Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Lots of news from the education scene in Australia at the moment so I am concentrating on articles in that realm today


Two current articles belolw:

An incompetent but hungry university boss

A recent comment from "The Australian" below. Disclosure: I have personal knowledge that many who knew O'Connor as a mediocre but ambitious academic at the University of Queensland were amazed when he was appointed VC by Griffith. I am myself a graduate of the University of Queensland

Would Ian O'Connor pass an undergraduate course? Compare and contrast these two paragraphs: "The primary doctrine of Unitarianism is Tawhid, or the uniqueness and unity of God. Wahhab also preached against a perceived moral decline and political weakness in the Arabian peninsula and condemned idolatry, the popular cult of saints, and shrine and tomb visitation." And: "The primary doctrine of Wahhabism is Tawhid, or the uniqueness and unity of God ... He preached against a 'perceived moral decline and political weakness' in the Arabian peninsula and condemned idolatry, the popular cult of saints, and shrine and tomb visitation."

The first appeared in The Australian on Thursday under the byline of Professor Ian O'Connor, vice-chancellor of Griffith University. The second is from Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia blocked by some secondary schools to discourage students from sloppy research.

A former social worker who climbed the academic ladder rapidly, Professor O'Connor has admitted lifting the information and confusing strands of Islam. His stumbles came in attempting to defend his university's imprudent decision to ask for more than a million dollars from the repressive Saudi Arabian Government.

Professor O'Connor also appears to have breached his university's standards on plagiarism. If sprung, a student doing the same thing would surely be reprimanded. Many a career, including that of former Monash University vice-chancellor, Professor David Robinson, has been cut short through more serious allegations of the same behaviour. In 2002, Professor Robinson stood down after claims he plagiarised material for a book published 20 years earlier.

On the Griffith website, Professor O'Connor says the slip-up was not intentional and that his article "was not as a piece of academic scholarship" and "therefore did not follow normal citation methods used in academic publications". Not good enough for a vice-chancellor. The fully referenced version of the article also appears on the Griffith website. Three of the seven references are to Wikipedia, which in most institutions, including secondary schools, would earn a "D" for effort.

Professor O'Connor should heed the advice of his underling, Griffith University Council member Dr Dwight Zakus -- a senior lecturer in the Department of Tourism, Leisure, Hotel and Sports Management. He said he "strongly discouraged" his students from using Wikipedia because it is "a blog site, you can add and change (the information) and you're not sure of the veracity of the information there".

Professor O'Connor has yet to justify his taking the begging bowl to a repressive regime that punishes by stoning, beheading and amputation, and bars women from driving and most forms of normal life. Worse still, his university offered the Saudis a say in how the money would be spent then offered to keep it all secret. Academic freedom, like most basic freedoms, is anathema to the Saudis, who have no place influencing Islamic studies in Australia.


Saudi funds not a secret deal: Abdalla

The Griffith University academic at the heart of a funding controversy has defended the decision to accept $100,000 from the repressive Saudi Arabian Government to help finance Islamic studies. Mohamad Abdalla told the HES the money for the Griffith Islamic research unit he leads had come with no strings attached, had been acquired openly and without secrecy and there was nothing wrong with it. But he conceded the furore over a separate tranche of funding he sought - $1.37 million - had given him pause for thought. Were the Saudis to approve the money, he would recommend the university not accept it. "I would say no, don't take the money," Dr Abdalla said.

Dismissing as farcical the idea that accepting money from the Saudi Government could compromise the unit, he would not rule out accepting further funds from the same source at a later time, when the furore had died down. "If they offer it I will consider it," Dr Abdalla said.

Debate rose over the funding when The Australian's Richard Kerbaj revealed the Saudis had been offered some discretion in how the money would be spent and had also been offered anonymity over the donation. When vice-chancellor Ian O'Connor defended the university's pursuit of Saudi funding in an opinion article, he came under fire for using Wikipedia as a main source and for his confused interpretation of Islam.

Under fire for the propriety of his actions, Dr Abdalla was also forced to deny he was the Brisbane leader of the contentious Tablighi Jamaat movement, as had been reported. Although sympathetic to its ideals and acknowledging the group was represented at the Kuraby mosque, where he was a leader, he was not one of its leaders, he said.

Commentators who bought into the debate included Stephen Crittenden of the ABC's The Religion Report, who wrote: "What the Saudi Government really wants is the legitimacy that comes from being associated with a Western university. There is not a shred of evidence that it has any interest in progressive reform." The Australian Strategic Policy Institute's National Security Project director Carl Ungerer was also among those incredulous that any donation from Saudi Arabia would be considered acceptable. "It is naive to think that Saudi Arabian funding is not going to be problematic given we know the Saudi Government and its agencies have funded Wahhabist educational institutions around the world," Dr Ungerer said. "It's one of the major problems we have in the ongoing 'hearts and minds' campaign in the Muslim world."

Another Muslim academic, the University of Melbourne's Sultan of Oman professor of Arab and Islamic studies Abdullah Saeed, is an associate of Dr Abdalla through their joint involvement in the National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies and agreed funding was a sensitive area. "In the current climate one has to be very careful," Professor Saeed, the centre's lead director, said.

The Australian also reported last week that the Higher Education Funding Council for England was concerned about Saudi funding and the US Congress was examining Saudi donations to colleges. MI5 had also reportedly warned Prime Minister Gordon Brown that funding from Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries had caused a "dangerous increase in the spread of extremism in leading university campuses". At the same time The Guardian newspaper reported that HEFCE was considering a virtual centre of excellence networking academics, faith and community Islamic groups to boost Islamic studies.

The controversy has also drawn out defenders of Dr Abdalla. The Queensland Forum for Christians, Jews and Muslims praised his "ability to build bridges between the Muslim community and people of other faiths" and said it was "greatly saddened to see Dr Abdalla's integrity questioned". Uniting Church of Queensland moderator David Pitman said DrAbdalla was "an outstanding scholar and a person of great integrity" making a significant contribution to the life of the nation.

Islamic Council of Queensland president Suliman Sabdia, on behalf of 13 other signatories,wrote a letter to The Australian warning a repercussion of the reporting of the issue "could be increasing Islamophobia and a consequent decline in thousands of Muslim students coming to Australia, not only to study but also to experience our way of life".


Political correctness betrays migrant students

Migrant graduates are failing to get jobs because they can't speak much English -- but they have enough English to get an Australian university degree! How come? Because it would be "discriminatory" for the university to notice how well they speak English! In one recent case my alma mater hired a Chinese lecturer to teach law despite the fact that the students he was allegedly teaching could not understand a word of his version of English! How stupid can you get?

Another problem is that an unofficial "affirmative action" policy prevails -- less is asked of students from Asia -- which, as always, just devalues their qualifications

Fewer than a quarter of young, degree-educated migrants are finding skilled or professional jobs in their areas of study, and graduates are leaving university with poor academic standards and minimal English. A study by Monash University academics Bob Birrell and Ernest Healy found the problem was particularly acute among students from non-English-speaking backgrounds who had studied at Australian universities. Only 22 per cent of Australian-trained graduates aged between 20 and 29 who were migrants from non-English speaking countries were in professional roles in 2006. The figure compared with 57 per cent for English-speaking migrants and 64 per cent for Australian-born graduates.

The study suggests skilled migrants are satisfying immigration and university officials about the usefulness of their qualifications, but are failing to convince employers.

Overall, 38 per cent of skilled migrants were in professional roles in 2006, Professor Birrell said. But just 29 per cent of migrants from non-English-speaking countries found professional work. This compared with 63 per cent of skilled migrants from English-speaking countries.

Professor Birrell said the figures, which are based on census data, showed the skilled migration program was failing in its fundamental objective of combating the skills crisis. He said the students' poor English skills and the application of diminished academic standards were the main reasons universities were producing overseas graduates with skills and qualifications that were of little interest to employers. "The biggest problem is poor English and the lack of occupational experience," Professor Birrell said. "It also raises questions about courses that are being reduced in demand or complexity to cater for overseas-trained students."

The study, to be published in the Monash journal People and Place, looked at 212,812 degree-qualified migrants who arrived in Australia between 2001 and 2006. Of those, 90,416 were aged 20 to 29, most of them former overseas students who had studied in Australia. The remaining 122,396 migrants were aged 30 to 64. In both categories, most came from non-English speaking backgrounds. Young Chinese students fared the worst, with only 16 per cent working in professional roles.

Professor Birrell said many of the young, Australian-educated migrants took degrees in accounting, one of the professions most in demand, but only a minority ended up working as accountants. He called for a review of the way the skilled migration program was administered.


Taunts at Chinese Australian kids centre of complaint

PLAYGROUND taunts against Chinese Australian children are at the centre of a major court battle over complaints of school racism. A family has taken its case to the Supreme Court after three brothers were allegedly derided with comments including "ching chong Chinaman" at their Sydney primary school. The trio, aged 7, 9 and 10 at the time and who cannot be identified, claim the playground "bullies" teased them repeatedly, saying they hated Asians and Asian restaurants should be bombed to make way for "McDonald's and Kentucky Fried outlets".' The oldest was also allegedly threatened with a pair of scissors by a boy who said: "I'm going to kill you."

The Education Department has been fighting the case since the allegations were first made to the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board in 2000. The family is taking Supreme Court action in a bid to have the case reopened in the Administrative Decisions Tribunal - and the outcome could have serious ramifications for schools across the state. It follows the landmark $1 million award to bullying victim Benjamin Cox after it was found the department had failed to protect him in the '60s.

After an ADT hearing two years ago the family of Chinese descent was awarded $6000 in damages and the school - Excelsior Public at Castle Hill - was ordered to apologise. But the decision was overturned on appeal last year when it was ruled teachers could not be held liable if they failed to respond to racist insults in the playground. Teachers said they did not believe the gibes were racist because they were "silly talk" between children.

The department said the boys responsible had been disciplined but the school was accused of failing to provide a safe learning environment. Staff said the case put teachers under extreme stress, raising complex issues around the context in which playground comments become racist. A departmental spokesman said discrimination of any kind against students or staff in public schools and TAFEs was not tolerated [Except when it is]. "Comprehensive policies, including tough disciplinary measures, have been developed to handle such cases. The ADT appeal panel found the department appropriately handled events occurring almost 10 years ago," he said.

Teachers' Federation president Maree O'Halloran said a Supreme Court decision could change department guidelines.


High quality education for all?

That's what Leftists will tell you government schools are for -- but it is not so, never has been and never will be. Reality is not like that

Proximity to sought-after primary schools in Brisbane's dress circle suburbs has become the latest must-have selling point in the tough property market.

Just being in the catchment area for the most popular schools can add up to $70,000 to the value of your house, say agents - and buyers are lining up.

At both Wilston and Ascot state schools - and others such as Eagle Junction - the desperation to get their children on the rolls has been so great parents have been known to lie and cheat to succeed. "They fight fiercely to get in," one agent said. Fake addresses were one ploy, or getting a lease and breaking it after a month; using friends' houses as a mailing address, or even granny flats, guest cottages, business offices and investment properties have been used in a bid to get proof-of-residence documents.

Some parents said, apart from the schools' reputations, there was a social benefit in getting their children on the roll at blue-chip state schools. Not only is it good for the kids but parents get to rub shoulders with Brisbane's business and social elite. One mother of an Ascot child said: "It's one of the only private schools you don't pay fees for."

Education Minister Rod Welford said it was "extreme" for people to buy into a particular area simply because of the name of the primary school. "Most schools are within range of each other in terms of the quality of education," Mr Welford said.

But residential research director at RP Data Tim Lawless said it was clear the demand for properties within well regarded public school zones had a profound influence on property prices. "Take the example of Wilston where the local state school enjoys an enviable reputation. Median house prices within the suburb of Wilston have risen by 18.7 per cent over the last year and by 13.5 per cent per annum (on average) over the last five years," Mr Lawless he said. Agent and the mother of an Ascot student, Kim Josephson said the catchment was a primary motivator for many buyers. "If they have $2 million to spend they may buy a lesser house in the Ascot catchment rather than a better one outside," she said. "There is a nice sense of community. It would be easy to paint it as shallow and cliquey, but that has not been my experience at all. My little boy is getting a lovely education there."

Wilston State School principal Leann Griffith-Baker said she saw the school being used to market properties within its catchment every week and put it down to academic excellence and a sense of community. She said parents made a huge financial commitment to buy in the area and some had moved a few streets just to get into the catchment. "But people do invest for schools in the private ranks as well. When they apply to Gregory Terrace of St whatever they pay $1000 just to get on the waiting list," she said.

According to agent Liz Fell there's a huge demand for Wilston's catchment. "I've got two buyers who have been on my books for six to eight months. They won't compromise on being in the catchment even though Windsor, down the road, is a good school. "If you're in walking distance it's an even hotter prospect."


The reliable high standards of government schools (NOT)

The Torres Stait and Cape York areas are primarily inhabited by blacks (Sorry: "Indigenous people"). The Leftist Queensland government is big on talk about black welfare but deeds speak louder than words -- revealing once again what Leftists REALLY think about blacks

TEACHERS in the Torres Strait will be the first to strike this week over "untenable living conditions" in far north Queensland. Some teachers on Cape York have been without hot water since the beginning of the year while many throughout north Queensland face security issues. Broken locks, security doors and airconditioners, mouldy furniture and collapsed water-damaged walls and floors are all common teacher complaints, according to the Queensland Teachers' Union.

QTU state secretary Steve Ryan said an extra $5 million for maintenance and housing stock was needed to lift living standards to an acceptable level. Stop work meetings will be held from 2pm to 3pm tomorrow in the Torres Strait. Teachers around Cape York and the Gulf of Carpentaria will stop work on Wednesday between 2pm and 3pm. Mr Ryan said they will call on the State Government to guarantee sufficient, secure and regularly maintained accommodation backed by a significant funding increase in the state budget. Rolling 24-hour stoppages will be considered if that funding is not increased.


Tuesday, April 29, 2008


Two articles below:

Labor Party appointee defends Muslim-loving academic incompetent

Her nomination to the governorship was part of an entrenched determination by the Queensland Labor party to appoint women to high office. I don't know much about her political background but old Commos did on occasions name their daughters "Leneen" or "Lenine" -- after V.I. Lenin

The guy she is defending has some reputation for getting to the top through sycophancy rather than through any other talent. He has certainly shown no talent lately.

Note that Queensland District Court judge Clive Wall has said the Saudi connection is turning the university into a "madrassa"

Griffith University Chancellor Leneen Forde strongly defended the university's Vice-Chancellor Ian O'Connor yesterday after he admitted material he used to counter an attack on Griffith's Islamic Research Unit was lifted from the internet. The former Queensland governor said she had complete confidence in Mr O'Connor, who has vigorously backed a decision to accept a $100,000 donation from the Saudi Arabian Government to support the centre.

However an article defending the donation, written under Mr O'Connor's name, included two sentences lifted from Wikipedia without attribution. He said in a statement that the article was "based on material provided by senior staff" and "in pulling it together a small number of sentences were not directly attributed". "This was not intentional."

Ms Forde said he had acknowledged the action was inappropriate and in a statement to university staff said the article was "drafted in haste" in response to a "highly slanted version of events" published by The Australian newspaper. As a result it was not checked "as thoroughly" as desired.


Jihad body linked to begging university

THE Muslim cleric at the centre of Griffith University's Saudi embassy donation affair - Mohamad Abdalla - is regarded as the Brisbane leader of an Islamic group whose overseas members have been linked to al-Qaeda and the 2005 London bombings. Dr Abdalla, who has refused to be drawn on the Tablighi Jamaat group, has been identified as its Brisbane head by Muslim community figures, including prominent Islamic leader Fadi Rahman. "He's the head of Tablighi in Brisbane," said Mr Rahman, who attended the 2020 Summit as a delegate with Dr Abdalla. "I know Mohamad Abdalla very well," he said.

While Griffith University denied Dr Abdalla was a Tablighi leader, it praised the group - which has been investigated and cleared by ASIO - as a "peaceful movement" that provided spiritual support to disadvantaged community members. The university also said some Tablighi members attended Dr Abdalla's Brisbane mosque.

"Based on advice we have received from a number of Queensland Muslim organisations, the group Tablighi Jamaat is not a sect, is not secretive, is not political, is not violent," the university said in a statement issued last night. "It is in fact a peaceful movement with the social justice aim of helping Muslims become better Muslims. "Dr Mohamad Abdalla is not ... the leader of Tablighi Jamaat in Brisbane. "Dr Abdalla, as a leading imam in the Brisbane community, is associated with a number of groups openly involved with Brisbane's mosques. "This group is among more than 20 ethnic groups openly associated with Dr Abdalla's own mosque."

The Australian revealed last week that Dr Abdalla, director of Griffith's Islamic Research Unit, helped the university apply for a $1.37 million grant from the Saudi embassy - of which the institution received only $100,000 - and offered the Saudi ambassador a chance to keep elements of the donation a secret. The university said Dr Abdalla had in the past week received strong support from Queensland Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson, Anti-Discrimination Commissioner Susan Booth and "leaders from both the Jewish and Christian communities of Brisbane".

The Tablighi's non-violent teachings about the importance of the afterlife had left some young followers susceptible to recruitment by terrorist outfits as suicide-bombers, said former Howard government adviser Ameer Ali. "They are not violent, they don't preach violence. But their mind is set - they've prepared the minds of the youngsters who can be trapped by the jihadis and terrorists," he said. "So when the jihadis say are you prepared to go to heaven ... it carries with their thinking because they are not interested in this world, they believe (their) future is in the next world."

Dr Abdalla refused to answer questions about his connection with the Tablighi when interviewed by The Australian, except to say membership of the group was not controversial. Muslim leaders have urged Griffith University to return the Saudi grant.


Victoria's Keystone Kops traumatize innocent man -- with not even an apology

Look at the cowardly creeps below

He was probably lucky the media were present. He should sue the pants off the Victoria police

A quiet afternoon at home turned into "something from the movies" for Brad Triptree yesterday afternoon when he looked out of his Frankston house. The 22-year-old nurse was sitting at his computer when he heard a police megaphone outside his house. Mr Triptree told the Herald Sun it didn't cross his mind at first that the police were talking to him. "I heard 'Come out of your house' just like they do in the movies, but I didn't know who they were talking to," he said.

"I was nervous as hell when I realised they meant me -- my legs went all shaky. "My name's not Dave -- they were saying something like that, so I knew they had got the wrong person." Police officers apparently mistook Mr Triptree for a suspect involved in the shooting of a Frankston mother of two yesterday morning. Officers pointed guns at Mr Triptree's head and pushed him to the ground outside his apartment complex in front of the media before they let him go.

Mr Triptree, who only moved into his Burns St home three days ago said he hadn't been able to relax since his terrifying ordeal. "I just did what they told me to do," he said. "They were carrying very big guns. "I've never seen guns like that before -- it's the first time I've ever seen a gun. "I'm still shaking now."

Mr Triptree said he was puzzled about why he was a target for police. "They said they had a phone trace from this address but I don't even have a phone connected," he said. "They were just saying that." After police let Mr Triptree go, he said they acted like nothing had happened. "They didn't even say they had made a mistake. "I'm angry, my phone's been going non-stop and I haven't heard a thing from the police. "I haven't got an apology. They let me go back into my house and that was it. "It was as if they were doing me a favour."

Mr Triptree said he could not believe how different he was from the police description of the wanted man he heard on the evening news. "They're looking for a grey-haired guy in his 60s -- I don't look anything like that," he said. "I don't know what they were thinking." After his ordeal, Mr Triptree said he went to his grandparents' home nearby, where he would be staying for the next few days. Mr Triptree said both his mother in Queensland and his elderly grandmother in Frankston had found it hard to believe he had been involved in the drama. Mr Triptree said he did not know any of his neighbours on Burns St, and was considering moving out for a while after yesterday's drama. "I'm definitely not staying here," he said.


A Leftist to be missed

By Mark Steyn

The Australian columnist Pamela Bone died of cancer this weekend. She was a feminist, an atheist and most of the other -ists you might expect from a western woman of her general disposition (she was a recipient, among many other awards, of something called the "UN media peace prize").

