespeare's Othello from Marxist, feminist and racial perspectives.

Williamson, who has defended the arts against perceived attacks from Mr Howard's Government, dismissed as "nonsense" the postmodernist principle that people are merely creatures of their immediate society and its ideologies. "We have a universal set of human emotions that vary little between cultures and which drive us to universally exhibit egocentricity, tribal affiliation, susceptibility to charisma, nepotism, sensitivity to social pressure, altruism, excessive fear of threat, pair bonding and other deep-rooted tendencies that literature has identified as 'human nature' for thousands of years," he wrote on the Crikey website. "What great writing does is identify the enduring truths about human nature that cross time and culture."

Writing in The Weekend Australian today, education expert Kevin Donnelly says forcing high school students to "regurgitate" English literature through the prism of often left-leaning critical perspectives leaves them with little interest in the discipline at university level. Mr Donnelly is executive director of the Education Strategies consulting group. He says that in recent years Cloudstreet, a novel by Australia's Tim Winton, has been taught to Year 12 NSW students, who have had to analyse it through gender, socio-political, post-colonial and spiritual perspectives. He said the limitation inhibited the students' understanding of the text. "Students tell me they dropped literature after Year 12 because it's such a boring exercise," he said. "They really had to jump through hoops in terms of regurgitating the critical response required, whether that is feminist, Marxist and so on."

Despite his criticisms, Mr Howard was reluctant yesterday to tie federal school funding to English programs that he thought were appropriate. "I'd be reluctant to do that because I do believe that if the states are to have sensible functions on their own, setting the syllabus and so forth for the teaching of English ought to be one of them," he said.


Education: Trendy "isms" are incompatible with lasting knowledge

Below is an editorial from "The Australian"

What is the best way to introduce young people to literature? Is it to reveal to them the joy of reading great writing, and how themes and plots developed even centuries ago can be an anchor for their lives in the modern world? Or is it to treat every work as a "text" no better than any other, dissect them all ruthlessly and examine the entrails for political, sexual and racial bias? This debate has flared up again this week, sparked both by John Howard's comments on the "gobbledegook" taught in Australian English classrooms, and the defence of postmodernism mounted by the likes of the principal of exclusive Sydney girls school SCEGGS Darlinghurst, Jenny Allum, whose Year 11 students have their first encounter with Shakespeare's Othello when they are thrown into the postmodern deep end and told to analyse the play through the prisms of racism, sexism, and feminism. While many arguments can be made against this postmodern approach, the strongest one is that it does not belong in a high school classroom. If a graduate student who is well-versed in the Western canon and understands 5000 years of social and political thought from Plato and Aristotle through to John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx and Jean-Jacques Rousseau wants to deconstruct an author through a philosophical prism, then fine. But forcing dull formulas of race, sex and class on unsuspecting Year 11 students is unfair - not so much because it dumbs down the curriculum, but because it introduces the concept at the wrong time. Neither high school students nor their teachers are equipped with the base knowledge of literature, history and politics to do justice to such an enterprise. No wonder educationalists are tossing out Beowulf for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and claiming that students are bored by the classics.

The Australian strongly believes there is much more to life than race, sex and class, and that literature is a great way to understand the transcendant themes of human existence. Love, hate, war, jealousy, greed, charity, faith, hope, despair: these are the universals of human experience, and great and ancient literature speaks to us about these themes from across the years. Sadly, a small-mindedness has infected Australia's education system, producing an obsession with politics and power relationships that has infected the nation's classrooms like a mould. Those who defend current teaching methods by setting up a straw-man argument - "all we're trying to do is teach students that there are different points of view" - are being disingenuous. For, in forcing students to accept dull interpretations of "texts" in which everything becomes political, the postmodernists exhibit the worst sort of narrow-mindedness. The first job of teachers introducing students to the works of any great writer should be to instill a love of literature and learning. And English teachers everywhere must focus more on basics such as spelling, punctuation and grammar, all of which lose out to trendy theories like critical literacy and outcomes-based education. Those who are so inclined can always study the gobbledegook later.

One of the more bizarre aspects of the controversy is the postmodern fixation on Karl Marx as an appropriate filter through which to examine literature. For one thing, he was an economist, not a literary critic. For another, his writings inspired the deaths of perhaps 100 million people around the world, and this tragedy is better learned about in history classroom. And teaching high school students to interpret literature through ephemeral "isms" is, by definition, a way to produce students with dated knowledge. While the likes of Ms Allum may hopefully believe they are teaching students to "understand what (great authors) said in the context of their day and what it is they say to us today", it is tragically obvious what this obsession with Marx leads to - namely, students with poor skills who have had the love of books beaten out of them.


Your bureaucracy will protect you: "Children trapped in Victoria's most depraved family have suffered 17 years of horrendous abuse under the noses of authorities. One of the five siblings is forced to live with an elder brother accused of sexually assaulting and bashing him. The Department of Human Services has known about the "house of hell", in country Victoria, since 1989. But its file on the family has been stamped "case closed" or "no further action" 10 times since then. Department documents, sighted by the Sunday Herald Sun, admit welfare workers have been made aware of "extreme patterns of sexualised behaviour over a long period within the family". The youngest child in the family is aged less than 10, while two boys still live together though the elder has been accused of abusing his younger sibling. "Whether (the pair) would be able to have a relationship without sexual abuse occurring is doubtful," the documents state.... A member of the community where the family lives described it as a "house of hell". "Life for these kids has been a nightmare," the person said."

Conservative Anglicans thrive: "Moore Theological College, which trains clergy for the Anglican Diocese of Sydney, is expanding so quickly it will soon outgrow its Newtown premises. The college's director of property planning, Doug Marr, said the rapid growth in trainee minister numbers had forced a search for new premises. The preferred option is the Lindfield campus of the University of Technology, Sydney. There have been discussions about the college buying it, although it would need to sell its premises on Carillon Avenue. "We've had huge growth in the last 20 years," Mr Marr said. "The number of ministers in training has grown enormously . . . we're running out of space." The number of full-time, undergraduate students this year is 314. That has grown from 303 last year, 287 in 2004 and 235 in 2001. Strong demand for training at the college comes as other denominations find it difficult to attract people to vocations. The state's biggest Catholic seminary, The Seminary of the Good Shepherd, at Homebush, has 42 seminarians"

Another pro-baby initiative: "Federal Treasurer Peter Costello plans to fund 100,000 new childcare places in the May 9 Budget. With the Government's surplus now tipped to reach $14 billion, all spending on the additional childcare places will be new money - not diverted from existing programs. The ambitious plan means childcare will take its place alongside tax cuts as the centrepiece of what could be Mr Costello's last Budget. In a recent speech setting out his vision for the future, Mr Costello declared he wanted to make Australia "the most female-friendly country in the world". The Budget plan is a substantial downpayment on that ambition, but some critics would say it is still not enough. The Government created 50,000 childcare places last year but lobby groups argue that the real shortfall is still 175,000 places. They say the Budget will still come up short by 75,000 places. Mr Costello's package is intended to bring working mothers back to the Coalition and head off Labor, which is expected to promise a major childcare boost at the next election.

23 April, 2006

Sydney Hospital on life support

Historic Sydney Hospital is sitting on some of the most valuable real estate in the heart of Sydney. Work out for yourself what the gleam in the eye of the NSW government might be

Sydney hospital's capacity has been run down to the point where half-a-million people living and working in the city have been left far more exposed to the consequences of a terrorist attack or a bird flu outbreak, a hospital administrator has warned. The chairman of the Department of Medicine at Sydney Hospital, John Graham, told a biosecurity workshop last week that he had appealed to the Federal Government to remove the hospital from state control and declare it a "national security hospital". He said there was consensus among intelligence experts that the No. 1 terrorist target in Australia was the Sydney CBD. The first case of avian flu in Australia was also likely to walk through the doors of Sydney Hospital, most probably in the form of a visitor staying in a hotel.

Yet the state's health administration had run the hospital down to the point where it had only 100 beds left from an original 550, while its general and orthopedic surgeons had been ordered to work elsewhere. Dr Graham said the hospital needed an extra 100 beds, the restoration of its intensive care unit and the rehiring of up to 20 general and orthopedic surgeons to handle a terrorist attack or big infectious diseases outbreak. "I am the canary down the coalmine and I am asphyxiating," Dr Graham told the Herald yesterday. "It doesn't matter if I fall off my perch, but it matters if the half-a-million who come into the Sydney CBD every day have their health jeopardised. I, for one, am not prepared to let the NSW Health Department sit back and do the wrong thing."

A discussion paper on Dr Graham's proposals has been sent to the Prime Minister, and Dr Graham said he had met the federal Minister for Health, Tony Abbott, late last year to discuss the issue. A briefing note seen by the Herald from Dr Graham to the Deputy Commissioner of NSW Police Andrew Scipione says some senior NSW health officers privately agree that Sydney Hospital in its present state cannot adequately deal with a disaster in the city. However, the head of the NSW Health Counter Disaster Unit, David Cooper, said yesterday that state planning was "not about one hospital; it's about the whole network".

The biosecurity workshop, which looked at threats from infectious diseases and bioterrorism, was sponsored by the University of Sydney. A workshop speaker from the Prime Minister's Department, who did not want to be named, said the likelihood of a terrorist attack involving biological agents was low, but could not be ruled out. The former federal co-ordinator of emergency services David Templeman issued a warning about the ageing of the 500,000 volunteers whom the emergency services rely on. The average age of volunteers had risen to 47, from about 37 10 to 15 years ago. This was due not just to an ageing population and declining birthrate, but to a decline in the volunteering tradition among younger people.


Top Marx for Australia's educators

John Howard is absolutely correct in seeing post-modernist influence behind the dumbing-down of the English syllabus and in the growing disrespect shown for significant literature. But does he - or most parents - appreciate fully the extent to which Marxist ideology hides behind the mask of postmodernism?

Communism has never achieved even 2 per cent of the total vote in Australian federal elections. In the sphere of public education, however, the grip of ideas that have their origin in Marxist theory has never been greater. Children are now regularly indoctrinated in Australia's public schools with political ideology that is the opposite of that supported by their parents. Add to this an accelerating decline in quantifiable standards of learning and achievement and you see why a sizeable migration to private education has been taking place for years.

If parents were offered a totally depoliticised system of public education - even one approximating to a classical model from 50 years ago, which emphasises the acquisition of skills rather than of attitudes - I have no doubt that many would embrace it with enthusiasm. In terms of measurable academic standards, hopes for worthwhile future employment, ability to cope with tertiary courses and the development of genuinely independent, educationally informed minds, such an alternative could not help being an improvement on the present, covertly politicised and academically disastrous model. Such an alternative would, of course, be resisted to the death by those who now dictate educational policy. Such educationalists invariably claim - in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary - to know best what is most beneficial and desirable for those in their power.

Does such a claim to omniscience sound familiar? It certainly should to anyone who has ever lived for any length of time under a communist regime. Under such regimes even abject failure was always represented as triumph or impending triumph. Regular observers of our educational scene should have realised by now that wherever radical educational initiatives - generally of postmodernist and thus Marxist origins - appear to create chaos or failure such shortcomings find themselves twisted through 180 degrees to re-emerge as triumphant vindications of doctrine: "Our children may not be able to read, spell, punctuate, add or subtract or show even the slightest grasp of the pleasures and purposes of significant literature but what they have been forced to recognise are the power structures concealed in educated discourse. Access to the mysteries of such recognition will make them the true world citizens of the future." What I am referring to here obliquely is the brave new world of what is termed critical literacy.

It may be instructive for parents who remain understandably in the dark about any supposed need to analyse language largely or solely in terms of power relationships to understand why their children should be obliged to view the written word in this one-eyed fashion. The originator of these ideas was a French Marxist historian/philosopher who died 22 years ago and whose entire life was consumed by a corrosive hatred of the kind of conventional, middle-class, "bourgeois" values that tend to obtain in modern Western democracies such as Australia. The man in question was Michel Foucault. Was this paragon truly the possessor of an exceptional, visionary and supremely balanced mind whose theories of life and society should be accepted by the rest of us - including parents of hundreds of thousands of children now attending Australian schools - without question?

When not exercising his supposedly superior vision of the true nature of bourgeois Western societies, Foucault was a promiscuous masochist whose areas of interest were in torture, drug-use and totally anonymous sex. His spiritual hero was the Marquis de Sade. As well as seeking the destruction of conventional Western capitalist societies, the admired philosopher had a parallel penchant for destroying himself, attempting suicide a number of times and finally succeeding in dying prematurely at the age of 57 from a sexually transmitted disease.

Whether any of these acknowledged facts fitted him supremely to be a posthumous arbiter in the way our children and university students are taught is not for me to say. These personal details of Foucault's life are, incidentally, freely available, being discussed in disturbing detail in a biography written by James Miller, The Passion of Michel Foucault (Simon & Schuster 1993).


Wind energy drops off the perch

Never mind the orange-bellied parrot. Wind energy, one of the ethical investment sector's great success stories over the past decade, has passed its peak. "It's not only peaked, it's stopped," says Garry Weaven, Australia's biggest wind farmer. Weaven chairs Industry Funds Management, which last year paid a hefty $788 million for the formerly-listed Pacific Hydro energy company. Weaven blames the federal Government, "so clearly operating at the behest of the aluminium and coal lobbies".

Wind currently supplies about 2 per cent of our annual electricity generation. That share was growing until late 2004, when the federal Government rejected calls to extend the national mandatory renewable energy (MRET) subsidy scheme beyond 2020. According to Babcock & Brown wind executive Miles George, it takes two years to build a wind farm and the 12 years left until 2020 simply aren't enough to make a return on investment. The climate change debate has shifted dramatically, with the focus now on nuclear rather than renewable energy.

Former NSW premier Bob Carr commented darkly last year: "You could have a wind farm across all of outback NSW that would kill every kookaburra but it wouldn't provide the base-load power we need." A fortnight ago federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell sparked a media frenzy when he blocked a proposed $220 million wind farm at Bald Hills in Victoria's Gippsland - ostensibly because it threatened the endangered orange-bellied parrot. That decision has called into question a $12 billion pipeline of wind projects proposed by companies including ANZ, Alinta, AGL, Pacific Hydro and various state utilities including the Tasmanian Government's Roaring 40s wind business.

You can almost hear John Howard laughing as greenies are forced to choose between climate change and protection of endangered species. But it's a false opposition. Weaven contrasts the destruction of 25 per cent of all species over the next 50 years under current climate change scenarios, with "killing the odd bird". He says there have been no endangered birds killed at Pacific Hydro wind farms and there are ways to reduce birdkill, like removing animal carcasses where birds of prey are present. The Australian Greens environment spokesman, WA Senator Rachel Siewert, cautiously agrees. "My understanding is it's not as much of an issue as was first thought."

Investors can still do well out of wind energy but all the growth is offshore. Babcock's $830 million Wind Partners vehicle has risen 31.6 per cent since it listed on 27 October 2005, from its $1.40 issue price per cent to $1.68 yesterday. Not a bad return, although the stock is well off its December $1.93 peak. Weaven says Pacific Hydro is also trading profitably and will deliver a return to its owner, the $1.9 billion IFM Australian Infrastructure Fund - in turn owned by about 2.5 million industry super fund members. He denies it overpaid: "Not one dollar in our valuation was based on new projects in Australia." But since the sale, according to AMP Capital Investors sustainability research manager Ian Woods, there is "no growth story" for investors looking for an Australian wind play. State governments - especially Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania - are promising support but that will be irrelevant if the federal Government steps in to block new wind farms, on whatever grounds.



Elle finds a new man: "You might call him one of the luckiest men alive - Sydney man-about-town David Evans has snared the big one in supermodel Elle Macpherson. The Body is believed to be off the market again after sharing a romantic two weeks down under with the Hugo's co-owner including intimate dinners together, shopping and yesterday a day at the Royal Easter show with Macpherson's sons, Flynn, 8, and 3-year-old Aurelius Cy. The 42-year-old, who split from her partner of nine years, Swiss financier Arpad "Arkie" Busson in June last year, spent Easter Sunday night with Evans at his Hugo's Bar Pizza restaurant in King Cross. They were "looking very coupley" while shopping in Woollahra on Tuesday and again on Wednesday in George St in the city...."

Leftist racism?: "The Federal opposition was trying to resurrect the White Australia policy by banning foreign apprenticeship visas, the Federal Government claims. Federal Opposition Leader Kim Beazley today said a Labor government would abolish a scheme that brings young people from overseas to train as apprentices in regional Australia. The scheme was ruining the job prospects of young Australians, he said. But Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone accused Mr Beazley of advocating "naked prejudice". "Mr Beazley needs to be pulled into line by all community leaders who support a non-discriminatory migration program," Senator Vanstone said. "Most Australians do not share his prejudices." A spokesman for Mr Beazley would not directly respond to Senator Vanstone's comments. But he said the Howard Government had turned away 300,000 young Australians from TAFE in recent years. "It's a national disgrace, a Beazley Labor government will be training Australians first," the spokesman said."

Motorists opt for economy: High petrol prices have boosted sales of bicycles, scooters and fuel-efficient vehicles. John Pittendreigh, owner of Epic Cycles at Paddington, said he had noticed increased interest in bikes for recreation and commuter use. "Increased interest in bike commuting does seem to be driven in part by the increase in cost of commuting by car," Mr Pittendreigh said. "There has also been significant increase in recreational riding down to the local cafe or riding around the river and that in itself is another driver of people riding to work," he said. Brisbane's Scooters Scooters co-owner Peter Moody said the market had increased by up to a quarter in the past year. "It cost about $6 to fill a tank and that can do between 150km and 300km," he said. He said fuel prices had played a big factor in people switching to scooters to commute to work.... Commuters were also choosing to drive more fuel efficient cars like the Smart cars and the hybrid cars like the Toyota Prius. Year to date, Sales of fuel-efficient "Smart" cars and hybrids such as the Toyota Prius are up 12.9 per cent. Smart Centre Brisbane manager Tom Bebbington said: "We have sold a lot more cars in the last quarter and petrol prices and safety are big concerns for buyers." "We also are planting seven trees a year for people who buy smart cars and they have have very low fuel consumption." "They even use less fuel than Toyota Prius, which is electric and fuel."

Mediaevalists thriving: "Stephen Cunningham has enough work on his books to keep him busy for a couple of years - not bad for someone who earns a crust making armour and medieval weaponry. Mr Cunningham, sick of factory work, took redundancy from his job as a fitter and turner at Lithgow's small arms factory in 1988 and set up his workshop. "I'd been fiddling around with armour for a while before that, and I pretty much sat down and thought, 'OK, I'm going to make armour', or at least I wondered if I could make a go of it," he said. Today and tomorrow at Ironfest, an annual festival in Lithgow featuring performers and musicians, historical displays and artists and designers showing metal art including sculpture, furniture, jewellery and architectural fittings. Demand for Mr Cunningham's work is driven by the burgeoning number of enthusiasts for medieval re-enactment, who will be out in force over the weekend. Hogging the limelight will be competitors in the Australasian Jousting Championship, featuring teams from Australia and New Zealand hurtling at each other on horseback. The Australian team is headed by the world champion, Rod Walker.

22 April, 2006

PM Howard canes 'rubbish' postmodern teaching

John Howard believes the postmodern approach to literature being taught in schools is "rubbish" and is considering tying education funding to ending the "gobbledegook" taught in some states. The Prime Minister made the threat after accusing the state education authorities of "dumbing down" the English syllabus and succumbing to political correctness. "I feel very, very strongly about the criticism that many people are making that we are dumbing down the English syllabus," Mr Howard said.

Australia's most distinguished literary scholar, Leonie Kramer, yesterday agreed with the Prime Minister's criticism of how English is taught in high schools. Dame Leonie, professor emeritus in Australian literature at the University of Sydney, said what worried her was "the notion that you have to read, let us say Shakespeare, in relation to contemporary preoccupations such as race and class".

Education Minister Julie Bishop has raised concerns over Western Australia's outcomes-based education system, claiming it is "inevitable" that standards will fall. When asked about the "outcomes-based" program, Mr Howard replied: "That is gobbledegook - what does that mean?" Ms Bishop is expected to drive the reform push at the next meeting with state education ministers, scheduled for either June or July. The minister, who is overseas at present, is keen to push for greater national consistency on English curriculums, amid concerns that senior high school students are not being sufficiently challenged on traditional texts.

Mr Howard may also seek to have education standards placed on the agenda for the next Council of Australian Governments, also scheduled to be held in June. But senior government sources yesterday played down suggestions that Canberra would seek to "stand over" the states in the public debate over education standards. Mr Howard said: "I share the views of many people about the so-called postmodernism ... I just wish that independent education authority didn't succumb on occasions to the political correctness it appears to succumb to."

The criticism of teaching standards followed revelations in The Weekend Australian that a prestigious Sydney school, SCEGGS Darlinghurst, had asked students to interpret Othello from Marxist, feminist and racial perspectives. "I think there's evidence of that (dumbing down) in different parts of the country ... when the, what I might call the traditional texts, are treated no differently from pop cultural commentary, as appears to be the case in some syllabuses," Mr Howard told the ABC.

Western Australia's introduction of a Year 12 English exam that fails to penalise students for poor spelling or grammar and asks students to compare two film posters but not read a book has also been blasted by Canberra. Rather than dictating what students should know by a specified time and then grading them, outcomes-based education focuses on what students are able to do.

Mr Howard's intervention drew a stinging response from the states and Opposition Leader Kim Beazley. "Instead of telling everyone what they should read, John Howard should make his ministers read cables about the bribes to Saddam Hussein," Mr Beazley said. Queensland Education Minister Rod Welford also accused the Prime Minister of trying to divert attention away from the AWB kickbacks scandal. Mr Welford said Mr Howard's blanket denigration of school curriculums was an attempt to divert attention from "other pressing issues, such as the appalling unethical dealings by AWB, over which he has presided". "The fact is, in Queensland we do value the traditional literature as well as more popular media," Mr Welford said.

NSW Education Minister Carmel Tebbutt indicated her state's syllabus was more likely to comply with Mr Howard's view because it had a strong base in classical English literature "NSW has compulsory Shakespeare in Years 9 to 10 and for the Year 12 advanced English courses," she told The Australian yesterday. "Other authors on the HSC reading list include Chaucer, Yeats, Wordsworth and Jane Austen. The more modern classics include George Orwell, David Williamson, David Malouf and Michael Ondaatje."

Victoria's Education Minister Lynn Kosky accused Mr Howard of being "ill-informed" on the issue. "The Prime Minister is out of touch with what is going on in Victorian schools and what students are reading," Ms Kosky said.

Mr Howard's statement was embraced by anti-OBE campaigners yesterday, who said their views had been vindicated. PLATO WA co-founder Greg Williams said Mr Howard's comments were an accurate description of the controversial system that is currently being implemented in Western Australia. "It is not gobbledegook to everyone but it is gobbledegook to the teachers, it's gobbledegook to the students and it's gobbledegook to the parents. These three groups are the only ones that matter when it comes to outcomes-based education."

Teacher of literature at the University of Western Australia Peter Morgan said many teachers were just as confused and disappointed as their students at the shift from teaching English literature to focusing on literary theory and its sub-branches. Associate Professor Morgan said the English literature syllabus in Western Australia was being replaced by a course called "Texts, traditions and cultures", which had led to a large degree of dissatisfaction and low morale among teachers. "Literary theory covers a broad range of cultural and social theory from Marxism to post-structuralism, feminism and queer theory," he said. "It's very obscure. It encourages students to use buzzwords and jargon to cover up that they have no idea what they're talking about. "Teachers are disappointed they are not teaching literature any more. They feel the subject has been hijacked by those who want to teach about race, gender and Marxism, rather than about literature. "I read what the students write, and hear what the teachers have to say, and there is a lot of confusion."


A truly insane public medicine system

It has spent $2 million to sort out a $300 matter. It shows how nasty and irresponsible bureaucrats can be

A $300 overtime claim by ambulance staff has led to a five-year, $2 million legal and wages bill -- paid for by Queensland taxpayers. And the wrangling between Queensland Ambulance Service management and the officers could go on for at least another year.

The saga started in 2001 and has seen four separate investigations, numerous court cases and staff suspended on full pay pending decisions. The wages bill alone for three staff suspended on full pay for three years and eight months was between $600,000 and $800,000. A source said the QAS legal bill had topped $1 million "a long time ago" and that the State Government spent hundreds of thousands of dollars flying relieving staff into Mount Isa and Doomadgee to cover the suspended officers.

The Industrial Relations Commission will soon hand down a finding in relation to a paramedic claiming unfair dismissal for his part in the overtime claim. Ken Gramm, 52, a decorated ambulance officer, was fired last year for allegedly falsifying records. Mr Gramm strenuously denied all allegations. He was suspended on full pay of $85,000 a year in February 2002. A Mount Isa magistrate ruled there was no evidence of dishonesty, and the Crime and Misconduct Commission also found no case to answer. But Ambulance Commissioner Jim Higgins ordered another internal investigation, and Mr Gramm was found guilty on five of 14 counts relating to overtime claims involving just over $300. Sources said the QAS rejected an early offer by Mr Gramm to repay the disputed amount.

Another court case begins on April 24, when a former communications operator takes on WorkCover after it refused a medical payout following his sacking from the QAS. Greg Haddow, 43, was also suspended on full pay in 2002 amid claims he helped Mr Gramm falsify the overtime. Mr Haddow -- who denied any wrongdoing -- was also cleared by the courts, the CMC and an internal investigation. But sources said QAS bosses "medically terminated" Mr Haddow last year after he had been on stress leave and Workcover refused a payout. Mr Haddow appealed against that decision, and his case is due to be heard in Townsville Magistrates Court.

The only officer who admitted a role in falsifying overtime claims was not sacked -- he has been promoted. He also had been suspended on full pay. QAS declined to comment, as Mr Gramm and Mr Haddow's cases are before the courts.