But in her final years she came to see that the Islamization of the west represented a profound challenge to everything she believed in. It began fairly tentatively. She seems almost to be thinking aloud in this piece for the Melbourne Age on the British subjects born and bred who self-detonated on the London Tube:

In Melbourne the day after September 11, Muslim students at a state high school danced on the desks with glee. What are these young people being taught by their decent and law-abiding parents? Literature being sold at a store attached to a Brunswick mosque tells Muslims they should "hate and take as enemies" Jews, Christians, atheists and secularists, and that they should "learn to hate in order to properly love Allah". How many Muslims complain when they see this kind of hate literature? Did the large Sydney audience complain when Sheikh Feiz Muhammad charged recently that because of the way they dressed, women had only themselves to blame if they were raped? No, they applauded him.

The column ends as follows:
Perhaps it is time to say, it's been wonderful, but a few things need to be made clear. Perhaps it is time to say, you are welcome, but this is the way it is here.

"This is the way it is": That kind of talk is anathema to the multiculti elites in Oz, Canada, America, Britain and Europe. But Ms Bone saw no good in tolerant multiculturalists colluding with the avowedly unicultural and intolerant. She was especially tough on the two-tier sisterhood:
LET it be recorded that in the last decade of the 20th century the brave and great movement of Western feminism ended, not with a bang but with a whimper... I don't hold much hope on this International Women's Day of seeing big protests in Australian cities against female genital mutilation; or against honour killings, stonings, child marriages, forced seclusion or any of the other persecutions to which women are still subjected. The fire of Western feminism has quietly died away, first as a victim of its success, lately as a victim of cultural relativism, of anti-Americanism and reluctance to be seen to be condemning the enemies of the enemy.

She summed up the strange alliance between western progressives and a theocratic tyranny that stones women and executes homosexuals in this piece:
Why, in short, have Left and Right changed places?

I didn't agree with Pamela Bone on most things, even at the end. But she understood in a way that too few of the left do that her culture and her civilization need defending and that the relativist mush of the age (not to mention The Age) is insufficient to the task. I shall miss her, and I wish there were more like her.


Firms slugged with illegal Greenie fees

And the "fix" will cost them even more! No talk of refunds

THOUSANDS of Queensland businesses have been slugged fees that the State Government has secretly known for years may be illegal. The Courier-Mail can reveal a raft of fees levied by the Environmental Protection Agency since 1998 are likely to be outside the scope of the State's authority. However, despite receiving high-level legal advice more than five years ago, the Government failed to act and continued to raise millions of dollars a year from businesses.

The annual environmental fees are spread across an array of waste-emitting industries, including paint manufacturing, beverage production, seafood processing, oil refining and farming. Fees start from as low as several hundred dollars and rise to tens of thousands a year for some major industries. Many of the EPA's prices are based on a business's volume of production, but state governments are prohibited from levying such excises as they fall within the realm of the Commonwealth.

Sustainability and Climate Change Minister Andrew McNamara yesterday admitted the Government had been aware the fees may be unconstitutional but was now moving to resolve the issue before the end of the year. "These fees have been around for a long time, this is the Environmental Protection Regulation from 1998," Mr McNamara said. "But all I can do as minister is sort it out."

Mr McNamara said he was unaware of any business raising an issue with the legality of the fees but legal advice had been received in 2006 warning there could be a problem. However, it is understood the department also received legal advice in early 2003 with the same warning. This was prompted by a veiled reference in an Auditor General's report in December 2002 that raised concerns about "certain issues pertaining to licence fees".

Fixing the fees will cost some businesses dearly with the Government planning to shift from a current flat charge and volume-based method to a risk-based method. The Bligh Government has recently announced a similar risk-based assessment scheme for issuing late-night liquor licences.

The Government wants to recoup enough from the changes to plug the difference between the $9 million a year the EPA raises from the environmental fees and the $32 million it spends on patrolling businesses for waste and emissions. "While it is likely there will be fee increases for bigger polluting industries, the proposed fees are less than in other states," Mr McNamara said.


Monday, April 28, 2008


Two current articles below

No defence for academic ignorance

By Stephen Crittenden

Two weeks ago I had an email exchange with the principal policy adviser to the vice-chancellor of Griffith University. He denied that Australia's universities were secular institutions, on the grounds that they followed the Christian calendar, with holidays at Christmas and Easter, and he added that because we seemed to have no objection to the "Christianisation" of our universities, we could hardly object to attempts to "Islamify" them or any other aspects of Australian life.

If this is the standard of advice that Griffith vice-chancellor Ian O'Connor (above) is receiving, then it is little wonder that he has got himself into such an awful mess this week when he attempted to defend the university's decision to accept funding from the Saudi Arabian Government.

Yesterday, O'Connor was forced to clarify his unattributed use of material taken from Wikipedia in an opinion piece published earlier this week in The Australian. Attributed or not, this doesn't look good from the vice-chancellor of a university parading itself as a centre of excellence in Islamic studies.

Then there was his preposterous use of the term Unitarian to describe the official religion of Saudi Arabia. Unitarianism is a term properly used to describe a liberal Christian movement that included among its adherents some of the founding fathers of the US.

It has nothing to do with Islam, which has never had a non-Unitarian movement, and one can't help wondering whether the vice-chancellor has naively got himself caught up in some cynical Saudi re-branding exercise. This is the view of at least one commentator this week, Sir Wellington Boot of, who suggests that the term Wahhabism has become so toxic that it can no longer be used.

Far more troubling is O'Connor's apparent attempt to whitewash the Saudi Government when he says it "seeks to moderate reactionary elements in its own society by funding Islamic research centres in prominent Western universities to develop a form of progressive Islam that has credibility and legitimacy".

What the Saudi Government really wants is the legitimacy that comes from being associated with a Western university. There is not a shred of evidence that it has any interest in progressive reform and anyone who has any doubt about this should sober themselves by consulting the latest country report on human rights in Saudi Arabia published by the US State Department.

It is a plain fact that in recent decades Saudi Arabia has been using its oil wealth to export Wahhabism across the world. The results are plain to see in Malaysia, South Asia, Africa and, above all, Europe. This is why the greatest caution needs to be exercised in any decision to accept money from such a source.

The photograph on page two of The Australian yesterday - featuring two Islamic female students at Griffith University with their faces covered - gives ample evidence of precisely how Wahhabi influence is already making its presence felt.

Australian universities are the new front line in the battle with extremist Islam. The Muslim students associations are being taken over by Wahhabist and other ultra-conservative groups, such as Tablighi Jamaat and Hizb ut-Tahrir.

The ultimate goal of these groups is the radicalisation of a new generation of Muslim professionals, which would be a catastrophe for Australia. In this context, vice-chancellors proposing to take money from Wahhabist governments need to be relying on more than Wikipedia for their information about Islam.


A major Australian university gives the finger to justice -- denies natural justice to an employee

This is not the first time an Australian university has run a kangaroo court to deal with complaints about its employees. And I note that in the USA the denial of natural justice to students is well-known. See for example the notorious Plinton case -- where an arrogant university bureaucracy actually managed to kill an innocent black student.

One wonders what is behind a big fuss about a minor bureaucratic detail here. Nobody was deceived. One suspects that he found sexually transmitted disease to be more widespread among young people than is generally acknowledged. Why that is so sensitive would seem to be a matter of academic politics and turf protection

The University of Sydney has denied natural justice to one of its leading academics in adolescent health during an investigation into the collection of blood samples from Sydney school students for medical research, a review committee has found. Michael Booth, an associate professor in the university's school of public health, was accused in late 2005 of neglecting to follow the correct ethical approval process before collecting blood samples from 500 adolescents for a study on childhood obesity.

The university commissioned Helen Colbey of the NSW Internal Audit Bureau to investigate the allegations and she released her report in January last year. It found Dr Booth had engaged in six counts of serious ethical misconduct and recommended his dismissal. But a review committee, which was established on the insistence of Dr Booth's lawyers, found this month that the university had denied him natural justice and procedural fairness, because he was not given the chance to respond to the evidence against him. "It was like I was locked in a room, the evidence was presented to a judge and he said 'guilty' and I was taken away, so I didn't get my day in court," Dr Booth said last week.

The outgoing vice-chancellor, Gavin Brown, will now have to choose between ignoring the findings of the review committee - two of whose three members were appointed by the university - or accept them and expose the university to legal action by Dr Booth.

The case raises questions about academic freedom, government interference in universities and the ethics of using blood samples for controversial purposes, without specific consent, if it means the research leads to public benefit. The blood samples that were collected for the original study, known as the Schools Physical Activity and Nutrition Survey, were later tested for sexually transmitted herpes and the researchers were able to glean invaluable information for a vaccine against herpes type 2. That information has been locked up, along with the blood samples, because it was deemed to have been gathered unethically.

Collecting blood samples from the 15-year-olds at schools across Sydney required extensive consultation with NSW Health, the NSW Education Department and the university's ethics committee, particularly around the parent information sheet, which explained that the blood could be used for future tests related to physical activity and nutrition.

Dr Booth said it was only after the government departments had approved the wording that a colleague, Tony Cunningham, asked if he could also use the blood samples for the development of a herpes vaccine, which clearly fell outside the scope of physical activity and nutrition. "We realised that not only did the wording of the information sheet have to be changed to allow the [herpes] tests to be conducted, but that it would also be preferable to make the wording broader to allow the possibility of other, as yet unforeseen, tests relevant to the health of young people," Dr Booth said. He changed the information sheet to allow for broader testing, but he was later accused of doing so without formal approval, which he denies, leading to the misconduct complaint.

Dr Booth said he knew the herpes research would anger the health and education departments. "[But] I really think it would be unethical of me to protect my career at the expense of the development of a vaccine." However, Bruce Robinson, the then head of the university's school of public health, said the parents should have been told their children's blood samples would be tested for herpes. "Particularly in the context of something quite sensitive, in terms of herpes antibodies in teenagers, I would see that as bad behaviour to go ahead and do that," Professor Robinson said.

NSW Health and the then health minister John Hatzistergos said the matter was now in the hands of the university and declined to comment further. The University of Sydney said: "The university is firmly committed to upholding all its policies and procedures, particularly those relating to dealings with members of the public and especially involving health matters."



Given the often-appalling outcome of the recently enacted British bill of rights, one would hope not but many starry-eyed Leftists are pushing for it amid hope that our new Centre-Left government can be led down that path. Below are two counterblasts to the idea -- one from a conservative commenter and one from a centre-Left commenter. That they say largely the same thing is rather encouraging

Beware the galloping imperialist judiciary

By Janet Albrechtsen

Do not mistake the unseasonal rush of warmth over the weekend with global warming. Put it down to those advocating a charter of rights for Australia at the 2020 Summit in the nation's capital. Their aim is to bathe us in the warm language of human rights so that, ultimately, we will soporifically sign up to a new federal charter of rights.

The heat will be cranked up over the next few years. Having found a good friend in the Rudd Labor Government, and buoyed by success in Victoria and the ACT where charters already operate, charter enthusiasts have finessed one heck of a sneaky strategy to seduce us. What is at stake is Australia's traditional democratic deal where parliaments make laws on behalf of the people and judges interpret those laws. Charter enthusiasts have a different post-democratic model in mind. This class of lawyers, human rights activists and academics distrust the people as too unenlightened to embrace their preferred social agenda. Hence they want to vest power to decide major social issues in an unelected group of guardians of the greater good: the judiciary.

Armed with a charter, these social engineers can seek out a sympathetic judge to legislate their agenda from the bench, unfettered by the messy business of taking their agenda to the people. Here is their strategy. First, promise public consultation, as Kevin Rudd has done. If genuine debate follows, that will be a fine thing.

Unfortunately, as we know from Victoria and the ACT, the so-called independent committees entrusted to consult with the people were stacked with so many charter supporters, they operated like one-way steering committees. Neither Victoria nor the ACT trusted the people's view enough to put the charter to a referendum.

And keep your eye on academic and Labor aspirant George Williams. Having slogged away at a charter for years, he oversaw Victoria's charter of rights. Ditto Hilary Charlesworth, another charter lover who chaired the ACT committee. If they pop up on the federal committee, I'll bet my house on the outcome. Talk that Malcolm Fraser may join them only confirms the one-way debate in store for us.

That "debate" goes something like this. "How can a reasonable person be against a charter of human rights?" they ask rhetorically. Human rights are not controversial, right? Wrong. A moment's reflection reveals that rights are as diverse as people themselves. And this exposes one of the greatest con jobs practised on us by the modern human rights industry: the assertion that human rights are universal, clear and immutable. Even that most basic right - the right to life - is highly contestable. Defining what is a right and the ambit of those rights is where reasonable people can and do disagree.

The charter raises one simple question: when deciding these contestable issues, should we count the votes of the Australian people or those of a handful of judges? It's a no-brainer. These are political questions for the people to determine. Sending political questions to the judiciary does not transform them into legal questions.

Relax, say the charter advocates. A charter of rights is a tame little law, a modest one which will not transfer power from the people. Just look at Britain, they say. Britain has a special provision in its Human Rights Act to ensure parliament is not stripped of power: that there is simply a "dialogue" between the judiciary and parliament. Courts in Britain can only issue a declaration of incompatibility, telling government that a law offends their Human Rights Act. On paper, that's right. Governments can ignore the courts. However, the political reality is different.

Only a brave government will ignore a declaration of inconsistency from a court. And as NSW Attorney-General John Hatzistergos said a few weeks back, the only meaningful dialogue for parliament should be with the people, not judges.

By all means take a close look at Britain. In Britain, after enacting the Human Rights Act to much fanfare, former PM Tony Blair changed his tune, promising a battle with the judiciary when British courts put out the welcome mat to radical Muslims, using charter rights to ignore British immigration laws. More recently, present PM Gordon Brown canvassed the need for amendments to the HRA to include responsibilities because the rights fetish was taking Britain in the wrong direction.

Not to worry, say the charter supporters. Look to Canada, they say, where a special provision in their Charter of Rights and Freedoms allows governments to specifically exclude charter rights from a specific law if that is their intention. In other words, the power of parliament is preserved. Look a little closer at Canada, I say. This clause has never been used, not once since the charter was introduced more than 20 years ago. Yet, this clause was the clincher when the charter was being proposed to Canadians. Charter advocates in Canada said it would protect parliamentary sovereignty.

Sound familiar? In fact, it has been politically untouchable for a government to draft legislation which apparently infringes the "rights" of Canadians in the charter. Williams knows that. He has written about it. And why do you suppose most Canadians now express a desire to elect their judges? The Canadian charter has siphoned power away from the people to unelected judges. Nothing modest about it.

These are not obtuse legal wrangles. They go to the heart of how Australia will be governed: by the people or by judges. The real stealth bomb in a charter of rights is the interpretation clause. Hang in there if it all sounds a bit dry. Charter advocates will hope you start tuning out right about now. Section 3 of the British Human Rights Act - more or less repeated in the Victorian Charter - says that "So far as it is possible to do so, primary legislation and subordinate legislation must be read and given effect in a way which is compatible with the Convention rights." This is an open invitation to judges to ignore even the clearest of parliament's intent. The House of Lords has said so, describing this innocuous little "reading down" provision as "dangerously seductive", and "unusual and far-reaching in character".

Charter devotees are all in favour of a galloping imperial judiciary; it is integral to their postmodern democratic model where power is stripped from politicians they regard as too stupid and too slow to mould the perfect world. Done under the guise of protecting human rights, this power play where the lawyer class triumphs over the masses is just the most recent reminder of H.L. Mencken's warning that the "urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule". Remember that when the charter bandwagon comes to a town near you.


Lawyers are already drunk with power

By Bob Carr (A former Labor party Premier of NSW -- pic below)

Call it the first swallow of summer. Last week I met a lawyer who said while she opposed a charter of rights, all the barristers on her floor supported it, and for the obvious reason: the intoxicating whiff of litigation. A bill of rights, or a charter, will lay out abstractions like the right to life, or privacy, or property, and thus enable judges to determine - after deliciously drawn-out litigation - what these mean.

A shift in power from elected parliaments to unelected judges, by a process of "judicial creep", is part of the bill of rights package. Canada has had its Charter of Rights and Freedoms since 1982, planted in the constitution. Before that there was only a legislative version. Clearly this is something the zealots want to see happen here: the first step only a law, but followed by constitutional entrenchment.

Like Australia, Canada also has a shortage of doctors in rural areas. British Columbia came up with a scheme to encourage doctors to practise there, with a finely tuned system of incentives. The provincial Supreme Court struck it down, citing section 6 ("mobility rights") and section 7 (the "right to life, liberty and security") of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Canada's rural population is still under-served by doctors, thanks to judges who want to write society's rules.

That's the trouble. A menu of abstractions - that is, any attempt to list rights - wrenches from the cabinet table and the legislature and delivers to the courtroom things that ought to be determined by governments. Thus, in the most recent burst of judicial activism, judges in Britain have determined that the justice secretary can no longer block a parole board decision to release a dangerous prisoner. Judges also determined that failed asylum-seekers in Britain could have access to the National Health Scheme, again something that should be a matter for elected politicians.

In Scotland, because of a delay in placing toilets in prison cells, the Scottish Law Reporter estimates that prisoners may be entitled to awards totalling pound stg. 76 million ($158.7 million) because their cells violated the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. The Government had been caught up with another priority, expanding drug rehabilitation programs for inmates. Last year, pound stg. 750,000 was paid to 197 heroin-addicted prisoners who successfully argued that cutting short their treatment while in prison breached their human rights.

But there's another phenomenon that perverts proper process: police and bureaucrats in Britain anticipate getting overruled on human rights grounds and start to shape their responses. Pity the factory owner who, this month, had to pay pound stg. 20,000 to bailiffs to remove 40 Gypsies who had torn down a 2.4m fence and occupied his factory land. The police refused to act so as not to breach the travellers' human rights.

A friend of mine who sits in the House of Commons says when his constituents talk about loutish behaviour in the streets or around housing estates, they say: "I suppose the police can't do anything about it because of their human rights." Thus creeping judicial activism around a charter of abstractions renders negative a concept that should sit nobly and proudly in the lexicon.

When Kevin Rudd looks at the 2020 Summit's endorsement of a bill or charter, he'll be politically astute enough to know a move to enact a charter or bill in any form would meet the same commonsense opposition that doomed it in 1988, when Australians voted it down 69 per cent to 31per cent.

Consider the objectors. Business knows it just represents another layer of uncertainty; what judges will do with "a right to property" is anyone's guess. Churches are becoming aware their immunity from anti-discrimination laws - a justified immunity - will end with a charter or a bill of rights. Church leaders can democratically lobby parliaments and cabinets, but not non-elected, tenured judges. The most obvious effect of a charter is to add opportunities to defence lawyers in criminal matters.

I look forward to advising victims of crime groups of the consequences of a bill or charter. The power of police to stop and search people for a knife, and remove the knife, which we enacted in NSW in 1998, would not survive judicial activism based on freewheeling interpretations. And the decisive life sentences imposed on the state's worst killers (who were originally given indeterminate "never to be released" sentences) would also be found to contravene prisoners' rights, as in Britain.

Perhaps, as former justice minister Michael Tate seemed to foreshadow in The Australian last week, we will see a proposal for a list of rights to be overseen by a parliamentary committee, not by judges. A big retreat, but it will still be objectionable. I and others will take issue with any attempt by a group of zealots to arrogate to themselves the power to define, codify and nail down their definition at this time of what they think ought to be our rights. Talk about elitism.

Rights count. So much so they need the give and take of the common law, rowdy parliaments and the ebb and flow of public opinion. It's the commonsensical ethos of a people - temper democratic, bias offensively Australian - not a declaration of abstractions that will keep us free.


Global Warmists eat your heart out

Australia's winter is approaching but the snow is falling already in places -- yet more of the global cooling that we have been seeing in recent times. The recent Northern hemisphere winter was deadly in many places

A COLD snap across Victoria's alpine region dumped a heavy layer of snow over the weekend in an encouraging sign that the coming ski season could begin early.

After sub-zero temperatures at Falls Creek early yesterday, resort operators hope the colder than normal weather could result in the best conditions on the slopes in several years. About 15cm of snow was dumped on Falls Creek and Mount Hotham yesterday and forecasters expect more falls in the region over the next 24 hours.

Keen young skiers rugged up and hit the slopes early yesterday while snow and ice covered trees and cars around the resort. With weather experts predicting bigger than expected snowfalls in Victoria this season, Melbourne Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster Dean Stewart last night said the heavy falls around Falls Creek followed a cold snap in the area on Saturday night. "There have been some fairly good snowfalls in the last 12 to 18 hours in the alps," he said. "The main rain-producing cloud that led to the falls has pushed east of the alpine area. So over the next 24 hours there's going to be further showers pushing up over the alps."

Mr Stewart said more rain and snow were expected to fall before the weather cleared on Tuesday. "As far as the big dumps go, they've had that already, but there could be some more showers in the next day or so," he said.

Falls Creek spokesman Ian Talbot said the cold weather could herald the best skiing conditions since 2000, when the official season began two weeks early. The season is due to begin on the Queen's Birthday weekend of June 7. "All the predictions suggest we may have a season like 2000," he said. "That started off really well too." Mr Talbot said bookings were already strong for the school holiday period, and yesterday's heavy dumping of snow meant visitors could be confident of a good winter ahead. "For this time of year, it's been quite unusual weather, but from the industry's point of view it's very encouraging," he said.

Meanwhile, the Bureau of Meteorology issued a severe weather warning late yesterday for people in the southwest of NSW. Severe thunderstorms were expected to produce damaging winds in the region overnight, with towns including Wagga Wagga, Albury and Cobar likely to be most affected. Residents were urged to move cars away from trees, secure loose items around homes and avoid using their phones during the storm.


Sunday, April 27, 2008

Queensland building projects stalled as red tape lifts costs

Governments constantly bloviate about the high costs of housing and try to blame the suppliers for it but governments themselves are a major cause of the high costs. Restricting the supply -- for Greenie and other reasons -- will inevitably raise prices

Leading housing industry groups are furious $10.5 billion worth of residential development earmarked for Queensland is being held up by government red tape. While the State Government has vowed to help fast-track land releases and development approvals to ease the growing housing crisis, projects now on the books may blow out by more than four years. Almost 20 affected projects still in the planning stage include the Redland Bay South subdivision, Broadlakes housing development at Merrimac, Riverside Waters at Townsville and the Riverbank community at Morayfield.

The Housing Industry Association of Queensland has accused local and state governments of holding up work. "Delays in getting development approval can be measured in years these days, not months," HIAQ executive director Warwick Temby said. "We've been making noise about these delays for some time now because it adds a lot to the cost of land."

Mr Temby said he feared the Government had overspent on projects such as the water grid and now lacked funds to supply infrastructure for many of the proposed developments. Developers Fox and Bell Group plan to build a satellite town near Redland Bay in Brisbane's southeast, to house up to 9000 people. Director Garry Hargrave said the company had been working on the project for six years. Slow approval meant construction was unlikely start before 2012.

Deputy Premier and Minister for Infrastructure and Planning Paul Lucas said he had started to meet with developers and councils because he was concerned about "land-banking" in some parts of the state's southeast, where parcels of land were being held back waiting for a more favourable market for the owner.

The article above by Hannah Martin appeared in the the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on April 27, 2008

Fewer beds at major NSW hospital than 13 years ago

Despite a significant rise in the population

THERE are 186 fewer beds at Sydney's troubled Royal North Shore Hospital than there were 13 years ago when the state Labor Government came to power, Health Department figures reveal. In March 1995, 776 beds were available to patients, but on the latest available figures the hospital has just 590 beds. The figures, obtained by the NSW Opposition under freedom of information, measured bed decline from 1993 to September last year. Opposition health spokesman Jillian Skinner said the figure was alarming when the remaining 590 beds included cots, bassinets, critical-care beds, mental-health beds, maternity beds, and "transition beds" in patients' homes.

Under the $702 million hospital redevelopment announced by Health Minister Reba Meagher in November last year, the hospital will end up with 626 beds. In 2003, when Premier Morris Iemma was health minister, the number of beds reached its lowest point at 547. "Every RNSH doctor who gave evidence at the parliamentary inquiry into the hospital last year spoke of the desperate shortage of acute-care beds," Ms Skinner said. "The NSW Labor Government has stripped more than 180 beds from RNSH since it came to power 13 years ago," Ms Skinner said. "It also expanded the definition of a bed so even those in a patient's own home are counted as hospital beds. The new hospital will be seriously short of beds."

Ms Meagher yesterday said there was less need for large numbers of beds as patients now stayed in hospital for shorter periods. "The 23-hour unit at Royal North Shore Hospital today performs a number of day-only procedures that 10 years ago would have resulted in a five-day stay in hospital," she said. "For example, hernia and varicose-vein procedures, which resulted in a three- to seven-day stay in hospital 10 years ago, are now performed mostly as day only procedures."


Stupid blame game

"Binge drinking Howard's fault". They have the same problem in Britain so I suppose that is Tony Blair's fault?

Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon has blamed the former Howard government for the rise in teenage binge drinking. Ms Roxon said the decision to cut taxes on premixed alcoholic drinks eight years ago helped fuel the surge in excessive drinking by young people, particularly teenage girls.

The Rudd government overnight reversed the change, virtually doubling the excise on alcopops from midnight, pushing the cost of the drinks up by between 30 cents and $1.30 a bottle. [Big deal!]

"We can track the change in the way that young women have been drinking these products from the time that the Howard government changed the excise in 2000," Ms Roxon told the Nine Network. "We've seen patterns where it's gone from about 14 per cent of young girls drinking these products up to about 60 per cent. "So, this is an explosion that we think needs to be tackled ... We have a problem that must be turned around and this is the place where we're starting." Ms Roxon said she did not know why the Howard government had cut the excise in the first place.


A cool idea to warm to

By Christopher Pearson

About the beginning of 2007, maintaining a sceptical stance on human-induced global warming became a lonely, uphill battle in Australia. The notion that the science was settled had gathered broad popular support and was making inroads in unexpected quarters. Industrialists and financiers with no science qualifications to speak of began to pose as prophets. Otherwise quite rational people decided there were so many true believers that somehow they must be right. Even Paddy McGuinness conceded, in a Quadrant editorial, that on balance the anthropogenic greenhouse gas hypothesis seemed likelier than not.

What a difference the intervening 15 months has made. In recent weeks, articles by NASA's Roy Spencer and Bjorn Lomborg and an interview with the Institute of Public Affairs' Jennifer Marohasy have undermined that confident Anglosphere consensus. On's bestseller list this week, the three top books on climate are by sceptics: Spencer, Lomborg and Fred Singer. Archbishop of Sydney George Pell, a shrewd cleric who knows a dodgy millennial cult when he sees one, has persisted in his long-held critique despite the climate change alarmism of his brother bishops. Even Don Aitkin, former vice-chancellor of the University of Canberra, whom I'd previously been tempted to write off as a slave to political correctness, outed himself the other day as a thoroughgoing sceptic.

The latest countercultural contribution came in The Australian on Wednesday. Phil Chapman is a geophysicist and the first Australian to become a NASA astronaut. He makes the standard argument that the average temperature on earth has remained steady or slowly declined during the past decade, despite the continued increase in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, with a new twist. As of last year, the global temperature is falling precipitously. All four of the agencies that track global temperatures (Hadley, NASA Goddard, the Christy group and Remote Sensing Systems) report that it cooled by about 0.7C in 2007.

Chapman comments: "This is the fastest temperature change in the instrumental record and it puts us back where we were in 1930. If the temperature does not soon recover, we will have to conclude that global warming is over. It is time to put aside the global warming dogma, at least to begin contingency planning about what to do if we are moving into another little ice age, similar to the one that lasted from 1100 to 1850." A little ice age would be "much more harmful than anything warming may do", but still benign by comparison with the severe glaciation that for the past several million years has almost always blighted the planet.

The Holocene, the warm interglacial period we've been enjoying through the past 11,000 years, has lasted longer than normal and is due to come to an end. When it does, glaciation can occur quite quickly. For most of Europe and North America to be buried under a layer of ice, eventually growing to a thickness of about 1.5km, the required decline in global temperature is about 12C and it can happen in as little as 20 years.

Chapman says: "The next descent into an ice age is inevitable but may not happen for another 1000 years. On the other hand, it must be noted that the cooling in 2007 was even faster than in typical glacial transitions. If it continued for 20 years, the temperature would be 14C cooler in 2027. By then, most of the advanced nations would have ceased to exist, vanishing under the ice, and the rest of the world would be faced with a catastrophe beyond imagining. Australia may escape total annihilation but would surely be overrun by millions of refugees."

Chapman canvases strategies that may just conceivably prevent or at least delay the transition to severe glaciation. One involves a vast bulldozing program to dirty and darken the snowfields in Canada and Siberia, "in the hope of reducing reflectance so as to absorb more warmth from the sun. We may also be able to release enormous floods of methane (a potent greenhouse gas) from the hydrates under the Arctic permafrost and on the continental shelves, perhaps using nuclear weapons to destabilise the deposits".

He concludes: "All those urging action to curb global warming need to take off the blinkers and give some thought to what we should do if we are facing global cooling instead. It will be difficult for people to face the truth when their reputations, careers, government grants or hopes for social change depend on global warming, but the fate of civilisation may be at stake."

The 10-year plateau in global temperatures since 1998 has already sunk the hypothesis that anthropogenic greenhouse gas will lead to catastrophic global warming. To minds open to the evidence, it has been a collapsing paradigm for quite some time. But Chapman's argument about last year's 0.7C fall being "the fastest temperature change in the instrumental record" ups the stakes considerably. It replaces an irrational panic in the public imagination with a countervailing and more plausible cause for concern. It also raises, more pointedly than before, a fascinating question: since there are painful truths with profound implications for public policy to be confronted, how will the political class manage the necessary climb-down?

In Australia, Rudd Labor's political legitimacy is inextricably linked to its stance on climate change. If the Prime Minister wants a second term, he'll probably have to start "nuancing his position", as the spin doctors say, and soon. A variation on J.M. Keynes's line - "when the facts change, I change my mind" - admitting that the science is far from settled and awaiting further advice, would buy him time without necessarily damaging his credibility.

Taking an early stand in enlightening public opinion would be a more impressive act of leadership. While obviously not without risk and downside, it would make a virtue out of impending necessity and establish him, in Charles de Gaulle's phrase, as a serious man. I don't think he's got it in him. But we can at least expect that some of the more ruinously expensive policies related to global warming will be notionally deferred and quietly shelved. Innovation, Industry, Science and Research Minister Kim Carr will be allowed to invest in high-profile nonsense such as funding "the green car". But the coal industry is unlikely to be closed down or put into a holding pattern. Nor are new local coal-fired power stations going to be prohibited until the technology is developed to capture and sequester carbon.

Since the greater part of the funds for the research underpinning that technology is expected to come from the private sector - and there's a limit to what government can exact by administrative fiat - as the debate becomes calmer and more evidence-based, business will be increasingly reluctant to outlay money on a phantom problem. Budgetary constraints and rampant inflation provide governments with plenty of excuses for doing as little as possible until a new and better informed consensus emerges on climate.

Ross Garnaut could doubtless be asked to extend his carbon trading inquiry for the life of the parliament and to make an interim report in 12 months on the state the science. In doing so, he could fulfil the educative functions of a royal commission and at the same time give himself and the Government a dignified way out of an impasse.

Whatever happens in the realm of domestic spin doctoring, economic realities in the developing world were always going to defeat the global warming zealots. Before the election, Kevin Rudd had to concede that we would not adopt climate policies that were contrary to Australian interests unless India and China, emitters on a vastly larger scale, followed suit.

However, it has long been obvious that neither country was prepared to consign vast parts of their population to protracted poverty and to embrace low-growth policies on the basis of tendentious science and alarmist computer projections. Even if their governments were convinced that global warming was a problem - and they clearly aren't - it's doubtful they could sell the self-denying ordinances we're asking from them to their own people.

A likelier scenario would be full-page ads in our broadsheets and catchy local television campaigns paid for by the Indian and Chinese coal, steel and energy industries that buy our raw materials. Their theme would surely be that if many of the West's leading scientific authorities no longer subscribed to catastrophic global warming, why on earth should anyone else.


Saturday, April 26, 2008

Dumb university boss

Good grief! The clown thinks that Unitarianism is a MUSLIM sect! Unitarianism originated centuries ago among English Christians who thought that the doctrine of the Trinity is incoherent (it is) but these days they are mostly just wishy-washy Left-leaning Christians -- even more wishy-washy than the Anglicans. They are mostly found in the USA these days.

Griffith university is located in Brisbane and is widely seen there as coming a distant second to the University of Queensland in terms of academic quality. This episode certainly confirms that view

Griffith University vice-chancellor Ian O'Connor has admitted lifting information straight from online encyclopedia Wikipedia and confusing strands of Islam as he struggled to defend his institution's decision to ask the repressive Saudi Arabian Government for funding. Professor O'Connor also appears to have breached his own university's standards on plagiarism as they apply to students' academic work - a claim he denies. And he appears to have ignored his own past misgivings about Wikipedia and internet-based research.

In September, The Australian revealed that the Queensland university had accepted a grant of $100,000 from the Saudi Government. Last week, it was revealed that Griffith had asked the Saudi embassy in Australia for a $1.37million grant for its Islamic Research Unit, telling the ambassador that certain elements of the controversial deal could be kept a secret. Griffith - described by Professor O'Connor as the "university of choice" for Saudis - also offered the embassy a chance to "discuss" ways in which the money could be used.

Professor O'Connor's response to The Australian's revelations, which was published as an opinion article in the newspaper on Thursday, contained whole passages of text "cut and pasted" from Wikipedia. "The primary doctrine of Unitarianism is Tawhid, or the uniqueness and unity of God," Professor O'Connor wrote. "Wahhab also preached against a perceived moral decline and political weakness in the Arabian peninsula and condemned idolatry, the popular cult of saints, and shrine and tomb visitation." The Wikipedia entry for Wahhabism reads: "The primary doctrine of Wahhabism is Tawhid, or the uniqueness and unity of God ... He preached against a 'perceived moral decline and political weakness' in the Arabian peninsula and condemned idolatry, the popular cult of saints, and shrine and tomb visitation."

Professor O'Connor, whose academic credentials are in social work and juvenile justice, appears to have substituted the word Unitarianism for Wahhabism. He has admitted that the substitution, which came under fire from religious commentators, was not appropriate. In a statement issued yesterday, Professor O'Connor acknowledged his article "relied on several sources, and requires further clarity on Unitarianism".

"The article was based on material provided by senior staff and in pulling it together, a small number of sentences were not directly attributed; this was not intentional," he said in the statement. "It was prepared as a newspaper article for Thursday's Australian aiming to put the issue into context and communicate to the public the importance of the work of Griffith's Islamic Research Unit."

In September, Professor O'Connor expressed concern about Wikipedia and web-based research. "I am somewhat more ambivalent about Wikipedia: it and other sites in the world wide web seem to be changing social negotiation and the transfer of knowledge," he said in a paper presented with fellow academic Gavin Moodie. Wikipedia itself advises "special caution" when its material is used as a source for research projects. Professor O'Connor denies that by lifting sentences from Wikipedia he has breached his university's guidelines on plagiarism. The Griffith University council, of which Professor O'Connor is an ex-officio member, considers plagiarism an example of academic misconduct.

The policy - approved by the council on March 5 last year - defines plagiarism as "knowingly presenting the work or property of another person as if it were one's own". It gives an example of plagiarism as "word for word copying of sentences or paragraphs from one or more sources which are the work or data of other persons (including books, articles, thesis, unpublished works, working papers, seminar and conference papers, internal reports, lecture notes or tapes) without clearly identifying their origin by appropriate referencing".

Professor O'Connor yesterday tried to distance himself from the university's standards. "It was not as a piece of academic scholarship, therefore did not follow normal citation methods used in academic publications," he said. On Wednesday, Professor O'Connor published a full copy of his opinion piece on the Griffith website. Yesterday, the university added references to Wikipedia as footnotes.

Griffith University council member Dwight Zakus, senior lecturer at the university's Department of Tourism, Leisure, Hotel and Sports Management, said he "strongly discouraged" his students from using Wikipedia as an academic reference. He said it was "problematic" for Professor O'Connor not to acknowledge he used Wikipedia as a source for his piece for The Australian.

But Henry Smerdon, Griffith deputy chancellor and university council member, told The Weekend Australian Professor O'Connor had his support. "As far as I'm concerned and as far as a wide section of the university is concerned, Ian is an outstanding academic, an outstanding leader and an outstanding human being and that has been proven on many occasions," he said. Mr Smerdon - a former under-treasurer in the state Treasury Department - said Professor O'Connor told him the opinion article was researched by senior staff. "He said it was unintentional and he probably realises that in the heat of the moment he could have been a little more careful," he said. He said there needed to be "a distinction drawn" between a response to criticisms in a newspaper and academic work.

Professor O'Connor's use of the term Unitarianism has also drawn criticism from ABC religion journalists and commentators Rachael Kohn, John Cleary and Stephen Crittenden, as well as the Henry Thornton website. "Ian O'Connor's equation of Wahhabism and Salafism with Unitarianism is utter nonsense," the ABC commentators wrote. "Unitarianism emerged as a liberal Christian movement and gained ground in the early years of American democracy."

Professor O'Connor now admits the term was misused. "Responding to today's Australian article, which criticised my use of the word Unitariaism in the article, I draw on the expertise of Dr Mohamad Abdalla, director of our Islamic Research Institute, who is one of Australia's most highly regarded Islamic scholars, to clarify the issue," he said. "Dr Abdalla confirms the more correct label is Muwahiddun, rather than the popular but problematic term Wahhabism."


Children in Australia's boom State may be forced to go elsewhere for surgery

WA children could be forced to travel interstate for surgery because Princess Margaret Hospital can't cope with the booming population, staff at the hospital have warned. A six-day-old boy recently had to undergo heart surgery in the Eastern States purely because there was not enough theatre space at PMH. The boy was transferred to Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne.

The state's only children's heart surgeon Dr David Andrews warned that it could become a trend. He said that theatre space at PMH was reaching "critical'' condition. "We have had no increase in theatre space since I started (at PMH) eight years ago,'' Dr Andrews said. "There is no spare theatres... everyone has to juggle around and try to be available when they are not normally available so they can use the theatre when it's free. "I know a lot of staff are doing out of hours surgery or changing around private operating lists so they can be free when there is a spare spot at PMH. "It is getting harder and the patients are getting shuffled more to fit in. "The (Health) Minister (Jim McGinty) has all the information that the workload has gone up.''

There has been a 20 per cent increase in WA births in the past two years. It is expected a record 30,000 babies will be born in the state this year.

Opposition Health spokesman Dr Kim Hames said the State Government must announce their future plans for PMH. "They need to be getting on with it now before building prices get significantly worse,'' Dr Hames said. "We've been saying over and over again that this needs to happen now.''

Australian Medical Association vice-president Dr Gary Geelhoed said the boom in population could mean more local children are sent interstate for surgery unless PMH woes were addressed. "This will be inevitably happening in the future and more frequently if nothing changes in terms of resources available,'' Dr Geelhoed. "In the recent past they have sent one child (interstate) not because there was a clinical need but because they just couldn't fit it into the schedule here. "The equation of having the doctors, enough theatre space and ICU space was such that they just couldn't do it.''

Dr Geelhoed said interstate trips for child surgery could be problematic. "Medical risk aside, clearly the cost involved and the inconvenience to the families is a major thing,'' Dr Geelhoed said.

Dr Andrews said he was frustrated that the future of PMH was still undecided. 'There is no direction. They still haven't announced where PMH is heading,'' Dr Andrews said. "In the meantime, they need to acknowledge that the birth rate has gone up therefore the attendances to the hospital have gone up. "Every department will tell you they are under strain compared to what they used to be.''