Health rage maintained

Just minutes after championing the state's health system changes, the Beattie Government had to confess further bed closures and confront 250 angry allied health workers. Premier Peter Beattie said yesterday a six-month update on the Health Action Plan showed Queensland's health system was on its way to becoming the best in Australia. However, shortly after he addressed Parliament, about 250 allied health workers rallied outside demanding wage parity with their southern counterparts. And back inside the parliament building, Health Minister Stephen Robertson admitted that beds will be cut at a Toowoomba mental health unit because of staff shortages.

The workers said the Beattie Government had "pulled a swiftie" on allied health workers by negotiating only a 4 per cent wage increase with them, while offering doctors and nurses wage increases totalling almost $2 billion. Queensland Public Sector Union lead organiser Troy Spence said the Government had not bargained in good faith with allied health staff.

However, Mr Robertson said a ballot of allied health staff had registered 79 per cent approval for the deal. The matter will go before the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission today.

While the protesters gathered outside Parliament, Mr Beattie produced a checklist that showed the $6.4 billion in health system changes were on time and some staff recruitment was ahead of schedule. "Queenslanders can have confidence in Queensland Health because the health action plan is working - as they can see in the checklist," Mr Beattie told Parliament. In addition to recruiting more staff, the Government has funded more medical training places, and is developing a new statewide health services plan.

Mr Robertson also announced that the restructure of Queensland Health had been completed and $3 million would be spent to improve workplace culture with a new leadership centre. However, Mr Robertson said a youth in-patient service at the Toowoomba mental health unit would be temporarily closed and in-patient services would remain on bypass to Brisbane because of staff shortages. Mr Robertson said the closure was the result of a full-time psychiatrist taking extended leave and two other staff opting out of jobs at the unit.


Time to consult a prophet, rather than profits

Comment by Andrew Bolt on recent global warming pontifications from trendy Australian business leaders

When six business bosses lecture you piously on climate change, mind your wallet. Last Friday the Australian Business Roundtable on Climate Change warned -- repent! -- that "climate change is real". It had asked someone in the CSIRO, joined with the Australian Conservation Foundation, and settled what even the world's climate experts can't agree on. We face doom. A small rise in temperature will mean "97 per cent of the (Great Barrier) Reef could be bleached". We'll lose nearly half our cattle and other livestock through pests, heat and diseases. Rain won't fall yet storms will devastate forests, because "the tendency to more extreme weather events is well established in the scientific literature". We now had to slash our gas emissions, and even give cows vaccines to stop farting, so "we will have more time to adapt to a harder and more varied climate".

Naturally The Age, which has got green religion, reported all these claims as facts from impartial authorities. But now for real story. As I reported last week, the Great Barrier Reef will probably increase with warmer seas, say scientists from the CSIRO and Australian Institute of Marine Science. And if warmer weather indeed causes more pests, scientists are sure to find yet more cures -- the real secret to healthier stock. As for warming causing more extreme weather, a British House of Lords committee, which grilled 40 experts last year, concluded: "There is uncertainty and controversy about the underlying data required to substantiate this claim". Certainly hurricane centres, such as the World Meteorological Organisation, insist hurricanes are not getting worse through warming.

What's more, there is fierce argument over how much warming is even caused by man. Only last week, 60 top experts in climate science and related disciplines sent a letter to the Canadian PM saying "global climate changes all the time due to natural causes and the human impact still remains impossible to distinguish from this natural 'noise' ".

Even if climate change is man-made, there is nothing Australia can do to change it in any way we could measure. Our emissions will be dwarfed by India's and China's for a start. So we're being sold snake oil that won't solve a problem that might well not be our fault. It might not even be a problem. The House of Lords report even suggested we might not be worse off with warming, on the whole, given how much better plants will grow.

So why might the six businesses say such wild things? Well, they include IAG and Swiss Re, two insurance groups who sure have a policy for nervous you. Then there's the paper recycler Visy, the gas (rather than dirty coal) power company Origin, the gimme-cash Westpac and BP, which changed its name from British Petroleum to Beyond Petroleum to make you think you're actually filling your car with flowers. Still want to believe we're doomed? At least consult a prophet, rather than profits.

21 April, 2006

Australia's disastrous neighbours

This really grieves me because there is in my opinion at lot to like about Melanesian people. I am therefore pleased that Australia is using its police and army to help out

The riots and violence in Solomon Islands are incredibly depressing. They confirm three damning, central dynamics. One, Melanesia is in a profound, civilisation-wide crisis that shows no serious sign of improvement. Two, nation-building or introducing democracy in cultures that aren't accustomed to it is gruesomely difficult, even in the most benign circumstances. And three, we are substantially alone in dealing with the Melanesian crisis.

Each of these dynamics spells real trouble. That we should reach the stage of uncontrolled looting and ethnic targeting of Chinese businesses in Honiara makes it almost impossible to see any progress there in the past three years.

The Melanesian-wide crisis is far more serious for Australia than we normally credit. There are more than five million people in Papua New Guinea, nearly 600,000 in the Solomons, 200,000 in Vanuatu, nearly one million in Fiji. Altogether the Melanesian universe contains more than seven million people and has some of the highest population growth rates in the world.

The crisis throughout Melanesia is getting steadily worse. Australia has not been able to fully implement its police-centred civic rescue package in PNG. The AIDS rate in PNG is epidemic. Sexually transmitted disease and poor health are rampant throughout Melanesia. There is a breakdown of law and order, and almost no serious economic development.

The independent Melanesian governments are creaky and crisis-prone at best, on the point of collapse at worst. In the end, Canberra will pay for and cope with their problems: disease; crime; eventual immigration, legal or illegal, to Australia; aid bills; penetration of organised crime; gun, drug and people smuggling and much else.

Before 9/11, Canberra treated these dynamics as worrying but not essentially our business. Now we understand that many of the most deadly threats come from failing states, from weak states as much as strong states.

So Canberra, admirably, has pursued a new Pacific activism, of which the Solomons is the most prominent example. But look at this result. After three years of the operation, with billions of dollars pumped into the country by the Australian taxpayer, with law and order guaranteed by Australian police and military, with the cleanest national election in many years, what are we left with? A city in flames, a Chinese business district burned to the ground, riots outside parliament, ethnic looting targeted at the most productive ethnic minority, the capital in chaos, the Prime Minister in flight.

Melanesian culture is warlike and tribal, which is why so much of it is devoted to rituals and courtesies designed to avoid conflict. But here, after a democratic election, a mob doesn't like the choice of prime minister so it tries to storm the parliament. And this is after three years of effective rule from Australia and coaching in democratic practice by our officials. The history of independent Melanesia has been comprehensively corrupt. No one is a good loser because everyone knows that you don't get anything from the government in the normal course of things. Corrupt forces with access to government or an ability to blackmail government will leech the system of its wealth.

So the only way you can get resources from the government, if your tribe loses the election, is through force. You demand payment from the government or you'll beat up or even kill its members. This primitive dynamic still governs the Solomons.

Some argue that it is much less important to introduce respectable democracy in Melanesian societies than to get the economy going first. I have a lot of sympathy for that view, but economic development of any kind cannot take place in the absence of law and order. The Melanesian economies have limited opportunities. PNG has mineral resources. The Solomons have forests that are rapidly being logged out. Most have some fishery and agricultural resources. Fiji, because of its Indian minority, has had a modest industrial base. The most obvious potential income earner is tourism.

But none of this can happen without a minimum of law and order. Fiji has consciously contrived the departure of a portion of its productive Indian minority. Chinese traders will have to rebuild their shops and businesses in the Solomons. How many will leave? The light manufacturing factories won't be built because no foreigner will want to invest. The Solomons once made good money from tourism. Who will go there now?

The truth is Melanesian independence has been a disaster. That is not a recommendation for re-colonisation, although it is clearly true that Australia decolonised PNG far too quickly and left it unprepared for the modern world. Melanesian culture is very poorly adapted for dealing with the modern world. Communal ideas of property ownership may appeal to Western romantics, but they make serious development almost impossible.

When Chinese or Indian minorities come along they are much better adapted to the modern economy. But their success, while potentially pulling the whole society forward, inevitably produces great resentment. Independence and a resentful nationalism are with us now, although Australia has adopted some of the burdens of colonialism and will inevitably have to deal with the most serious security problems in the Melanesian world.

Melanesia is often and tellingly compared with Africa. It may in a sense resemble the Middle East. There are no solutions. Nothing works. Yet ultimate failure is not an option. What confidence do you have that a Solomons government, without Australian police and soldiers, could keep order and run affairs peacefully? We are likely to be in the Solomons for a long, long time to come.


Justice for men coming in Australia?

A looming battle that could allow cuckolded men to sue deceitful wives for the cost of raising children conceived outside their marriage has been described by High Court judge Michael Kirby as opening a "Pandora's box". If the full bench of the High Court rules in favour of Victorian father Liam Magill, the court will set the ball rolling for dozens of new compensation cases, including those brought by men who learn they are not genetically related to their children and who want to recover child-support payments and other damages. Mr Magill has alleged he was tricked into paying tens of thousands of dollars to his unfaithful former wife in support of two children that were not his own.

However, Justice Kirby said the court would have to take care in deciding the case. "This is the Pandora's box we open ... every case where the male, hurt and having to pay child support, is unhappy about it, they are going to sue and claim minutiae of time they spent with the child who turns out not to be their genetic child," he said. "We all know that in the family law situation, it is not just an ordinary case about money, it is often a case that involves a lot of emotion."

While the Liam Magill case could pave the way for dozens of new compensation cases, the same principle could also be used by an embittered "ex" who claims to have been duped into marriage because their partner said they were a millionaire, or they "owned a country castle". Claims for damages could even arise if a partner committed bigamy as a result of their spouse lying about a previous marriage.

Justice Kirby, one of six judges hearing the case, told a hearing in Canberra this month that the law of deceit could be used vindictively by emotionally wounded couples. Historically, the law of deceit, which is related to fraud, has only applied to commercial relationships, not those on a personal nature. Justice Kirby said three important social changes appeared to be pushing the need for legal reform in this area: availability of quick and discreet tests to establish paternity, the rising rate of marriage breakdown and the end of laws allowing spousal legal immunity. A decision in favour of Mr Magill would mean family issues involving the tort of deceit would be heard in the civil courts and not the Family Court.

Lawyers for Mr Magill's ex-wife Meredith argued it would be wrong to apply the law of deceit to family relationships, and warned that a finding for her husband would cause a rush of litigation against women.

Mr Magill learned he had not fathered two of his supposed children after he applied to the Family Court in 2001 for a DNA test to be carried out. He married Meredith in 1988, but 18 months into the marriage she began a long-term affair. The marriage ended in 1992 after Ms Magill had given birth to three children, only one of whom was Mr Magill's. He continued to give 32 per cent of his income as child support for all three children until 1999, believing they were all his.

The court heard that the US has allowed such civil suits for years, dubbing them "heart-balm" actions. But judge Ken Hayne pointed out that some US states were considering halting all spousal claims for deceit.


Green/Left dam phobia costs Queenslanders

But even the costly alternative does not please the unpleasable Greenies

Water authorities have begun planning for a second desalination plant as the long-running drought tightens its grip on southeast Queensland. The proposal, which would complement the Gold Coast's plans for a desalination plant, is being described as a "contingency option" in SEQWater's regional drought strategy. The plans were revealed as the Beattie Government battled Opposition attacks over its failure to construct any new dams to bring relief to the state's parched southeast.

Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg yesterday vowed to begin building the proposed Wyaralong Dam near Beaudesert in his first year in government if he won the next election. The Government is investigating two new dam sites in the southeast corner, but the Premier's office would not comment on the matter last night. Officially, the Government continues to focus on conserving water, relying on tighter restrictions, recycled water pipelines, a water grid, water main repairs and pressure reductions to ensure dams remain above 10 per cent. Water Minister Henry Palaszczuk's spokesman said the desalination issue remained under review. SEQWater said a decision about the second plant was due in June.

The Gold Coast City Council plans to build a desalination plant at Tugun to supply 110 million litres of water a day. The plant is expected to cost about $1 billion to build and operate. The second plant, generating 120 million litres a day, would be one of the largest in Australia. But there is no detail yet on where it could be constructed. The first plant is slated for completion by June 2008; the second by March 2009.

Queensland Conservation Council officer Henry Boer said greater community consultation was needed because the plants had environmental impacts and were costly. "These plants use a lot of electricity and have high greenhouse gas emissions," he said. "They are by far the most expensive supply option and the public will have to pay through their water bills." Redlands Mayor Don Seccombe said he was also opposed to the plants, citing cost and premature timing.


Only months in jail for utterly despicable acts!

I would have given them 5 years

Two under-9 footy coaches were sentenced to jail yesterday for attacking a junior umpire. Assistant coach Francesco Guiseppe Scordo, 20, was ordered to spend at least two months behind bars for kicking the prone umpire with steel-capped boots. And coach Tony Clifford Bundy, 24, will have to serve a month for punching Michael Delaney to the head and dragging him to the ground after the final siren of a junior fun-day grand final. Scordo sat stunned and Bundy broke down sobbing as magistrate Brian Clifford jailed them, describing the unprovoked attack as deplorable and gutless. Dandenong Magistrates' Court in Victoria heard Mr Delaney's son, Matthew, watched in horror as Mossgiel Park Football Club coaches punched, hit, and repeatedly kicked the Endeavour Hills umpire at the Lois Twohig Reserve in Dandenong on August 8, 2004. Mr Clifford yesterday rejected Scordo and Bundy's excuses of self-defence as exaggerated and "a total red herring". Mr Clifford said that after viewing video evidence he was satisfied Bundy punched Mr Delaney in the face without warning. As Mr Delaney raised his arms in defence, Bundy grabbed him and threw him to the ground. Mr Clifford found Scordo then ran in and kicked the fallen Mr Delaney with full force with his steel-capped boots. Mr Clifford said both men aggravated things by lying and showing no remorse. "Their conduct is also a bad example for impressionable young footballers," he said. [Putting it mildly!]

More here

Australians are rich!

Thanks to a healthy economy

Every Australian is now worth an average of $316,000, with a soaring sharemarket and house prices behind an unprecedented wealth boom. According to a Treasury survey, Australia's private wealth kitty is now $6.5 trillion - the biggest ever, and a rise of nearly 10 per cent in the past year. But while world-leading levels of private share ownership and investment property purchases are two of the reasons behind the wealth boom, experts say the biggest influence is much less personal. Professor Mark Wooden from the Melbourne Institute, a conservative think-tank, said the population naturally grew wealthier as the economy expanded.

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Muslim respect for women again

A man who allegedly forced his wife to work as a prostitute in Sydney has been charged with sex slavery offences. Police said the 37-year-old man went to Egypt in early 2000 for an arranged marriage with a 25-year-old Egyptian woman. When the couple arrived back in Australia months later, the man allegedly told his wife she would have to work to pay for her Australian visa. He then took her to a brothel at Banksia in Sydney's south, where she was forced to work for 2'/2 years, police allege. Police said the man used her earnings to buy a unit and help out his family in Lebanon. In 2002 the pair returned to Egypt, where they divorced and both subsequently came back to Australia. Police yesterday arrested the man at his home at Wiley Park,in Sydney's southwest, and charged him with procuring a person for prostitution and sex slavery offences. He was granted conditional bail by police and is due to appear in Kogarah Court on May 9.


Islamic leaders stall over crackdown

Australia's leading Islamic body has backed away from its promise to tackle hardline Muslim clerics and crack down on extremist ideologies. The Australian Federation of Islamic Councils has indefinitely postponed an imams' conference that promised to unite moderate and radical clerics. The aim of the meeting was also to draw up guidelines for preaching, help prevent the radicalisation of young Muslims and set up a national board of imams. The Australian revealed earlier this year that the conference was scheduled for the last weekend of February, and 62 imams - including the nation's most radical sheik, Mohammed Omran - were expected to attend. However, the conference has been shelved as part of a political manoeuvre by some of the AFIC's board members, including chief executive Amjad Mehboob. The latest postponement - designed to prevent outgoing AFIC president Ameer Ali from taking credit for the conference - has placed personal political agendas ahead of the community.

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20 April, 2006

P.M. Howard signals big tax cuts for parents

John Howard has signalled to low and middle-income families they can expect substantial tax relief in next month's Budget, after identifying the need to help with the costs of raising children as his Government's top priority. The Prime Minister also dampened expectations for significant change at the top end of the tax scale, saying the Government had already done a lot for high income earners, with the number of people paying the top marginal tax rate of 48.5 per cent falling from 14 per cent to 3 per cent in the past three years.

Mr Howard said yesterday rhetoric on tax reform meant little without a focus on the pressures facing families. "My Government places the low and middle-income families of Australia squarely in the foreground of our policy lens," he said. "And strengthening the family - helping them with the costs of raising children - is the best way any government can reinforce social cohesion and stability in a changing world."

After the $4 billion-a-year increase to the family tax benefit system in the 2004 pre-election Budget, the Government may choose to deliver help to families in a different way this year. In a speech to the Menzies Research Centre last night, Mr Howard said the family tax benefit system gave parents choices about how they balanced work and family responsibilities. "The Government has been especially keen to give families with children greater freedom to choose how they balance work and family responsibilities, including through additional support for those families who desire to have one parent - usually the mother - at home full time with children in their early years."

He ruled out introducing a family income means-test on the benefit paid to mothers who choose to stay at home, saying that Labor's proposal to cap payments where family income exceeded $250,000 was the "thin edge of the wedge". He said the benefits were not middle-class welfare. "They are tax relief for a universal reality - that it costs money to raise children." Mr Howard said nearly three quarters of recipients were on incomes below $50,000 a year.

But he said Labor's plan would save only $6 million a year - meaning the Opposition must be planning to whittle down the threshold further if elected. "In government, Labor would have a much tighter income test which would effect tens of thousands of single-income Australian families who could by no stretch of the imagination be described as rich," he said. "The family tax benefit system symbolises the great philosophical divide in Australian politics between a Labor Party that thinks government should direct people's behaviour and a Coalition that sees its role as letting families make up their own minds."

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Church vilified in classrooms

The Australian Multicultural Foundation recently launched a series of books for primary schools titled Harmony and Understanding. The rationale for the series is to "foster a better understanding and respect for cultures and traditions of Australian society". One hopes that the editors of Jacaranda Press's Year 7 and 8 textbook SOSE Alive 2 will study the Harmony and Understanding material, because they are in urgent need of guidance about what constitutes religious intolerance.

In its teachings about medieval life, the Jacaranda book presents the Catholic Church in a negative light, portraying its teachings as based on fear and its monks as indolent and selfish. As if that's not bad enough, the accompanying CD vilifies icons central to the church's faith. One of the scenes shows a medieval village where a heretic is about to be burned. Close by is a religious figure holding a cross incorporating the figure of Jesus; after clicking on the cross it changes into what appears to be a witch's broom. Whether intended or not, the implication is that Catholicism equates with witchcraft and superstition. In the same scene, several religious figures are shown looking at the figure tied to the stake. On clicking on the head-piece of what appears to be a senior member of the church, it changes into a dunce's cap.

That students are expected to see the church as the villain is confirmed when they click on the word "heretic" inscribed above the victim's head. It changes to "heroine" and there is no doubt where the allegiance lies of those responsible for the material.

The most unsettling thing about the Jacaranda book's treatment of Christianity is that it illustrates, once again, how left-wing thought police have succeeded in their long march through the education system. Forget Woodstock, Vietnam moratoriums and flower power; the cultural revolution of the '70s and '80s was also about the way education was identified as a critical instrument to overturn the status quo. Former Victorian education minister and premier Joan Kirner told the Fabian society in 1983: "If we are egalitarian in our intention we have to reshape education so that it is part of the socialist struggle for equality, participation and social change rather than an instrument of the capitalist system."

Instead of acknowledging Australia's success in providing prosperity, stability and peace, leftist teacher academics argue that society is, in the words of one textbook set in teacher training courses during the '80s, "disfigured by class exploitation, sexual and racial oppression, and in chronic danger of war and environmental destruction".

In teacher training, as noted by Monash educationalist Georgina Tsolidis, teachers were told "to instil in our students feelings of self-worth premised on the value of what these students already knew and the value of what they wanted to learn, rather than the intrinsic worth of what we wanted to teach. Our job was to produce young adults who would challenge the status quo through skills of critical inquiry."

While education has always been concerned with the search for the truth, it is obvious that "critical inquiry" means something different. Since the release of the Keating government's national curriculum during the early '90s, history has been transformed into studies of society and the environment with a politically correct stance on multiculturalism, feminism and environmentalism.

Early European settlement is described as an "invasion", instead of celebrating what we have achieved as a nation, students are taught "black armband" history and Australia's Anglo/Celtic culture is presented as simply one culture among many.

In English, everything from Shakespeare to tissue boxes to Australian Idol is considered a worthwhile text for study as students are taught to deconstruct texts in terms of how those more privileged in society are able to dominate and marginalise others.

Even science teaching has fallen victim to cultural relativism. Instead of recognising the primacy of western science, the South Australian curriculum argues that different versions of science are simply socio-cultural constructs.

The consequences of the long march are clear to see. Students leave school culturally illiterate, with a fragmented view of the world. Worse still, given the politics of envy and the spiritual emptiness of postmodernism, many students also leave school ethically challenged and morally adrift.


Choice is not a dirty word

The issue of government funding to non-government schools has returned to centre stage. The ALP has decided to get rid of its hit list of so-called wealthy private schools, finally realising that all parents pay taxes, regardless of where their children go to school. At the same time, the federal Government has announced a review of the formulas used to decide how much support non-government schools receive. For many Australian parents, especially those demanding flexibility and choice in their children's education and who are financially penalised for doing so, it is a review we have to have.

One way forward would be to introduce school vouchers, an idea that is not as radical as opponents make out, given that Australia already has a de facto voucher system. All students attending non-government schools, both Catholic and independent, attract some degree of state and federal funding.

Instead of education being centrally managed and funded and the state having monopoly control over the school system, vouchers allow the money to follow the child and, in turn, give parents the freedom to choose between government and non-government schools. Based on figures compiled by the Productivity Commission, the average recurrent cost to state and federal governments of educating a student in a government school is $10,003 a year. The equivalent figure for a non-government student is $5595. Under a full voucher system, all parents would be entitled to the same amount of money, possibly means-tested, to spend on the education of their children and the freedom to choose their children's school. Australian parents want choice in education. The percentage of students enrolled in non-government schools grew from 23 per cent in 1980 to 33 per cent last year. Forty per cent of students attend non-government senior secondary schools.

The benefits of vouchers are many. Empowering parents and giving them increased responsibility and control over educational decision-making is not only good in theory; the closer power resides with people the better. Experience in the US shows it also helps to strengthen community ties and community engagement represented by social capital.

At the moment, school choice for Australian parents is restricted to those wealthy enough to buy into those areas where there are successful government schools or to pay costly fees. Why not give parents on low incomes the same type of choice by providing vouchers? Such is the situation in Milwaukee in the US. And in underdeveloped places such as Puerto Rico and Colombia, voucher systems are targeted at disadvantaged communities on the basis that education represents a ladder of opportunity.

If, as a result of vouchers, more students attend non-government schools, this is also a good thing. In the independent schools sector, excluding Catholic schools, it is estimated that governments save $2.2 billion a year as a result of fewer students going to government schools, money that can be spent on health and other services.

As argued by Canberra-based education writer Mark Harrison in Education Matters: Government, Markets and New Zealand Schools, vouchers also provide increased competition and help break down monopoly control represented by the state system. "The market-based approach relies on choice and competition," Harrison writes. "It relies on increased incentives to perform, improve and change - the incentives of the market - such as the need to attract students and pressure from competitors. Competition provides strong incentives; it punishes mistakes and rewards success and provides continual pressure for improvement."

As so graphically illustrated during Victoria's gas crisis in 1998, when an industrial accident led to Esso-BHP closing down the plant, monopoly control means all are made to suffer when something goes wrong. Think of the damage that whole language and fuzzy maths teaching approaches are causing. Non-government schools are in a stronger position to resist destructive experiments such as outcomes-based education, where students no longer fail and academic studies are a thing of the past. American academics such as Milton Friedman and Terry M. Moe also argue that parental choice represented by vouchers frees schools from provider-capture, where schools are managed more for the benefit of education bureaucrats and teacher unions than for those at the local level.

One of the greatest dangers facing education in Australia is the need to attract and keep highly qualified, motivated and committed teachers. Surveys show that many become dispirited and leave the profession because of over-regulated and time-consuming curriculum and accountability measures imposed from on high. The way teachers are rewarded also promotes mediocrity, with little financial or professional incentive for more able teachers. Vouchers provide a solution in that opening the system to market forces leads to a stronger incentive to raise standards by innovation and rewarding better teachers.

Notwithstanding the arguments in favour of vouchers, there are caveats. First, non-government schools are able to succeed because they have the autonomy to respond to the needs of their communities and to manage their own affairs. In his new book, Vital Signs, Vibrant Society: Securing Australia's Economic and Social Wellbeing, federal Labor MP Craig Emerson argues that the funding distinction between government and non-government schools should be abandoned. But if the price of increased government funding to non-government schools is that they have to succumb to the same type of over-regulation and interference faced by government schools, then that freedom is lost.

Giving parents more power to choose and freeing up the education system will also fail to be effective if all schools, government and non-government, are made to follow the same centrally mandated and controlled state-designed curriculum. While there is an argument that all schools have to abide by a minimum set of regulations and accountability measures, and there may be a common curriculum in areas such as literacy and numeracy, it is also essential that schools are not forced to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach.