A PMH nurse, who did not want to be named for fear of losing her job, said that WA urgently needed a bigger children's hospital. She said that PMH's Intensive Care Unit, which only has 10 beds, was running to maximum capacity. "We need a bigger children's hospital in WA,'' she said. "Children are forced to fly interstate because we just don't have the facilities to accommodate them. "As a booming state with such an exceptional increase in population, the government is severely lacking in its consideration of the children of the future.''

The nurse said a lack of government funding and red-tape was jeopardising patient care. "Late last year a five-year-old boy came in for an MRI scan on the weekend,'' she said. "We don't have government funding to use the MRI on the weekend so that child had to be kept under spinal precaution until Monday. "It was a situation that could have quite easily been managed if we could have had that scan.''



Two current articles below

Your regulators will protect you (1)

The State Government should publish online "report cards" for doctors so the public can judge their competency, the daughter of a woman who died after an obesity operation said yesterday. Leesa MacLeod's mother Ursula died in 2003 after having a biliary pancreatic diversion - which involves a radical reduction of the stomach and small intestine. Ms MacLeod said yesterday her mother, who was 57, would not have allowed Gold Coast surgeon Russell Broadbent to operate had she known there were questions about his skills.

Dr Broadbent faces suspension or deregistration for his allegedly incompetent surgical and post-operative treatment on at least 11 patients. Court documents have revealed that six of the surgeon's former patients who had radical surgery to combat obesity suffered severe complications. Three of the six died. The Medical Board of Queensland was granted leave in the Health Practitioners Tribunal yesterday to refer the names of two more patients to the tribunal for investigation after receiving an expert opinion into their treatment.

Ms MacLeod said her mother's treatment had been appalling and that she had been living a nightmare since her death more than four years ago. She said prospective patients would benefit from a system where a doctor's record - including success and mortality rates - was transparent. The Medical Board began proceedings against the surgeon in the tribunal late last year following a complaint from Ms MacLeod.

The board has also taken up the complaints of five other former patients of Dr Broadbent's, all of whom allege they received surgical procedures that resulted in complications. One of those patients has already sued Dr Broadbent and received $650,000 in damages in an out-of-court settlement. Dr Broadbent's operations took place between 2000 and 2007 in the Allamanda and Pindara private hospitals on the Gold Coast.

The board alleges that Dr Broadbent failed to manage and treat Mrs MacLeod's fluid intake and renal function after the operation. The board further says he failed to investigate her persistent vomiting, diarrhoea and rectal bleeding and that he failed to start treatment for septicaemia in a timely manner. It also accuses the doctor of failing to refer Mrs MacLeod to other specialists to assist in the investigation of her deterioration. Civil proceedings have been launched in the Supreme Court on behalf of Ms McLeod. The matter will again be mentioned before the tribunal in two weeks.


Your regulators will protect you (2)

Every time Dr Cynthia Weinstein's head pops up in the news, I get a little shock. Not just because her face looks like it has been tightly stretched, burned and painted. No, what most shocks me about seeing her face is that Dr Cynthia Weinstein is still allowed to work as a doctor. I believe she should have been struck off years ago.

I first met Cynthia Weinstein 12 years ago when investigating a story about professional standards in the cosmetic surgery business. I saw her operate on patients wearing her civilian clothes and without the obvious, usual scrubbing up. I saw the silicone she had stored for injecting into patients' faces, even though this was not an approved procedure.

One poor young woman had turned up for skin treatment and Cynthia Weinstein told her that if she didn't also have eyelid surgery she could go blind. It was all dangerous baloney, as explained by a reputable surgeon I showed my tapes to. I later found out that Dr Weinstein had also offered this particular patient a discount if she was filmed for my TV report. Sounds a lot like inappropriate inducement. It all went horribly wrong, of course, and I was not allowed to see the suffering patient after surgery because, as Dr Weinstein told me with no hint of irony, the woman was in pain and having trouble seeing.

The crucial question then and now is, how best can the public be protected from the likes of Dr Cynthia Weinstein? Dr Weinstein is currently up before the board for professional misconduct for the third time. In a spectacular case of deja vu, she is facing allegations that she messed up the surgeries of six patients and performed cosmetic procedures that she was banned from doing.

This set of allegations may or may not be proved. The main point, it seems to me, is that what already has been proved against her should be more than sufficient to retire her. Dr Weinstein has been found guilty of being grossly professionally negligent by subjecting patients to treatment by unqualified personnel. She is also guilty of ripping off Medicare and has a criminal conviction from the County Court. She is now quibbling with what surgery means, arguing if she cuts her patients with a laser instead of scalpel she's not really operating on them.

I've heard people say its hard to feel sympathy for anyone who chooses to have treatment from someone who looks like Cynthia Weinstein. But the question of appearances can do weird things to people's heads, so to speak. It seems reasonable to assume that the woman's face is not what you'd call a good advertisement for her line of work. And yet there are many, many people who think otherwise. The patient I met who was talked into having her eyes done told me she thought Cynthia's face was gorgeous and a credit to her profession. Seriously.

Cynthia herself seems very happy with the way she looks. She did her own phenol skin peel years ago and now appears to me to have skin resembling shiny plastic. Her nose appears to be a fraction of its former size and her cheeks appear strangely bulbous and sited high on her skull. She looks thin enough to snap in a mild breeze. A colleague of Dr Weinstein's has told the Practitioners Board that patients flock to Cynthia because of her looks. And it's true, she sees an average of 25 patients a day. Fair enough if this is anyone's idea of beauty, we live in a free society.

But while we can't protect people from themselves, we can help protect them from unprofessional or negligent medical practitioners.


Friday, April 25, 2008


Australia's main national day today, when we remember members of our families who died in the many wars where Australian troops have lent a hand to other people far away across the sea. And in one case -- the war with Japan -- we were actually threatened ourselves.

In WWII, the Japanese were stopped in their advance through New Guinea towards Australia by the CMF -- the "weekend warriors" of whom I was myself once a part. There are few weekend warriors any more. I myself served full-time for part of my enlistment and half of the American army in Iraq is made up of reservists. The CMF is now referred to simply as the "Reserves".

Commemoration of Anzac day traditionally includes attendance at an interdenominational "Dawn service" -- held at dawn to commemorate the time when the original Anzacs landed at Gallipoli. After that there is a huge march through the city featuring "ex-diggers" (former members of the military) and their relatives. It is a long time since I have attended the service or watched the march but my heart nonetheless goes out to the families who have lost loved-ones. Perhaps fortunately, the relatives I lost were distant ones whom I never knew personally.

But this evening I will do one very Australian thing: I will attend a family BBQ to celebrate a birthday. The picture above is from Brisbane's shrine of remembrance. It is most pleasing to note that the commemoration seems to get bigger every year -- with many young people involved.

"Right to speak extinguished"

The heading above appears today on an article about the progression of the Olympic torch through Canberra. But it could have been about lots of other places as well. The "right to speak" that was extinguished was in fact the right to harass and disrupt a legitimate and peaceful sporting activity. Like most people in the Western world, I think that the Chinese occupation of Tibet is deplorable but that the authorities have the obligation to erect barricades etc to protect the torch-bearers from aggressive Leftist demonstrators is also undisputable to any reasonable person. It was not the right to speak that was suppressed but the right to make an arsehole of yourself.

If attention-seeking Leftist demonstrators could be relied on to act peacefully, there would no doubt have been the right and opportunity to hold up any number of placards etc. but we know how peaceful the preachers of peace in fact are so if anybody suppressed the right of people to speak it was the thugs who made countermeasures to their aggression necessary.

And that the Chinese sent counter-demonstrators to protest against the protestors is entirely proper in a democratic society. It's an inevitable consequence of taking your politics to the street. But it was not the Chinese who initiated that. Both sides are entitled to their say and if one side uses disruptive tactics the same is to be expected back.

The writer of the article is however a depressed and alcoholic drug abuser so perhaps he can be forgiven his stupidity and bias. How a piece so lacking in balance and perspective got published in "The Australian" is the real mystery. I guess it was seen as something that would give Leftists a horn.

Only months in jail for participants in vicious pack attack

These sentences must be appealed

The ringleader of a vicious gang attack that left an off-duty police officer lying unconscious in a pool of blood has walked free from court. Appearing in Southport District Court yesterday, Tiani Slockee, 18, was identified as the instigator of a brutal and unprovoked attack on Constable Rawson Armitage and his girlfriend, Michelle Dodge, at Coolangatta in November. Three of the nine teens who pleaded guilty to the assault were sent to jail by Judge John Newton, who ruled that Slockee, who spent 91 days in custody after the incident, did not have to spend any more time behind bars.

Judge Newton was condemning of Slockee's role in the bashing but decided against further jail time. "Neither of these attacks would have happened if it wasn't for your disgraceful behaviour," Judge Newton said. The Chinderah teenager, who left the court in tears with her terminally ill grandmother, said she was sorry for her actions. But some of her colleagues did not appear as upset, laughing and joking as they smoked cigarettes with friends outside the building.

The court was told that after an initial altercation between Slockee and Constable Armitage, the rest of the group joined the attack "like a pack of animals", leaving Miss Dodge fearing her boyfriend had been bashed to death. Harley Trindall, 18, was ordered to spend the next four months behind bars, in addition to the five months he has spent in custody since November for being one of the main players in the bashing.

His girlfriend, a 17-year-old captured on CCTV footage leaving the scene with clumps of Miss Dodge's hair in her hand, sobbed when the sentence was delivered, although she escaped detention and was instead placed on two years' probation. Two other males, aged 15 and 16, were each sentenced to 15 months' detention for stomping Constable Armitage's head as he lay unconscious on the ground.

Judge Newton said the behaviour of the 15-year-old, who grabbed on to a nearby fence to gain better leverage to jump on the officer's head, was disgraceful. "Your conduct was the most despicable of the entire assault," he said. "How you can jump on a man's head on two occasions as he lies helpless on the ground simply defies comprehension."

Each will serve about half of that time behind bars. The others were placed on probation, while an 11-year-old boy has pleaded not guilty to any role in the attack. He will face Southport Magistrate's Court next month.


Cancer patient at death's door as a result of gross public hospital negligence

A dying woman has won a settlement from the Melbourne hospital she says misdiagnosed the cancer that will soon claim her life. The 52-year-old has been told she will die in the coming weeks from pancreatic cancer, which she claims grew unchecked for a year after Western Hospital doctors noticed a lump but failed to investigate further. The woman won an undisclosed sum from Western Health, which she sued for robbing her of a chance to overcome the disease.

She is in hospital and too sick to be interviewed, and asked not to be named. But she asked that her story be publicised, so hospitals would be forced to be more accountable and other patients would not suffer through misdiagnosis. A statement of claim lodged with the Supreme Court this month alleged that the woman had gone to the Footscray hospital in August 2006 suffering abdominal pain, and that a CT scan revealed a 1cm lump in her pancreas. She claimed that despite recommendations for further tests, informal reports advising doctors to perform a biopsy and a surgeon later suggesting the mass may need to be cut out, the lump was not investigated; instead, she was diagnosed as having mild gastritis and duodenitis, and referred back to her doctor.

A year later, she went back to the hospital in crippling pain and the lump was found to have grown to 11cm. She claimed that on Christmas Eve, doctors revealed they believed that the mass was cancer, and was spreading. By January, it was confirmed as a metastatic adenocarcinoma with widespread tumours in her liver, and complications to her portal vein and spleen. Chemotherapy could not overcome the cancer.

Arnold Thomas and Becker solicitor Larry Dent said his client had made a determined stand for other patients. "It is important that the issue of patients being lost in the system and lost to follow-up is dealt with," he said. "The root cause of this problem is that this lady was lost to follow-up. "If anyone thinks there is something wrong, they should first seek medical advice, and then legal advice if they think they are not getting anywhere. And they should not let it go."

A spokeswoman for Western Health, which did not admit liability, said the hospital could not comment on the case or the confidential settlement of it. "We are extremely sensitive to what she is going through at the moment in terms of her cancer and the impact it is having on her and her family," Anne Learmonth said. "However, we can't say much more than that."


Warmist prophecies all washed up

RAIN sure is falling this week on the parade of our global warming alarmists. Wettest of all is Tim Flannery, who was made Australian of the Year last year for wailing the world was doomed. We were making the planet heat so fast with our filthy gases, Flannery insisted, that the ice caps were vanishing and we had to "picture an eight-storey building by a beach, then imagine waves lapping its roof". No scare seemed too absurd for this Alarmist of the Year. "I think there is a fair chance Perth will be the 21st century's first ghost metropolis," he groaned. But buy his The Weather Makers before you flee.

Reporters solemnly reported even this: "He (Flannery) also predicts that the ongoing drought could leave Sydney's dams dry in just two years." And when did he say that? Oh, three years ago? Yet what do I read in my papers yesterday but this: "Sydney's run of rainy days in a row - 11 - is the most in April for 77 years." And Sydney's dams? Above 65 per cent capacity now, and rising.

How embarrassing for Flannery and others in the scary weather business. No wonder the NSW Bureau of Meteorology yesterday complained "the rain was getting people down". I bet. So it was probably no surprise Flannery didn't turn up at the Rudd Government's ideas summit last weekend to talk more about how warming was dooming Sydney, despite being issued a gold-edged invitation.

He flew to Canada instead to tell their yokels to cut gases like the ones he just blew out the back of his jet, and talked warming with British Columbia's Premier and businessmen. But once again Flannery picked the wrong time and place to preach his warming gospel. A local paper reports: "In some regions of usually balmy British Columbia, many were caught by surprise by a storm that moved in late Friday and set snowfall records in Nanaimo, Victoria and Vancouver."

How the weather mocks Flannery. He's flooded in Sydney, where he predicted drought, and snowed in in Canada when he predicted heat. It turns out, in fact, that Flannery is a metaphor for a wider phenomenon - in which our most honoured warming alarmists are finding the weather not conforming to what they predicted. Most significantly, the world has failed to warm above the record of 1998, and last year cooled dramatically, according to all four big monitoring centres.

And with solar activity now unusually low, a small but growing number of scientists is speculating we may be entering a period of cooling - far more dangerous than warming. Indeed, geophysicist Phil Chapman, the first Australian astronaut with NASA, this week put the likelihood of global cooling at 50-50.

Even Rajendra Pachauri, head of the UN panel that shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore for whipping up global warming panic, says he'd check the apparent pause in warming so far this century, asking: "Are there natural factors compensating?" Natural factors may indeed be at play, drenching Flannery in Sydney, chilling him in Canada, and giving a cold shower to the rest of us, warning us to at least check the predictions of a Flannery with the facts outside. Verdict? Cool it on the overheating.


Thursday, April 24, 2008

"Dangerous" medals?? What utter rot!

More "security" stupidity

The Returned Services League has called for military personnel and veterans carry to be allowed to carry their medals with them on commercial flights. RSL national president Major General Bill Crews said he knew of at least one incident in which a veteran was told by airport security he could not bring medals on board an aircraft because of the security risk.

Maj-Gen Crews said airports should show more trust. "Airport security and the government in particular should recognise that people carrying medals are those whose own service is distinguished by those medals and who have the trust of the community," Maj-Gen Crews said on ABC radio. "And surely there can be an exemption made because of the importance of having those medals with you for various occasions."

Maj-Gen Crews said many veterans did not wish to place their medals in checked-in luggage because they were afraid it could get lost. Veterans travelling to funerals often travelled lightly and carried only their medals and cabin luggage, he said. "Those who dictate the security arrangements at airfields ... should make it clear that an exemption applies for those carrying medals of their own," Maj-Gen Crews said.


NSW public hospital kills cop

Concord Hospital and a leading specialist have been secretly [SECRETLY?? How obnoxious!] disciplined by the Health Care Complaints Commission after a patient was found dead on the floor in the middle of the night. Widow Jacqui Day complained about the treatment of her husband Andy, a top undercover police officer, after an anonymous letter from nurses at the hospital said: "Mr Day should not have died." Detective Inspector Day, 45, was being treated for pneumonia and died when his oxygen tube fell out of its wall tap for the second time in six hours.

After an inquiry behind closed doors, the HCCC found that Concord, a major teaching hospital, had provided below standard care to Mr Day "in a number of respects", The Daily Telegraph can reveal. The commission also found that Professor Matthew Peters, the head of respiratory medicine at the hospital, had "departed from the acceptable standard of care" in two areas. He was referred to the Medical Board's conduct committee for "counselling" for not transferring Mr Day to the intensive care unit and for failing to appropriately monitor his oxygen needs.

Mrs Day will today appear before the Government's special commission of inquiry into the state's ailing health system, sitting at Concord, to demand answers and ask why the complaints procedure is shrouded in such secrecy. There was evidence before the HCCC from four medical experts that Mr Day should have been moved to intensive care. Professor Peters told the inquiry there were no intensive care beds available and Mr Day did not want to be moved.

The commission's report, obtained by The Daily Telegraph, said there had been at least one bed available on five of the eight days Mr Day was in hospital and there was no record in the medical notes of Mr Day's comments. "In 2008, you can't leave your loved one in a public hospital on their own," Mrs Day said yesterday, adding that all adverse HCCC findings should be made public. "I still do not know how a 45-year-old man can be admitted to hospital and die on the floor in the middle of the night."

It will be Mrs Day's first visit to the hospital since her husband died at 3.30am on November 14, 2003, after eight days treatment. The HCCC took 18 months on its inquiry. The anonymous letter from nurses was sent to the coroner who conducted a 2006 inquest into Mr Day's death. The cause of death was recorded as a lack of oxygen "due to displacement of oxygen supply", however coroner John Abernethy found Mr Day's condition was so serious he would have died even with different care.

HCCC executive officer Kim Swan said legislation limited what the commission could release to the public. The Medical Board did not return calls. Professor Peters is overseas.


Literature classes still to be used for Leftist propaganda

TRADITIONAL literature and Shakespeare have made a comeback in the new draft English syllabus for school seniors, but academics and teachers are not happy. Under the proposed shake-up, Year 12 students will have to study in-depth at least one literary novel and a Shakespeare play, as well as the more trendy multi-media works scorned by some literary academics. The new syllabus is slightly more prescriptive on which books and plays should be studied, but critics say it also champions so-called "critical literacy" which encourages students to read texts through an ideological prism rather than for the simple joy of reading.

The current senior English syllabus allowed texts such as Shakespeare and novels to be "studied at different depths for different purposes" over the course of years 11 and 12. But the proposed new version insisted Year 12 students must study 15 to 20 literary texts in-depth, at least one of which should be a "complete novel" and another a complete drama text, "usually a Shakespearean drama".

The planned new syllabus followed a review of the existing syllabus by University of Queensland executive Dean of Arts, Professor Richard Fotheringham, who is an expert on Shakespeare's works.

Griffith University literary historian Professor Pat Buckridge said the draft syllabus paid "lip service" to structural change in how senior English was taught. "It has made an attempt to accommodate what I assume was the review's recommendations, but it is largely cosmetic," he said. "Appreciating texts is still not assessed. Literary criticism is still not a basic requirement."

The new draft syllabus suggested a range of approaches to texts which teachers could use including the perspective of cultural heritage, values some works emphasised more than others and critical literacy, with its social justice and ideology emphasis.

English Teachers Association of Queensland president Garry Collins described the changes as a "step back in time". "It seems to be saying you can choose any approach you like and away you go," he said. "Texts do not exist in a vacuum." Mr Collins said there should be a moratorium on any changes until current reviews were finished and national plans outlined.


Blame the "planners" for high cost housing

For more than 50 years the average Australian was able to buy their first home on the average wage. Traditionally, the median house price was about three times the median household income. Today, in Adelaide, Melbourne and Brisbane, the median house price is more than six times the median income; in Sydney and Perth, it is more than eight times.

In 2006 former Reserve Bank of Australia governor Ian Macfarlane asked: "Why has the price of an entry-level new home gone up as much as it has? Why is it not like it was in 1951 when my parents moved to East Bentleigh, which was the fringe of Melbourne at that stage, and were able to buy a block of land very cheaply and put a house on it very cheaply? I think it is pretty apparent now that reluctance to release new land, plus the new approach whereby the purchaser has to pay for all the services up-front - the sewerage, the roads, the footpaths and all that sort of stuff - has enormously increased the price of the new, entry-level home."