Racism phobia can muzzle the truth

The Australian academic world can seem, at least to outsiders, a cosy place where anyone who ventures a dissenting opinion on a sensitive topic gets stomped on very quickly. Let's update the saga of Associate Professor Andrew Fraser, which took an unexpected twist this week. Fraser, you might recall, wrote to the Parramatta Sun last year about the settlement of Sudanese immigrants in the area, with the provocative claim that "experience practically everywhere in the world tells us that an expanding black population is a sure-fire recipe for increases in crime, violence and a wide range of other social problems". Fraser believes that, on average, black people have lower IQs than whites, while Asians have higher IQs.

Macquarie University banned him from teaching because of the letter, and Deakin University in Victoria subsequently directed its law journal not to publish an article by Fraser that it had had refereed and accepted. A Sudanese man complained about Fraser's views to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, which announced two weeks ago that the professor had breached the Racial Discrimination Act. Unless he apologises in a form acceptable to the complainant, he could face prosecution in the Federal Court. It's a landmark decision in the history of Australian free speech.

On Wednesday, The Australian newspaper published a letter from six American and European professors, and two other scholars, protesting against the commission's decision. They said: "Fraser has done no more than restate hypotheses offered for more than half a century by eminent psychologists and anthropologists at leading universities." (That's outside Australia, of course.) Indeed, "There is an important and legitimate academic debate going on about race, intelligence and genetics." (Not in Australia, mind you.) Moreover, "It is a sad day when governments and universities once rooted in the traditions of British liberty muzzle academics and public figures from engaging in open discussion."

I don't have an opinion on Fraser's views. Last year, when I interviewed him, he told me it was "hard to spot a white face" in Macquarie University's library, or at Westfield Parramatta. My visits to both places suggest that the professor can't count. There are lots of academics with a flawed sense of proportion whose views I disagree with, yet I wouldn't dream of suggesting the law be used to silence them. So what's happening to Fraser is quite disturbing. Sure it's rare, but maybe that's only because these days it's rare to hear an unusual view on a delicate subject coming from an academic

The other great dissenter of the last few years has been Keith Windschuttle who, in his 2002 book The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, challenged the widely held view that genocide had been practised by white people against the blacks in Tasmania. The abuse that Windschuttle has received from academics has been extraordinary. In the latest issue of Quadrant magazine, Windschuttle has listed some of the personal attacks on him. An historian at Sydney University, Dirk Moses, wondered in 2001 if Windschuttle and two other dissenting writers "experience castration anxiety. That is, a fantasised danger to their genitals symbolised by the [traditional white] national ideal that makes them feel powerful and good about themselves". This statement was published in the peer-reviewed academic journal Aboriginal History. Moses has claimed elsewhere that Windschuttle was once a "fanatical communist", while Professor Robert Manne, of Melbourne's La Trobe University, has several times said he was a Pol Pot enthusiast. According to Windschuttle, both smears were invented.

Some critics have attacked the core of Windschuttle's book by claiming that academic historians never described what happened to the indigenous Tasmanians as genocide. For instance, in Telling the Truth About Aboriginal History, published last year, Associate Professor Bain Attwood, of Monash University, wrote that Windschuttle's "imputation that academic historians have compared the British colonisation of this country to Nazi Germany's treatment of Jews . is a figment of his imagination". This is the same Attwood who, in the 2000 collection Reconciliation, wrote: "The severe historical impact the various dimensions of colonisation have had upon Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders . can and should be called a holocaust."

In 2003 in The Australian, Moses wrote: "No Australian historian contends there was an Australian holocaust." Windschuttle points out that one of those who did actually contend this was Moses himself who, in 2000, in the Journal of Genocide Research, wrote: "Australia has had many genocides, perhaps more than any other country."

Windschuttle and Fraser don't have much in common except that they're probably the two most prominent intellectuals to have challenged conventional wisdom in recent years. The attacks on them make you wonder how widespread low-level reprisals are for less prominent rebels, and whether others stay quiet from fear of suffering the same fate.

I don't know if what Fraser says is true, yet its truth surely affects whether it is racist. But none of his critics seem to care. Macquarie University made no effort to argue the facts with him, nor did Deakin University. A statement by Fraser's union speaks of racism, not the facts. In its letter to Fraser, the human rights commission doesn't raise the issue of truth: what matters is that someone was offended. We need less moralising, more facts.


19 April, 2006

Top Muslim body 'sexist and secretive'

Australian Muslims have criticised the nation's leading Islamic council as being sexist, secretive, unrepresentative and irrelevant. The damning assessment of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils - a body that advises the the Howard Government on Islamic issues - is the latest in a series of blows to the federation's credibility. The AFIC was accused by its own internal investigators last month of funding its activities with public money siphoned off from a non-profit Muslim school.

The federation is an umbrella body of nine state and territorial Islamic councils, including the Islamic Council of Victoria. It claims to be the chief representative and co-ordinator of the nation's 300,000 Muslims. But a survey of the Muslim community carried out by the Victorian council has revealed deep dissatisfaction with the AFIC's performance. "The ICV executive committee found the most pressing concern the Muslims of Victoria have about AFIC is its transparency and representativeness," the Victorian council says in a report written for its members. "The community feels very strongly that AFIC is a closed, unrepresentative and therefore irrelevant organisation."

The ICV, which represents 90,000 Victorian Muslims, conducted the survey to gauge the public standing of the AFIC before elections next week for key AFIC positions, including that of president. The council says the poor community feedback about the AFIC has convinced it to nominate one of its own members, Ikebal Patel, for the position of federation president.

But outgoing AFIC president Ameer Ali yesterday rejected criticism of the organisation, and denied the federation was secretive or unrepresentative. "AFIC does not represent 100 per cent of the Muslims but there is no other parallel organisation which represents more Muslims than the AFIC," he said.

The ICV said its survey showed Victorian Muslims believed the federation was a sexist "old boys' club" that in effect neglected women and youth, which make up more than 60 per cent of the nation's Muslims. The ICV said the Muslim community was "particularly concerned" by the "complete absence of women and youth in AFIC". And it criticised the federation's "lack of consultation with state councils and Muslims generally" and "poor performance in the media".

Those surveyed expressed alarm about the secretive nature of the federation. "Community members were concerned they did not get to see and retain documents outlining AFIC's true financial position," the ICV report said.

However, Dr Ali disputed this claim. "AFIC is not secretive," he said yesterday. "It is audited every year and those financial statements are available to all the state councils."

A report leaked last month alleged the AFIC was siphoning public money from a not-for-profit Muslim school and using it for its own purposes. An investigation into the federation's finances by forensic accountant Robert Smith found the AFIC used income received from the popular Malek Fahd school in western Sydney - a school that receives government funding - to support the political activities of Muslim groups around the country. AFIC chief executive Amjad Mehboob rejected Mr Smith's findings, saying the accountant did not have the evidence to support his own conclusions.


Australian officials 'unreceptive' to superbug concern

Federal health authorities have been "unreceptive" to concerns about an evolving epidemic of new strains of golden staph, a senior public health official says.

Dr Keryn Christiansen, of Royal Perth Hospital (RPH), says community acquired methicillan resistant staphylococcus aureus, or CA-MRSA, is increasing for unknown reasons in some parts of Australia and particularly Western Australia. Dr Christiansen and co-authors of a study published in this month's Australian Medical Journal, surveyed 2,600 golden staph isolates (germs) collected from around Australia. Nationally, the appearance of the CA-MRSA strain rose from 4.7 per cent to 7.3 per cent of the sample, compared with similar surveys in 2000 and 2002. WA had a quarter of all national cases of CA-MRSA, between July 2004 and February 2005. The article refers to the issue as an "evolving epidemic".

But Dr Christiansen, head of microbiology and infectious diseases at RPH, says she has had trouble drawing the issue to the attention of federal authorities. "Unfortunately we've been unable to engage the federal government in this," she told AAP. "They've got other things on their agenda like pandemic flu and bio-terrorism and they're really putting a lot of money into that and not looking at this."

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus (MRSA), or Golden Staph, has long plagued hospital patients but other virulent related strains are now infecting people who have had no hospital contact. "In the past when we've seen the resistant strains, we've seen them in hospitals and they've been resistant to many, many antibiotics," said Dr Christiansen. "What we're seeing now is something completely different. "These patients have had no contact with hospitals, have never acquired these organisms from hospital contact and when you look at the organism genetically, they are quite distinct from the hospital variety. "Our other concern is that some of these strains contain a toxin called Panton-Valentine leukocidin (PVL), and this toxin actually breaks down white blood cells."

Dr Christiansen said they were not sure why the number of cases in WA was so high, but the state had a rigorous reporting process, not in place in other states and territories. "Every single MRSA that's isolated in this state is notified and we collect at my lab - we actually get the organism and we test it," she said. "We're not really sure why they should be so high ... we've got a few studies going to try and look at reasons for our high rates. "Our concern is that it is becoming more and more resistant and therefore will be difficult to treat," Dr Christiansen said.

Symptoms of community-acquired MRSA could be sores that turned into large abscesses or carbuncles, or wound infections that did not respond to treatment. A federal department of health spokeswoman said the department had met Dr Christiansen and there was ongoing discussion with expert committees on the best way to address community-acquired infections


OECD backs Howard on family tax

John Howard's insistence that the family benefit system is not a form of middle-class welfare, which he will reinforce in a speech today, has been backed by the OECD. Labor has criticised the family payments scheme in the lead-up to next month's budget, claiming it punishes welfare recipients re-entering the workforce. But in a vigorous defence of the scheme, the Prime Minister will use today's speech to the Menzies Institute to say the benefits provide tax relief, rather than welfare for high-income earners. The OECD data shows the average industrialised country gives three times as much assistance to high-income families as Australia does.

Labor's family spokesman, Chris Evans, said yesterday that Mr Howard's speech should "explain why he won't reform a system that pays millionaires welfare". But Mr Howard will instead call on Labor to reveal how it would finance plans to fix effective marginal tax rates, which are produced when people such as mothers returning to the workforce lose benefits as they earn wages. The Prime Minister will reject calls for policies to focus on low-income workers returning to work, and will characterise Labor's talk of effective marginal tax rates as "empty rhetoric" until the Opposition can explain how to finance a completely non-means-tested family tax system.

His argument that family benefits are part of the tax system, not welfare, is supported by unpublished research by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The data shows that although Australia has the most generous system of family benefits in the world, the wealthy receive fewer benefits from it. It shows a single-income family with two children earning $100,000 is only 2.8 per cent better off than a single-income couple with no children. The average assistance in the OECD is 8.5 per cent. Australia's system is much more generous to the low-paid than anywhere else, raising the income of a single-income family with two children earning $25,000 by 25.8 per cent. The OECD average is 16.6 per cent.

Opposition Treasury spokesman Wayne Swan said yesterday Labor "strongly supports the family tax benefit system". "However, in its current form the family tax benefit system is a well-intentioned system that is poorly executed," he said. Sydney Liberal MP Bronwyn Bishop, chairwoman of a federal parliamentary inquiry into work and family issues, said yesterday the system had helped established families, but others were being left out.


Lebanese Muslim guilty of gang rape

Sydney man Bilal Skaf has been found guilty for a second time of gang raping a teenage girl. The 12-person jury at Skaf's NSW Supreme Court retrial took just two days to find him guilty of two counts of aggravated sexual intercourse without consent in company. The charges arose from an attack on a 16-year-old girl in August 2000, in Greenacre's Gosling Park. His co-accused, who can only be referred to as AA, was found guilty of being an accessary before the fact of the attack. The pair had previously been convicted of taking part in the rape of the girl, which involved up to 14 men. But the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal in 2004 quashed the convictions of Skaf and AA and ordered retrials after it was revealed two jurors at the original trial had conducted investigations at the park where the alleged rape occurred.


Muslim gets life for murdering wife

A 42-year-old immigrant who fled Saddam Hussein's regime in 1991 has been sentenced to life in jail for murdering his wife at his family's Perth kebab shop. Father-of-six Dlshad Mahmood was arguing with his wife when he inflicted a 9cm wound to her throat in July 2004. The murder occurred on a Sunday morning at the eatery, which is located on a popular cafe strip. He was sentenced in the West Australian Supreme Court today after a jury trial in which he pleaded not guilty to wilful murder. He will be eligible for parole after 18 years.


Lauren's news is all good

Australia basketball star Lauren Jackson received a double boost today. She signed a lucrative new contract with Seattle Storm in the WNBA and the Australia team doctor also gave her good news regarding her long-term injury concerns. Jackson, the 2003 WNBA most valuable player, signed a multi-season deal with the Storm today understood to be worth $US91,000 ($124,529) in 2006, the maximum allowed under the league's salary cap. According to the WNBA pay scale, Jackson's salary should then rise to $US93,000 ($127,266) next season. Under league policy, terms and length of the deal weren't disclosed. After leading the Opals to a gold medal at last month's Commonwealth Games, Jackson will contest her sixth WNBA season in Seattle this year, starting with a clash against arch-rival Los Angeles on May 21. The 24-year-old guided Seattle to the 2004 crown, the city's first national championship in any sport since 1979, and is eyeing off another in 2006.


Tasmanians sell vodka to Russia

A small Tasmanian distillery has achieved what many thought was impossible - it is selling vodka to Russia. The Tamar Distillery at Beauty Point, north-west of Launceston, is now hoping for the same success at home. The distillery has just opened its doors to the public and is aiming to produce around 200,000 bottles of vodka a year. Managing director Philip Ridyard says the Russians were so happy with their first consignments, they are considering a long-term deal. "The Russian market is very sophisticated and we're looking to break into that area along with other imported spirits internationally," he said. "The main attraction is the quality of the wheat grain alcohol we're using and also the quality of the Tasmanian natural spring water." Mr Ridyard hopes there will also be strong demand locally. "We can probably produce up to 10,000 litres a day if we had to and hopefully we will have to at some stage," he said.


18 April, 2006

Howard takes welfare war to Labor

Mr Howard obviously believes that the envy-driven politics of the Left are likely to alienate more middle class voters than they will win over working class voters. The last election gave him considerable justification for that belief

John Howard is preparing to open a new policy battlefront with a stark warning to Labor - take an axe to the family payments system and risk alienating middle Australia. During a keynote speech on Tuesday, the Prime Minister will stoutly defend the Family Tax Benefits scheme, as Labor considers ways to stop "millionaires" receiving welfare.

Just days after Peter Costello released an international study on Australian tax, Mr Howard will offer a guide to future policy when he addresses the Menzies Research Centre in Canberra. Mr Howard's speech, "Taxation: keeping faith with Australian families", will include a rigorous defence of the welfare system, introduced after the Coalition came to power in 1996. Senior government aides have played down expectations that he will signal specific initiatives that are due to be unveiled in next month's budget.

Labor has attacked the payment of Family Tax Benefit Part B, which delivers a non-means-tested payment to stay-at-home mothers. The Opposition flagged changes after learning that 76 families with annual incomes of $1 million-plus received the welfare bonus in 2003-04. A further 352 families, with an income of more than $500,000, received the payment - currently worth up to $3372.60 a year. Announcing plans to place a $250,000 family "cap" on FTB (B), Labor family and community services spokesman Chris Evans said it showed the Government was out of touch with struggling families. "How can the Howard Government justify welfare for millionaires while ripping off families on average earnings, who often face repaying welfare debts in the thousands of dollars?" Senator Evans said.

Labor is considering alternative initiatives to help families. One measure supported by some Labor MPs involves non-means-tested benefits paid for young children, which would stop when the child reached a certain age - three or four.

The welfare debate will be taken up with gusto by Mr Howard, who will use his speech to denounce the Labor agenda. Mr Howard has strongly defended the Government's approach to family payments, claiming the system is "integral" to the whole tax system. "We're not going to muck around with the Family Tax Benefits system and anybody who thinks that tax reform includes taking an axe to that and channelling all of that money on an individual basis into tax cuts, they're wrong," he said. In his speech, he describes the system as one of the "great achievements" of his Government. Coalition strategists claim the family payments scheme has helped win over former Labor voters, particularly in the outer-city suburbs. Next month's budget is expected to include tax cuts and some additional welfare reforms, as the Government sharpens its policy armoury ahead of the 2007 federal election.


A Greenie archbishop with a remarkably non-Christian agenda

The Easter sermon of His Grace, as reported below, shows no awareness that the man he claims to follow declared: "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36)

The Anglican primate, Brisbane archbishop Phillip Aspinall, said the significance of Jesus rising from the dead had been reduced to "an other-worldly concern to do with going to heaven when you die". He told the congregation at Brisbane's St John's Cathedral the resurrection was instead a call to be involved in "the re-creation of the Earth, and human society being put to rights".

Archbishop Aspinall said among issues modern society should address were acid rain, global warming, salination, water conservation, poverty, personal, corporate and sexual ethics, and the obsession with affluence. "What we do to support the people of Innisfail in the wake of Cyclone Larry matters," he said. "Making peace in our world matters. The Christian view doesn't see this life as something to escape from, that the material world is bad, that real existence is a spiritual one divorced from this world. That kind of thinking leads to abandoning the Earth to its dismal fate because the material world, in the end, doesn't matter. "The New Testament pictures the end not as us going up to heaven, but a new Jerusalem coming out of heaven because the home of God is among mortals."

So, according to the Church of England, you no longer go to Heaven when you die. Remarkable! I think most of his flock would be surprised. But I guess they weren't listening.

More here

Sanitised Big Brother? True!

The producers of Big Brother 2006 have promised to curtail last year's headline-making acts involving exposure, nudity and bullying - but they won't rule out they won't happen. "Things happen in the Big Brother house that cause a lot of publicity but we never plan them," said Kris Noble, executive producer of the Channel 10 reality series that returns for a new season on April 23 at 7.30pm. "We never set out to be controversial and we don't want to break the rules but we want to be entertaining. "We have to pop our heads out the window and see what the temperature is. We have very healthy debates on what we can and can't show. But you put a bunch of people in the house and after that it is a matter of chemistry."

Mr Noble said the show wanted to abide by the rules set down by the Australian Media and Communications Authority. "We have given people in the control room extra training on public opinions on sexual harassment and bullying and just what can and cannot be allowed to be shown," he said. "We have also briefed the housemates and told them they just can't do what they like."

But last year the pictures did go to air, including a particularly offensive scene where a male contestant exposed his penis while massaging a female "inmate" of the house. These scenes caused a political ruckus with Coalition MPs, including Christopher Pyne, parliamentary secretary to the Minister for Ageing and Health, describing Big Brother Uncut as "crass, ghastly and inappropriate". AMCA ruled last year that three episodes of Big Brother Uncut contained material that exceeded the MA15+ classification standard. Earlier this year AMCA issued a veiled warning to Big Brother when it vowed to sharpen up its investigations into risque television programming.

More here

Police whistleblowers 'targeted'

NSW police who complain about corruption within the force are being subjected to campaigns of harassment by senior police, a confidential report claims. Internal whistleblowers have been attacked, stood over and subjected to psychological intimidation by their superiors, says the report by social researchers Urbis Keys Young. The report, prepared for the NSW Police and published in The Daily Telegraph, shows officers who complain about corruption are being denied promotional opportunities, transferred against their wishes and given menial jobs. More than half the 89 police surveyed said they had been subjected to psychological harassment for "rocking the boat", the paper reported. Twenty-seven per cent of whistleblowers said they had been the target of a "payback" complaint against them, while 10 per cent reported physical harassment and intimidation. One policewoman who complained about corruption said senior police had got back at her by booking her husband for traffic infringements.


Sikhs set for fun and games

More than 1000 Sikhs are using the Easter long weekend to compete in a variety of sports at the 19th Australian Sikh Games in Sydney. The games began in Concord in Sydney's west yesterday and run until tomorrow afternoon and feature competitors from Australia, the US, Malaysia, New Zealand, the UK and Singapore. They will compete in athletics, cricket, soccer and netball as well as the unique sport of Kabaddi, a cross between wrestling and rugby.

"NSW welcomes this colourful cultural sporting event being held this weekend, bringing international competitors," New South Wales Tourism and Sport Minister Sandra Nori said. "The Sydney Sport and Cultural Sikh Association has done a great job in coordinating this event and I encourage the community to get out and support this cultural celebration." This is the fourth time the games have been held in Sydney, including the inaugural staging of the event in 1990.

Sikhism is based on the belief of one god, with Sikhs following the teachings of ten north Indian gurus who lived during the 16th and 17th centuries.


17 April, 2006

Donations to political parties to be more private

And why not? If we can vote privately, why can we not donate privately?

The Government is introducing the biggest reforms to electoral legislation for almost a quarter of a century. Former Labor powerbroker Graham Richardson once said the purpose of those earlier changes by the Hawke government was to "make the task of anyone trying to take [power] from us as difficult as we could". By that measure, the Howard Government's changes are a worthy successor. Labor spokesman on electoral matters Alan Griffin has characterised them as making it "far harder to vote but much easier to secretly donate to political parties". Griffin's motivations are partisan, but that happens to be a fair summary.

The legislation increases the threshold for disclosing political donations from $1500 to $10,000. With the main parties all having national, state and territory branches registered separately under the electoral act, that means a single donor in future will be able to make nine donations of $10,000 to the Labor Party without having to disclose them. Alternatively, it could give eight lots of $10,000 to the Liberal Party and six to the Nationals without any nosy parkers outside the parties knowing about it. Or it could do all of the above; namely, make political donations of $230,000 without having to declare a cent. The changes mean none of the donations AWB has made in recent years would have had to be disclosed.

In its majority - that is, government - report on the 2004 election, the joint parliamentary committee on electoral matters said it was sceptical that donations of $10,000 or below "could be said to exert undue influence over recipients or to engender corruption"....

And there are plenty of other inventive ways to spread donations. Robert Gerard became the Liberals' biggest Australian donor in 2004-05 after Treasurer Peter Costello appointed him to the Reserve Bank board, kicking the Liberal tin for more than $262,000. That was made up of three personal donations totalling $11,000, three from Gerard Corporation adding up to $151,265 and a single sum of $100,000 from an associated company, Mistral. The total was more than four times the amount he donated the previous year. Whether he is as generous in future after being forced off the board over a rumpus about his tax affairs is another matter. There are other loopholes in the laws that enable donors to avoid disclosure completely, such as buying access to ministers in ways not defined as donations or giving to foundations that channel money to the big parties.

Lifting the threshold potentially benefits both parties. Kim Beazley made a hero of himself by directing the federal Labor Party to donate the $12,500 it had received from AWB to a charity working in Iraq. Quite apart from the fact this did not cover money given to state Labor branches, would that have happened if the donation had not been disclosed? Not on your nelly. But the Liberals have more to gain. Many larger companies have stopped making donations, partly because they attract difficulties if they are seen to give more to one side of politics than the other, while donating equal amounts dilutes the value of the investment. In February, the Liberal Party's federal treasurer, John Calvert-Jones, was frank about it: lifting the threshold would help the party's finances.

The bigger parties effectively have collaborated to set up an elaborate structure to buy influence and access while erecting a facade of disclosure laws that the Government is making it even easier to get around. But at the same time the Government is tightening the laws on voting out of a professed concern about fraud. This is an even more blatant attempt to tilt the balance in the conservatives' favour.

More here

A Health bureaucracy strikes back

A doctor who two years ago blew the whistle on unsafe medical services at a country hospital - prompting a review and sweeping changes - now claims he is being victimised by the health authorities. "Everywhere I go in the system now, I am victimised," said Kadina GP Dr Piet du Toit this week.

The claims are listed in a notice of complaint to the Equal Opportunity Tribunal, dated March 31. It lists concerns he raised between October 2003 and August 2004 about Wudinna Hospital on the West Coast, including;

* OVERDOSES of medication

* DEFICIENT obstetric services that compromised patient health and safety.

* INAPPROPRIATE prescription of large doses of antibiotics, failure to provide midwifery support, failure to obtain adequate specimen and provide appropriate blood results, with such failures compromising the health of patients.

* NURSING staff deficient in their knowledge of CPR and defibrillation.

Dr du Toit's concerns, which he claims in his notice of complaint were an "appropriate disclosure of public information" under the Whistleblowers Protection Act, led to a clinical review of conditions at the hospital.

The review found, among a series of deficiencies, that medical and nursing care did not meet contemporary standards and that "improvements were required in areas of patient management systems".

But 2 1/2 years after Dr du Toit first raised the alarm, his statement to the Equal Opportunity Tribunal alleges he was threatened with the sack and deportation to his native South Africa. He alleges the actions "amounted to an act of victimisation within the meaning of the Whistleblowers Protection Act."

Dr du Toit had arrived in SA in 2001 under a temporary visa. In 2002, the Mid-West Health Service became the sponsor for the visa and it employed him under contract in May, 2003. After detailing his complaints in writing between October 2003 and August 2004, Dr du Toit resigned from the service on November 8, 2004 - sparking a petition from 543 residents for his return and a clinical review of the situation at Wudinna Hospital. He now works as a GP at the Kadina Medical Centre.

In his statement to the Equal Opportunity Tribunal, he states the then chairman of Eyre Regional Health Services, Terry Mullan, and fellow director Gary Stewart had concerns about his ongoing complaints concerning Wudinna Hospital. "Stewart threatened to terminate (my) contract of employment," his statement states. "Further, Stewart said . . .'if I advise the board to terminate the arrangements with you, you are out of here. You are back to South Africa . . . they're currently your sponsor and you have 28 days to leave the country under the current (arrangements)'."

Dr du Toit's claim alleges the period of victimisation caused him to suffer denigration and humiliation, causing him to resign.

The clinical review, conducted in 2004 and released in November last year, confirmed most of Dr du Toit's concerns. It listed 13 recommendations to overcome the problems, and noted: "It is imperative that urgent attention was given to this matter to ensure that further deterioration did not occur."

Health Minister John Hill referred Sunday Mail inquiries to Eyre Regional Health Service general manager Tom Neilson. He said that recommendations from the review "have all been implemented and the situation at Wudinna is positive".


Cheerleaders ordered to cover up

Do any of these gals look "anorexic??"

Scantily-clad cheerleaders have been ordered to cover up because of fears they may be encouraging schoolgirl anorexia. Cheerleading's governing body Gymnastics Australia is banning teams from baring their midriffs and has given them until the end of the year to find new uniforms. The organisation believes the revealing costumes make sensitive teenagers feel uncomfortable about their weight and "affect the self-esteem of others". It is also keen for cheerleaders to be seen as athletes in sports wear, rather than bimbos in bikinis.

This has angered cheerleading squads who say audiences don't want a cover-up. Brisbane Broncos cheerleaders' manager Anthony Ikin, whose squad is not affected by the ban, described it as "ridiculous and way too extreme". "The midriff is not an area to be concerned about exposing ... no one wants to go to a game and see people in tracksuits and baggy clothes, it's not appealing ."

Broncos cheerleader Angeli Chupungco, 21, said she was happy wearing the uniform of a sports top and shorts with stockings. "The outfits are appropriate for what we're doing and we look the way people want us to look as cheerleaders." The ban, which has already been imposed in the United States, will affect teams which are registered with Gymnastics Australia or compete at their events.

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Christianity on the retreat in Queensland

Any belief system could soon be taught in Queensland state schools following changes to the laws governing religious education. The changes will allow any group - religious or not - to offer spiritual instruction to children, provided their parents agree. The Beattie Government has pressed ahead with the changes despite the protests of Christian churches worried about marginalising religion in schools. They are included in the recent overhaul of the Education Act, which will herald a new era for Queensland's 470,000 state school children.

Currently, state school students as young as five take part in religious education classes unless parents formally write to the school allowing them to "opt out" of the lessons. Under section 75 of the Education (General Provisions) Bill 2006, due to be enacted this year, no student will attend religious education lessons unless their parents write to the school requiring them to do so. And in line with anti-discrimination laws, religious education classes will no longer be taught solely by church representatives. Groups with a non-religious system of beliefs - providing they are apolitical - will also be allowed to teach religious education classes.

The Australian Humanist Society expects the Bill to be enacted in July and has already drawn up a syllabus dealing with science-based education, creative thinking, ethical responsibility and the separation of the church and state. State secretary of the Australian Humanist Society Maria Proctor hopes to become the first atheist religious education teacher in a Queensland state school.

Brisbane Catholic Education executive director David Hutton said church representatives had argued against the changes, which were significant and would erode the standing of religion in Queensland. "At this point we accept the Government decision," Mr Hutton said. "We're not against people being taught different beliefs and value systems but I'd have some concerns about young people being exposed to multiple belief systems. "At the moment (religious education classes) are on offer. Now you're making people make a definite decision to opt in. "I suspect fewer parents will opt in that under the previous system. This sort of move keeps pushing religion to the margins. "Religious discourse has a place in our education system. That's why we, as mainstream churches, have argued for continuing access to state schools."

Pastor Dallas Freeman, of the Pentecostal Citywest Christian Church, said he had attended a meeting of ministers to discuss the issue. Some saw the move as a "gradual phasing out of religious education in schools", he said. "The other thing is that schools will end up with all these kids who don't know what they're meant to do in that (religious education) time. They'll have to work out what to do with all those kids." An Education Department spokesman said advisers were still figuring out what to do with children not attending religious education lessons

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School religion check

Premier Peter Beattie has vowed to keep "crackpots, lunatics and religious extremists" out of Queensland schools under law changes governing religious education. Mr Beattie, said yesterday his government's draft Education Bill would enhance the right of parents to decide what sort of religious education was given to their children. However, the Government would not allow into schools those people who took extreme positions. "The main change being contemplated is finding the best system of providing school principals with enforceable and clearer guidelines about who can and can't be admitted to schools to talk to children about religion," he said. Mr Beattie said the Director-General of Education would rule on applications from other organisations. Mr Beattie said if a group of parents at a school wanted their children to receive information from a particular organisation, only those children would receive that instruction if it was "practical" to do so.


16 April, 2006

Wrong on refugees

This is an editorial from "The Australian" newspaper which argues that Australia should not kowtow so much to Muslim Indonesia:

Five years ago, John Howard had a serious refugee crisis on his hands. Thousands of asylum-seekers, many travelling on rickety and unseaworthy boats, were landing at Christmas Island. More than 1100 made landfall in August 2001 alone, with countless others never completing the trip because of the greed and negligence of people-smugglers. Thus, when later that year - in the wake of the Tampa, children overboard, and 9/11 - the Prime Minister made his famous comment, "We will decide who comes to this country, and the circumstances under which they come," he was criticised for making a subtle link between terrorists and refugees, most of whom came from Iraq and Afghanistan, in an attempt to win back One Nation voters. But he was also establishing a moral cloak for the Pacific Solution, namely fighting people-smugglers and discouraging asylum-seekers by processing them offshore.

Fast forward to 2006, and Mr Howard has another refugee problem on his hands. But this one involves a few dozen, rather than thousands of, individuals - namely, the 42 Papuan independence activists turned asylum-seekers granted temporary protection visas this month by the Immigration Department, much to the consternation of the Indonesian Government. In response, Mr Howard has rewritten policy - not to save lives but, apparently, to appease Jakarta. Under new regulations, even refugees who reach mainland Australia, not just excised islands, can be sent to offshore locations for processing. Expensive hi-tech submarines, warships, radar installations and spy planes will be deployed on 24-hour watch to detect and discourage future asylum-seekers. The Government even opened the door to consulting Jakarta on future cases of Papuan asylum-seekers. And before telling the Australian people of the new rules, Mr Howard told Jakarta, sending a special envoy from Canberra to deliver the news. It all recalls Paul Keating's secret 1995 security deal with Suharto, and threatens to drive the progressive Left and One Nation Right together.

The Australian has always agreed with the Howard Government's position on the mandatory detention and processing of unauthorised arrivals, although we have strongly opposed the inhumane Pacific Solution and the continuing detention of children behind razor wire. It is curious that after a general recent softening towards refugees, the federal Government has once again adopted such a hardline approach. Mr Howard says he is eager to halt any further decline in Australian-Indonesian relations, which is understandable.

But many Australians have become concerned that the price of Jakarta's friendship is becoming too high. This is not, after all, the 1960s, when Australia feared an Indonesian invasion. Today, Indonesia has more at risk from poor relations with Australia than vice versa. Australia gave Indonesia $1 billion at a stroke after the Boxing Day tsunami, with hundreds of millions more in aid scheduled in coming years. Australia also commits vast resources to helping Indonesia fight terrorism, another strong argument in favour of maintaining both Indonesia's territorial integrity and good relations with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who has proved a strong ally on this front. But Indonesia is still only Australia's 11th-largest trading partner, worth a comparatively scant $8.5 billion in two-way trade each year. This figure is dwarfed by our relationships with nations such as China. For all its bluster, it is hard to see what serious consequences Indonesia could impose on a nation that today can confidently project power halfway around the world.

There are two relationships here that need repairing: that between Jakarta and Papua, and that between Indonesia and Australia. Canberra can advise Jakarta on its dealings with Papua, and may well wish for a thaw with Indonesia, but cannot change domestic policy in pursuit of this goal. And the Indonesian Government realistically understands that it will have to properly implement some form of autonomy for Papua after a botched attempt in 2001. As The Australian noted last week, a united Indonesia is in everyone's best interests. Opposition Leader Kim Beazley accurately summed things up when he said, "We have to tell the Indonesians that nothing has happened here which sees us as a nation stand aside from what is a common position between the Government and Opposition, in support of the territorial integrity of Indonesia." Correct. But just as Indonesians rightfully asked Australians to respect their law with regard to the Schapelle Corby verdict, Indonesians must understand that Australia has its own laws as well. And those laws may well see Papuans granted asylum. The sooner Jakarta understands it cannot drive policy in Canberra, the sooner the two nations can get relations back on the right track.


Elite girls' school 'kills the study of literature'

One of the world's leading authorities on Shakespeare's work, Harold Bloom, and the nation's pre-eminent poet, Les Murray, have declared literary study in Australia dead after learning that a prestigious Sydney school asked students to interpret Othello from Marxist, feminist and racial perspectives. "I find the question sublimely stupid," Professor Bloom, an internationally renowned literary critic, the Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale and Berg Professor of English at New York University, said yesterday. "It is another indication that literary study has died in Australia."

The question was an assessment task in March set for advanced English students in Year 11 at SCEGGS Darlinghurst, an independent Anglican girls' school in inner Sydney. Considered one of the nation's leading schools, it charges almost $20,000 a year in fees for senior students. The assessment task asked students to write an essay explaining how Othello supported different readings. "In your answer, refer closely to the prescribed text and explain how dramatic techniques might be used to communicate each reading. You must consider two of the following readings: Marxist, feminist, race," the question says.

Bloom is a renowned defender of the Romantic poets and a critic of Marxist and post-modern approaches to literary criticism, among others. His 1994 work, The Western Canon, attacked the rise of ideologically based criticism. Murray, who has just published his latest volume of poetry, The Biplane Houses, described the question as horrifying and said Australian literary study was "worse than dead". He said literature should be removed from school curriculums, which, in the words of US poet Billy Collins, teach students to strap poetry to a chair and beat meaning out of it with a hose. "Students are being taught to translate (poetry and literature) into some kind of dreary, rebarbative, reductive prose for the purpose of getting high marks," Murray said. "They're being taught to overcome it, not to appreciate it, not to value it, not to be changed or challenged by it but to get mastery over it."

But SCEGGS head Jenny Allum defended the question, arguing that it asked students to show their understanding of Othello's themes. "It's phrased in a slightly different way ... but it's about the role of women, the role of black men in that society, the role of the worker, which I think are clear themes of Othello," she said. Ms Allum, also chairwoman of the academic committee of the Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia in NSW, said it was a legitimate way of interpreting Shakespeare's themes using a modern-day understanding of feminism, race relations or Marxism. "There's always been different ways of looking at a play and drawing different meanings," she said.

SCEGGS head of English, Jennifer Levitus, said terms such as Marxism and feminism were modern labels used to help simplify the universal themes found in Shakespeare. The president of the English Teachers Association of NSW, Mark Howie, said the assessment question was in keeping with the syllabus - that students develop a personal understanding of the text and can relate to the notion that it can be interpreted differently in different contexts


The high cost of Greenie dam-hatred

Back to the high-cost technology of 100 years ago

Rainwater tanks are on the increase in Brisbane on the back of a hefty council rebate and lower retail prices. Rebates were given for about 870 tanks last month, up from 660 tanks in February. That brings the number of rebates from the Brisbane City Council for the installation of rainwater tanks to about 3700. Cr Helen Abrahams, who chairs the environment and sustainability committee, said the council expected to hand out 4500 rebates by the end of the financial year. They ranged from a $500 rebate for tanks holding 1000 litres or more, and $750 rebate for tanks with a 3000 litre capacity or greater.

Cr Abrahams said some retailers had lowered the price of a tank to match the $750 rebate. "It looks as though that is not going to be the end of it because we actually have a dedicated Drought Information Hotline, and of the 800 phone calls to that, 300 were asking about rainwater tanks," she said. Many of those calls were from unit owners looking to put tanks in complexes. Cr Abrahams said the council would investigate ways to expand the rebates to home units.


Surgery up under political pressure

This shows what could have been happening all along if they had not been spending all the money on bureaucracy. The facilities and the staff were obviously available

Queensland's two largest hospitals performed a record amount of surgery last month, Health Minister Stephen Robertson said yesterday. Despite the news, Mr Robertson warned it might take some time for surgical waiting lists to significantly improve. Statistics released to The Courier-Mail show the Princess Alexandra Hospital operated on more patients in March than at any other time in its history. Additionally, the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital set a March record for surgery. More than 1700 patients were operated on at the PA Hospital in March, including 441 emergency cases and 1271 elective cases. "At no point in the history of the PA Hospital has so much surgery ever been performed in one month," Mr Robertson said. "The previous record was 1540 cases in February this year." The volume of patients was a marked increase from the six-month average of 1450 patients a month. Other figures released yesterday showed the RBH operated on more than 2000 patients last month, up from 1956 in March last year and 1664 in March 2004.

Mr Robertson said the surgical records were a result of additional funding for more beds and more doctors and nurses at both hospitals. While he expected surgical activity would increase further, Mr Robertson cautioned that surgery waiting lists may not return to normal for some time. "Over the next five years we will pour an additional $259.7 million into elective surgery and an extra $280.3 million into our emergency departments," he said. "However, we continue to face high demands for elective surgery and it may take some time before waiting lists return to a more acceptable level."

In the most recent waiting list report released in February this year, the number of people waiting more than 30 days for urgent category-one surgery in the last quarter of 2005 increased by more than 500 per cent compared to 2004. Also the number of people waiting more than 90 days for semi-urgent category-two operations increased by 281 per cent in the same period last year. The latest waiting list report is due in the next few weeks.

Coalition health spokesman Bruce Flegg described the data as "meaningless" and accused the Government of picking figures they could put a positive spin on to run an overt political agenda. He said the real reason for the increase in surgery was because emergency cases were being funnelled to the RBH and PA from struggling nearby emergency departments. "They haven't released the waiting list data, they haven't released the number of elective surgery operations across the state," he said.


15 April, 2006

More Muslim Mayhem

Bandits shot a greengrocer at his fruit shop crowded with Easter shoppers - some of them young children - last night. As the wounded 41-year-old was rushed to hospital, terrified witnesses told how the robbers had burst in screaming threats. "Give the money straightaway, I want the money in two seconds or I will shoot you," one shouted at staff. They then opened fire inside the Fresh Fruit Palace Enfield in Sydney's inner west, leaving the owner, known as Joe, with a flesh wound in the leg. A terrified shop worker rang her husband immediately afterwards and described how two hooded gunmen of Middle Eastern appearance rushed in just before 6.30pm (AEST). "She wanted to get out of there but they were firing guns," the husband said. "She's in shock, I'm just so glad she's not hurt." The man said the shop owner was a hardworking man who did not deserve to be attacked. "The guys who did this knew it would have been a busy time with Easter coming up," he said. At least two children were in the shop. One, aged about six, told bystanders, "He had a gun" before he was hurried home along with his little brother. The gunmen fled in a silver BMW - similar to one that was carjacked recently then used for several robberies in the area.


PETA attacking Australia

They want sheep to be eaten alive by flies!

A billboard depicting a bloody, crucified lamb has been refused space above Sydney's roads this Easter, an animal rights group says. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which has been running an international campaign against sheep mulesing in Australia, wanted to mount the confronting image for motorists to see over the Easter long weekend. But the group says billboard owners have refused to lease out the space. "PETA had hoped its new billboard opposing Australia's cruel treatment of sheep - which shows a blood-soaked lamb on a crucifix with the tag-line `Have mercy on them, stop mulesing and live exports' - would be up in time for Easter. "But outdoor advertising companies want no part of it," the US-based group said in a statement. Mulesing, widely practised by Australian sheep farmers, is the surgical removal of folds of skin from the backsides of sheep to prevent the painful and sometimes fatal condition of fly strike.

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Australian government running scared from Indonesia

And genuine refugees from Muslim oppression suffer

Protests were planned at refugee centres today as anger over Australia's new asylum-seeker policy grew, with Amnesty International leading the condemnation. The human rights group said Australia could breach its international obligations if it sent all asylum seekers arriving by boat offshore. The Federal Government has moved to toughen its asylum regime following a rift with Indonesia over Australia's decision to grant temporary protection visas to 42 Papuans last month. Under the changes, anyone entering Australia by boat - whether they made it to the mainland or not - would be sent to one of three offshore immigration detention centres for processing. The Government hopes to send even those found to be genuine refugees to a "third country".

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Scientist urges switch to thorium

Supporters of an alternative energy source say it has the potential to revolutionise the nuclear power industry and is a safer alternative to uranium. Thorium oxide, which is three times more abundant than uranium, is also a radioactive material. But senior research scientist Dr Hashemi-Nezhad, from Sydney University, says it is safe to hold in your hand. "This is the future of the energy in the world - energy without green, without greenhouse gas production," he said. Dr Hashemi-Nezhad says thorium has all of the benefits of uranium as a nuclear fuel but none of the drawbacks. It can generate power without emitting greenhouse gases and it can be used to incinerate the world's stockpiles of plutonium. Dr Hashemi-Nezhad says thorium waste would only remain radioactive for 500 years, not the tens of thousands that uranium by-products remain active. "In fact, the green movement must come behind this project because we are moving in a direction to destroy all these existing nuclear wastes, to prevent nuclear weapons production, to [prevent] Chernobyl accident happening again," Dr Hashemi-Nezhad said. Unlike uranium, thorium is not fissile, meaning it must be coaxed into a chain reaction.

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14 April, 2006

Prime Minister slams door on boatpeople

Asylum-seekers who land on the Australian mainland will face deportation to offshore processing centres under tough new rules to be announced by the Howard Government today. Expanding its controversial regulations that allow islands to be excised from Australia's migration zone, John Howard has decided that even those asylum-seekers who make it undetected to the mainland will be denied generous review process under Australian law. The new rules, signed off by cabinet's National Security Committee yesterday, mean that any claim for asylum will be processed as if the applicant were in an overseas UN refugee camp, joining the worldwide queue.

The move is designed to stem the flow of asylum-seekers from Papua and mend relations with Jakarta. Under current arrangements - brought in during the 2001 wave of Middle Eastern and south Asian asylum-seekers - if an asylum-seeker reaches an island it is not regarded as Australian territory for the purposes of migration law. Future asylum-seekers could be sent to Australia's Christmas Island [above] or the Australian-funded centre on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island for processing.

Until now if an asylum-seeker reached the mainland - as the 43 Papuans who arrived in January did - the law deemed them to be in Australia and the Government had to hear their claim according to Australian rules. Last month, using these rules, the Department of Immigration issued temporary protection visas to 42 of the Papuans, sparking a diplomatic crisis between Australia and Indonesia.

Cabinet is believed to have gone for the idea because it is simple, will work effectively in the Papuan case and does not contravene Australia's international treaty obligations. The change is likely to placate Indonesian concerns that Australia is treating Papuans more sympathetically than asylum-seekers from other nations.

Last month's decision to grant temporary protection visas to the Papuans sparked a diplomatic row with Jakarta, with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono calling the move "inappropriate and unrealistic". He said last week relations with Canberra were entering a "difficult phase" and called for serious discussions on the future of the bilateral relationship.....

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Australia takes border control seriously

USA take note

The Federal Government will use submarines, warships, spy planes and top-secret radars and satellites to stop West Papuan refugees from reaching Australia. In a multi-agency strategy, the military will work with Customs, Coastwatch and Fisheries to target illegal fishermen as well as asylum seekers. The massive new surveillance effort will be spearheaded by Customs vessels diverted from drug interdiction operations in southern Australia and RAAF P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft. Navy patrol boats will relieve the Customs vessels on drugs watch. The Orions will operate from the RAAF base at Darwin airport and will mount round-the-clock patrols of the waters between West Papua (Irian Jaya) and Australia. The four-engine aircraft can spend up to 12 hours in the air and cover thousands of square kilometres of ocean and are regarded as the most effective weapon against small, wooden vessels in the open sea. "We will pick up anything illegal," a government source said.

The surveillance effort will cost tens of millions of dollars and will run indefinitely. It is the key element of a healing strategy with Indonesia after 42 West Papuans, who arrived in Cape York in January, were granted refugee status. That move angered Jakarta amid fears of a repeat of the 1999 Australian-led East Timor separation.

The boats and planes will be supported by Darwin-based navy patrol boats and larger warships, including frigates, that will be diverted to the West Papua border area from exercises and en route to operational deployments. In addition, Collins-class submarines will use top-secret surveillance capabilities to hunt both refugee boats and poachers in waters off the West Papuan coast.

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Australian tax not so bad

Research showing Australians pay the eighth-lowest tax in the developed world has all but scotched major tax reform in next month's Budget. Treasurer Peter Costello said on Wednesday Australia's tax system was competitive by international standards and hinted at Budget tinkering rather than the fundamental reform demanded by business groups.

His comments came as he released a 415-page report comparing Australian tax system with those in other nations. The report, prepared by Board of Taxation chairman Dick Warburton and business lobbyist Peter Hendy, found Australia's total tax take was 31.6 per cent of its gross domestic product - the eighth- lowest among the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's 30 members. The average was 36.3 per cent.

Australia's GST rate of 10 per cent also was comparatively low but taxes on property transactions, levied by state governments, were the highest. The report found nations with even lower tax takes - such as Japan and the US - had government budget deficits.

Mr Costello commissioned the research a month ago amid heavy public debate about the need for tax reform and expectations of a Budget surplus approaching $15 billion. He also was facing pressure for reform from colleagues including ambitious parliamentary newcomer Malcolm Turnbull. On Wednesday, as he stressed he would not reveal his Budget plans, Mr Costello said the report showed the Government had made good recent progress in all areas of tax reform. "What I think you'll see from this report is that there are not glaring areas with the possibility of property and transactional taxes where we're overweight," Mr Costello said. "The tax burden to GDP has been kept contained and what we want to do is continue to build in all these areas." .....

The Government also was judged to be relatively low-spending - the third-lowest in the OECD as a proportion of gross domestic product.....

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Stupid Kiwi

About where I live. New Zealanders are used to living alongside a lot of Polynesians

Is New Zealand columnist Daya Willis sure she really visited Brisbane? Last weekend she attacked the city, claiming it to be the "mono-cultural capital of Australia", a racists' paradise and cultural backwater, through her article in the country's biggest-selling weekend newspaper, The Weekend Herald. Perhaps her tour bypassed Brisbane's great melting pots for the six days she was in the River City.

West End's Boundary Street, New Farm's James Street, Brunswick Street Mall, the Asian influences of Sunnybank, Moorooka's Sudanese, our numerous markets and New Farm's Powerhouse.

"Brown people are still rare enough to attract sideways glances in suburban Queensland," she wrote. "Travellers should not opt for Brisbane if they're after a taste of indigenous culture. They should not, in fact, opt for Brisbane if they're after a taste of any culture besides white Australia, because they will be bitterly disappointed."

The director of inner-city theatre and events venue the Powerhouse, Andrew Ross, said: "She did not go shop where I shop, eat where I eat or walk down the same streets. "She certainly did not venture down to the Powerhouse, where New Zealand's greatest contemporary Polynesian band Te Vaka played recently."

Brisbane city councillor Tim Nicholls said: "I disagree substantially with what she has said. You don't have to go far to see great and diverse festivals. She obviously did not go very far or open her eyes very wide. "She has all the hallmarks of the chardonnay-sipping social elite, any one who spends any time in Brisbane knows of our culture diversity, it is reverse snobbery," he said.

Willis was apparently admitted to hospital for chronic dehydration on day three of her visit, so her "not nice" aspects of Brisbane may be tainted. They include oppressive summer heat; numerous brash inhabitants; bland, mall-style shopping; hand-sized spiders; lack of footpaths and a flavourless, one-dimensional cultural mix....

Brisbane Festival director Lyndon Terracini said: "I think she needs to get a life. Brisbane is an incredibly progressive, vibrant and adventurous city, and 200 people move here a day. When the festival comes out it will show we are one of the best cities in the world. "I have never heard that view from anyone. It is the most perverse, idiotic thing."

Not surprisingly, the article was entitled "White man's paradise". "Even the white people of Brisbane feel roundly similar: suburban, middle-class, conservative," she wrote. "Having done time in the mono-cultural capital of Australia, it does strike me that hanging out with people much like oneself for all the hours that God sends might get a bit limiting."

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13 April, 2006

The unending Greenie moans about Australia's vast coral reefs

How many times must the experts be wrong about Barrier Reef devastation before we disbelieve their scares? How many times must the Great Barrier Reef "survive" before we figure it's not really dying? Actually, the real question is a bit ruder. As in: How many times can global-warming alarmists such as Prof Ove Hoegh-Guldberg be wrong about the reef's "devastation" before we learn to ignore their scares?

The trouble is our reef is so well-loved that green militants, desperate that we back their theory of man-made global warming, consider it the perfect hostage. No month goes by without one screaming: "Freeze! Out of the car, or the reef gets it!" And Hoegh-Guldberg, head of Queensland University's Centre for Marine Studies, has threatened us more often than most. Just three months ago he was at it again, issuing a press release with a grim warning: High temperatures meant "between 30 and 40 per cent of coral on Queensland's Great Barrier Reef could die within a month". Just four paragraphs on he upped the ante, warning that the warm seas "may result in greater damage" still -- to more than 60 per cent of the reef -- and we "have to rapidly reduce the rate of global warming by reducing carbon dioxide emissions." You heard him, jerk. Get out of your car.

But as anyone who's seen the reef lately knows, it's still there and still beautiful. Ask -- hey! -- Hoegh-Guldberg himself. He's just back from a trip out to the outer reef and reports that, um, the bleaching, er, has had, well, "quite a minimal impact", after all. In fact, just 1 per cent was affected. And history tells us even that little bit will recover. What history? The history of an earlier Hoegh-Guldberg scare. In 1999, Hoegh-Guldberg was commissioned by Greenpeace -- warning -- to find out why bits of the reef had just turned white. Global warming was to blame, he concluded, which pleased Greenpeace awfully. More, it moaned, and the professor obliged: Warming seas meant "coral reefs could be eliminated from most areas of the world by 2100". Our own reef "looks to be under pressure within, say, the next 30 years".