Until the 1970s, land was abundant and affordable, and the development of new suburbs was largely left to the private sector. Our pre-'70s leafy suburbs of large allotments and wide streets are an enduring testimony to the private sector approach. Enter state and territory government land management agencies which, since their inception, have been responsible for astronomical rises in land prices, leading to astronomical mortgage costs. This escalation in land prices, in turn, has pushed up the cost of rental accommodation, road widening and key infrastructure projects, establishing schools, community centres and health services, and so on.

State and territory governments were spurred on by an urban planning cheer squad obsessed with curbing the size of our cities and pushing a policy of urban consolidation. The case for urban consolidation was that it was good for the environment, stemmed the loss of agricultural land, encouraged people on to public transport, saved water, led to a reduction in car use and saved on infrastructure costs for government. None of this is true. By promoting urban consolidation while demonising growth, planners have inflicted enormous damage on the economy and society, and politicians and public servants should stop listening to them.

The economic consequences have been as profound as they have been damaging. The capital structure of our economy has been distorted to the tune of many hundreds of billions of dollars and getting it back into alignment will take time.

California, birthplace of the sub-prime mortgage industry, is paying the highest price of any US state as the housing meltdown there persists. By the end of the year, property values in that state alone will have fallen by $US600 billion. California also has one of the strictest urban planning regimes in the world. It and Florida, another highly regulated urban planning regime, account for about 70 per cent to 80 per cent of all sub-prime losses in the US. Foreclosure losses, however, are significantly lower in low urban planning states such as Texas and Georgia. Like most epidemics, the US sub-prime mortgage housing crisis can be traced back to this one source: urban planning laws. The credit crisis is the direct result of unprecedented house price inflation caused by urban planning policies.

In Australia, the housing affordability problem, mortgage stress and the rental crisis are all caused by the same thing.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Prepare for new Ice Age, says Australian scientist

This has aired on Australian TV

Sunspot activity has not resumed after hitting an 11-year low in March last year, raising fears that - far from warming - the globe is about to return to an Ice Age. Geophysicist Phil Chapman, the first Australian to become an astronaut with NASA, said pictures from the US Solar and Heliospheric Observatory showed there were currently no spots on the sun.

He said the world cooled quickly between January last year and January this year, by about 0.7C. "This is the fastest temperature change in the instrumental record, and it puts us back to where we were in 1930," Dr Chapman writes in The Australian today. "If the temperature does not soon recover, we will have to conclude that global warming is over."

The Bureau of Meteorology says temperatures in Australia have been warmer than the 1960-90 average since the late 1970s, barring a couple of cooler years, and are now 0.3C higher than the long-term average.

A sunspot is a region on the sun that is cooler than the rest and appears dark. Some scientists believe a strong solar magnetic field, when there is plenty of sunspot activity, protects the earth from cosmic rays, cutting cloud formation, but that when the field is weak - during low sunspot activity - the rays can penetrate into the lower atmosphere and cloud cover increases, cooling the surface.

But scientists from the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research published a report in 2006 that showed the sun had a negligible effect on climate change. The researchers wrote in the journal Nature that the sun's brightness varied by only 0.07per cent over 11-year sunspot cycles, and that that was far too little to account for the rise in temperatures since the Industrial Revolution.

Dr Chapman proposes preventive, or delaying, moves to slow the cooling, such as bulldozing Siberian and Canadian snow to make it dirty and less reflective. "My guess is that the odds are now at least 50:50 that we will see significant cooling rather than warming in coming decades," he writes.


His Eminence also says that global warming is over

By: Cardinal George Pell, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Sydney

Canada has just experienced the coldest winter and the heaviest snowfalls since 1970-1, which was called a once in a thousand years event. Another 18 centimetres of snow would set an all time record. A Kingston newspaper had a marvellous cartoon of a tough old Canadian, rugged up against the cold and hacking the ice off the windscreen of his car. The caption read "Global warming my a."!

In China the Chinese New Year coincided with a fierce cold snap and snow storms which prevented many city workers returning to their villages for the celebrations. Police had to deal with the ensuing riots. London has just experienced snow at Easter.

The world is much bigger than both China and Canada combined, which might be the exceptions to the new rule of man-made global warming, but they are inconvenient facts for the climate change bandwagon. And it is an intolerant bandwagon with loud exaggerated claims that the issue is settled and that an unchallenged consensus among scientists confirms the hypothesis of dangerous humanly caused global warming. In fact the issue is far from settled. Politicians sceptical of these claims would need unusual courage to resist the strong tides of public opinion. However the rest of us are not so constrained and we should consider all the available information. Three points are of some significance.

Last December more than 100 prominent international scientists, some of them members of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, warned the U.N. that attempting to control the earth's climate was "ultimately futile". So did 500 experts in Manhattan in March. Fighting climate change was distracting governments from helping the most vulnerable citizens adapt to the threat of inevitable natural climate changes, whatever they might prove to be. Futile attempts to prevent global climate change would be a tragic misallocation of resources, they claimed.

Secondly none of the natural changes observed with glaciers, sea-levels and species migration is outside the bounds of known variability, including the warming of 0.1 to 0.2 degrees Celsius per decade in the late twentieth century. But the 1930s decade was warmer than the 1990s. Most importantly the global temperature has not increased since 2001. Global warming has ceased (New Statesman 19/12/2007). This finding invalidates the global warming hypotheses because the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere continues to increase and the temperature should be increasing too. It isn't.

The last point to be acknowledged is that today's computer models cannot predict climate over long periods because there are too many unknowns and variables. We should never forget that while computers are miracles of human ingenuity, able to assimilate extraordinary amounts of information in the briefest time, they are also limited, cannot think for themselves and are totally obedient to their last human master. More than this is needed to predict the future.


Murderous African gangs come to Australia

Thanks to Australia's lax "refugee" policy

Eddie Spowart was stabbed to death because he didn't smoke and couldn't give a cigarette to a gang of youths who approached him at a train station yesterday. Horrified friends told The Daily Telegraph that the 54-year-old had been on the phone when the group of African males approached him at Granville Train Station about 12.45am. They asked him for a cigarette but when the Fijian qualified fitter, who moved to Australian in 1989, told them to go away because he didn't smoke things turned nasty, his long-time friend Tony Chand said. He was stabbed several times in his thigh, stomach and underneath his shoulder.

"He was waiting for a train in Granville - he was approached by a group of African boys. They asked him for a cigarette but Eddie didn't smoke - he told them that - one led to another and the next thing he just just collapsed," said Mr Chand who has known Mr Spowart since they were children in Fiji. "No one knew at first that he's been stabbed. "We're all upset, depressed and angry - no one can believe it. "Eddie would make friends with anybody, he wasn't a violent person. He just append to be in the wrong place at the wrong time - he was asked for a cigarette and was stabbed because he didn't have one."

Mr Spowart had been drinking with mates at a friends place and then a local pub in Granville before the stabbing. He had walked with a group of friends had walked to the Granville train station to catch a train home to the Westmead home he shared with his sister Elizabeth Spowart. Ms Spowart said she and her eight surviving brothers and sisters were shocked by the manner of Mr Spowart's death. "He was always joking, he was a very happy person, he never carried any weapons or anything of that sort," she said. "We're not coping with this well at all - the family are all coming from overseas and interstate. "No one can believe what has happened because he wasn't the type to go and fight and all that."

Mr Spowart was taken to Westmead Hospital but died several hours after the attack in Memorial Ave. Rosehill Local Area Command police, assisted by the State Crime Command Homicide Squad are investigating Mr Spowarts death. Police are appealing for anyone who may have witnessed the incident or noticed a group of black African males in the vicinity of Granville Railway Station, Memorial Avenue or near the bus interchange on Mary Street around 12.45am yesterday, to contact Rosehill Police or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.


Crookedness in an Australian public hospital

The head of The Alfred's intensive-care unit has been interviewed by the Ombudsman's office as part of an inquiry into billing practices at the Melbourne hospital. The Australian has been told the Ombudsman's office plans to examine the records of Alfred ICU director Carlos Scheinkestel as part of its inquiry. The revelation follows the resignation last week of trauma unit head Thomas Kossmann after a peer review found he was an incompetent surgeon who had rorted [misused] funds from compensation authorities, including Victoria's Transport Accident Commission. The Australian contacted Professor Scheinkestel yesterday but he refused to comment.

Professor Kossmann - who rejects the peer review's findings - faces the prospect of a criminal investigation into his billing practices and separate investigations from the TAC, Medicare and the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman's inquiry has extended beyond Professor Kossmann to a broad investigation into billing practices. The Alfred yesterday said the Ombudsman had not requested any information from it about Professor Scheinkestel. A spokesman said the intensive-care unit billed as a group so there was no way any one physician within the department stood to gain personally from any billing activity.

In January, Professor Scheinkestel was interviewed by the panel investigating Professor Kossmann and was asked about the German-born doctor's billing and surgical methods. But the interview was solely about the allegations concerning Professor Kossmann rather than anything to do with Professor Scheinkestel himself. It came after a deputy director in intensive care made a supportive submission to the panel about Professor Kossmann.

The panel, led by orthopedic specialist Bob Dickens, interviewed Professor Scheinkestel to see if he supported the submission. He told the panel he did not have sufficient knowledge or insight to comment on Professor Kossmann's surgical skills or billing methods.

Fresh allegations emerged last week when The Alfred accused Professor Kossmann of failing to declare hundreds of thousands of dollars allegedly owed to the hospital for surgery on TAC and workplace injury patients. He is also accused of getting a junior doctor to falsify a medical record to aid his defence. Professor Kossmann has denied all wrongdoing and on resigning said he was the victim of a witch-hunt.


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Kevvy's "stacked" summit

"Branch stacking" is a well-known ALP pursuit and Kevvy's selection of "delegates" for his ideas summit shows that he is a dab hand at it too. A few years ago, two thirds of Australians voted in favour of the monarchy. So did two thirds of Kevvy's delegates feel that way too? Read on:

Monarchists and some participants have left the 2020 Summit less than impressed. Those against severing ties with the Crown yesterday called the summit stacked after it was used to place the republic on the national agenda. A staggering 98 per cent of 2020 summiteers were confessed republicans. At the weekend, GetUp activist Brett Solomon asked those in the governance stream if anyone opposed a republic. Only one delegate, Liberal senator George Brandis, declared himself a monarchist. Former governor-general Sir William Deane [A well-known bleeding heart] abstained. "This is a better result than Mugabe has managed in the Zimbabwean elections," monarchist David Flint said.

It has also been revealed at least 10 per cent of participants were members of GetUp, the Left-leaning activist group. But it wasn't just the monarchists who were disillusioned. Former Australian Medical Association president Mukesh Haikerwal said many good ideas at the summit had been "lost in translation". "What was discussed on the groups, a lot dropped off or was unrecognisable," Dr Haikerwal said. "But more, some ideas got extremely high prominence when they were in no shape or form agreed to."

Clean Up Australia founder Ian Kiernan said the summit was a success but some good ideas had been ignored. "I was shut out at one stage," Mr Kiernan said. "I was told: 'You've had enough say'. I didn't appreciate that." Mr Kiernan also criticised the coal industry lobbyists in the environment group. "The coal industry is made up of multinationals, which mostly couldn't give a damn about the place," he said.

ANZ economist Saul Eslake said he enjoyed his weekend in the creative stream. But Mr Eslake expressed concern the event had been taken over by professional management consultants in the facilitators' roles.

Melbourne barrister Julian Burnside [A well-known Lefty], in the governance stream, said the summit went extraordinarily well. "There was excitement about it all, including from people with whom I would not normally be agreeing on things," Mr Burnside said.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd last night reaffirmed his commitment to a republic. "The Australia of the 21st century will be a republic," he told the ABC's 7.30 Report. Mr Rudd said he would proceed slowly. "We lost the last referendum nearly 10 years ago," he said. "We don't want to lose the next one." [The people must be made to vote correctly!]

Environment Minister Peter Garrett joined GetUp yesterday to launch a remix of the Kev Carmody-Paul Kelly song From Little Things Big Things Grow, featuring Mr Rudd and former PM Paul Keating.


Australia expands

Australia has secured a potential oil and gas "bonanza'' after netting an extra 2.5 million square kilometres of seabed. Exploration has already taken place in some of the areas that could potentially deliver the nation billions of dollars worth of oil and gas reserves and help secure its energy future. The extension to Australia's territorial jurisdiction stems from the findings of a United Nations commission on the limits of the continental shelf and the ratification of the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea. The decision gives Australia the rights to whatever exists on the seabed in the area, including oil and gas, and biological resources such as micro-organisms that could potentially be used to develop medicines.

Resources Minister Martin Ferguson said he could not put a figure on the potential oil and gas reserves contained in the areas, but that it was a major boost to Australia's offshore resource potential. "The truth of the matter is that they have been hardly explored,'' he said. "This is potentially a bonanza. We have got unknown capacity up there.''

Mr Ferguson said the UN decision means Australia now has jurisdiction over an area of the continental shelf that is almost five times the size of France, 10 times the size of New Zealand and 20 times the size of the United Kingdom. He said the decision also improves Australia's chances of securing its energy future, and that of other nations. "As you can appreciate when you sit down and talk to countries such as Japan, Korea, India and China the big issue they want from us is security of supply and that goes to the energy security debate,'' he said. "We do need to find another Bass Strait or alternatively develop alternative fuels, such as gas-to-liquids and coal liquids, because the issue of energy security goes squarely to the question of transport fuels.''

But the government has again ruled out exploration of the Antarctic mainland and waters around it. "We have always acknowledged the Antarctic treaty and already have locked in as a nation no minerals exploration in that Antarctic region,'' Mr Ferguson said. He also ruled out exploration of McDonald Island, west of Antarctica. "We've always as a nation basically treated that as off-limits.''

Mr Ferguson was unable to put a timeline on when oil companies might begin mining the seabed for oil or gas deposits. However, some "pre-competitive'' exploration has already taken place, revealing the areas included in the extended jurisdiction have the potential to yield some major gas and oil finds. Geoscience Australia geologist Mark Alcock, who was the project leader for the Law of the Sea and Maritime Boundaries Project, said the Great Australian Bight, Lord Howe Rise, south west of Lord Howe Island, and the Wallaby and Exmouth Plateaus all had mining potential. "Surveys are being undertaken in the Lord Howe Rise region ... looking at the petroleum prospectivity of the seabed in that area,'' he said. It's one of the areas Geoscience Australia has been looking at for this pre-competitive work ... (and) there are similarities with areas that oil has been found in closer to Australia.''

Mr Alcock said that of greenfield areas that had been explored, the Great Australian Bight was considered to be quite "prospective''. "The Great Australian Bight has been looked at to some extent (and) is probably considered a little more prospective than Lord Howe Rise - it's a bit more conventional as a place to find oil,'' he said. "There's evidence in particular that there are source rocks in the region, rocks that will produce oil ... it's in fact there's very large pile of sediments and you find oil in these sediments.''

He said the Wallaby and Exmouth Plateaus in the west also had potential. "They're areas that are lying west of the big gas fields that are found in Western Australia. The Exmouth Plateau in particular is considered prospective, obviously because it's a major gas province in the in-shore.'' Mr Alcock said it was possible that some of the areas under pre-competitive exportation could go to tender within the next couple of years.


Illiteracy blamed for shortage of skills

The high level of illiteracy is contributing to Australia's dramatic skill shortage, the nation's key small business group says. The Council of Small Business of Australia chief executive Tony Steven said data which showed almost half of the adult population had difficulty with literacy and numeracy was a "major impediment" to employment. "This is a matter that deserves urgent attention to address a presently unsatisfactory situation," he said. "Inadequate literacy and numeracy skills mean that even in a time of severe skill shortage many job applicants have to be rejected."

According to the ABS Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey 2006, 45.2 per cent of South Australians aged 15 to 74 have skills below the basic level required to deal with everyday life. The survey found that 45.2 per cent have difficulty in literacy such as reading newspapers, 45.9 per cent have difficulty with document literacy such as bus timetables and 45.9 per cent have difficulty with simple mathematics. Mr Steven said the burden of this deficiency would be felt by the individual and by their family, their community and eventually by the state.

"Low levels of literacy mean that a person does not have the ability to gain adequate knowledge about any subject or matter and therefore they will always be deficient in performance in all aspects of their life," he said.


Lord mayors, Rudd to talk binge drinking

Hey! I've got a great idea: Why not try prohibition>?

Binge drinking will be a key topic for discussion when Australia's capital city lord mayors meet Prime Minister Kevin Rudd this afternoon. Adelaide Lord Mayor Michael Harbison will lead the group, which will also consider issues such as traffic congestion, climate change and broadband. Mr Harbison says cities are a typical environment for binge drinking. "The Prime Minister is very concerned about the issue of binge drinking," he said. "There's no doubt that this is an issue that principally takes place in cities, but this is an issue that we can work together to manage and we welcome the Prime Minister's interest in the issue."

Mr Harbison says the meeting will also need to concentrate on the need for affordable housing that brings residents closer to essential services. "In a way that offers much better access to social services, to health services, educational services and indeed quality of life to people that are occupying affordable housing, rather than an approach which is the continuous extension of urban boundaries," he said.


Monday, April 21, 2008

Queensland auditor blasts shoddy reports

State government departments are spending billions every year with little explanation about whether taxpayers are getting value for money. In a scathing attack on the government's accountability, Auditor-General Glenn Poole said that an audit of departmental annual report found they were incomplete, ambiguous and lacked relevant information.

Mr Poole said the reports failed to detail whether agencies had achieved annual goals, had performed better than the previous year and whether they could have done so for less money. And there was no guarantee the information was accurate because they were not independently checked.

Mr Poole warned Queensland could miss out on lucrative commonwealth payments if it did not improve its accountability. "The information provided to Parliament through departmental annual reports does not fully comply with legislation, is incomplete and ambiguous in the portrayal of agency accountability and performance," the watchdog's report said. "Parliament is provided with reports on how busy agencies are rather than on what has been achieved for the community. "This makes it hard for Parliament to judge the efficiency, effectiveness and economy of the use of public monies."

Premier Anna Bligh conceded the report's findings were "unacceptable", while Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg said it was proof of the "culture of secrecy" within the Government,. "In my whole time in Parliament. I don't think I've ever seen an Auditor-General report which has been so damning, Mr Springborg said.

Ms Bligh said she would meet With all directors-general to discuss the problems and reforms would begin immediately, with most implemented for the 2008-09 financial year. "Those directors-general will be told that things must change. They will be told in no uncertain terms that I will be examining that on the basis of their contracts," she said. "None of this is acceptable. The taxpayers of this state deserve and expect better performance from their public service and it is my job to deliver it."

In a further embarrassment to the Government, a separate report tabled yesterday from the Service Delivery and Performance Commission, headed by former Beattie government director-general Leo Keliher, recommended no changes to existing annual reporting requirements. However, the commission was critical of the Office of the Public Service Commissioner, saying it was "unable to demonstrate the independence and leadership to fulfil its role effectively".

The above article by Rosemary Odgers & Steven Wardill appeared in the Brisbane "Courier Mail" on 18 April, 2008

Government school ignores bullying

A FOURTEEN-year-old boy says he fears being attacked every day he goes to school after being kicked in the groin, punched in the head and suffering broken ribs. Callum Goold has been taken by ambulance to hospital three times this year - twice after alleged attacks by older students and once after an epileptic fit possibly triggered by stress. Now the Craigieburn Secondary College student's parents are threatening to sue his school. That comes two months after another student took out a court order out against classmates at the college, saying they were making his life a misery.

The Goold family says the school must crack down on bullies so Callum can continue studying there. The year 9 student said he was first attacked in December while at school, resulting in broken ribs. Just before Easter, he said, he was walking across the oval when he was struck in the head twice in an unprovoked attack. He said he lay unconscious for several minutes and received no help from teachers, instead having to drag himself to reception, where he collapsed and an ambulance was called. Then last Tuesday he said he was kicked twice in the testicles. His doctor advised his parents to call the police following the latest alleged attack.