Note well: I'm certain Hoegh-Guldberg believed this booga booga, based on his understanding of the science. Yet how lucky for him that he did. He was promptly awarded the Eureka Prize for scientific research by the green-worshipping Australian Museum, and journalists who'd credulously reported his claims were shortlisted for top media awards. Soon the ABC's 7.30 Report, to name one of many, was claiming the "once-spectacular reef" was being "bleached bone white" -- proving host Kerry O'Brien hadn't bought goggles and Speedos to check this unlikely claim with his own eyes. Actually, I can't resist naming a second offender: The ABC's Four Corners added that "across the world, coral reefs are turning into marine deserts".

Except, of course, our reef (and others) recovered from the bleaching of 1998, something which Hoegh-Guldberg conceded was "surprising". It recovered from the bleaching of 2002, as well, just as it's done after other bleachings in its immense life. Not that this has stopped Hoegh-Guldberg from issuing yet more death notices. Last November, for instance, he claimed the reef's coral could disappear within just 20 years. Last month he warned: "The climate is changing so quickly that coral reefs don't keep up."

I repeat: I'd agree Hoegh-Guldberg is honest and says all this because that's what the science tells him, and other scientists back him. But again he's found this doom-preaching has its perks. He now chairs a $20 million global warming study funded by the World Bank. I asked another scientist, Dr Peter Ridd of James Cook University's department of physical sciences, if he'd noticed how the big institutional money seemed to go to the ones who say the scariest stuff on global warming. "Yes," he said shortly.

But silly Ridd, formerly with the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences, won't play by those rules. He instead points out the "most of the supposed threats to the reef, whether from global warming or agricultural run-off, have in fact been grossly overstated". Most of the reef does not get bleached, and almost every bit that does recovers. Boring, Peter. Boring.

Speaking about global warming preachers generally rather than Hoegh-Guldberg, Ridd even warns: "I think the media have been manipulated . . . and scientists are rapidly getting the same reputation as used-car salesmen and real estate agents." Actually, Ridd is far too easy on the media. I suspect many journalists much prefer green hype to sober hope.

Ask Dr Ben McNeil, an oceanographer of the University of New South Wales, who with colleagues from CSIRO and AIMS calculated that global warming could in fact be good for coral reefs, because warmer water helped red algae calcify faster. Even allowing for more acidic seas, says McNeil, "our analysis suggests that ocean warming will foster considerably faster future rates of coral reef growth". Fancy that. Not dying reefs, but growing. But only if we keep pumping out gas. Such good news, yet only one daily newspaper in the country published it -- and then in just four paragraphs.

Still, I'm sure you've learned by now not to trust one more global warming scare. You need only take a Captain Cook at the reef to see why you're right to question even a professor as admired as Hoegh-Guldberg. Speaking of the greater man, Prof Bob Carter of James Cook University's Marine Geophysical Laboratory, points out: "Should the ghost of Captain Cook sail north along the shelf again today . . . equipped with modern measuring equipment, he would be unable to detect any changes to the reef from when he first observed it in 1770." Time the global warming scaremongers found some other hostage. They've squeezed this reef dry.


No food panic in the Australian government

As he completed a charity bike ride raising more than $300,000 for diabetes research, the federal Minister for Health, Tony Abbott, ruled out a ban on junk food ads on children's television. The rate of diabetes, mostly caused by poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle, is soaring in line with children's obesity.

However, Mr Abbott said children's eating habits were an issue for parents and schools, not government nor the advertising industry. "The only person responsible for what goes into my mouth is me, and the only people who are responsible for what goes into kids' mouths are the parents. "What we really need is more responsible dietary behaviour from parents, from individuals and school canteens. I won't at this point in time, or I suspect down the track, be demanding that they ban ads."

Mr Abbott was among more than 80 cyclists who rode from Brisbane to Sydney to raise money for a diabetes research laboratory at the Westmead Millennium Institute.

The Greens yesterday released the findings of a survey showing that teenagers who watch a lot of television ads are not only more likely to eat more junk food but are less likely to favour healthy food. "It is time for [Abbott] to admit what everyone else has known for years: junk food advertisements work and we need to protect children from them," the Greens leader, Bob Brown, said.


Kid wins fight with shark

What began with an uncomfortable tug on his left foot while out surfing ended last night with a surgeon removing the tip of a shark tooth from his big toe. Luke Cook, a 15-year-old from Caves Beach, was bitten by an unidentified shark as he paddled through whitewater at a surf break known as the Cowrie Hole between Newcastle and Nobbys beaches at 1.30pm yesterday. Showing incredible composure, the budding soccer star said he stunned the shark into releasing its grip by punching it on the nose. "I could feel my foot inside its mouth, his whole mouth was around my foot, and I just knew it was some sort of shark," Luke said from his bed in John Hunter Hospital yesterday. "Then I hit it and it let go and I didn't see anything."

Bleeding profusely from a couple of deep gashes, the Belmont Christian College student said he paddled the 40 metres back to shore "thinking he may be coming back", before using a sock to stem the blood. "I just thought out what I had to do," he said.

The fact his injuries were relatively minor came as a huge relief to the gifted soccer player, who is due to travel to Italy in September as part of training squad visiting soccer giants AC Milan and Juventus. Luke's father, Graham, said his first thought on hearing of the shark attack was that his son might lose his foot. "It was a deep shock but when I saw him it was relief," he said. A surgeon, Dr Matthew Carroll, said the tooth fragment embedded in Luke's foot needed to be removed to avoid infection. Water police yesterday patrolled the attack zone as a precaution, although no beaches were closed.

More here

No porn for Tasmania!

For those who are not aware of it, Tasmania has a considerable reputation for incest

Tasmania is stepping up the campaign against internet porn, launching the first statewide trial of a filter system aimed at protecting children. The trial was sought by the Liberal senator Guy Barnett, who has challenged industry and official claims that a community-wide filtering system was unfeasible. Last year, Senator Barnett sent a letter to the Prime Minister, John Howard, signed by 62 Coalition senators, in which he appealed for a national system to make it easier for families to block internet porn and excessive violence. The Communications Minister, Senator Helen Coonan, last month rejected a Labor demand for a mandatory system-wide filter, saying it would slow the internet for every user.

However, Senator Barnett has won the backing of two internet filter companies, which have agreed to undertake a free trial open to all Tasmanian households in the hope of securing nationwide business. One of the companies, Internet Sheriff Technology, already provides filtering services to the NSW Department of Education. The three-month trial is due to begin in the coming months.


Melbourne men win Italian Parliament seats

Two Melbourne men have been elected to the Italian Parliament. It is the first time Italians living overseas have been allowed to vote and stand for election. Nino Randazzo, who will represent Italians in Oceania and Africa in the Senate, says he is honoured to have won the seat for the centre-left party. Mr Randazzo, 73, says the previous Government led by Silvio Berlusconi has damaged Italy's international reputation, and he wants to help improve its image. "Italians abroad have felt humiliated by some of the actions and some of the policies of the Berlusconi Government," he said. "Italy was a great economic power only 20 years ago and is now on the bottom rank of the industrialised countries of the world."

The other Melbourne man to have secured a seat is Marco Fedi [Above].

Source. Background here

Ghost ship to be sunk in Coral Sea

Salvage authorities will today start stripping down a ghost ship found floating in the Gulf of Carpentaria last month. The 80-metre boat will be sunk in the Coral Sea off the north coast of Queensland in a few days. Tracy Jiggins, from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, says an investigation has failed to shed any light on where the abandoned boat came from. "We actually have a Cairns company on site at the moment," she said. "They are cleaning the vessels and making sure that all the bits and pieces that might come off once it's scuttled have been removed from the vessel to ensure there's no damage to the environment or any hazards to navigation in the area."


12 April, 2006

Victoria police get serious about Muslim terrorism

The Victoria Police has become Australia's first force to use an undercover officer to infiltrate a radical Islamic group. The Age believes that during the operation, the officer arranged for the group's alleged leader, Abdul Nacer Benbrika, to accompany him to Mount Disappointment, north of Melbourne, to test explosives in late 2004. The explosives had secretly been supplied by police, who covertly monitored the trip. The infiltration was part of the ongoing national counter-terrorism investigation, Operation Pendennis.

Thirteen of the group's Melbourne members were later charged with terrorism-related offences, including belonging to an unnamed terrorist organisation. Benbrika, 46, of Dallas, is also charged with directing, recruiting and supporting a terrorist organisation. Ten of the group were arrested during a series of raids in Melbourne and Sydney last November, and three were charged a fortnight ago after fresh raids.

The infiltration, the first of its kind, has raised concern among criminal law and security experts about using undercover agents in terrorism-related investigations because of the vagueness of terrorism laws and the potential to entrap suspects. The Age believes the undercover operative is of Middle-Eastern heritage and infiltrated the group by pretending he shared similar beliefs. The test explosion conducted by the undercover officer was referred to a fortnight ago in the Melbourne Magistrates Court by a lawyer for Benbrika, who said that the only explosion connected to the group was detonated by authorities.

The accused from Melbourne are charged with laws passed in 2002 that make it an offence to be a member of an organisation "that is directly or indirectly engaged in preparing, planning, assisting in or fostering the doing of a terrorist act", regardless of whether that act ever takes place. After the November arrests, Victorian Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon said police had "prevented a major terrorist attack", but she also said the group did not have "a specific target in mind".

Deakin University criminologist Darren Palmer said that because conversations could be presented as critical evidence, there was a heightened risk that an undercover officer could unfairly shape or influence evidence by merely talking to a suspect. "There is a problem with undercovers generally in the observing and participating in the development of a crime," he said. "It's always a murky area and you up the ante when dealing with terrorism because some of the new offences may rely simply on words and other actions rather than any material act." ....

However, counter-terrorism expert Neil Fergus said that if policing agencies had proper training and management, they could conduct effective undercover operations. The use by police of "controlled operations", during which an undercover agent may engage in criminal behaviour to help gain evidence against criminal suspects, has to be authorised by a chief commissioner, who must be convinced that criminal conduct is kept to a minimum, no one is hurt and a suspect is not induced to commit an offence. "I don't think any police service is ignorant of the risk of entrapment, but it clearly has to be a risk when you have someone posing as a member of a group," Mr Fergus said.....

Australia has no law of entrapment, and police trickery and subterfuge have previously been endorsed by the High Court if they are used in the public interest. But a court may rule on the reliability of material gained through undercover operations if there is evidence that a defendant has been incited or induced to commit a crime...

More here

Wishy washy Australian "justice" again

See also a recent post on Gun Watch and this story

Caught red-handed with $10,000 worth of Australian fish, a group of illegal Indonesian fisherman faced Australian justice and were fined - just $5. Despite the maximum penalty being 5500 times that amount, an Adelaide magistrate took pity on the fishermen and handed out a fine that would not pay for a handful of prawns for Easter Sunday lunch. Deputy Chief Magistrate Andrew Cannon fined the trio last week, saying they deserved a lenient penalty because their boat had been destroyed by Australian authorities and they did not have the financial capacity to pay. He also waived their court costs. The Director of Public Prosecutions is appealing the ruling, and Fisheries Minister Eric Abetz said the penalty did not reflect the gravity of the crime.

The three Indonesian boat masters faced court last week, each pleading guilty to two charges. They were fined $5 for each charge. Yobare Ari Yanto was the master of the Sagero 02, which was apprehended 4.2 nautical miles north east of Mornington Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria. The boat, with 10 crew, had a catch on board of 50kg of shark fin worth about $10,000 on the black market. Mansibu, master of the Sumber Rejeki, was apprehended 89 nautical miles within the Australian fishing zone near Cape Wessel off Arnhem Land with four shark fins and reef fish worth about $130. The captain of six crew admitted he knew they were in Australian waters. Didin, master of the Aria Duta, was caught 85 nautical miles within the Australian fishing zone near Cape Wessel with six crew and longline nets. The captain also knew he was in Australian waters.

Senator Abetz said the cases were subject to appeal, but added that it was critical that those caught stealing Australian fish be dealt with strongly. "To violate Australia's national sovereignty and steal our fish is a most serious matter," he said. "We need to send a message to those who seek to steal our fish that if you do so, you will be dealt with harshly. "Unless we do so, illegal fishers will continue to see Australia's fisheries as a resources to be plundered. While I support judicial discretion, when the legislature has determined that the maximum penalty for such crimes is $27,500 per offence, an actual penalty of just $5 does not necessarily reflect the gravity with which Parliament views these crimes."

Gary Ward, of the Gulf of Carpentaria Fishing Association, said the fine was "pathetic". "We pay taxes, licence fees, we support our communities and we sit here while these blokes come in and take all the fish," he said. "We've spent over 25 years on environmental management systems and plans, and we've put them in place so the Indonesians can pillage the waters. "I'm starting to get to the stage after all these years where I'd like to have a boat with a 50 calibre machine gun on the front. That's how desperate we've become."

More than 120 tonnes of fish has been seized from illegal fishing boats in the past three years. The Indonesian trio remain in Baxter detention centre pending an appeal, which is due to be heard early next month.


Leftist xenophobia

Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone has accused unions and the federal Opposition of inciting xenophobia by referring to skilled migrants as foreign workers. Speaking at a National Workforce Symposium in Melbourne today, Senator Vanstone blasted criticisms levelled at the Government's skilled migration program, saying the system was crucial for addressing skills shortages.

Senator Vanstone said the campaign against the program was most likely linked to controversial industrial relations changes and that claims of unskilled "foreign workers" being brought to Australia and exploited were false. "I don't like that (term foreign worker), this is a migrant country, unless you're a full-blood indigenous Australian you've got migrant blood in your veins," Senator Vanstone said in her opening address to the symposium, hosted by the Recruitment and Consulting Services Association. "We are a nation of migrants and I am not confident that talking about foreign workers for people who come here as skilled migrants to help our businesses grow is at all a healthy development. "It is a very unwise person who follows that path of abuse or raising doubt and sneering and questioning people coming from overseas."

Senator Vanstone said comments by Opposition Leader Kim Beazley referring to skilled migrants coming from "Beirut, Bombay and Beijing" were inaccurate when 26 per cent of Australia's intake under the program was from the UK. "They're skilled migrants, we ask them to come here, they help Australian business grow ... why on earth would we refer to them consistently as Mr Beazley does as foreign workers other than to raise some form of xenophobia," Ms Vanstone told reporters after her address. "Why does he use in his criticism of this program Beruit, Bombay and Beijing, why didn't he use Belfast or Birmingham or Bristol?"


How loony can you get? Olive trees treated as a weed!

So they're not native. But anywhere else they would be highly valued and carefully managed for profit

A local council in Adelaide's south is considering new ways to battle the spread of feral olive trees. Mitcham Council says it may allow olive harvesting on its reserves and promote olive wood as a firewood. But contrary to earlier media reports, people will not be permitted to cut down olive trees on council reserves. Mitcham's Mayor Ivan Brooks says private property owners are encouraged to clear their own wild olive trees and poison the remaining stumps. He says the feral olive trees are a pest and a fire hazard. "The native grasses are choked out by olives, they provide a step up for bushfires," he said. "On a horrific bad day the grass can set alight to the olives and they actually explode under certain conditions and burn the vapours that come out of them."


11 April, 2006

Hollow racism accusations

It's Muslim culture

One of the problems with public debate about racism is it tends to get left to extremists on both sides and the media, all of whom are keen to exaggerate it. Calling the Cronulla mob violence a "race riot" is pushing things a bit. It could be argued that compared with Europeans, Lebanese people aren't a different race by any commonly accepted definition: for instance, they were not regarded as aliens under the White Australia Policy. So the rush to see Cronulla in racial terms produced a spate of splendid moralising, but less in the way of understanding.

This week research was released that indicates a more prosaic reason for the gap between some [Muslim] Lebanese and other Australians. It is a paper by sociologists Katharine Betts and Ernest Healy, to be published in the next issue of the academic journal People & Place. It's pretty boring, really: Lebanese Muslims are a lot more likely than other Australians to be unemployed.

The 2001 census reported there were 147,500 people of Lebanese ancestry in Australia, of whom 39 per cent were Muslim. (The latter comprised 22 per cent of all Australian Muslims.) About three-quarters lived in Sydney, concentrated mainly in the south-west but also around Rockdale. Forty-seven per cent of all Lebanese Muslim men aged 25 to 64 were not in the labour force, compared with 28 per cent of Lebanese Christians and 21 per cent of all men in that age group. For second-generation Lebanese Muslim men aged 25 to 44, the figure was 26 per cent, compared with 16 per cent for all men.

The paper does not look at women, but Betts says that 65 per cent of all women aged 25 to 64 had some sort of paid work, while the figure for Lebanese Muslims was only 18 per cent. (She points out that they're younger, on average, than all women and therefore more likely to be at home with children. But it's still a big difference.)

These figures are disturbing for the individuals involved, and not just for financial reasons. Paid work is an important way to break down barriers, giving immigrants the chance to learn about the rest of the community, and vice versa. Another way this happens is by mixed marriage, but Lebanese people are less likely to do this than almost any other group. According to another article in People & Place, by sociologists Bob Birrell and Ernest Healy in 2000, 61 per cent of Lebanese grooms, and 74 per cent of brides, married other Lebanese people in the period 1996 to 1998. This was a far higher rate of intermarriage than in any other group for which figures were given. Just as significantly, Lebanese people were almost the only group where there had been a significant increase in intermarriage since the early 1990s.

So it appears that Lebanese Muslims, even into the second generation, are not intermingling as much as other groups, economically or socially. Compared with other immigrants, they are benefitting less from what one observer has called the "multiculturalism of the street". This raises the question of whether their problems are simply those suffered by all new immigrant groups, or are more fundamental.

Ghassan Hage, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Sydney, believes it is the latter. At an SBS radio forum in Parramatta recently, he spoke about the insecure state of Australian nationalism and identity these days. Then, comparing Muslims with earlier immigrants, he said: "Muslim otherness is a new kind of otherness . It is religious, and seriously religious."

Noting the Muslim belief that God should control everything, Hage said: "There is a surface of tension between this kind of religiosity and secularism, on which traditional multiculturalism was predicated." He added: "Muslim communities are also attracters of the downfallen in a way no other communities have been. I call it Bilalism, because, if you know your history of Islam, you know that Bilal is the slave who followed Muhammad . there's something about the Islamic religion which, as it has been lived so far, articulates itself to slave modalities of being."

More here

Lawyers' right to immunity under threat

Let's hope it happens

Aggrieved clients would be able to sue their lawyers for negligence under a sweeping set of reform options to go before the nation's top law officers tomorrow. Victorian Attorney-General Rob Hulls will urge his state and federal counterparts, at a meeting in Darwin, to consider severely curtailing the immunity against negligence actions enjoyed by barristers and solicitors for the past 146 years. "Individuals should be able to recover from their advocate if the advocate has performed the job negligently," Mr Hulls told The Australian yesterday. "We need to find a way forward that balances this individual right against the broader interest of the administration of justice. "However, it is vital that we reach an agreed position across all states and territories."

Previous attempts to abolish advocates' immunity have been fiercely resisted by the legal profession and have also failed to win the support of all the attorneys-general. So Mr Hulls will present three intermediate options as a basis for further negotiation. Under the first two options, immunity could either be retained in criminal cases or for legal advice tendered free or as legal aid. Under the third option, advocates would retain their immunity, but only for "strategic decisions" that fell outside their core competencies.

Barristers' immunity from negligence actions by their clients - a common-law principle dating back to 1860 - is usually justified by the need to preserve finality in legal proceedings. The High Court upheld last year the immunity of barristers and solicitors in the case of a Victorian man, Ryan D'Orta-Ekenaike, who attempted to sue his lawyers. They had convinced him to plead guilty to rape, but he was subsequently acquitted in a retrial. In a dissenting judgment in the case, High Court judge Michael Kirby argued retention of the immunity had made Australia an oddity in the common-law world. The House of Lords abolished it in 2000, following the lead of legislatures in the US, Canada and South Africa. New Zealand abolished immunity last year for barristers in civil proceedings, but this is under appeal.

"Victoria remains in favour of reform to advocates' immunity and I am inclined towards the abolition end of the policy spectrum," Mr Hulls said. "I will be asking my state and territory counterparts to agree to further consultation on these three options, which would protect advocates' immunity in certain cases." A spokesman for NSW Attorney-General Bob Debus told The Australian last night: "Removing immunity for all courtroom activities is fraught with difficulty, but there is a case for winding back barristers' immunity for work undertaken outside the courtroom, in preparation for a hearing or trial. "Ours is a halfway position."

Mr Hulls has already upset the legal profession in Victoria by his campaign to appoint more women to the bench and to impose greater public accountability on the court system. Barristers have argued their immunity from civil prosecution for statements made in court is no different from that enjoyed by judges and witnesses. However, it places them in an enviable position compared with professional peers such as doctors, who are forced to pay out hundreds of thousands of dollars in insurance premiums to indemnify themselves against the costs of their own negligence.

At their meeting last year, the attorneys-general heard an alternative proposal from one of the nation's top silks, Brett Walker SC, which would allow clients redress in cases where a trial outcome is overturned on appeal due to the barrister's incompetence. Under that plan, damages would be restricted to the amount of wasted legal costs


Ignorant Australian teachers still holding out against phonics

Reactions to the report of the National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy (Teaching Reading, published in December last year) have been mixed. Many teachers and parents have welcomed the report's emphasis on the central role of phonics in the initial teaching of reading, but many educators have either questioned the importance of phonics or are of the view that teachers already employ sufficient phonics instruction within a "balanced" approach to literacy teaching. In Britain, the Rose report, released last month, also strongly favoured phonics, first and fast, for early readers.

Those least convinced by the findings of the two reports are those traditional educators favouring the well-entrenched "whole language" approach to the teaching of reading. "Whole language" advocates believe that reading is acquired naturally, in much the same way as we learn to talk, and that little or no phonics instruction is necessary, and may even be harmful.

Those who support phonics are perceived as uncool at best and reactionary at worst. Whole language exponents, on the other hand, are portrayed as children's champions in the fight for liberty and equality. Yet phonics instruction, rather than subjecting (if not subjugating) students to mindless, robotic drill, is actually powerfully liberating for children.

Those who advocate phonics share the views of whole language supporters on the importance of phonemic awareness, vocabulary and comprehension, and the fact that students need to be able to read fluently and easily, not laboriously. Together with phonics, to which even some whole language advocates pay lip-service in a minor role, these elements have been identified as the five critical components of any effective reading program by the National Reading Panel in the US and reiterated subsequently by the National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy in Australia. No one, to my knowledge, believes that phonics is the only answer.

So, advocates of phonics and whole language actually agree on far more than they disagree on. The point of departure lies solely in the importance the two camps attach to explicit and systematic instruction in how to decode words. The whole language side says children will discover this for themselves by being exposed to a rich literacy environment (and some children do), while those associated with phonics instruction argue that, to ensure the majority of children learn to read easily and quickly, systematic, explicit instruction in phonic decoding is essential. This is especially important for those experiencing difficulties.

A second misconception is that phonics advocates seriously suggest that once we have learned to read phonically, we continue to read that way. Not so. Phonics instruction provides a self-teaching mechanism by which children can teach themselves an increasing number of new words, initially by sounding them out. With sufficient repetition, and this varies for each child, these words are learned as sight words; they do not subsequently have to be sounded out each time they are encountered in text. Self-teaching is truly liberating because it allows children to learn new words without a teacher or parent even being present.

A focus on reading for meaning alongside systematic, explicit phonics instruction means the self-teaching mechanism also gives children an in-built check on the accuracy of their decoding. This is not to deny for a moment the vital significance of reading for meaning for its own sake.

It is not just educators advocating a whole language approach who want children to read critically. We all do. We all want children to be able to differentiate fact from opinion, and the ironic from the literal, for example. But to do this, students need to be able to read fluently first. If a child cannot read the actual words on the page, there is no possibility of being critical.

So the main point of departure is essentially one of priorities. To become a critically literate member of society, you need first to be able to read fluently and with understanding. To attempt to teach critical literacy before children have learned to read fluently is to put the cart before the horse. In the early years of schooling, the main emphasis should be on teaching accurate, fluent decoding with the aim of the vast majority of students being able to read well by year 3.

Explicit, systematic instruction in phonics is the best way to achieve this so that students can then read by themselves a variety of texts and hence have access to a variety of opinions, views and perspectives: phonics for freedom, in fact.


This is the sort of "care" you get from socialized medicine

Three times Pamela Dale has prepared herself for potentially hazardous brain surgery, only to have it cancelled minutes before her operation because of bed shortages. Her surgery was scheduled at the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital. The mother-of-three has a brain tumour which is causing her blackouts. It was first diagnosed in August 2004, and in early March she was scheduled for surgery to remove the tumour. "That was cancelled half an hour before we were due to leave home due to a lack of beds," Mrs Dale, 34, said.

"The next time I was scheduled was March 27. I was told it was cancelled because there was not enough time to complete the operation." An RBWH spokeswoman said: "Hospital staff can plan to a certain point, but cannot predict when patients requiring high-dependency or intensive care will come through the emergency department, or if patients already in wards in the hospital will deteriorate and need such care."

Medical groups have claimed that Queenslanders requiring urgent surgery are continuing to be turned away by the state's public hospital system because of a bed shortage crisis and it is unlikely to be fixed soon. Besides turning away patients requiring surgery, the bed shortage often leaves public hospital emergency departments overcrowded and patients needing to be transferred to hospital wards. In his report in September last year, State Government consultant Peter Forster estimated Queensland Health would require an additional 170 beds each year for the next 20 years just to meet future demand. A Queensland Health spokeswoman said an additional 99 beds had so far been opened this year. The Government also had identified scope to open a further 170 beds in 10 public hospitals around Queensland at a cost of $36.6 million a year, the spokeswoman said.

But Australian Medical Association Queensland president Dr Steve Hambleton said overcrowding continued to be a big problem. "I have just come back from Mackay and Cairns where they are suffering from bed block - Mount Isa is the same," Dr Hambleton said. "We need 200 beds on the Gold Coast urgently. It is going to take five years to bring enough bed numbers online."