Worried parents Richard and Belinda Goold said yesterday "enough is enough". "One of these days he's going to get seriously hurt," Mrs Goold said. Mr Goold said they had told the school of their worries about their son's safety, but nothing was done. They would sue the school if action was not taken to stop bullying.

Callum said increased stress caused him to have more epileptic seizures than he had previously and he feared long-term damage from the attacks. "I'm scared of what's going to happen to me if they keep hitting me in the head," he said. Craigieburn Secondary College assistant principal Rob Chisholm said: "What happened to Callum had nothing to do with our policies."


Legal tyranny getting worse

At the grandiose conference held at the weekend, no one appeared to be grappling with the social cancer of our time: the rising tide of litigation, compulsion, intrusion, the creeping sense of entitlement over obligation, the proliferation of tribunals. Australia is becoming a society under the rule of lawyers, not laws. What goes on in our courtrooms and tribunals bears only a passing resemblance to the moral code by which the vast bulk of society lives and which maintains social cohesion.

This stark divide was distilled, unintentionally, in the April issue of the Law Society Journal, in a review of The Making of Me, by Tegan Wagner, the story of her gang rape, her ordeal with the legal system and her efforts to reclaim her life. The book is reviewed by Andrew Haesler, SC, who happens to be one of the three senior barristers who cross-examined Wagner, then 17, over a period of three days.

After offering faint praise, Haesler writes: "Her desperate desire for affirmation and self-righteous tone irritates, in a way the parents of a teenager would know. Tegan is not a dispassionate observer. Her critique of the trial process suffers as a consequence . "Tegan claims she was raped by three brothers. Only two were convicted. I acted for the brother who was acquitted. There were sound reasons for that acquittal. Tegan's 'fairer' system would have seen my client jailed for a very long time. Her rapes were unjust and wrong, but so, too, would be the conviction and long-term imprisonment of an innocent boy."

Excuse me while I go and vomit. Innocent Boy had already been convicted of gang rape. Twice. He was serving time in jail after being sentenced by Justice Brian Sully on April 22, 2004, more than a year before Wagner was cross-examined in May 2005. Innocent Boy avoided trial by jury because his elder brother, and co-accused, had deliberately aborted the trial. Innocent Boy avoided conviction in this matter because Justice Peter Hidden, even though he made it clear to Wagner that he did not doubt the veracity of her testimony, said he could not convict in the absence of any corroborating evidence. Innocent Boy is now the subject of a fourth gang-rape complaint, completely independent of the three earlier gang-rape cases.

As for Haesler's advocacy on behalf of Innocent Boy, I was in court at the time and this is a taste of what I saw: Haesler: "I suggest that in your evidence . you invented much of what happened in the bedroom?" Wagner: "I didn't invent anything." Haesler: "I suggest that both in your evidence and in the tapes you have hidden some of the things that you know occurred in the bedroom?" "I didn't hide anything. Everything that I remember I put down in my statement ." Haesler: "I suggest to you then you have not told the truth about who you went into the bedroom with initially?" "No, I have told the truth ." Haesler: "Then I suggest that you have invented or added at least one extra person?" "I have not invented or added anybody. It was three." Haesler: "You agree that your memory was affected in some respects by what occurred that night?" "Yes."

That was the core of his case: confusion or invention by the witness. It took him 432 questions. All up, the three defence counsel asked the victim 1971 questions, during which they repeatedly questioned her veracity and reliability.

Given the complete absence of any significant reform in this area, it comes as only a mild surprise to learn that the Director of Public Prosecutions, Nicholas Cowdery, has entered new territory by lodging a complaint with the Legal Services Commission over the recent conduct of a defence barrister in a rape case, Tania Evers. After a marathon three days of cross-examination of a 15-year alleged victim by Evers, the trial judge, David Freeman, aborted the trial because he said the marathon defence cross-examination had caused the trial to "run off the rails".

The alleged victim, who was 13 at the time of the alleged rape, must face another trial, if she can. This is the parallel morality of our court system at work. This is the closed logic of the justice system, where juries are actively prevented - by law and by practice - from accessing any and all material they might wish to assess in making a moral judgment.

Reform? You must be joking. You only have to glance at the weekend's ideas conference in Canberra, where, far from even acknowledging the rising tide of litigation, compulsion and intrusion, there were more calls from more lawyers for more laws, more codes and more avenues for litigation.

Perhaps the most disgraceful contribution was the waxen stupidity of the federal Human Rights Commissioner, Graham Innes, who advocated a bill of rights. It appears never to have occurred to him that in so doing he would be confirming the deeply ideological nature of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, a fundamentally parasitic and punitive institution.

The commission, like the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board and their clones in other states, exist as a punitive tool for the vexatious, the dogmatic, the axe-grinders and grudge-holders who can exploit the nebulous area of "human rights" to cause pain through process. The result doesn't matter to them. It's the burden of accusation that counts. That's why Islamic fundamentalists wage war against evangelical Christians through the human rights and discrimination machinery. They do so because they can.

Nothing was said at the weekend talkfest to allay fears about this creeping evolution of our legal system away from open democracy, towards the primacy of international law over Australian law and towards the shift of power away from elected parliaments to unelected tribunals.


Childcare craziness

Outlining his requirements of the gathering of Australia's so-called best and brightest Rudd said he wanted one big policy idea from each of the sub-groups, along with three others, one of which would have to be at "no cost, or negligible cost".... But somewhere in the halls of the parliament over the weekend, someone surely must have picked up the irony and it was this; one of the most expensive options on the table at the summit was the proposal for universal one-stop-shop early childcare, immunisation and learning centres for every child up to five years of age by 2020. And who put this on the table? Rudd. And while he was demanding budget frugality from his chosen policy mountain climbers, he floated his shiny thought bubble without even bothering to cost it.

Rudd may not have. But others have. One of the interesting features about the immediate post-election period that heralds a new government is that you have senior bureaucrats churned out of the previous system but still with access to relevant economic and policy data. One of them contacted me last week and presented what could easily pass as Treasury's cabinet submission on Rudd's thought bubble on universal early childcare centres.

Here's the brutal bureaucratic estimation of Rudd's bright idea: "Effectively the Prime Minister's plan is to upgrade the present capacity to deliver the extra services and add the capacity for those children aged 0 to five years not presently in the system. "Assumptions: A 100-place childcare centre costs about $2 million in capital funding and capital costs increase by about 10 per cent a year. Present centres are not equipped to support the additional healthcare needs of these one-stop-shops. That would therefore require increased capital and recurrent costs.

"There are about 500,000 children in 'approved' formal care now aged 0 to four inclusive. This is about 36percent of the total pre-school aged population in formal approved childcare. Only 6per cent of 0-year-olds are in formal care, 28 per cent of one-year-olds, 45 per cent of two-year-olds, 54per cent of three-year-olds, 50 per cent of four-year-olds and 29 per cent of five-year-olds. At five years of age many children will not be in child care but at school. "In order to make child care in these age brackets universally accessible and guaranteed the Government will have to double present capacity rather than provide a guaranteed place for all 1.3 million 0 to five-year-olds. This option will pick up those not in care at all but who will be drawn into the system, and those in care but not in formal care (for example, grandparents-family).

"Low-cost universal child care will therefore have the effect of simply shifting the children of non-working parents from parental and informal care to formal care most likely on a part-time basis. "There will only be marginal increases in female workforce participation so the capacity to pay of the new families will be lower than the present family population. Based on this there is a need to factor in up-front capital costs to improve existing facilities to account for the proposed new co-located health services and to build new capacity for the extra inflow of children. This increases the demand for capacity twofold and effectively doubles the recurrent costs.

"Assuming no consolidation, because these are new centres, this will require additional capital again to simply move places from their present location to the new proposed one-stop-shop locations. "Assume the extra places at 15 hours per week (where current usage averages 22 hours per week). The conclusion: to realistically offer universal access at low cost would require extra capacity for up to 500,000 places at 15 hours per week. In conservative budget terms this means an extra 300,000 children would come into the system. "There are 4400 long day care centres (providers) presently but many of those are small and would require massive upgrades. Present home-based family day care will be made redundant because they will not be able to offer the 'one-stop-shop' requirement.

"On these assumptions the final estimate of costs is this; on capital alone the Prime Minister's proposal would require 4400 services requiring upgrades at an average of $400,000 -- approximately $2 billion. "An estimated 100 additional centres (based on 100 place centres offering 300 children 15 hours per week and operating at 75 per cent capacity, which is an industry optimal benchmark) at $2.5 million each equals $2.5billion. "This equates to an estimated $3billion $4 billion in capital costs.

"The costs of child care, however, are not capital, but recurrent. The Government presently spends $11 billion over four years in this area. The new capacity will be higher in proportion for pre-school (higher cost education content) and baby (higher care cost). "Providing subsidies for 300,000 new children at low parental contribution can reasonably be assumed to cost 60per cent of the present recurrent funding (that is, a proportionate per capita on cost). In round terms, assume 60 per cent of $11 billion over four years is $6.6 billion. That equals $5 billion to $7 billion. "That leads to an estimate of $8billion to $11 billion over four years in present dollars. In effect, almost doubling the present investment in child care from $11 billion to up to $22billion over four years for the start of the program."

In the context of a tough budget environment, Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner was in the audience for Rudd's opening speech, nodding at the notion of no-cost ideas. Reading this, though, he'll weep. And so he should.


Sunday, April 20, 2008

"Caring" and "idealistic" Leftists at work

They are just authoritarian thugs beneath their propaganda camouflage. And what were they "protesting" so violently about? Amid all the evils in the world, what they were protesting about was a meeting: People getting peacefully together to talk. The hate-filled thugs should have been locked up and the key thrown away

A police officer says her career and personal life are in tatters as a result of injuries she received in the G20 riots. Sen-Constable Kim Dixon is considering civil action against protesters who hurled a plastic barricade at her, seriously damaging her elbow. Four demonstrators who threw the barrier were convicted this week over the incident. They avoided jail, but a magistrate imposed fines ranging from $2000 to $4000.

Career police officer Sen-Constable Dixon, 41, wants her attackers to know the depth of her personal suffering, and how it has affected her husband and sons, aged 5 and 2. Torn tendons in her left elbow have left her unable to perform routine tasks, such as pushing her youngest son's pram or hanging out washing, without suffering pain. "You think to yourself, 'Do these people really know what they've done?'," Sen-Constable Dixon said. "The protesters can't see me out there with my family. We are not just police. We do take our uniform off and we are human. "I was only doing my job. This has affected my life dramatically . . . and the protesters need to know that."

The dedicated officer of 22 years faces the prospect of being pensioned off because she can no longer drive a manual patrol car or type up incident reports. "I may not have a job in the long term because of this injury," she said. She is receiving WorkCover payments, but the loss of penalty rates while she is on restricted duties has left Sen-Constable Dixon and her husband struggling to pay their mortgage. ''It is a struggle. I don't get shift allowances or overtime. They were the extras that helped with the basketball fees or the birthday party or the interest rate rises," she said.

The strain on her marriage is evident. "My husband has got to do more work to make up for the shortfall. The children don't see as much of him. It just all adds up. Hopefully it's not all going to come crashing down," she said.

Son Ben, 5, asks every day if she will get better - a question to which she doesn't know the answer. "I feel this injury has not only taken its toll on me, but, most importantly, my children," Sen-Constable Dixon said. "I have been unable to enjoy the most simple of activities with them without being in some type of pain."

Sen-Constable Dixon wishes she were on frontline duties instead of being confined to a desk handling basic inquiries and paperwork. She is reduced to two six-hour shifts a week, and has missed at least one pay rise through being unable to complete more training. A police medical officer recently declared her injury "chronic". Sen-Constable Dixon fears her file will soon be stamped "ill-health retired". "I love being in the (patrol) car and working the street. I don't want to be stuck behind a desk," she said. She does as much paperwork as she can, but feels guilty at her restricted duties.

In a Victim Impact Statement sworn on January 27 this year, she admits to feeling as if she is "letting the team down and not pulling my weight". She fears that being pensioned off could put her at long-term financial disadvantage. The chronic pain means Sen-Constable Dixon must take painkillers every day. She may yet require surgery.

One of about 20 uniformed police behind a barricade on Collins St in November 2006, she had no idea her efforts to protect society would attract what the magistrate this week described as "defiant and aggressive behaviour". "We copped an absolute quilting," she said of the ugly scenes involving demonstrators opposed to the Group of 20 nations summit.

Sen-Constable Dixon was not offered counselling or debriefing after the attack on her and often re-lives in her mind the chaotic scenes. "We held the line 28 minutes, which is a long time to be fighting," she said. Video footage presented in court came as a shock. "A lot of the footage we hadn't seen. We were astounded as to the violence," she said.

Ben recently saw some images on the TV news. "He asked, 'Is that what they did to you?'. He's not old enough to realise the impact," she said. "But he gets frustrated . . . he would like Mum to do things that I can't do any more, like riding a bike or playing basketball."

Sen-Constable Dixon has submitted a victims of crime application and expects to get $2000 or $3000 at most. She is considering suing some of the protesters, but worries they do not have enough assets to bother. She is still seeking legal advice about taking civil action against Victoria Police or Melbourne City Council.

Though she has tried to remain tough since her injury, Sen-Constable Dixon admits to some teary outbursts. She cried when she heard this week protesters had been given suspended jail terms: "I was really upset." ... In the wake of the sentencing of the protesters this week, she notes she is yet to receive an apology. "Not one (protester) has said sorry to me," she said.


And this is ridiculous

A G20 rioter is receiving a $35,500 taxpayer-funded salary as a trainee legal aid lawyer despite a conviction for attacking police. Julia Dehm, 25, of Brunswick West, helped hurl a barricade at policewoman Sen-Constable Kim Dixon. On Tuesday, the would-be lawyer, familiar with both sides of the dock, received a seven-month suspended jail sentence and $3000 fine. She has been convicted of two counts of riot, one of recklessly causing injury and one of intentionally damaging property for her actions in the riot. Dehm was involved in pushing barricades at police during the attack on an unmanned police brawler van.

But Dehm was back at her Victoria Legal Aid office on Friday. "I don't feel I can comment on this at this stage thank you," she said. Victoria Legal Aid managing director Tony Parsons said the government body knew Dehm was facing charges when she was hired. He said a decision would soon be made on her future now she had been sentenced. But Mr Parsons would not say whether Dehm would be retained or sacked. "We're reviewing her position . . . we haven't finalised that review," he said.

"She's been here on an articled clerk's program for a month. She got here by an extremely competitive process. About 200 people apply for five or six positions here every year. "She was one of the successful candidates. "She did everything we asked of her in terms of disclosing her problems. We knew precisely that she had charges. But she, like all people, are presumed innocent," Mr Parsons said. "We said to her when she was offered the job of articles a year ago we would support her. And we would retain the right to review her position at the end of the proceedings. "Now I've got a full brief of what happened in the case, what her position was, what the penalty of sentence was. I'm just going through a process of consideration about what I do with her in light of the outcome of the case."

The legal aid chief would not say if G20 protesters had received legal aid funding for their court hearings. "I can't disclose that. The legislation requires confidentiality," he said. Defence lawyer Rob Stary, who represented 11 of the G20 protesters, but not Dehm, also refused on confidentiality grounds to say if the public had paid for their defence. He said he believed one of Dehm's Legal Aid co-workers had provided her with a reference for court, but didn't know whether it was tendered.

Dehm was supporting a friend on G20 charges in the Melbourne Magistrates' Court when police realised she was also one of the G20 rioters and arrested her. Dehm, a Melbourne University law graduate, was described by the sentencing magistrate as one of four rioters with the most serious charges.


Nazism reinvented: The Kruddites want a smoking ban and fitness tests for everyone

SMOKING would be banned for everyone born next year, junk food would be taxed and everyone would be subjected to a fitness test by 2020. By comparison, the cost of healthy food, including fruit and vegetables, would be reduced to reflect its low environmental impact and obvious ["obvious"? It is not at all obvious in the mortality statistics] health benefits.

These are just a few of the ideas from 100 of the nation's health experts who discussed the best way to combat obesity, reduce illness and promote a healthy lifestyle. Health Minister Nicola Roxon said one idea put forward in a submission was an annual national fitness test where citizens would receive a financial incentive if they pass.

Health stream participants in the 2020 summit also discussed increasing public education about how death can be a "positive experience" to avoid patients panicking when they reach hospital emergency departments.

Health participant, Meredith Sheil, a former Westmead Children's Hospital pediatrician, said many participants had suggested a ban on cigarette sales by 2020. "A lot of the health submissions suggested a ban on smoking by 2020," she said. "You would say, 'OK, from now on everybody born after 2008, you are not allowed to sell cigarettes (to)'."

Nutritionist Rosemary Stanton suggested increasing the cost of artificial and packaged food. "I actually think we need to price foods according to their environmental and health impact, rather than harping at people to eat this or that," she said. "All the artificial foods would become very expensive and the healthy foods would be cheaper." ....

Ski champion Alisa Camplin suggested expanding the active after-school communities program to ease the burden on the health system. "Creating a national program focused on physical activity would provide a pro-active framework for Australians to attain greater general well-being and receive preventative, rehabilitative and curative health support," Camplin wrote in her submission.

More here

Reality bites Australia's Green/Left

Plastic bag defeat; Price-control defeat

The two ministers set on an inevitable collision course by a contradictory pre-election promise by Kevin Rudd were both mugged last week. Rudd had pledged to simultaneously reduce the impact of climate change and bring down the cost of living for families. In the case of Environment Minister Peter Garrett, it was at the hands of his own state Labor colleagues. In the case of Consumer Affairs Minister Chris Bowen, it was by reality.

First to Garrett. In January he boldly declared he wanted to phase out single use plastic shopping bags by the end of this year. He wanted a plan for how to do this ready for a meeting of federal and state environment ministers last week. For Garrett the deadline turned into a disaster and public humiliation. His Labor colleagues dealt him a brutal lesson on Realpolitik that exposed Garrett's failure to either consult properly with the industry or negotiate effectively with the states.

Instead of a decisive move towards a ban in the form of a retail charge on plastic bags at the check-out -- the outcome Garrett wanted -- Thursday's meeting more resembled a policy version of a splatter attack. South Australia is now going it alone with a proposed ban. Victoria has offered to trial a retail charge in consultation with the big supermarkets. And there's to be a working group to look at raising the use of re-usable bags and biodegradable bags. Twisting in the wind, Garrett emerged from the meeting with a bunch of weasel words declaring the result to be "substantial and positive". "We felt a mandated charge on plastic bags is another cost for Australian communities who are feeling the pinch," Garrett said.

It was all bollocks, of course. Garrett felt no such thing -- at least until he got into the meeting. A retail charge was always his preferred option. It was what his department was costing behind the scenes, despite his public denials. The fact is that having ruled out an immediate ban, and having also ruled out the Commonwealth imposing a levy, the only option left was a check-out charge.And it wasn't Garrett who was alert to the fact that this would cause financial pain to families. It was the states, led behind the scenes by New South Wales Treasurer Michael Costa and Victorian Environment Minister Gavin Jennings, with support from Queensland Premier Anna Bligh.

Costa got into the act after Garrett's plans for a bag charge were revealed last month. And he wasn't having any of it, immediately talking with the big food chains to see where they were with Garrett. That wasn't very far because, according to sources in the retail sector, he had barely bothered consulting them. Costa and the rest of the states quickly woke up to the fact that Garrett's plan required all the states to pass uniform regulations to put it into place. But that would mean the states would also have to police what would effectively be a new tax, and wear the political backlash that would inevitably follow.

On Thursday they made it clear that wasn't on. For Garrett to save some face, Jennings stitched together a deal for a trial in Victoria. The research into bio-degradable bags had been something the supermarkets had been pressing for some time. It should have been the threshold question for the entire debate. The result? Although Garrett wouldn't say it publicly, his office sheepishly admitted late on Thursday that the minister's bold plan to phase out plastic bags by the end of the year could not now be met.