More here

Welcome to a new Australian blogger

DIANE PHILIPSON has started a new blog here and has a lot of interesting posts up already. Here is what Miranda Devine recently had to say about Diane:

"Diane Philipson is a former primary school teacher who spends her days at home in Newcastle coaching children who are struggling to read. This week she had phone calls from two desperate mothers who say their sons, one aged 12 and one aged eight, feel life isn't worth living. "The eight-year-old told his mother he'd rather be dead than have to struggle so much with reading," Philipson said yesterday. Philipson is one of a number of backyard operators across Australia to whom anxious parents have turned to teach their children to read when school has failed. They invariably use a method that involves direct, explicit, systematic phonics. This is the inexplicably politicised way of teaching children that letters in our alphabet are associated with sounds."

10 April, 2006

The end of the wishy-washies?

Do I detect a bit of poofter-bashing below?

Former Australian Democrats leader Meg Lees has declared the party's 30-year era in Australian politics at an "irretrievable end". "It was 20 years of my life down the drain - quite depressing, really," Ms Lees said on her return this week from a rail journey through South-East Asia, China and Russia.

In a stinging postscript to the party's record low performance at last month's South Australia election, Ms Lees, blamed instability at the top and the party being hijacked by minority groups including the gay lobby. "A prolonged period of leadership changes brought on by marginal interest groups that infected the party has caused a spiral of tensions," she said. "The federal election result in October 2004 put the party below the radar, and now with this result in SA it is all over. "It is a disaster for Australian politics."


Has The human headline got AIDS?

Before -- above

After -- above

Derryn Hinch admits he looks like a "dead man walking". The veteran broadcaster is battling a mystery illness that has caused him to lose a large amount of weight. He looks gaunt and pale and his physical problems have been compounded by the stress of sexual assault allegations. Melbourne-based Hinch, 62, recently had a spell in hospital and has faced repeated media questioning about his health. He said he did not have a life-threatening condition and joked about his prospects. "You can't kill weeds," he said. Hinch said his condition was clear when he saw himself on television recently. "I looked like a dead man walking," he said.

He denied he has bowel cancer but he won't publicly say what is wrong. "I've just made a decision, after discussing it with my wife, that it's between my doctor, her and me," Hinch said. Asked if he was suffering from a life-threatening condition, Hinch answered: "I'm not going to talk about it."


There's always plenty of money for bureaucrats

Taxpayers have forked out an extra $94 million for pen-pushers in WA's beleaguered health system since Labor came to power. While thousands of patients are waiting for surgery and Treasurer Eric Ripper has threatened tax rises because of a health spending blow-out, the Government has employed an extra 604 administration staff. There are now nearly three times as many health bureaucrats earning $80,000 or more - 435 in 2005 compared with 148 in 2001.

Opposition health spokesman Kim Hames said it was disgraceful that the extra funding, which could have employed 1700 nurses or provided more doctors and hospital beds, had gone to bureaucrats. "It's an administration out of control caused by mismanagement and the blame lies at (Health Minister) Jim McGinty's feet," he said. There are now 6297 health bureaucrats compared with 5693 in 2001, despite former premier Geoff Gallop's promise of a leaner public sector. Their wages cost $299 million of the $3.6 billion health budget. Dr Hames said he was amazed that in the past financial year there was $20 million extra spent on bureaucrats and $17 million of that had gone to 190 additional staff earning $80,000 or more. "How many hip replacements and knee replacements would that fund?" he said. There was a desperate need for more nurses, but Mr McGinty had rejected his repeated calls for a nursing summit to address the issue. The Government claimed it had reduced surgery waiting lists down from about 18,000 two years ago to about 15,000, but he believed figures had been manipulated. He estimated another 31,000 were waiting to see specialists, with a view to being put on a waiting list for surgery.

Australian Medical Association WA president Paul Skerritt said priority had been put on the Government's long-term overhaul of the health system, but day-to-day management was being neglected. Acting Health Department director-general John de Campo took the heat for Mr McGinty, who is overseas, saying the number of public clinical staff employed between 2001 and 2005 far outweighed the increase in administrative staff. He said in June, 2005, there were 22,094 doctors, nurses and health staff in the public health system compared with 18,508 in June 2001.


The Queensland public health system shows it arrogance and incompetence once again

Two paramedics who said they were unable to treat a youth because he was so drunk and obnoxious have been punished by their Queensland Ambulance Service bosses. Sources told The Sunday Mail that frontline staff were furious at the disciplinary measures taken by management. Ambulance staff said that they believed the officers were "in the right". One of the officers recently quit in disgust, accusing the QAS internal investigators of "intimidation and standover tactics."

The incident happened on the Sunshine Coast early this year after a young man who had been drinking was punched in the head during a brawl. The paramedics said the drunken man refused a proper assessment of his injury and would not let them take him to hospital. They say the man's sober girlfriend agreed to keep watch on him and take him to a doctor. But the man later complained to Emergency Services that he had been "refused" proper treatment. He said officers simply put a butterfly clip on a badly cut lip and sent him home, and he needed to get hospital treatment for a head wound the next day.

The paramedics were condemned by the QAS probe and given three-month "diminished performance" reports, which reduced their responsibilities. "One experienced paramedic has been forced to resign . . . they were subjected to a completely intimidating investigation that was protracted over many weeks," a source said. He said that investigators had overlooked evidence about the man's drunken behaviour. "All of these facts were reported in the patient report form," the source said.

The Sunday Mail reported a similar case late last year, which resulted in a paramedic being investigated by the Crime and Misconduct Commission after a doctor, who was arrested for drunken behaviour, claimed the ambo refused to treat him. The paramedic was disciplined by QAS bosses and could face criminal charges. Angry ambulance colleagues rallied to his support. "A professional doctor behaves like a drunken hooligan, gets arrested for assault, refuses to be assessed and puts a paramedic through all this," said one ambo. The CMC is still investigating the doctor's complaint.

Ambulance Employees Australia union secretary Steve Crow said paramedics were advised not to put themselves in danger. They had "zero tolerance" to violence from intoxicated patients. "At the end of the day, if people do not want to be treated, you cannot chase them up the road forever," he said. A spokeswoman for Ambulance Commissioner Jim Higgins said the Sunshine Coast matter had been investigated and "internally managed." [So that's what you call bullying!] She declined to comment further.


9 April, 2006

Cheaper Chinese cars coming

Chinese car-makers could be flooding the Australian market with hatchbacks costing less than $10,000 within two years using Australia as a testbed before taking on the rest of the world. As Australia and China continue to discuss a free trade agreement, Chinese manufacturers are working on improved versions of cars now selling in China for as little as $5500. That is less than half the price of the cheapest new car on the Australian market, Holden's $12,990 Barina model.

Improvements to Chinese models -- including power steering, which is not included as standard on Chinese cars -- together with shipping and marketing costs, would push the price in Australia to around $10,000.

The threat of cheap Chinese cars has added to the fears of the Australian automotive industry which is lobbying the Government for extra protection before any FTA is signed. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao stressed his eagerness to fast-track free trade agreement negotiations during his visit to Australia, which ended on Tuesday.

More here

A portrait of an unusually prominent Australian

Is she thinking of home in Australia or bracing herself for her next appointment as a busy Danish princess? Princess Mary gazes out the window of a Danish palace in her new official portrait, caught in a moment of reflection on her own extraordinary journey from modern Hobart girl to being the stylish new face of one of the world's oldest royal families.

On the wall behind her is a painting of Hobart's Constitution Dock, a touch of creative licence by Australian painter Ralph Heimans, meant to symbolise her Tasmanian background....

The portrait shows the former Mary Donaldson in a classically elegant Danish-designed outfit. The setting for the portrait is the nearby Fredensborg Palace, Mary and Crown Prince Frederick's home.

More here

I personally think it is garbage as portraiture. It is a scene, not a portrait. But what would I know? My favourite painter is Namatjira -- which immediately consigns me to the depths of contempt among Australia's arty-farties -- even though they normally swoon about Aboriginal art! Work that one out!

At long last: Australia recognizes the only solution to substandard foreign doctors from India and elsewhere

The Commonwealth Government is to spend $250 million to train more doctors and nurses over the next four years. Prime Minister John Howard said today that extra funding will pay for 400 new medical school places a year, with some starting in 2007 and the full 400 in 2008. Mr Howard said 120 places would go a new medical school at Deakin University in Victoria with Monash University's new Gippsland branch receiving 40 additional places. The remaining 240 places will be distributed among all the states and territories, including Victoria.

Mr Howard told the Victorian Liberal Party's state council he expected the state governments to match the funding and pay for the training of new nurses, care assistants and Aboriginal health workers. "I make this announcement today so that universities can prepare to introduce these places without delay," Mr Howard said.


LOL: Prominent NSW politician marries a dancer

I guess he is not marrying her for her conversation

Now we know why Frank Sartor has been spending so much time at the theatre. An inveterate first-nighter of late, the Planning Minister is about to marry a former dancer, Monique Flannery, 35, who spent five years dancing flamenco, and before that, classical ballet, in her home town of Orange. Frank, 54, was married to magistrate Judith Fleming. Their children, Oliver and Jack, will be among the 50 or so guests at tomorrow's wedding at St Mark's Church, Darling Point. The former dean of St Andrews Cathedral, Boak Jobbins, will officiate. Flannery, who has a new marketing job at the Accor hotel group, is sporting a sparkler from Cerrone jewellers and plans to wear an ivory wedding dress designed by Leanne Hamilton, though not of the puffball kind.

More here

8 April, 2006

Daughter kidnapped by Muslim father arrives back in Australia

When the kids were taken from their mother in violation of Australian law, court battles were unable to get them back from Muslim Malaysia -- to the mother's great distress

After 14 years apart, the daughter at the centre of a well-publicised kidnapping has told of her three-year email relationship with her mother. In 1992, Jacqueline Gillespie Pascarl's seven-year-old daughter Shahirah and nine-year-old son Iddin were taken from Australia by their father, a Malaysian prince.

Shahirah emailed her mother three years ago and the pair has kept in contact since then. "I've had contact with Iddin less frequently but still for three years and it was just the three of us who knew about it, all this time," Ms Gillespie Pascarl said. "It was very secret and very private and Iddin, he's been finding his way as young men often do and he's fabulous to speak to." Shahirah, now 21, flew into Melbourne last week to be reunited with her mother and says Iddin will follow when he finishes his university studies. "He actually wanted to come with me," she said. "He just whispered to me, 'I want to come with you' - he's a bit jealous now but he's still in the middle of his term and he won't get off till a bit later. "So he's certainly going to try and come - not try, he will come."

Ms Gillespie Pascarl says she is "absolutely elated" her daughter's return has given her story a happy ending. "I was terrified that I would be not up to her expectations when she arrived and I'll go through that again with Iddin," she said. "Because you miss all the nuances of them growing up and their personalities and you just want them to accept you."


How unsurprising! The poor smoke and drink more

If the average guy put in the bank all the money he spends on booze and cigarettes (not to mention drugs) he would be a rich man by the time he was 40. For most people in a wealthy country like Australia, poverty is a decision -- a decision they are entitled to make but which is not impressive when they moan about it. When I was on the student dole many years ago, I saved money on it

Australia's poor and uneducated spend more time in the sun and smoke and drink more than the rest of the community. And the lifestyle places them at greater risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease and asthma than other Australians. A major report to be released today into the health impacts of being poor and uneducated reveals the disadvantaged are more likely to suffer severe or long-term ailments. Obesity, exposure to the sun and smoking were significantly higher among low-income families and blue-collar workers.

Undertaken by the Queensland University of Technology and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, the report shows people living in disadvantaged areas visit GPs more regularly than other Australians. But they are far less likely to frequent dentists and medical specialists. Co-author Gavin Turrell, of QUT's Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, said disadvantaged women were much less likely than their better-off counterparts to undergo early diagnostic tests for breast or cervical cancer. Dr Turrell said increased health problems among the disadvantaged came at a great social and economic cost to the wider community. He said it was an issue that could only be addressed with improved living and working conditions and tackling damaging health behaviours.

The report shows how disadvantaged people are more likely to engage in "risky" health behaviours, including drinking to excess, smoking and failing to exercise. For instance, men and women aged 25 to 64 with no tertiary education were two to three times more likely to smoke than men and women with a university degree. Dr Turrell said education and awareness campaigns had a key role to play. "There is clear evidence that for some conditions, providing knowledge and education, can make a big impact," he said. The report is based on figures from separate studies conducted in 1989, 1995 and 2001.


Stupid Leftist education policy

They object to students paying their way through university! Only the taxpayer is allowed to pay for people's education, apparently. It is of course envy-driven -- envy of those who can pay

University chiefs have warned that Kim Beazley's pledge to ban full-fee university degrees costing up to $200,000 is "unsustainable" and must be dumped in the lead-up to next year's federal election. As senior ALP frontbenchers conceded yesterday it would prove far too expensive to compensate universities for the reduced revenue, vice-chancellors urged Mr Beazley to end his opposition to full-fee degrees.

During the 2004 election, contested by Mark Latham, universities said they could be left $1.2billion-a-year worse off under the ALP's plan to ban full-fee degrees and wind back the cost of HECS increases. That cost will now be substantially higher as a result of the FEE-HELP loans scheme which is supporting an explosion in demand for full-fee degrees and an increase in the cap on the number of places offered to students who miss out because of marks.

The push to encourage Mr Beazley to dump his opposition to full-fee degrees is supported by Melbourne University Vice-Chancellor Glyn Davis and Australian National University Vice-Chancellor Ian Chubb, who are regarded as having strong ALP links. Queensland University Vice-Chancellor John Hay told The Australian last night the existing policy was "unsustainable". "I don't think their present policy is realistic," he said. "In the first place, the current level of funding is seriously inadequate. Many universities now, in a sense, depend on additional funding to make their activities viable. Either they are going to massively increase the level of commonwealth funding ... or it is unsustainable."

However, deputy leader Jenny Macklin said she was not walking away from the policy pledge. "Labor opposes full-fee degrees for Australian undergraduates at public universities," she said. Ms Macklin was recently mired in controversy over an internal row over Queensland Premier Peter Beattie's push to support full-fee degrees for medicine students to tackle the skills shortage. The degrees can cost up to $200,000 for students who miss out on a HECS place on marks. The ALP subsequently moved in parliament to oppose a measure to increase the cap on the number of full-fee medicine degrees that can be offered in a course. The measures also increased the FEE-HELP loan available to students.

At the last election, former education minister Brendan Nelson warned that a string of universities would be worse off under the ALP. They included the University of Queensland, which calculated it could lose $40 million a year; La Trobe, which could lose $18million; and Monash, which could lose $216 million over four years.


Cyclone victims threatened with fines over damaged homes

Unbelievably arrogant bureaucracy

Legal Aid Queensland says the Cairns City Council has sent letters to residents in cyclone-devastated Babinda threatening to fine them if they do not fix their homes fast enough. Coordinator Jim Gibney and his legal aid team have been providing free advice to more than 100 people a day since the storm. He says some of his clients in Babinda were particularly distressed to receive notices threatening them with fines if they failed to fix their battered dwellings within 90 days. They were also required to rebuild to 2006 building standards. "Many of the buildings date back to the 1960s, so that created a lot of stress," Mr Gibney said.

Mr Gibney says the Council's demands were unreasonable given the shortage of tradesman. He says the Council agreed not to enforce the fines after hearing from lawyers. Mr Gibney says he is unaware of the same thing happening in the Johnstone Shire, which sustained the most severe damage.


7 April, 2006

Rape culture defence by Muslim rejected

About flaming time such defences were rejected!

A convicted Pakistan-born gang rapist who thought he had a right to rape two teenage girls because they were "promiscuous" would have known his cultural beliefs did not excuse his actions, a New South Wales court has ruled. In the NSW Supreme Court today, MSK, 27, and his brother MAK, 26, had their jail terms increased for the 2002 rapes of a girl, then aged 14, and a 13-year-old girl who can be identified only as TW and CH respectively. The two men and their younger brothers MMK, 19, and MRK, 21 - none of whom can be identified for legal reasons - are currently serving between 10 and 22 years for raping the girls at knifepoint. Appeals against their sentences heard last year failed.

TW, who gestured angrily at the two men in court today, was raped by both MSK and MAK in a bedroom of their Ashfield home during an evening of drinking in June 2002. CH was also raped by MSK after having consensual sex with MMK, the youngest, at the home the following month.

MSK submitted he did not believe his actions were wrong because the girls were "promiscuous", something considered unacceptable in his strict Muslim upbringing. But Justice Peter Hidden today rejected the argument that culture played a part in the attacks, saying MSK had visited Australia nine times, and had once lived here for 10 months. "He was no stranger to this country," Justice Hidden said. "He must have had sufficient exposure to the Australian way of life to be aware that the place occupied by women in the traditional culture of his area of origin is far removed from our social norms."

He also dismissed MSK's claims "satanic" voices told him to rape the girls, describing him as a man "who is prepared to manipulate the system in any way he can to avoid facing the consequences of his crimes".

MSK will now serve 28 years with a non-parole period of 22 years for the four rapes. He will be first eligible for parole in August 2024. MAK has now been jailed for at least 14 years, with a maximum 19 years, and will be eligible for parole in July 2016.....

TW [one of the victims. Pic above] stood as the men were led from the dock, making a rude gesture. "I've been waiting four years to do that," she said. "I'm sorry," MSK said. "F**k you, go to hell mate," she replied. Outside court TW, now 18, said she was disappointed by the outcome. "This is something that I have to live with for the rest of my life; it's worse than getting a jail sentence," she said. "This wasn't about culture, this was about abuse against women."


Australian Left ends class war against private schools

Labor is preparing to dump Mark Latham's controversial policy of a private schools "hit list" by guaranteeing the funding of all non-government schools.

In a rejection of the politics of envy which sought to strip funding from 67 private schools, Labor has abandoned its philosophical objections to funding wealthy schools by promising they will not to be disadvantaged under the ALP. The infamous schools "hit list", the Tasmanian forest policy and the Medicare Gold policy, later deemed a "turkey" by the then president of the ALP, Barry Jones, are considered to be the most damaging policies Labor took to the last election.

After running an old-fashioned class war at the poll, Labor's new policy will guarantee no school will face a reduction in funding. Kim Beazley has decided to act on the policy and wipe out the image of a Latham-led Labor Party picking off the richest schools, such as The King's School in Sydney with its rifle ranges and swimming pools, and threatening hundreds of other schools, including poorer Catholic schools, with losing funding over time.

The new school-funding policy has not yet been discussed in detail within the ALP's strategy group nor presented to the Labor front bench. But senior Labor sources confirmed to The Australian last night that the hit list was going, and said the Opposition Leader and his deputy and education spokeswoman, Jenny Macklin, were working on a new way forward for schools.

Mr Beazley and Ms Macklin are working on a "bedrock" Labor policy that is directed towards shifting government funds to schools where they are most needed, government or non-government. "The emphasis in the new policy is need," a senior Labor source said last night. Ms Macklin refused to comment on the review and said the policy, like all 2004 election policies, was under review. But Ms Macklin's shift in direction from the policy she crafted for the last election under the leadership of Mr Latham will be welcomed joyously by most federal Labor MPs.

While aspects of the policy appealed to some Labor supporters at the last election, fears among poorer non-government schools of a flow-on effect as indexation cut funding from more and more private schools were widespread. There are also political concerns within the front bench and on the ALP back bench that the politics of envy did not work for Labor and made the party under Mr Latham appear threatening and mean-spirited on education.

More here


Jailed Muslim criminals 'run Sydney gangs': "Jailed Middle Eastern criminal kingpins are continuing to run their gangs from behind bars, the NSW opposition says. Opposition justice spokesman Andrew Humpherson today alleged gang members were communicating with inmates at Sydney's Silverwater jail by yelling through a perimeter fence near an accommodation block. He said jail staff had told him the inmates in question were linked to a spate of recent shootings in south-western Sydney. "There are kingpins behind bars and they still communicate through the fence and run their empires behind bars," Mr Humpherson told reporters. As a result, staff were concerned for their own safety, and that of the community, he said".

Wotta Gal!: "Men have been wrongly told it is more difficult being a woman and blokes do not pull their weight at home. The comforting message for menfolk came from the nation's sex discrimination commissioner yesterday. Speaking at an Institute of Public Administration Australia breakfast in Adelaide, Pru Goward said while figures showed women did more housework, it was unfair to simply blame men who work long hours. "It is our unpaid working arrangements that have a major impact on our work decisions," Ms Goward said. While research shows women working full-time did more housework, this should not be used to just "blame men". "The most significant reason why men don't do more work at home is they are not there because they are working huge hours," she said, adding that was up to 60 hours a week for some. "It is unfair to just suggest that men don't want to do it. They just can't." The women's movement had "made mistakes" through the "blame game". "We kept telling men how hard it was being women," Ms Goward said. "If you are an average rational bloke and all you hear is that women earn less ... they don't become prime minister or heads of departments and they end up part-time casual, you'd think, 'Who would want to do that?'."

Wotta Laugh! Greenie versus Greenie again: "The potential death of one orange-bellied parrot a year has killed off a $220 million wind farm project and sparked a state rights brawl between Canberra and Victoria. Federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell yesterday invoked extraordinary commonwealth powers to stop the proposed Gippsland wind farm, 580 days after the facility was approved by the Bracks Government. Senator Campbell said a government-commissioned report found the wind farm at Bald Hills would have threatened the existence of the orange-bellied parrot. The report found only one additional orange-bellied parrot would die each year as a result of projected wind turbine collisions. There are between 99 and 200 orange-bellied parrots left in Australia and the report said the bird risked becoming extinct within 50 years without taking into account the effect of wind farms. It said any negative impact could be enough to tip the balance against its continued existence and "it may be argued that any avoidable deleterious effect - even the very minor predicted impacts of turbine collisions - should be prevented".

Flourishing Australian economy: Australia's unemployment rate was a seasonally adjusted 5.0 per cent in March, compared with a unrevised 5.2 per cent in February, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said. Total employment rose 27,000 to 10.085 million, adjusted. Of this, full time employment decreased by 12,400 to 7.173 million and part-time employment rose 39,500 to 2.913 million. The participation rate in March was 64.4 per cent, compared with an unchanged 64.4 per cent in February.... The male unemployment rate decreased by two percentage points to 5.0 per cent, while the female jobless rate was also down two points to 5.1 per cent."

6 April, 2006

Muslim thugs get let off on a technicality

Later reports show the police denying that the case has been dropped but that is almost certainly just a delaying action

Charges against six men allegedly involved in revenge attacks the day after Sydney's Cronulla riots have been dropped on legal advice. Police have been told they do not have enough evidence to get a conviction for the charges of riot and affray laid against the six, today's The Daily Telegraph reported. Officers had wanted to use a test case from the 1984 Milperra Massacre, where bikies present at the time of the shooting spree were charged with affray, the paper said. But in order to secure a conviction, police must be able to prove "individual acts" of riot, the lawyers said. "We have to be able to prove what each person did," said Detective Superintendent Ken McKay, the head of Strike Force Enoggera, set up to investigate the December 11 riot at Cronulla beach and the subsequent revenge attacks. He said officers had been able to rely on video footage as evidence against rioters at Cronulla, but there was no similar account of the reprisal attacks. The six men whose charges were dropped were arrested by Strike Force Enoggera police on February 23.


Uranium U-turn by the Queensland Labor government

The Left hate uranium but selling it to the Chinese Communists has to be approved of somehow!

The Beattie Government has softened its opposition to uranium mining amid fresh Commonwealth threats of a legal challenge to override its long-standing ban. Premier Peter Beattie yesterday ordered bureaucrats to study whether mining uranium would damage Queensland's coal industry. His move represents a significant shift from his previous outright hostility to uranium mining on the basis of party policy obliging Labor governments to block all new mine proposals.

The change is after the clinching of a deal on Monday for uranium exports to China and threats by Prime Minister John Howard to seek legal means to sideline state governments from the approval process. It also came as Labor federal vice-president and Australian Workers Union leader Bill Ludwig called his party's no-new-mines uranium policy unsustainable and predicted it would be scotched at next year's Labor national conference.

Mr Beattie refused to state his personal position, but said he would support any change in federal Labor policy. "I'll be asking my department to do some work on that prior to the ALP national conference and my position on the floor . . . will be determined on the outcome of that," he said. He added that he might support uranium mining in Queensland if it was demonstrated there would be sufficient demand from China and India to sustain uranium and coal exports. "I need to be satisfied, in terms of my position, just leaving aside the environmental debates, that the capacity for expansion of the coal industry in Queensland . . . is not going to be diminished by the expansion of the uranium market," Mr Beattie said.

Mr Ludwig said the no-new-mines policy was no longer sustainable because the international community had applied stringent safety requirements to the operation of nuclear power plants. "There's 450 plants around the world now and another 120 planned in South-East Asia in the next 15 years," Mr Ludwig said. "That can't be ignored. We are in a good position economically and geographically to provide this resource."

Labor trade spokesman Kevin Rudd also appeared to back pedal, telling a press conference there was room to expand exports in a manner consistent with the Non-Proliferation Treaty. But Opposition Leader Kim Beazley continued to urge caution, triggering accusations of weakness from the Government. Mr Beazley said there was enough uranium to meet demand in existing mines in South Australia and the Northern Territory and that Labor should be more concerned about proliferation of nuclear weapons. "We have the time and the opportunity to hasten slowly and get it right," he said. "I will not be pressured by John Howard's fake urgency on this."

Treasurer Peter Costello ridiculed Mr Beazley as unable to show leadership. "Uranium is either all bad, in which case there should be no mines, or it's acceptable, in which case there should be such number of mines as are commercial. But there's no logic in saying it's good at three mines and bad everywhere else." Mr Costello refused to explain the detailed process by which the Commonwealth might launch a constitutional challenge to state governments. But he said: "It may be argued that under our trade and commerce power, and it may be argued under our external affairs power, that the Commonwealth has the ability to facilitate the trade and commerce of uranium and the export of uranium." ....

Queensland Resources Council chief executive Michael Roche yesterday welcomed Mr Beattie's U-turn, saying: "With global energy demand forecast to double over the next 30 years, there is strong potential to increase Queensland's exports of all energy fuels, including coal, petroleum and uranium." The State Government's current ban on uranium mining has been difficult to fathom, when the coal sector itself rejects the argument that keeping Queensland's uranium in the ground is protecting the state's coal industry. "The message from the Queensland coal industry is that there is room for the full energy source mix and any proposal to mine Queensland's uranium deposits should be considered on the objective merits of a full economic and environmental appraisal," Mr Roche said.


Arrogant Leftist architect

Conceived by architect Howard Raggatt as "one in the eye for John Howard" - as one critic put it - and the taxpayers who footed the $155 million bill for its construction, the chaotic structure on the shores of Canberra's Acton Peninsula featured giant braille symbols pressed into the anodised aluminium cladding. "Forgive us our genocide" was one of the messages intended as a reproach to John Howard's Government for refusing to apologise for the mistreatment of Aborigines by previous generations. "Sorry" was written in braille several times as well as "Resurrection city", a reference to a 1968 civil rights protest in Washington DC. Other messages were: "God knows", "She'll be right", "Mate", "Who is my neighbour?", "Time will tell", "Good as gold" and "Love is blind".

At the time of the museum's opening in March 2001, rumours swirled about hidden messages in the braille dimples, but nothing was proved. That is because, 10 days after the opening, all evidence had been quietly erased by Craddock Morton, the public servant in charge of construction, who was appointed museum director in 2004. He hired a braille reader to translate the dots and then had a set of silver discs made, which were affixed in strategic lines on top of the controversial messages, thus rendering them illegible. Others were disrupted by swapping aluminium panels, so "sorry" became "ryors", or something similarly incomprehensible.

Morton, 59, a former senior adviser to Paul Keating, thus laid the foundations of a fine working relationship with a government angry at being hoodwinked into creating a museum that "adopted the left-wing position in every conceivable historical issue", as one guest told me at the opening.

From the sculpture of black figures hanging in effigy and the monuments to Gough Whitlam, alone among prime ministers, to the contemptuous trivialisation of non-indigenous Australian culture, the national identity portrayed by the museum was designed to make visitors hang their heads in shame. As one museum council member said, it made "people leave the museum hating other Australians".

Little can be done about other attempts by the architects to falsely equate Aboriginal history with the Jewish Holocaust in Europe. The imagery is embedded in the design, copied in part from Daniel Libeskind's Jewish Museum in Berlin, which combines a broken Star of David with an SS symbol. But, under Morton, what he calls the "black T-shirt" view of Australian culture is being replaced by something more complex and accurate. "I want people to come out feeling good about Australia," he said at the museum on Thursday.

The hanging effigies are destined for deep storage, as is Michael Leunig's infamous anti-Semitic 2002 cartoon. A painting by Aboriginal artist Queenie McKenzie, titled Mistake Creek Massacre, was bought last year for $30,000, and is prized by Morton, but because of disagreement among historians over whether the massacre occurred, it will not be included in the National Historical Collection, for now, though it will be displayed.

Pathologist Howard Florey, who developed a way to mass-produce penicillin, finally has a presence, as does the CSIRO and myxomatosis, the car industry and a new sport section. Add to that the history of the wool industry, once summed up by a merino skeleton and two tubes of fleece, which is fleshed out in a collection donated by the Maple-Brown family last year, featuring memorabilia since 1792 from their sheep station near Goulburn. Along with a colonial uniform worn by ancestor William Pitt while battling the Gilbert-Hall bushrangers, there are 19th century copybooks with copperplate handwriting repeating the line: "Jealously oppose all that is not good."

Morton is systematically reworking the collections, with attention to "scrupulous historical accuracy", following recommendations of a 2003 review by a government-appointed panel led by sociologist John Carroll. After all, this museum will be the Prime Minister's one grand bricks-and-mortar legacy. Inadvertently, the museum's troubled birth aptly symbolises the struggle for control of the national identity that has marked his tenure.


Victorian parents push to keep sex fiends in jail

Some of Victoria's worst sex offenders could be moved to a low-security prison near Ballarat under a plan that has angered locals. At least four convicted sex offenders who have finished their sentences, but are still subject to an Extended Supervision Order, may be moved into prison-guard accommodation at Langi Kal Kal prison under the State Government proposal. The offenders may include pedophile Brian "Mr Baldy" Jones, who now lives in a taxpayer-funded house at Ararat Prison.

Authorities have assured locals that the sex predators would be under constant surveillance, with curfews, bans on contact with children, continuing medical and/or psychiatric treatment, electronic wrist bracelets and alarmed doors and windows.

Prison officers and their families would be forced out of their homes in the grounds of the minimum-security prison, from which three men have escaped but been recaptured this year, to make room for the offenders. Community and Public Sector Union spokesman Julian Kennelly said meetings were taking place with the guards to ensure they had help to find new housing if required.

A government spokesman yesterday said the proposal was one of several under consideration. The controversial prison plan has angered residents in nearby Beaufort, 158km northwest of Melbourne. A woman, who did not want to be named, said: "I've got a two-year-old and I wouldn't be happy with it. I wouldn't feel secure knowing they were there. "A lot of people wouldn't be happy. There are a lot of young families in Beaufort." Another anonymous resident said sex offenders weren't welcome -- with a primary school about 2.5km from the jail. "They should be locked away forever. Guantanamo Bay wouldn't be good enough for them," he said.

Shadow Attorney-General Andrew McIntosh said either appropriate accommodation should be built for sex offenders on supervision orders, or they should be kept behind bars. "We need to think seriously about indefinite sentencing," Mr McIntosh said. Pyrenees Shire Council Mayor Lysette Ashford said Corrections representatives had met locals on Friday to answer questions and assure them of tight security. Cr Ashford said locals would meet again tomorrow to determine whether they would support the proposal. She said that while she understood the worries of some residents, the jail was full of "these sorts of criminals".


5 April, 2006

Academic still links Africans to crime

Academic Andrew Fraser will defy the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission by not apologising to the Sudanese community for his study linking African refugees to high crime rates.

In a landmark ruling that raises fresh questions about the limits to which academics can engage in public debate, HREOC chairman John von Doussa has found Professor Fraser's comments were unlawful because they amounted to a "sweeping generalisation" that was not backed by research. Professor Fraser was suspended last year from teaching at Sydney's Macquarie University over his comments about Sudanese refugees in Australia. Sudanese Darfurian Union secretary Safi Hareer complained to the human rights commission that Professor Fraser breached the Racial Discrimination Act in a letter published in the Parramatta Sun newspaper. The letter said experience showed an expanding black population was a "sure-fire recipe" for increased crime and violence.

In a letter received by Professor Fraser yesterday, Mr von Doussa rejected his submission that his comments were made for "genuine academic purposes in the public interest". Mr von Doussa said while the legislation allowed for fair comment on matters of public interest and for genuine academic discussion, the comments were not made with "sufficient constraints and proportionality". Comments for academic purposes were expected to reflect standards such as balanced arguments and be well-researched, but Professor Fraser had made "sweeping generalisations" not supported by research. Mr von Doussa asked Professor Fraser to respond to Mr Hareer's demand that he publish a public apology to members of the Sudanese community acknowledging that he had engaged in unlawful conduct.

But Professor Fraser said he would not apologise to anyone. "Even those who disagree with me should be appalled at this attack on the freedom of academic debate," he said. "This gives the lie to all those politicians who've claimed that racial hatred legislation would not curb freedom of expression in Australia."

Mr Hareer's lawyer, George Newhouse, said he would discuss with his client the prospect of pursuing the matter in the Federal Court. "This is not a question of freedom of speech," Mr Newhouse said. "This is about how far you can go in spewing your bile on other people because of the colour of their skin." NSW Jewish Board of Deputies president David Knoll, who helped Mr Hareer prepare his complaint, hailed the HREOC decision as an important milestone. "I have no difficulty with legitimate academic discourse but there is no such thing as freedom of hatred," Mr Knoll said.

But Council for Civil Liberties president Terry O'Gorman said the decision was disturbing. "Freedom of speech does not just mean the freedom to express views which concur with your views," Mr O'Gorman said. "Extremist views fall under the umbrella of freedom of speech."


Millions wasted as Australian public hospital waiting lists grow

Patients are waiting longer than ever for elective surgery, even though state governments have collectively wasted an additional $200 million a year on trying to fix the problem. Waiting times increased most significantly in NSW, Victoria and the ACT, while Queensland and South Australia showed some improvement. Figures obtained by The Australian from state and territory governments reveal that there were 143,000 patients across Australia needing elective surgery. And on average they waited longer for common procedures such as cataract removals and knee and hip replacements in 2004-05 than they did in the previous year.

The average wait for a cataract extraction jumped from 168 days to 218 days in NSW and from 152 to 176 days in Victoria. A third of patients in NSW and the Northern Territory waited for more than a year for a knee replacement. Ten per cent of patients in NSW and the ACT waited more than 600 days to have knee surgery and more than 400 days for a hip replacement. Tasmania, which had the longest waiting times last year, was the only state that would not release figures for 2004-05.

Australian Society of Orthopaedic Surgeons national chairman Gary Speck said state governments were wasting millions of dollars every year on non-essential services and paperwork. "Spending the money more appropriately would be a good start," Dr Speck said. "A lot of money is spent putting up new buildings and on administration, rather than being spent at the coalface." He said many patients suffered for years before they were placed on the official waiting lists. "There is a waiting list to get an appointment to see a specialist and, in some parts of Victoria, that could take 15 months," Dr Speck told The Australian. "Once they finally get to see a specialist, patients then wait another nine to 12 months before they have the surgery, so people needing hip and knee replacements often wait more than two years."

The executive director of the Health Services Association of NSW, James McGillicuddy, said that state governments were reluctant to invest in long-term strategies to restructure the public health system. Mr McGillicuddy said elective surgery should be removed, or dramatically reduced, from public hospitals that ran busy emergency departments, and relocated to designated public health organisations dedicated to elective surgery. "The current situation, where elective surgery is done in existing public hospitals, is unworkable and will lead to longer waiting lists as the population becomes older and demand for elective surgery increases," he said. "This proposal would involve increased investment in public health infrastructure, but in the long run it would pay dividends to both the Government and reduce waiting times for elective surgery."

Mr McGillicuddy said private hospitals were also struggling to meet elective surgery demand. Forty-three per cent of Australians have private health insurance, but the 33 per cent increase in premiums during the past five years has forced many younger members to dump their health cover.

A spokesman for Victorian Health Minister Bronwyn Pike said an elective surgery centre would be opened on the grounds of Melbourne's The Alfred hospital in November to reduce pressure on the public hospital. "The $90 million centre, which is still part of the public hospitals, will have staff and beds dedicated to elective surgery only," she said. "It was designed to deal with the problem of elective surgery having to be prioritised in amongst the emergency demands."

A spokeswoman for NSW Health Minister John Hatzistergos said the Government was focusing on reducing the number of patients waiting longer than a year. "The long wait list has dropped from over 10,500 in February 2005 to 3400 in February 2006," she said.

However, Elizabeth Feeney, chairwoman of the Australian Medical Association's hospital practice committee (NSW), said the continued closure of operating theatres during public holidays would hamper efforts to reduce waiting times. "Ten years ago, hospitals used to close for a week between Christmas and New Year, but now some close for up to eight weeks over Christmas and three weeks over Easter to cut costs," Dr Feeney said. "To have all that money invested in equipment and instruments and only use it for three-quarters of a year is not what a business would do. "If BHP shut for a few months a year that would seem pretty odd."


Two new schools for gifted teens in Queensland

Inequality recognized! Leftists will be grinding their teeth about such "elitism"

Two new "super state schools" for gifted Year 10, 11 and 12 students will open next year. Education Minister Rod Welford and Premier Peter Beattie yesterday announced the Academy of Creative Industries would be developed in partnership with the Queensland University of Technology and located in the Kelvin Grove Urban Village. The Academy of Maths, Science and Technology will be built at Toowong.

Mr Welford said both schools would be "melting pots of genius and creativity with superb interaction between highly motivated teachers and students ideally suited to accelerated learning". "Watch out Grammar. These academies will be unashamedly elitist and yes, I expect they would achieve 95 per cent or so of students with OPs 1-15," Mr Welford said. This would challenge the supremacy - in terms of academic achievement - of the top-ranking Brisbane Girls Grammar school.

But Girls Grammar principal Amanda Bell welcomed the news. "I think any improvement to education that lifts the quality of learning through innovative programs and offers parents a wider choice is good," she said.

Although state schools, the new academies will charge each student about $1000 a year to cover curriculum materials. Up to 10 per cent of places will go to overseas, full fee-paying students. The academies will open with 300 Year 10 and Year 11 students next year, to be selected through a screening system that considers academic ability, leadership potential and high-level skills in either maths/science or creative industries. With Year 12 added the following year, there will be 450 students in each school. "An OP statistic is too simplistic a measure for parents to use to chose a school for their child," he said.

Executive director of Catholic Education in the Archdiocese of Brisbane, David Hutton, said the data was "useful", but urged parents not to reduce schools to limited performance measures. "These issues are only part of a big picture when assessing the total contribution of a school community to the overall development of students," he said.

Headmaster of Somerset College, Dr Barry Arnison, said parents "had a right to know" the information, but academic performance was only one aspect of a school community. Kenmore State High School principal Wade Haynes said he was happy for "people to see the data as it is". "It's a transparent process," he said. "The academic data and the range of data presented is very important, but it's only one factor. It's a complex thing to choose a school for your child."


Teenage sex in a rampant rise

Teenagers are having sex at a younger age, more often and with more partners. They are also ignoring the safe-sex message, with declining condom use and "high" numbers of teenage pregnancy and abortion rates. Sexually transmitted diseases are also rising in the 15-29 age group.

The changing sexual culture among young people is being studied by the Australian Research Centre for Sex, Health and Society. "Young people are increasingly viewing sexual activity and relationships as commodities to be acquired and discarded," the centre's deputy director Anthony Smith said. "Clearly, people's sexual cultures are changing and better and more effective sex education is required to keep up." The ARCSHS has found that the proportion of year 10 students reporting more than one partner a year has risen by 4 per cent to 44 per cent. There were 2776 abortions by Victorian teenagers in 2002/03, according to Medicare data collated by ARCSHS. And there were 1900 births to Victorian teenagers aged 15-19 in 2002.

One in four sexually active students said they were drunk or high in their most recent sexual encounter, according to a Centre for Adolescent Health report released in November. Centre director Prof Susan Sawyer said teenage pregnancy had consistently decreased since the 1970s, but Australia still had a high proportion of unplanned conceptions. She said there was little investment in sex education and teachers had told the centre they were inadequately trained. "And while schools can be a terrific source, they don't provide sufficient information," she said. A spokeswoman for the Victorian Education Department said sex education was given in all Government schools.


4 April, 2006

Lebanese Muslims struggle for jobs

How surprising! Note how the contrast with Lebanese Christians is not stressed. Lebanese Christians have a long history of success in Australia. All those Maloufs and Mellicks are Lebanese Christians

Australian-born Lebanese Muslims experience higher unemployment and lower educational achievements than second-generation Lebanese Christians or Muslims from other countries. A Monash University study carried out in the wake of Sydney's Cronulla beach riots considered whether there was a difference in disadvantage between Christian and Muslim Lebanese. "Lebanese Muslims are disadvantaged [By their culture] compared to Lebanese Christians (and compared to all Australians, both migrant and native-born)," the report says. "Thirty-nine per cent of first-generation Lebanese Muslim men aged 25 to 44 in Sydney are unemployed or not in the labour force, as are 26 per cent of the second generation of the same age (compared with 16 per cent of all Australian men in this age group)."

Social alienation and unemployment among Muslim youths has been blamed for rioting in Paris and contributing to terrorist sympathies and actions in London. The same factors were cited as the underlying reasons behind the tensions between beachside Sydney's youths with an Anglo-Celtic background and southwestern Sydney's young people of Lebanese heritage. Most of Australia's Muslims live in Sydney and are concentrated in the Bankstown and Rockdale areas, in Sydney's southwest and on Botany Bay, in the city's south.

Melbourne academics Katherine Betts and Ernest Healy, in the paper to be published in the Monash population study, "People and Place", used the 2001 census and Centrelink reports to detect levels of disadvantage among Lebanese Muslims and Christians. The study found that the highest levels of disadvantage, measured by unemployment, reliance on welfare payments and education qualifications, were among older Lebanese Muslim men concentrated in Bankstown.

The study also found that while other migrant groups, such as Vietnamese Buddhists or Bosnian Muslims, had high unemployment and poor education qualifications, Lebanese Muslims were worse off and second-generation Lebanese Muslims were not improving at the rates of other migrant groups. The study suggests the Rockdale concentration of Muslims tend to have higher employment and educational levels and that the Muslims with the highest incomes and qualifications tend to live outside the heaviest concentrations of Muslims. "Lebanese Muslim households are large and much more likely to be poor than all households, or than Lebanese Christian households," it concludes. "Lebanese Muslim men have low levels of education, relatively high levels of unemployment, and a very high tendency not to be in paid work."

People born in Lebanon or who identify themselves as Lebanese account for a third of all Muslims in Australia and also account for most of the increase between 1971, when 22,000 Muslims were in Australia, and 2001, when there were 282,000, an annual growth rate of 8.8 per cent.


Papuans land in Melbourne

How awful for them! After the constant steamy heat of their equatorial home, the miserable Melbourne climate will send them bananas. Maybe it's a sneaky way to get them to go back home

A group of asylum seekers from the Papua province of Indonesia have arrived in Melbourne. Forty-two men, women and children from the Indonesian province were recently granted temporary protection visas and they will settle in Melbourne. The group will be given benefits until they find accommodation and jobs. They have been staying on Christmas Island since their arrival in January.

One of the men granted refugee status says he has spent years in jail and seen his friends killed in the province's struggle for independence. Herman Wainggai says he was jailed twice for protesting against the Indonesian military occupation of West Papua. Another man is still on Christmas Island awaiting the outcome of his visa application.

The lawyer representing the group says young people are being targetted by the Indonesian military for abuse and mistreatment. Several of them are children who are here without their parents. Refugee lawyer David Manne says while he cannot comment on the specifics, there is evidence young people are being singled out for abuse. "One of the things that parents of course guard against, is their young ones being targetted and certainly, I should say one other thing and that is there is excellent care being taken of those young people who have fled to safety in Australia," he said.


Australia stays well armed

Despite the hundreds of thousands of semi-automatic rifles and shotguns surrendered since John Howard announced the gun buy-back after the Port Arthur massacre ten years ago this month, the public remains well armed with more than 2.5 million firearms registered across the country. There are now more than 750,000 individual gun licence holders and each has an average of three weapons. The greater concern however is for the unknown number of unregistered handguns currently in the community.

Don Weatherburn, the chief of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics, said the pattern of firearms had made a "horrendous change" for the worse with handguns now responsible for between 50 and 60 per cent of annual gun deaths. "Handguns are a real worry. They have become saleable commodities on the black market," Dr Weatherburn said. "There may be fewer gun homicides but handguns make up a larger proportion of those homicides than they used to. "Handguns are not being used as long arms were in the context of dreadful domestic homicides or by deranged murderers killing lots of people. They are being used in the context of turf wars between rival gangs and by organised criminals. He said firearm theft was now a nationwide problem with handguns stolen in one state turning up in another. Dr Weatherburn said that while many of the handguns were illegally imported there was a disturbing trend of holding up security vehicles not to get the money but to get the guards' handguns.

Samara McPhedran, 28, who founded the International Coalition for Women in Shooting and Hunting to help dispel myths surrounding women and guns, said one of the tragedies of the emphasis on gun control had been the focus away from the cause of broader social problems such as suicide and domestic violence. "It is very easy to blame firearms for violence, but very hard to engage in constructive action that can address the causes of violence," she said. Ms McPhedran said policies on gun control should be based on evidence and that homicide rates overall have remained relatively static since the Port Arthur massacre despite the gun buy-back, while suicide rates have actually gone up. "Appalling events like Port Arthur make headlines around the world but there are victims of violence every day that go unrecognised," she said.


The illegal gun scene in Australia

Illegal guns can be bought "as easily as a pack of cigarettes" through a booming weapons black market in Queensland. Despite official denials, The Sunday Mail has been told that weapons are freely available through underworld dealers. Prices start at $300 for a pistol and range to $4000 for the firepower of an Uzi sub-machinegun, capable of firing 10 heavy-calibre rounds a second.

Police Minister Judy Spence assured Parliament this week that tough laws had brought gun crime under control. However, Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg, leading criminologist Paul Wilson, retired hero policeman John "Bluey" O'Gorman, legal gun dealers and even an ex-bank robber have confirmed the illegal trade is thriving.

The revelations about the extent of the firearms black market comes as Australia approaches the 10th anniversary on April 28 of the Port Arthur massacre in which a lone gunman killed 35 people. It also follows questions about how rival bikie members involved in a shootout at a Gold Coast resort two weekends ago were able to obtain their weapons. Some of the bikies had travelled from interstate and police have confirmed they were under surveillance in the lead-up to the incident, in which five people were either shot or stabbed.

In a statement to The Sunday Mail, the Queensland Police Service maintained there was no black market in weapons, conceding illegal guns were only sold "from time to time" by individuals. Unlawful possession of a firearm carries a maximum penalty of seven years in jail or a $22,500 fine. Yet an underworld source who contacted The Sunday Mail said "guns are everywhere" in a flourishing black market. "Buying a firearm is as easy as buying a packet of cigarettes if you have the right connections," the source said. "You can get anything you want. The new laws didn't change anything except push them further underground." The unnamed source said a Glock 19 pistol could be bought in Brisbane for $2500. The Sunday Mail was sent a photograph of the weapon. The high-powered Glock is similar to those issued to police. It has a shorter-than-average barrel length of 100mm, making it easily concealed and more attractive to criminals. The source said a lightweight Uzi sub-machinegun could be bought "from the right people" in Brisbane for $4000. The Israeli-designed 9mm automatics are favoured by special forces troops -- and crime gangs -- around the world.

Mr Springborg confirmed that police officers had privately told him of an estimated "hundreds of thousands" of weapons on the black market. "They tell me that they get traded around the bars, among organised criminal outfits and between the bikies," he said. "It's organised and there is lots of it. It's not just one or two -- there is a whole subculture that exists and anyone that says it isn't is just telling fibs." Mr Springborg called on the Government to target gun dealing "rings". "The resources aren't put in to the covert operations like they are with checking licensed shooters because they are the easy touches," he said.

Decorated former policeman John "Bluey" O'Gorman said denying the existence of a guns black market was "insulting the intelligence of average people". "It's always going to be there -- anyone who tries to trot out figures to say the black market has been reduced is really fooling themselves," he said. "The figures might be going down in the detection rate but there is no possible way that anyone could claim to have accurate figures of the number of criminals who have got handguns because they don't participate in surveys. "Some groups around the place have no difficulty in getting a handgun. "People who have a criminal lifestyle don't care about any legislation. "

Bond University criminologist Dr Paul Wilson said there was "universal agreement" that it was easy for criminals to buy guns in Queensland. "There are huge numbers of illegal handguns circulating on the black market," he said. "It's not very difficult getting a handgun. If you are a semi-professional criminal and you know which pub to go to it is that easy. People have told me that, people I trust." Dr Wilson said he believed weapons continued to be smuggled through Customs and that separate parts could be mailed to people and then reassembled in Australia. He said home-made handguns were also available on Brisbane's streets.

Reformed armed robber and journalist Bernie Matthews revealed that a weapon he was arrested with in 1996 had been bought in Queensland. "I have no problem going on the record to say there is a black market in weapons in Queensland," he said. "It was easy when I was a bank robber and my sources give me no reason to think that it is any more difficult now."


Country schools beat city schools

But the teachers don't want the public to know

Education Minister Rod Welford has released details of last year's OP scores in Queensland schools, giving parents a snapshot of school performances for the first time in 12 years. The list of percentages of eligible students who received OP scores of 1 to 15 in every Queensland secondary school contains some surprises, including:

* Small rural state schools outshone city state schools.

* Private schools dominated the top 50 places.

* Non-government all-girls and co-educational schools scored highly while Catholic schools generally performed well.

Brisbane Girls Grammar School topped the list with 96 per cent of last year's 215 Year 12 students scoring OP1 to 15, followed by Boys Grammar with 93 per cent. Somerville House (92 per cent) was matched by Barcaldine State School's 12 eligible students scoring between 1 and 15. The Southport School, the most expensive school in the state with fees of between $12,276 and $12,924 a year, recorded 72 per cent. That was matched by Mackay North, Dalby and Mansfield state high schools. This means that more than one in four TSS eligible graduates left with OPs of 16 to 25. TSS principal Greg Wain did not return The Courier-Mail's call.

Nudgee College, with fees of about $7200 a year plus a "voluntary" $1000 building fund donation, had 70 per cent in the OP1 to 15 range, on a par with Clermont and Wellington Point state high schools. Principal Daryl Hanly said Nudgee had enjoyed an excellent result with 98 per cent of QTAC applicants receiving offers and 185 students receiving a VET (vocational and educational training qualification) and others completing school-based apprenticeships. "It's a challenge and we continue to work at it," he said.

Mr Welford said the "admirable transparency" of the figures showed "the wonderful diversity of educational opportunities in Queensland". He promised annual publication of the results, which had been "a really valuable exercise." "The data shows that the performance of schools is unrelated to whether they are public or private and what fees are charged," he said. "These school profiles should reassure parents in regional and rural areas that country and smaller schools are delivering great opportunities to students." He said the strong outcomes of country schools would help attract and retain good teachers, who appreciated enthusiastic students.