Now onto the minister at the other end of the environment debate, Chris Bowen. He's the minister responsible for trying to bring down the price of petrol, which if he achieves it, of course, will increase greenhouse gasses. As Consumer Affairs Minister, he is also the one trying to bring down the cost of living while Garrett is trying to push it up via a charge on bags. Bowen's contribution last week was to unveil a national FuelWatch scheme to cut pump prices.

Well kind of. Before the election Labor promised to put "a cop on the beat" when it came to oil companies ripping off motorists. Now facing the reality of actually having to do that -- and bombarded with concerted questions about whether FuelWatch actually works to bring down prices --Bowen's rhetoric has substantially changed. Suddenly price wasn't the main reason for introducing FuelWatch. "The much more important reason for doing this is to give consumers more information," Bowen said.

Rudd too was laying on the caveats with a trowel: He said the aim was to help families "get the best possible prices for petrol when they go to fill up". "We can't promise the world," he said. "We can't promise the impossible." It's now the "best possible" price for petrol, not the "lowest". Mugged indeed. And playing the voters for mugs as well.


Negligent public hospital kills little kid

Every day Katey Locock looks at her baby daughter Jasmine and her heart breaks. Seven months ago Mrs Locock and her husband, Gayvn, were overjoyed at the birth of Jasmine and her twin Gemma, sisters for two-year-old Amber. But last month Gemma died of heart failure after acquiring Kawasaki disease, an inflammatory condition, which can be treated simply if detected. The Lococks say doctors at John Hunter Children's Hospital in Newcastle failed to diagnose the condition, despite telltale symptoms - and they want to know why. "Every time we do something for Jasmine we know we should be doing it for Gemma as well. It breaks our hearts," Mrs Locock said. Jasmine knows something's wrong. She has not been the same since her sister died, her parents say.

Gemma spent four days in hospital after she became ill with what her parents say were distinctive symptoms of Kawasaki disease, including a persistent high fever for more than five days, severe rash, red lips, red eyes and peeling skin on her hands and feet. Her parents say they were told to take their daughter home. Six weeks later she died. "The doctors kept saying it was a mystery and just gave her Panadol. They only ever ran one blood test," Mrs Locock said from her Belmont home. "But she had at least four symptoms [of Kawasaki disease]. If they had done their job properly, Gemma would still be with us today."

Kawasaki disease, an uncommon illness that mostly affects children under five, causes inflammation of small blood vessels known as vasculitis. In extreme cases the coronary arteries swell, which can block the blood supply to the heart. Most children recover after receiving a simple intravenous drip of gammaglobulin - an ingredient of the blood that helps fight infection - and a high dose of aspirin to reduce the risk of heart damage.

The Lococks say doctors failed to order an echocardiogram, which would have shown the heart damage. Mrs Locock also made two visits to the family GP, which resulted only in a prescription for reflux medication. On March 16, Gemma began having breathing difficulties and within two hours she was dead. "It was such a shock, it all happened so fast," Mrs Locock said.

The day after Gemma's death, Jasmine and Amber were summoned to the hospital for blood tests. When Jasmine's test showed abnormalities, the Lococks say they were forced to wait another day for her echocardiogram because no one was available to do it. "We'd already lost one baby and time was crucial but they still made us wait," Mrs Locock said. Jasmine was eventually given the gammaglobulin drip as a precaution and is healthy.

Gemma's great-grandfather, Terry McCormack, said her death had "devastated our family". He has launched a blog - - inviting parents who have had "unsatisfactory dealings" with the John Hunter Children's Hospital to contact him.

"This is a devastating situation and we understand and share the grief that the family is experiencing," the hospital said in a statement on Friday. It said Gemma displayed only one clinical feature - skin rash. "It would be extremely difficult for any doctor to diagnose Kawasaki disease solely by the presence of a skin rash in the absence of the other signs of the condition," it said. The hospital said the Locock family had been invited to meet senior doctors once the final post-mortem examination report was completed.


Saturday, April 19, 2008

New Aboriginal organization a 'white man's dream'

Just another gravy train for Leftist parasites, in fact

A new national Aboriginal organisation is "a white man's dream", says indigenous leader Warren Mundine. The former ALP national president has also described Labor policy guaranteeing a new representative body as "a big challenge" for the Rudd Government. Mr Mundine said he would strenuously argue against the reintroduction of a large taxpayer-funded elected body, such as the abolished Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, supported by its own bureaucracy. He said the idea of an indigenous assembly was popular among academics, intellectuals and sections of the indigenous leadership, but "that's a white man's dream", he said. "I don't think there's much grassroots support for it."

While indigenous leaders such as South Australia's Commissioner for Aboriginal Engagement, Klynton Wanganeen, have argued Aboriginal people have been robbed of representation at regional, national and international level, Mr Mundine said the abolition of ATSIC meant "sweet bugger all" to most Aboriginal people and it was more important to develop leaders and entrepreneurs in Aboriginal communities.

Continuing his attack on the idea, which is expected to be prominent at the 2020 Summit, Mr Mundine said talk about a new peak body would distract from discussion about the crisis gripping Aboriginal Australia, including high levels of child trauma and illiteracy, as well as the economic opportunities presented by a minerals boom occurring on Aboriginal land.

It is Labor policy to establish "a national representative body and regional representative structures for indigenous Australians", to "empower indigenous Australians to hold all levels of government to account through this national body and regional structures". But Kevin Rudd responded coolly to the push for a new body. The Prime Minister said 2020 delegates should feel free to discuss the issue, but the Government's view of ATSIC was clear.

Brendan Nelson was scathing, saying "we've already had that experiment and it failed". The Opposition Leader said that during the ATSIC years "the money intended for Aboriginal people was like a whale carcass dragged through a pool of sharks". "A bit was taken out at every step of the way before it got to the people for whom it was intended," Dr Nelson said.

Wesley Aird, a member of the Howard government's National Indigenous Council, which replaced ATSIC as a forum for indigenous advice, said he feared the outcome of the summit was "as predictable as a Zimbabwean election". "The issue of Aboriginal Australia at the moment is disadvantage; the issue is not representation," he said. "They just get it so back to front all the time. "I think what we're going to hear this weekend is a pleading to return to the past, which is quite unfortunate. At some stage we're just going to have to say the old days weren't that good, there was abuse and disadvantage under ATSIC, it's not going to change if we reinvent anything like it, let's move on."


A secretive Leftist government

The Bligh Government's claims that it is open and accountable with Queenslanders are being undermined by its own culture of secrecy. At the end of a week in which several gross examples of the government's secrecy were highlighted, The Courier-Mail can reveal 40 examples of secrets the government wants to keep. From crime statistics to full secondary school OP ratings, overcrowded train figures and details of payments to the Governor - they cover the full gamut of the government's operations. Publishing the list comes after numerous examples emerged this week of the government being caught going out of its way to hide important details from the public.

Auditor-General Glenn Poole lambasted departmental annual reports as being incomplete, ambiguous and lacking relevant information; Education Queensland refused to reveal which schools were most in need of urgent maintenance; and it emerged Queensland Health refused to release cancer data to scientists to conduct life-saving research. Transport Minister John Mickel also initially denied access to CityTrain service cancellations in State Parliament after releasing the same damning figures only months earlier. The government also this week lampooned an Opposition motion asking for advice or reports on lead levels in Mount Isa, suggesting they lodge a freedom of information application instead.

Ethicist Noel Preston yesterday said recent examples of secrecy were cause for concern despite promises of openness such as the review of freedom of information laws. "There are early signs showing the Premier and her Ministers need to re-double their efforts to ensure they are more open and ready to disclose information," Dr Preston said. He said all governments suffered a bias towards control that led to excess secrecy. "The people own government and the first rule of good government is accountability to the shareholders because it is an ethical issue and one of integrity," Dr Preston said. "The more secret and controlling a government, the more it will lapse into bad decisions and bad practices that may become unethical."

What the Queensland Government doesn't want you to know:

1. A full breakdown of OP ratings for schools.

2. How much government money is paid to unions.

3. The bonuses paid to senior public servants.

4. The register of cancer sufferers which the Queensland Cancer Council needs for life-saving research purposes.

5. The state's 20 most dangerous intersections.

6. The names and values of the top 20 art works in the Queensland Art Gallery.

7. Details of payments to the Governor and expenditure at Government House.

8. Results of Health Department blood tests on children at Mount Isa.

9. South Bank crime statistics.

10. The breakdown of costs of the Lang Park redevelopment and construction of GoMA and the Goodwill Bridge.

11. Cull figures in national parks for vermin like dingoes, goats and foxes.

12. The detailed breakdown of the multimillion-dollar fees paid to big law firms like Minter Ellison and Clayton Utz.

13. How many girls aged under 16 have received contraceptive implants from Queensland Health officials.

14. Rail station crime statistics.

15. Monthly statistics on peak-hour train performance.

16. Overcrowded train statistics.

17. How much money the Government will save by making rainwater tank rebates less attractive.

18. Health and Education Department safety and security reports for the Torres Strait.

19. The cost of a full statewide roll-out of Tasers for police.

20. Individual departments' electricity consumption.

21. Traffic accidents involving pedestrians in the CBD.

22. Which dodgy childcare centres have been given compliance notices for breaches.

23. Breakdown of contractors and consultants hired.

24. Queensland Transport's contract with Cubic Transportation Systems, the contractor behind the troublesome public transport Go Card.

25. High priority maintenance budgets for state schools.

26. Schools invited to apply for first round of Federal Government's computers-in-schools program.

27. Political donations under $10,000.

28. Documents that form the key part of research into the proposed western Brisbane transport network.

29. Briefing notes provided to ministers when Peter Beattie handed over to Anna Bligh last year.

30. Crime statistics for the lowest divisional levels (only regional and district levels are released).

31. Results of audits at Queensland mines as part of a crackdown on safety standards.

32. Details of Main Roads study into the department's own commissioned work on the Captain Cook Bridge.

33. Details of the almost 11,000 documents exempted from freedom of information searches last year because they were taken to Cabinet.

34. The number of public servants whose jobs are dedicated to media relations.

35. How many submissions were considered before council amalgamations were decided.

36. The restaurants prosecuted for breaching health guidelines.

37. The regions where the most convicted pedophiles are living.

38. Which ministers have sought the advice of the integrity commissioner and why they sought that advice.

39. The advice the Crime and Misconduct Commission gives the government and the DPP.

40. The rates of sexually transmitted disease in indigenous communities.


Too fat for jail

Obesity has its pluses

A man considered too fat to be jailed has spoken out after escaping time behind bars because of his weight. Shepparton man Claude Jackson was ordered to do community service for smashing a glass over another man's head at a Shepparton bar on January 14, 2007. The victim, Tim Kirkman, received a 4cm cut to his neck in the incident and required hospital treatment. Jackson pleaded guilty to recklessly causing serious injury and affray.

A medical report submitted to the County Court sitting at Shepparton said Mr Jackson, who weighed 190kg, had suffered three heart attacks earlier in life and suffered from ongoing arthritis, sleep apnoea and other weight-related ailments. It said he had once weighed up to 234kg and that "morbid obesity" had been present all his life. The medical report also warned that a jail term would "create great problems" for his health.

While reluctant to talk about the incident, the 21-year-old told the Herald Sun he was deeply sorry and had been keeping out of trouble since the bar brawl. "I would like to say sorry to (Mr Kirkman)," Mr Jackson said yesterday. "If I could take back everything that happened on the night, I would. "But unfortunately it happened and I have to deal with it. I have definitely learnt my lesson."

Mr Jackson, who is studying for a certificate in youth work at a local university, was ordered by the court to undertake eight hours a week of community service at Rumbalara Football and Netball Club, and four hours of counselling a week for the remainder of his sentence. He was initially considered unsuitable for an intensive corrections order by the Office of Corrections.


Another Greenie false prophecy

Post below lifted from Tim Blair. See the original for links


Perth will become a ghost city within decades as rising global temperatures turn the wheatbelt into a desert and drive species to the brink of extinction, a leading Australian scientist warns. Australian paleontologist and popular author Tim Flannery said Perth was a city on the edge - isolated, dependent on energy and declining water supplies and more likely to feel the effects of global warming ...


Perth remains on track to break the record for the wettest April ever recorded ... Before today, persistent lows have soaked the city with 107.8mm of rain since the start of the month and only 41mm of rain needs to fall to break the 1926 April record of 148.8mm.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Dangerous to photograph ticket machines??

Restrictions on photography in the name of "security" are now common and are often misused by cops and bureaucrats to cover up their own misdeeds and bungles

Trainspotters and tourists could be forcibly removed from train stations if they take photographs of "transport infrastructure" because Queensland Rail guidelines may deem it an act of terrorism. The guidelines, which were updated last September, state members of the public must identify themselves to rail staff before they start taking photographs of trains, platforms and, even Go Card machines.

Under QR's guidelines, no photographs at all are to be taken during peak periods or at busy train stations. And anyone using a camera, should refrain from wearing a safety vests or wearing red, yellow or green near signals. [Why?]

Yesterday, QR staff at Toowong station forced ABC breakfast host Spencer Howson to delete several images, which included one of a Go Card machine, on his digital camera or he risked being fined.

"This afternoon, there were no fewer than seven ticket inspectors. The bloke inside the ticket box said they were 'in training'. Fair enough, I thought," Spencer wrote on his ABC blog. "I'd love to show you the photo I took, but one particularly insistent ticket inspector forced me to delete the pic from my camera. "If not, he said, he would issue me with an on-the-spot fine under the anti-terrorism act!"

More here

Cancer coverup in Queensland

The government does not want the failings of their country hospitals to become known

Life-saving cancer research is being blocked by Queensland Government restrictions on scientists gaining access to a register of sufferers throughout the state. The Cancer Council of Queensland has launched unprecedented legal action in Brisbane's Supreme Court for access to the register to enable independent study of the disease, including blocked work into why survival rates are lower in regional and rural Queensland. Scientists believe the study may embarrass Queensland Health because it is likely to reveal detection and treatment standards are failing outside of Brisbane.

Queensland is the only state in Australia, and one of the few jurisdictions in the Western world, where researchers require case-by-case approval to access the cancer register for the development of prevention and treatment strategies. Queensland Health has refused to release localised cancer statistics and has failed to fund the collation of data on the stages that cancers are being discovered in different areas.

The battle has emerged as suspected cancer clusters - involving the ABC's Brisbane studios and firefighters in north Queensland - are being investigated by the Government. Documents obtained by The Australian show that some of Australia's leading scientists - including former Australian of the Year Ian Frazer - have repeatedly appealed to Premier Anna Bligh and Health Minister Stephen Robertson to grant routine access to the data.

The Cancer Council of Queensland - which was awarded management rights of the register in 2001 - has been denied access or forced to wait up to a year for approval to use theinformation and start the research. A two-year backlog in collating the data, partly blamed on underfunding, has further blown out the delays. Queensland Health has enforced the approval procedure for access to the register because of concerns the release of information could identify an individual sufferer.


Rudd's baby farms not great for kids

Little children need the security, understanding and tolerance of a loving home, not institutionalization

Kevin Rudd's big idea for this weekend's 2020 Summit is a plan to help working families by setting up a national chain of government-run parent-and-child centres. Let's call them PC centres, for with universal child care at its core, this is a very PC idea. The Community Child Care Association's national secretary Barbara Romeril could hardly contain herself when she heard the news: "It's very exciting to finally have a government that gets it," she told the ABC. "We know this is what parents want and we know this is what's good for children." This is classic PC rhetoric, based on shaky evidence but repeated so often that people now assume it must be true.

Rudd wants these PC centres up and running by 2020, although he has no idea how much they will cost. While their core business will be child care, they will offer an all-encompassing range of services to all parents with children under five. There will be health checks on babies, child vaccinations, advice for mothers, counselling for parents, long hours day care for infants, and preschool early learning programs for toddlers. All of this will be underpinned by national quality standards, so every centre will be run in the same way and will be staffed by experts with lots of certificates and diplomas to their name.

Rudd assures parents they won't be compelled to use these PC centres, although they will be compelled to pay for them through higher taxes. This extra spending is OK, though, because it is an investment. As Maxine McKew, the Parliamentary Secretary for Early Childhood Education and Child Care, explained to Sky News: "All the experts tell us this is the way to go. You provide that intervention early on, through the early years, and that's how you get healthy children and, I think, less stress for parents as well."

But is there no downside to this idea? Perhaps Rudd, his ministers and the childcare cheer squad should take time to reflect on some of the problems before they plough ahead. There are at least seven to consider.

* The core business of these centres will be long hours child care, but despite what McKew and the Community Child Care Association claim, it isn't true that this is necessarily good for children. McKew suggests parents' stress levels can be reduced by long hours care, but she ignores evidence that cortisol (stress hormone) levels among young children spending long periods in institutional care are often disturbingly high, and this is surely what should concern us more. It is true that older children from very disadvantaged backgrounds can benefit from good quality formal care, but this is because the care they get at home is so appalling. Most very young children are better off raised by their parents, and the Government should look seriously at the evidence on this before spending billions of dollars herding them into government institutions.

* The new PC centres will destroy social capital (something the Rudd Government claims it wants to strengthen). At the moment, most of these services are already available to parents, but they are scattered rather than concentrated in one place, and they are unco-ordinated rather than being organised according to a single centralised formula. People get help from neighbours, family members, community clinics, churches, local play schools, and when they use these local resources it strengthens the social ties that create strong communities. Concentrating services in government centres may be more efficient, but it will erode local relationship networks.

* These centres will weaken the third sector and strengthen the power of government. There is a worrying trend for government to enlist voluntary organisations as its agents and then emasculate them. Welfare charities, for example, now depend on money from government contracts to run employment services, and the recently established Family Relationship Centres have effectively nationalised family counselling services previously run by groups such as Relationships Australia. The proposed new PC centres will likewise absorb existing community-based and commercial childcare providers. Open, democratic societies rely on a strong and vibrant third sector as a check and buffer against government power. In Australia, this is fast disappearing.

* These centres will further erode the autonomy of the states within our federal system. Many of the services they will provide are presently the responsibility of the states. As in health care (where the pressure is to nationalise hospitals), so too in child care, Canberra is shifting more power to itself in the name of efficiency.

* Rudd says these new centres will save money and avoid duplication. This is another way of saying they will be big, and there won't be many of them, in which case they will create more inconvenience for users. When your neighbourhood childcare centre has gone bust and you are strapping your toddler into the car for the daily commute across town to your nearest PC centre, remember this change was supposed to make life easier.

* The PC centres will redistribute income from poorer to richer parents by making the former contribute to the childcare costs of the latter. A couple sacrificing some of their joint income by having one parent stay home to look after the kids will now have to pay more tax to subsidise other couples who choose to keep working and earning while parking their kids in the PC centre. This violates the principle that government should remain neutral between parents who stay home and those who go out to work, as it represents an extensive intervention in favour of the latter at the cost of theformer.

* These centres are going to be expensive. Even Rudd doesn't know how much they are going to cost, but Crikey estimates a horrific annual bill of about $12 billion. Based on past experience, we can be sure they will get even more expensive over time as people's expectations and demands continue to rise. For a government that says it has inherited a budget blowout and needs to trim expenditure, this seems an odd way to cut costs. Before it commits to a huge expenditure such as this, the Government should take a deep breath and tell us the ultimate objective of its family strategy. Is it to get more mums back into work to ease the labour shortage? If so, government-run baby farms may be a good plan.

But if the objective is to give parents real choice about how to balance work and family, to support a vibrant community sector, or even to improve long-term child wellbeing, this PC proposal may not be the best way to achieve it.

Source. See here for how a similar Canadian scheme did a lot of harm.

Ignore the gloomy propagandists

THERE are certain things everybody knows. For example, everybody knows banks are ripping us off with higher mortgage rates, supermarkets are robbing us with high prices, plastic bags are an environmental disaster, there is a national water shortage, we have to take immediate action to stop a climate change catastrophe overtaking us in the next few years. Take a hard look at the available evidence and all of these turn out to be either dubious or just plain wrong. And there is another popular claim, promoted by the vested interests that stand to profit from it: Australia has an infrastructure crisis.