Queensland Teachers Union president Steve Ryan said the statistics were "pretty meaningless" as they only measured a student's ability to enter universities. "We are opposed to the public release of this information," he said. "If any parent chooses a school based on that data it is bordering on irresponsible." Mr Ryan said the scores belonged to students not schools and only reflected one aspect of what students achieved.

OPs or Overall Positions, provide a statewide rank order of students (on a 1 to 25 scale, with 1 the highest) based on achievement in Queensland Studies Authority subjects and the Core Skills Test. They are used by universities for selecting students for courses. Somerset College Mudgeeraba and St Rita's College Clayfield performed well with 90 per cent. In general, state schools outside the Brisbane metropolitan area performed strongly. In Brisbane, the leading state schools were Brisbane and Kenmore state high schools where 80 per cent of students had OPs of 1 to 15. Indooroopilly and The Gap state high schools achieved 78 per cent.

The tables also show a small group of remote schools, with only a few students, had all eligible students receive an OP15 or better. The "100 per cent club" included Charters Towers School of Distance Education, Cloncurry, Cunnamulla, Glenden, and Winton state schools, Collinsville State High and the School of Total Education, Warwick. It was the first year since 1995 that information to compare school outcomes has been released.


3 April, 2006

Protesters highlight West Papuan's plight

For once I agree with the "Greens" (really far-Leftists) about something -- though not for their reasons. The betrayal of the Melanesian West New Guineans to the Muslim fascists of Indonesia by the whole world was a disgrace that Australia took part in. They are good people who deserve our help

Greens Senator Bob Brown has told a rally that Australians have an obligation to support people in West Papua who are suffering under Indonesian rule. About 200 people attended the protest in Melbourne against alleged human rights abuses committed by the military in the Indonesian province. The Australian Government recently granted temporary protection visas to 42 asylum seekers from the province, and they will settle in Melbourne.

Senator Brown says Australians need to highlight the issue with the Federal Government. "As with East Timor, it will be the Australian people that change the Australian Government and the Australian Opposition out of their turning of backs," he said. Senator Brown says the Australian Government's support for Indonesian sovereignty over West Papua is racist and hypocritical. "How else do you explain a million people who are our near neighbours have the government's back turned on them when it comes to freedom and democracy yet John Howard's prepared to send our troops to the other side of the planet at the behest of George Bush for freedom and democracy," he said. Similar protests were held in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth.


Australian Cartoonist Hits Back

The above is a response to similar cartoons about Australia's political leaders emanating from Muslim Indonesia (See my post of Thursday). What's good for the goose should surely be good for the gander.

The cartoon refers to the savage oppression ("rape") of the Western New Guinea natives by Indonesia. Some of the Melanesian natives concerned have recently found refuge in Australia -- to Indonesia's disgruntlement.

Background to the cartoon here

Solar-thermal power touted as energy solution

Australian scientists have developed a new way of producing electricity, which could provide all of Australia's electricity needs in 2020. It has been developed by mixing solar energy, heat and natural gas.

In the search to find a cleaner, more efficient form of power, scientists at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) have developed what is called solar-thermal energy. Two hundred mirrors track the sun, and focus the sun's rays towards a tower. The heat can reach temperatures of more than 1000 degrees Celsius, producing 500 kilowatts of power. This is then mixed with natural gas and water to produce a renewable energy.

Wes Stein from the CSIRO says the new development could provide for Australia's future energy needs. "It would only require about 50 kilometres by 50 kilometres in the centre of Australia somewhere to provide all of Australia's electricity needs in 2020," he said. "That's not very much of Australia."


Same-sex veto not 'anti-gay'

The Federal Government's opposition to the ACT's proposed laws on same sex marriages are not an anti-homosexual gesture, Prime Minister John Howard has said. The Federal Government is threatening to introduce legislation to block proposed ACT laws which register civil unions and effectively give them the same rights as married couples.

Mr Howard and Attorney-General Philip Ruddock view the ACT laws as an attempt to undermine federal legislation introduced in 2004, which defines marriage as a union between a man and women to the exclusion of all others. Despite the Federal Government's threats, ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope is determined to push ahead with his proposed laws, saying last week that the question now was whether "there is no place in John Howard's Australia for homosexuals".

But Mr Howard denies his plans to veto the legislation are "anti-homosexual". He says he is simply trying to uphold the special place marriage holds in Australia. "This is not an anti-homosexual gesture. This is a gesture to support the special and traditional place of marriage as a heterosexual union for life of a man and a woman in Australian society," he said on Channel 10. "Why we're against what the ACT is doing is that, in all but name, they are equating same-sex unions with marriage. "I don't support that, not because I'm against homosexuals, but I think there should always be a margin for marriage as we understand it in our society ... you don't equate a gay union with a traditional marriage - that's our position."


Govt to sign China uranium deal

A bit of meaningless fluff to facilitate an important export opportunity for Australia

Federal Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane has confirmed that Australia will sign a safeguard agreement with China which will clear the way for the sale of uranium potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Mr Macfarlane is confident the agreement to be signed tomorrow governing Australian uranium exports to China will ensure its peaceful use. "In terms of the arrangement and what will be signed tomorrow, it is definitely a safeguard agreement," he said. "It is the same agreement that has been signed, as I say, with 36 other countries around the world."

Mr Macfarlane is in Perth to provide a resources briefing to visiting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who spent today touring key West Australian industrial and energy research facilities. Premier Wen flies to Canberra this afternoon and will meet the Prime Minister John Howard on Monday.

The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) says it remains fundamentally opposed to any deal to export uranium to China. ACF president Ian Lowe says such a move would further regional insecurity and increase nuclear risks. "No matter how strong and how valid the assurances that China or any other country gives us, once we export uranium it's outside of our control, so we're making the world a dirtier and more dangerous place by exporting uranium," he said. Professor Lowe is also not convinced by the argument that it would be environmentally better for power-hungry China to seek nuclear, rather than coal-fired, energy. "Nuclear might be better than coal but it's not nearly as good as renewables," he said. "Renewables are our real economic opportunity and the real environmental opportunity. In fact China's planning to get 15 per cent of its energy from renewables and only 6 per cent from nuclear."


2 April, 2006

Dangerous druggie doctors not stopped by regulators

Which shows how much use the regulators are.

Stephen Rabone was a known drug addict back in the early 1990s when he infected 11 patients with the viral disease hepatitis C at a South Australian country hospital. A South Australian inquiry into the Medical Board heard evidence that nursing staff alleged the doctor would order pethidine and other narcotic drugs, inject himself with them out of sight, return, and then inject the patient with the same syringe. Victims negotiated a confidential settlement in 2004. But today Rabone lives in Sydney's leafy, well-to-do suburb of Lane Cove, has full registration to practise medicine in NSW, and is a Fellow of the Faculty of Occupational Medicine with the Royal Australasian College of Physicians.

"Our hands are tied," says college chief executive Craig Patterson about the Rabone case, even though issues of drug addiction are "absolutely germane" in deciding whether to grant a doctor a fellowship. If these matters are proven, they are very serious indeed. (But) before we can strike or remove someone as a fellow . . . you need a properly constituted judicial or medical board hearing to have problems aired, facts need to be properly obtained and determinations properly obtained . . . that didn't happen in the Rabone case."

Just how South Australia's medical board handled the Rabone case was highlighted by a scathing inquiry ordered by the state's parliament, which released its report earlier this month. The report cited a handful of cases to illustrate how the Medical Board of South Australia failed to protect the health and safety of the public. "Deeply disturbed" inquiry members recommended the board be stripped of its powers to handle complaints, investigations and disciplinary proceedings. Such lack of confidence in the conduct of a bastion of the medical establishment comes on top of further scandals over how state-based medical boards deal with dodgy doctors.

Medical boards are statutory bodies responsible for registering doctors, monitoring their conduct and fitness to practise and when needed, handling disciplinary proceedings. But now the competency of doctors to manage their own is under fire. Queensland's medical board failed to identify problems with the paperwork provided by the rogue surgeon Jayant Patel, dubbed Dr Death. And in South Australia evidence revealed a litany of concerns. The board took as long as 10 years to deal with complaints, lacked transparency, and has provided two doctors alleged to have drug problems with certificates of good standing, one being Rabone, allowing them to work in NSW. These exposures are placing further pressure on the health sector to better control and manage the flow of doctors across state borders and from overseas.

In January a Productivity Commission report on the health workforce came out in favour of what many within the medical profession regard as an extreme solution: merging Australia's 90 existing registration boards for health professionals into one national entity, possibly swallowing up the eight state and territory medical boards. The report conceded that some functions, such as monitoring codes of practice and discipline "might best be handled on a profession-specific basis or possibly a regional basis". But the report made clear that medical boards should at least have their powers clipped. The radical proposals were discussed by state premiers at the February meeting of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG). Commonwealth and state governments are now considering the Productivity Commission's conclusions and recommendations, with a health working group due to report back mid-year.

Bob Sneath, the plain-speaking Legislative Councillor who chaired the upper house inquiry in South Australia, says it is "bloody dreadful" that shortcomings more than a decade ago allowed Rabone to move to NSW and continue his career with little disruption. Sneath says anything that ensures all information about a doctor's fitness to practise is known by any registering body would have his support. "I would not want to rock up there (in Sydney, to be treated by Rabone)," he says. "His patients would not have a clue."

South Australia's acting board president Mark Coleman also gave evidence that the board may have made a mistake in treating mentally ill, drug-addicted doctor Stuart Mauro, who admitted to a 10-cones-a-day cannabis habit. A coronial inquiry last year found Mauro provided "seriously inadequate" care to a public hospital patient who later died. Back in 2002 a medical board committee, headed up by some of Adelaide's most prominent and senior doctors, investigated patient complaints that Mauro had appeared to be under the influence of drugs while working as a locum. But as the parliamentary inquiry noted, the coroner found the committee "accepted Dr Mauro's denials without further inquiry". Mauro was also cleared to work in NSW, attracting complaints there. He then headed back to South Australia, and wasn't struck off until after the damaging coronial report was released and his case became public.

Dix is limited about what he can say about individual doctors practising in NSW who have addiction issues. In the case of Rabone, laws forbid disclosure of anything but the doctor's address and registration status. "I'm not sure if he's practising," Dix says. If any member of the public contacts the board to get information about Rabone, or any other doctor alleged to have had, or used to have, a drug-related impairment, state laws exclude these problems from being revealed. "We believe in giving a doctor rehabilitation rather than throwing him on the scrap heap," Dix says.

President of the Medical Practitioners Board of Victoria Joanna Flynn says procedures ought to allow effective transfer of information between the state medical boards. Flynn, also president of the Australian Medical Council, says "no doubt there are slip-ups from time to time". She believes a single national database for doctors would address that. But Flynn opposes a single national registration board for all health professionals. "I don't think that's a very good idea at all," she says, pointing the medical profession's "proud record of self-regulation".

But whether self-regulation has failed the public, as well as the medical profession, is open to debate. Those like Craig Patterson from the Royal Australasian College of Physicians believe that the transfer of data between medical boards is "variable". He says South Australia's medical board has been "cagey" with its information, and that the college, which admitted Rabone as a Fellow, needs to rely on medical boards, rather than media reports, to make decisions about their membership. The problems arising from the Rabone case are "the sort of issue that the medical boards need to be able to get on top of. What I can say is that national registration, a national database, is one of the things we have to start getting right . . . we call upon the medical boards to get it right, and it hasn't happened yet".

More here

Privileges for smokers abolished

If smokers want the same pay as everybody else, they should be prepared to put in the same hours

"Workers at a major [Australian] government department have been banned from taking cigarette breaks during office hours, setting a precedent for workplaces nationwide. Under the new rules, public servants will only be allowed to smoke during their lunch hour. Those breaking the ban will be disciplined with verbal and written warnings and counselling. Smoking will also be banned within 15m of the government department's offices. More than 3000 staff employed Australia-wide by the Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources and its associated agencies will be hit by the new rules.

Department chief Mark Paterson told The Daily Telegraph he issued the new edict primarily because of health issues. "We're moving into a new premises in October that incorporates a childcare centre and I don't want parents and children to be confronted by a phalanx of smokers out the front of the building," he said. "We're giving people plenty of notice and we're providing financial support for quit programs and other courses. I'm prepared to consider providing support to employees' spouses if that assists them in giving up, too. "We can't restrict what people do outside of hours and during their lunch hours but we can do so during working hours."

More here

Another scare fades

Warming does not kill coral

The Great Barrier Reef is far more resilient to rising water temperatures than scientists feared, with less than 1 per cent of its coral affected by bleaching after the hot summer. Scientists had predicted that as much as 60 per cent of the reef's coral might suffer bleaching, which occurs when warm temperatures rob the living coral of nutrition. But professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, from the University of Queensland's Centre for Marine Studies, said yesterday that samples he had collected from the various parts of the reef showed the fears were unfounded. Professor Hoegh-Guldberg's survey showed coral north of the Keppel Islands near Rockhampton had escaped bleaching, and less than 1 per cent of the outer reef had been affected. "I was surprised about the fact that we had some bleaching within the coastal regions, but it wasn't as bad as we'd seen in the Keppel Islands (previously)," he told ABC TV. "Probably about 1000sqkm of reef has experienced moderate to severe bleaching but, given the size of the Great Barrier Reef, this is quite a minimal impact."

In January, the professor's team at the University of Queensland had initially been concerned that the 2005-06 summer could be a repeat of 2001-02, when more than half the reef was bleached and between 5 per cent and 10 per cent of the coral died. The concern had arisen after above-average sea temperatures had been recorded through the summer months. "This year we are worried because we have higher (temperature) anomalies which may result in greater damage," Professor Hoegh-Guldberg said at the time.

But their concerns proved unfounded, confirming the views last month of scientist Peter Ridd, who said the Great Barrier Reef was one of the world's most resilient ecosystems. "The only place that's probably better is Antarctica," said Dr Ridd, from Townsville's James Cook University.

A spokesman for conservation organisation WWF, Richard Leck, still offered a warning if ocean temperatures rose. "By 2050, unless we build the resistance of the reef, we will be faced with a pretty diminished resource," Mr Leck said. [cheerfully ignoring the evidence]

Any damage to the reef would hurt the economies of Queensland and Australia. The reef is worth $5.8 billion to the national economy, employs more than 60,000 people and is visited by more than two million tourists each year. Scientists are urging state and federal governments to reduce greenhouse emissions to avoid the bleaching that hit east Africa in 1998, when 50 per cent of its reefs were lost. [NOT due to global warming]


Australian star does well

Blonde bombshell Sophie Monk has landed her first leading role in a Hollywood film just six weeks after her major movie debut saw her take Tinstletown by storm. Confidential can reveal that the former Bardot singer has been offered the lead role in dark comedy Sex and Death 101, to be directed by Daniel Waters, who has previously made his name writing the screenplays for cult favourite Heathers and action-fest Batman Returns. Contracts are yet to be signed but it's understood Monk intends to take on the part, with filming to begin in May. The 26-year-old glamour was in Sydney yesterday, looking a candidate to front any new Pepsi Max campaign as she sipped away during lunch at Sienna Marina cafe Woolloomooloo. She's expected to head to Queensland to holiday with her family but while she's in the country will also do early publicity for comedy Click, in which she has a role alongside walking gag-a-thon Adam Sandler... The down-to-earth Aussie has just done shoots in the US with mags GQ, Nylon and Movieline.


1 April, 2006

Nutty Leftist policy proposal: Motels as jails

How nutty can you get? Just feign mental illness and you are free!

Suspected illegal immigrants will be held in a motel room instead of a detention centre if they exhibit signs of mental illness, under a Labor policy announced yesterday. The softer approach is designed to prevent another Australian being held in an immigration detention centre. People investigated by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs would be kept out of detention centres if their identity could not be officially verified, if they were found in the community and if they were distressed, disoriented or exhibiting bizarre behaviour.

The announcement follows up scandals surrounding more than 220 Australians held in detention centres, including the high-profile cases of Vivian Solon, Cornelia Rau and last week's revelation of the case of Mr T. Mr T, a mentally ill Vietnamese migrant, was detained three times in four years after he was unable to properly identify himself. Each time the mistake was discovered, he was removed from the detention centre and returned to homelessness. Under Labor's policy, individuals who are incoherent or unable to identify themselves would be referred to a mental health crisis team, which could assess them. If found to have mental health issues, they would receive proper treatment and their case assessed again by immigration officials. Otherwise, they would be processed normally and put in detention.

But Opposition immigration spokesman Tony Burke stopped short of promising no Australian would ever again be wrongfully detained under a Labor government. "After the string of tragic wrongful detentions, it is incredible the Government has no such safeguard already in place," he said in a joint policy statement with Opposition Leader Kim Beazley. "There must never be another Cornelia Rau, Vivian Solon or Mr T case in Australia again."

The Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs has launched improved training for its staff to help identify people with mental illness. There is also a new protocol that senior management would be consulted before a mentally ill person was put into a detention centre. A DIMA spokeswoman said last night there were extensive mental health services available for people within detention centres.

Meanwhile, Vivian Solon yesterday attended an arbitration hearing before former High Court judge Sir Anthony Mason to determine what level of compensation she would be awarded for having been wrongfully deported in 2001 after she became disoriented after a car accident. She was deported to the Phillippines in 2001 after she became disoriented after a car accident and was detained by immigration officials. The five-day arbitration hearing comes after her legal team and the Federal Government was unable to come to an agreement over a compensation package for wheelchair-bound Ms Alvarez's ongoing care. Her lawyer, Marcus Einfeld, said yesterday he was seeking a "very substantial sum".


Savage taxes on new-home buyers

The taxes on new housing developments cost property owners much more each month than an interest rate rise. The Residential Development Council estimates state taxes make up more than a third of the purchase price of a new house. The impost is being blamed for creating a housing affordability gap. Council executive director Ross Elliott said taxes cost the home owner between $360 and $1445 a month. In comparison, an interest rate rise of 0.25 percentage points - the figure often adopted by the Reserve Bank when it increased rates - would add about $60 a month to the average home loan.

Most housing and property taxes are levied by the states. While the Federal Government's goods and services tax is charged on new housing developments, the funds are ultimately channelled back to the states. "The established housing market is not taxed anywhere near the same degree as the new housing market," Mr Elliott said. "It means that a small section of the community is bearing a historically high share of the tax and compliance burden that benefits the whole community." On a new house the tax could account for up to 35 per cent of the overall price. On a unit, it could be as high as 28 per cent. The council's research found the tax costs had risen by up to 600 per cent in some boom areas, particularly southeast Queensland. Mr Elliott said the impost was ultimately passed on by developers to the new buyers.

The rising impost included land taxes and stamp duty which had increased in line with the soaring cost of land. And some councils and state governments had introduced infrastructure levies. "Federal, state and local government taxes are the second largest cost faced by new homebuyers," Mr Elliott said. The recently renewed Building Code, which required sound and energy efficiency ratings, had also been blamed for some of the price hikes. As well, red tape was hindering some housing developments. The government has received a report into red tape across the economy which focused on small business. The Prime Minister's office is considering the findings but is yet to release it publicly.


Media bias again -- this time against the monarchy

The numerous republicans who attended the recent dinner in honour of the Queen in Parliament House were showing good manners rather than hypocrisy. Their presence demonstrated that at least some republicans know when courtesy demands that they keep their constitutional convictions to themselves. It was those who stayed away (including, on my count, all but three Opposition frontbenchers) who failed to show the respect due to the Queen of Australia and demonstrated the studied indifference to our British heritage so characteristic of the republican movement.

Journalists and commentators don't normally feel the need to declare their personal values and allegiances. Even when everything they write and say proclaims commitment to a particular cause, they find accusations of partisanship an affront to their professionalism. Republicanism is the great exception to the media's desire to be seen as professionally detached. In 1999, every metropolitan paper editorialised in favour of the republican referendum except The West Australian, which wanted to elect a president, and The Australian Financial Review, which thought the case had not yet been made. As the recent royal visit made abundantly clear, declared republicans still can't take "no" for an answer.

TV clips showed a monarch who was busy, gracious, stylish and mostly surrounded by enthusiastic well-wishers. By contrast, editorial content was almost exclusively unfavourable comparisons with her first royal tour, supposition that this might be the last and anticipation of the "inevitable" republic. It focused on everything except what was happening.

The Herald's front-page story on the Queen's arrival carried the headline (presumably to stress her foreign-ness), "England, England, England, oi, oi, oi". Presumably because only 400 had turned up, it reported "there appeared to be no danger of the Queen being too well loved by her subjects" and proceeded to quote a series of advocates for a republic. The page one story in The Australian, headlined "Queen flies in as PM treated like royalty", managed to avoid quoting absent republicans but was clearly written to give the impression that the monarchy was passe. Only The Daily Telegraph, on page three, confined itself to describing the Queen's actual arrival.

The Herald's editorial stated that "a royal visit inevitably raises the issue of an Australian republic . an inevitable development, we believe". The Australian observed editorially that a republic "will happen". The Age editorialised: "We see no reason why the monarchy should outlive Queen Elizabeth." Only the Telegraph confined its editorial to the Queen's character and achievements.

As a class, it seems that journalists can scarcely contain their rage against a monarchy that represents the instinct for continuity and ceremony. Mike Carlton called monarchists "a dwindling band of laughing cavaliers". Mark Baker ( The Age's op-ed page editor, writing on his page) described expressions of affection as "tosh" and declared the Queen should be sent packing "on the next winged tram out of the MCG".

Even journalists writing sympathetic pieces invariably included the disclaimer that, of course, they are republicans. Michael Shmith, writing in The Age about the Queen's insights into the human condition and capacity to move with the times, felt compelled to refer (you guessed it) to the inevitable republic. In the Telegraph, Brendan Shanahan criticised the "snide commentary" against the Queen before declaring that Australia "will, and should, one day be a republic".

Why do journalists take this for granted when Australians in general do not? If polls are to be believed, a near majority of Australians is reconciled to the much-mocked-in-the-media prospect of King Charles. On almost no other issue is there such a gulf between an obsessive media and the population at large. Having once created an unreal royal fairytale, the media now seems determined to perpetuate an equally unreal and unfair royal nightmare. Generally speaking, journalists don't get it when it comes to the monarchy because they seem professionally incapable of appreciating that "the heart has reasons reason cannot know".

The recent royal tour again demonstrated that the monarchy is a grace note in our public life. In her Australian speeches, the Queen recognised Australia's growing stature in the world while noting that, even in this most generous of societies, more needed to be done for Aborigines and people with HIV/AIDS. Only someone with no point to prove or position to win could leave an audience of professional critics, such as that in Parliament House, feeling both proud of what has been achieved yet challenged to be our "best selves". As Kim Beazley's affectionate speech to the Parliament House dinner about "the ties that bind" (perhaps unwittingly) revealed, becoming a republic would be an act of self-inflicted cultural vandalism. It would be imperilling a friendship to prove a point.

Greg Sheridan, of The Australian, recently observed that Australians have been "getting over the post-colonial Oedipal hang-ups" that invariably attend a relationship like that with Britain. He's right about the general public but dead wrong about most of his fellow commentators.


Too bad for you if a socialized medicine system cannot afford you

With private insurance you have enforceable rights. But this Queensland kid was told to go away and die until publicity got the politicians involved

Fifteen-year-old diabetic Cruze Poupouare has been told there's no place for him at Queensland's largest clinic for teenage sufferers of the disease because of a funding crisis. His mother, Doreen Poupouare, was fuming yesterday that money had been put ahead of her son's welfare. But Queensland Health pledged last night to help Cruze. Southern area health services general manager Terry Mehan told The Courier-Mail: "We will deal with this."

Mrs Poupouare was told on March 15 by the Mater Hospital's Adolescents with Diabetes Clinic that it was unable to take on Cruze - even though he had been referred there by his GP. The young man has battled Type 1 diabetes since he was a baby, and needs twice-daily injections of insulin. The Mater's child diabetes clinics were "booked beyond a level we consider critical in order to offer you safe and effective care", Mrs Poupouare was told. The letter to her continued: "Until we can obtain further government funding to improve our significantly diminished staffing levels, we are unable to accept any new patient referrals. "I do appreciate the significance of this dilemma and that it leaves you and your child without specialist care."

An angry Ms Poupouare, a credit manager from Camira, west of Brisbane, said last night that she was "gutted" by the rejection. "I have never had treatment like this before . . . to be told you can't be seen at a hospital because of funding issues," she said. Recently arrived from New Zealand with Cruze and his sister, Alycia, 12, Ms Poupouare, 44, said she would have to consider returning there with her family. Their private health fund in New Zealand would not cover her son in Australia, and no insurer here would cover his existing condition , she said.

Mater Health Services said a doubling in four years of Type 1 diabetes patients, combined with the rising incidence of the lifestyle-related Type 2 form of the disease among overweight children, meant the adolescents clinic could not treat everyone referred to it. A submission had been lodged with Queensland Health to hire more staff at the clinic, Mater Health Services said in a statement.

But Mr Mehan said Queensland Health had given the hospital group $206 million in a block grant this year, up from $191 million, and it had been up to it how to allocate the bulk of the funding. The Department had not been aware of Cruze's plight until yesterday, Mr Mehan said. State Liberal leader Bob Quinn said Cruze's plight "puts another human face" to Queensland's public health crisis.

Chief executive of the Queensland branch of Diabetes Australia Joe Tooma said it was disappointing that "we have got to the point where an important facility for treating children can't carry the load put on it". An estimated 21,000 people have Type 1 diabetes in Queensland, about 8 per cent of whom are aged under 17. The case load of the adolescents clinic at the Mater has increased from 20 to 200 patients in the past decade.