The evidence appears to be all around us: traffic congestion, lousy public transport, coal ships queued up along our east coast because of inadequate rail and port facilities. These are all genuine national problems, but calling them a crisis is dangerous because it can lead to precipitate, unwarranted, ill-judged and costly responses. It is important to recognise this danger because tackling infrastructure bottlenecks is a central part of Kevin Rudd's five-point plan for Australia's economy.

The history of Australian governments' attempts to manage the provision of the nation's infrastructure is not a happy one, as Michael Keating, a longtime senior federal economic bureaucrat and now head of the NSW Government's Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal, reminded us recently. In a paper presented at the New Agenda for Prosperity conference organised by The Australian and the Melbourne Institute in March, Keating pointed out that in 1880 Australia had the highest living standard in the world. For most of the next century it also had a rate of public investment that was just about the highest in the world. Yet despite the impressive infrastructure investment, Australia slipped steadily down the international league table of living standards. There were a number of reasons for this, but it surely suggests a lot of our infrastructure investment was wasted in the past. It isn't hard to think of recent examples, the Ord River irrigation scheme and the Darwin-to-Alice Springs railway, for example. John Howard liked to refer to the latter as his "Snowy of steel" and speak of it as nation-building.

When Australian politicians talk of nation-building and drag in the Snowy Mountains Scheme, taxpayers are well advised to hang on to their wallets, because another great waste of public money is usually in the offing. Which gives an ominous ring to this pronouncement by Anthony Albanese, the federal Minister for Infrastructure: "Our infrastructure plan is consistent with our history as a nation-building party. It was (Ben) Chifley who courageously started the Snowy Mountains Hydro Scheme..."

Albanese promises a new era of infrastructure management, but it hasn't got off to a good start. First cab off the rank has been a follow-on to the Howard government's ill-considered National Water Plan for the Murray-Darling Basin, trumpeted as a historic breakthrough at the recent Council of Australian Governments meeting in Adelaide. "Approximately $6 billion will be spent on improving the supply of water to irrigators by efficiency improvements," Keating says. "So far there has been no suggestion that the cost of this extra water will be recovered from the irrigators. Despite the requirement in the national water plan guidelines agreed by COAG that there will be full cost recovery."

How many irrigators would support the proposed $6 billion spending on irrigation infrastructure if they had to pay for it? One suspects not many. Keating suggests this is a huge infrastructure investment that would be better avoided, or at least vastly scaled down. The money saved could then be used to buy back over-allocated water licences, which would cost much less to effect if their value was not inflated by the provision of free water infrastructure.

Developments in the transport sector, another key infrastructure target, have not been encouraging either. The Howard government's AusLink national road and rail plan was mercilessly rorted by the Nationals and the Liberal Party in regional vote-buying and, contrary to promises, funded projects were not subjected to publicly transparent and rigorous cost-benefit analysis. About $15 billion was allocated to the first stage of AusLink, which runs to June next year, and the Howard government announced another $22billion or so in last May's budget for the second stage, which runs to 2014. It then promptly spent it all in a frenzy of election vote-buying, with Labor in hot spending pursuit.

Labor has foreshadowed an overhaul to address obvious flaws in AusLink. How there can be much reform without reallocating spending is a mystery, yet Albanese has committed to all of Labor's transport spending promises.

One possibility is better use of exisiting infrastructure, suggested by the National Transport Commission's chief executive Nick Dimopoulos recently as part of the NTC's national transport plan. The head of Labor's new Infrastructure Australia, businessman Rod Eddington, had a similar focus in a report on transport for the British government in 2006. Eddington is to complete a national infrastructure audit by the end of the year, develop an infrastructure priority list for COAG by next March and develop best-practice principles for public-private partnerships by October this year.

Perhaps this will be a new beginning, with Rudd focused on a national approach to infrastructure through federal-state co-operation that has so far proved elusive. Perhaps. At the end of the day it comes down to confronting something Australian governments have avoided like the plague for decades: proper infrastructure pricing and national markets, reforms Treasury Secretary Ken Henry has been urging for several years. As Keating concluded, a market-oriented approach would provide a far better guide to future infrastructure investment than relying on unproven, and unprovable, claims of an infrastructure crisis.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Queers want "homophobic" terms -- like "Mum" and "Dad" -- banned from Australian schools

Anybody who thinks that "Mum" and "Dad" are homophobic is definitely queer in the head

Schools will not move to stop using words like mum and dad, or girlfriend and boyfriend, the New South Wales Education Department says, despite reports that public schools are under pressure to provide gay-friendly environments. Changes to terminology, such as using the word "partner" to cover heterosexual relationships, are being sought by gay lobbyists bent on reducing discrimination in a major anti-homophobia push in the state's schools, The Daily Telegraph reports.

But Department of Education and Training director-general Michael Coutts-Trotter says there is no move to stop using terms such as boyfriend, girlfriend, mum or dad in public school classrooms. Media reports that there are moves to stop using these terms are "simply wrong", Mr Coutts-Trotter said today. "Public schools do not tolerate discrimination of any kind, whether on the grounds of religion, race, disability, gender or sexual preference," he said. "Schools have to be sanctuaries for children; they must be free of any sort of discrimination, bullying or harassment. "However, this does not include imposing a new politically correct language in schools."

Debate over books used to teach young children about gay lifestyles has been a hot issue in the past. Two years ago argument became heated over a push to have books such as Jed and His Dads and The Rainbow Cubbyhouse taught in Sydney daycare centres.


Useless school response to bullying leads to bigger problems

A QUEENSLAND couple so fed up with their 14-year-old being bullied at school have narrowly avoided jail after bashing their daughter's tormentor. Stephen Lester Baker and Suzane Maree Baker took justice into their own hands when they believed Queensland police and Beenleigh High School failed to act on their complaints about the bullying. The Beenleigh District Court was told yesterday how the pair confronted their daughter's tormentor and repeatedly punched her in the head. The attack - condemned by Judge Ian Dearden - reveals how quickly schoolyard bullying can spiral out of control.

A recent survey of Year 11 students found more than 70 per cent considered bullying a problem in their schools. Education Queensland, teachers' unions and the Queensland Council of Parents and Citizens do not keep statistics on school bullying, but most agreed the problem was on the rise as teenagers turned to the internet and mobile phones to target victims.

An Education Queensland spokesman said the department took bullying very seriously. "Every state school must implement a responsible behaviour plan [Wow! a "plan"! Whoopee! No mention of any actual action?] that follows the department's guidelines and policies on bullying, harassment and other discrimination," he said.

Parents and Citizens Metropolitan West president Charles Alder said respect, tolerance and simple defence mechanisms needed to be taught to today's youth. He said victims should ignore unwanted phone or internet messages, and advise parents, teachers and police of any physical attacks.

The court was told the Bakers' attack, which took place in a park on April 3, 2006, came after the parents notified the school and police over the repeated bashing and bullying of their daughter. Prosecutor Nicholas McGhee said the Crown conceded the couple's daughter had been subjected to violent bullying by the girl identified only as Rachel, including an attack in which she bashed the girl's head against a school toilet wall. But Mr McGhee said Baker, 44, and his wife, 41, had acted like disgraceful vigilantes by attacking their daughter's assailant rather than pursuing the matter through police. [But the police were no help!]

He said the issue came to a head when Rachel and the Bakers' daughter became involved in an after school argument, which involved taunts and pushing. After the incident in the park, the Bakers and their daughter drove around the area looking for Rachel and a group of her friends in a bid to resolve the bullying problem. Mr McGhee said Stephen Baker punched Rachel in the head up to four times. "(Baker told Rachel) 'no one hits my daughter'," Mr McGhee told the court. "(Baker) stated he would kill them if they touched her again." Suzane Baker then grabbed Rachel by the hair and punched her in the head up to four times, he said.

Barrister Paul Brown, for Stephen Baker, said his client had become frustrated when neither the school or the police appeared to act on the family's complaints. Barrister Geoff Seaholme, for Suzane Baker, said the mother was also frustrated by the situation and had been the subject of an alleged revenge attack by members of Rachel's family. Mr Seaholme said one of Rachel's family had been charged over an attack on Suzane Baker, during which she received two black eyes. The attack allegedly occurred the day after the assault on Rachel. Rachel and members of her family made a number of disapproving grunts and groans during yesterday's sentencing hearing.

Judge Dearden, in sentencing the Bakers, said the actions of all concerned - the Bakers, Rachel and her family - could best be described as disgraceful and appalling. He said it was clear the actions of Rachel, the Bakers and anyone responsible for the attack on Suzane Baker were criminal and as such should, if they had not already, be referred to police. "Instead of putting (your daughter) in the car and looking for the bully, you should . . . (have been) driving to the police station," he told the Bakers. "The 14-year-old (Rachel) could/may (still) be subjected to criminal offences (if reported to police)." Judge Dearden also gave a forceful warning to both families to try to resolve their differences to avoid establishing a long-term feud between them.

Stephen and Suzane Baker were given wholly suspended jail terms of six and three months respectively.


Crooked insurance company: QBE

Sounds like a company to avoid. A pity that I have shares in it

For Trad Thornton, the loss of his loved one was only the beginning of his anguish. Since his partner was killed in a 2005 plane crash at Lockhart River on Cape York, he and other family members of the 13 passengers on the flight have been so frustrated at the go-slow tactics of insurer QBE that he is threatening to picket the company's Sydney headquarters. Senior Constable Thornton was due to marry the woman he adored, colleague Constable Sally Urquhart, in September 2005. But four months before the wedding she lost her life when the Transair plane crashed into a mountain on the approach to Lockhart airstrip, Australia's worst air crash in 40 years. The couple had lived together for three years, serving on various Aboriginal communities in Cape York, including Aurukun and Bamaga.

Constable Thornton has found it impossible to achieve closure, having first to live through the coronial inquest that found pilot error was to blame for the crash and now the alleged protracted game-playing by the insurer he accuses of trying to "delay and minimise" compensation payments to the families of the victims.

Asked yesterday by The Australian to explain its failure after three years to settle with claimants including Constable Thornton, a QBE spokesman replied that the company had no comment to make.

Constable Thornton, with 10 years' service behind him, is now a member of the elite Public Safety Response Team, the unit that is mobilised when emergencies requiring police presence occur anywhere in Queensland. He said his lawyer explained that QBE had public liability cover for passengers to a maximum of $500,000, but in Urquhart's case had offered him only $97,000. Urquhart was killed on duty, so a Work Cover (worker's compensation) payment of $153,000 was made to her fiance, but under Queensland legislation that will have to be paid back if another insurer also pays for her death.

"QBE advertises heavily seeking people to take up their policies, but those same people should be aware of what they are like if you make a claim," Constable Thornton said. "They spend millions of dollars sponsoring Brisbane Riverfire celebrations, yet they fight every inch of the way in a case so open-and-shut as this one. "They made a verbal offer to me of $97,000, all of which will have to go to WorkCover. I have outstanding legal bills of $65,000 to be met for solicitors who represented me. Quite frankly, I am getting to the stage where I would go to Sydney and distribute flyers outside QBE offices telling people just how they operate. The whole business is really stressing me."

QBE had presented a "dependency" document that calculated Constable Urquhart's expected life earnings in the police service - but on the basis she never be promoted beyond the rank of constable, he said. Constable Thornton has obtained testimonials from her senior supervising officers telling how she was so well regarded that it was considered she was certainly destined for commissioned rank. Constable Urquhart had degrees in science and law, with honours, from Griffith University in Brisbane where she also won a prize for her understanding of family law.

"Several of the families of passengers who died in the crash keep in contact, and in one particular case the solicitors for QBE requested a widow to provide the boarding pass of her husband - to prove that he was actually on the plane," Constable Thornton said. "That sort of thing is just so stressful for these people - and this has been going on now for three years. "I bet the owner of the plane has been paid out for his aircraft so he can continue in business. Insurance payments in a case like this should be like third-party insurance claims on a motor vehicle - they should not be dependency-based. "People need to have confidence that their insurance company will pay what they owe in a reasonable time."

State Coroner Michael Barnes, in his findings on the cause of the crash delivered on August 17, 2007, said "errors and cavalier flying" by chief pilot Brett Hotchin caused the twin-engined Metroliner to hit the mountain while on approach to land. Mr Barnes strongly criticised the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, saying there were deficiences in the organisation's surveillance and audit of TransAir. "I find that CASA could have done more to insist that TransAir improved certain aspects of its operations, but I do not believe that the evidence supports a finding that they could reasonably have stopped it from operating or prevented the crash," he said. Mr Barnes stopped short of recommending any charges be laid against anybody following his inquest into Australia's worst airline crash in 40 years.


Kids from poor families still unlikely to go to university

The deadening government schools the poor have to go to are a major reason for that

THOSE from poor families appear to be no more likely to reach university, despite a vast expansion of the sector during the past 15 years, and the reason is social class and weaker school performance feeding low expectations, rather than the rising cost of higher education. This is the conclusion suggested by a 149-page Universities Australia report on equity and participation released today.

Lead author Richard James, from the University of Melbourne, said it was vital to maintain scholarships and other financial measures but added that "money allocated at the point of transition to university isn't going to fix the problem on the larger scale". "To fix the problem we have to fix schooling and improve school achievement levels for people from low socioeconomic status backgrounds, their lower rates of school completion and lower academic results at school, which in the early stages makes people start to think going to university is not for them because they won't have the grades," Professor James said.

Students from low SES backgrounds held about 15 per cent of places and this had remained nearly unchanged for 15 years. The expansion of the university sector had lifted the absolute number of these students. They were especially under-represented in the most competitive professions, such as law. As a group, low SES students comprised less than 10 per cent of postgraduate students, the UA study says. The rising cost of higher education, however, did not seem to be a disincentive.

Census data suggested university attendance rates were stable for young people in all socioeconomic groups between 2001 and 2006. "The increased cost of attending university since 1997 does not appear to have had net adverse effects on any of the socioeconomic groups," the report says. "For blue-collar families, household income appears to have little effect on the likelihood that their teenage children will attend university. School results are the major influence on university attendance."

University of Wollongong vice-chancellor Gerard Sutton said he agreed with the James assessment that lack of money was not the main barrier to university. "Universities are doing all we can to encourage people and provide scholarships. It's aspirational," Professor Sutton said. That universities had to hand back more than 1700 places this year showed there was no effective unmet demand.

Professor Sutton said the Government's appointment of Labor MP Maxine McKew to tackle the issue of early childhood development was a significant development. His university was revamping its early childhood program to improve the number and quality of teachers. Professor Sutton said he and his counterparts in the sector remained concerned about student poverty and the amount of paid work students had to do, which kept them away from their studies.

Professor James backed a policy response that would allow students to reduce the time they had to spend in paid work.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Major Australian media outlet supports Leftist thought control

SINISTER (adj) 1. Suggestive of evil; looking malignant or villainous. 2. Wicked or criminal. 3.An evil omen.

"Sinister" was the word chosen by The Sydney Morning Herald to describe the campaign launched by the Young Liberals at university campuses under the slogan "Education, not indoctrination". Remove the SMH filter and here's the story: a group of Young Liberals is concerned that students are sometimes forced to endure indoctrination by university academics. Their aim is to encourage freedom of thought and intellectual pluralism on campus. Some may say their goal is naive. Universities have always been bastions of left-wing thought. But sinister?

The problem, says the Herald, is that the campaign "is a sinister echo to one waged by conservatives on the other side of the world". Now we get to the heart of it. The other side of the world is, of course, the US. Ergo, any US export - save Al Gore propaganda - is inherently suspect. It is a shame the Herald did not provide more facts. The pursuit of academic freedom in the US over the past four years makes for riveting, not sinister, reading. And it's not a peculiarly American problem.

In the spring of 2003 David Horowitz, a prominent conservative writer, founded Students for Academic Freedom, a group committed to the simple idea that "academic freedom is most likely to thrive in an environment of intellectual diversity that protects and fosters independence of thought and speech". He proposed an academic bill of rights to promote intellectual diversity at universities. As The Wall Street Journal said, Horowitz was asking campus hierarchies to foster "something it is already supposed to believe in: academic freedom".

Hundreds of chapters of the group sprang up on campuses across the US as thousands of students began to rebel against the ideological monoculture they confronted at universities. Examples of bias poured in: course lists comprised solely of radical left texts; essay assignments asking students to explain why "President Bush is a war criminal"; a history professor at Duke University professing "I don't have a bias against anyone ... except Republicans"; another professor informing a Kuwaiti Muslim immigrant that he would need "regular psychotherapy" for writing an essay that defended America's founding fathers and the US Constitution; another student whose economics professor demanded he drop out of his introduction to micro-economics class or face harassment charges for praising Milton Friedman and free market ideals.

Horowitz blindsided the critics by also supporting Michael Weisner, a former student at a California university who complained about a conservative professor. This was no purge of left-wing academics. As Horowitz wrote in 2006, the campaign was "about intellectual diversity, about respect for students who dissent and about protecting their right to draw their own conclusions on controversial matters".

Back in Australia, on a much smaller scale, the Young Liberals and their "Education, not indoctrination" campaign is under way. And it's not hard to find examples of the latter occurring at universities and in schools. Laura (not her real name) is a 50-year-old academic who has spent 15 years teaching trainee primary school teachers at a university in Sydney. She told The Australian she worked side by side in a classroom with an academic who tried to indoctrinate first-year students. She won't name names for fear of recriminations. She says that her colleague, who teaches social science in the education faculty, is intent on changing his students' attitudes to society. He encouraged them to go on demonstrations. Each week, his office door would feature a new anti-Howard cartoon. He voiced anti-government views in the classroom, all the while ignoring the content of the syllabus.

"Some students came to me complaining about exams because they were concerned that if they didn't answer the question with this person's viewpoint, they would be penalised," Laura says. Whereas Laura was teaching her young charges to keep their political views out of the classroom, her colleague believed it was his role "to change their views and promote politics in the classroom".

Jamie, an 18-year-old student at the University of Sydney, saw teachers doing precisely that last year during her HSC. She told The Australian her legal studies teacher at her school in northern Sydney "found it very difficult to give an unbiased perspective, especially when we were studying Work Choices. And I was told if I didn't write an essay that was anti-WC, it would not do very well. One day (the teacher) walked into the classroom saying: "I love Kevin Rudd." I said to her a couple of times: "But, Miss, you shouldn't be putting so much of your opinion into this." Her teacher told her it was impossible to keep opinion out of legal studies. Says Jamie: "I don't think that's correct. Whatever (the teacher's) opinion, it should not be brought intoteaching."

The same thing happened in her HSC English class. At election time last year, when her HSC class studied George Orwell's 1984, Jamie says her teacher "would frequently compare John Howard to Big Brother and say liberal policies were aimed at mind control". Jamie (she won't reveal her surname because she maintains close ties with her former school) is now a Young Liberal. She says: "I understand the bias my teachers had for their own reasons. And it doesn't offend me. But I think education should be about giving students the skills to come to their own conclusions."

If the US is any guide, such examples of intellectual bias are not uncommon. They deserve to be aired. Unless you are a Green, in which case you kind of like the cushy status quo. Perhaps that is why John Kaye, the NSW Greens education spokesman, described the Young Liberals campaign for an academic bill of rights as akin to McCarthyism. Notice how the same fellows who are vocal supporters a wide-ranging bill of rights for the rest of the community are horrified at the notion of an academic bill of rights on campus. What are they afraid of?

By all means, let's push for an academic bill of rights. The results in the US speak for themselves. Legislative inquiries in state after state exposed the lack of intellectual pluralism on campus. But the aim should be, as it was in the US, to get university administrators to take this issue seriously. Horowitz says that legislation was never the real aim. His purpose was "to wake up" university administrators so that they would "promote respect for intellectual diversity in the same way they now promote respect for other kinds of diversity". It has happened in the US. It should be happening here. Hardly sinister stuff.


Government attack on whistleblowing newspaper

The West Australian needed to replace its editor and senior management as well as change the newspaper's editorial culture, Premier Alan Carpenter said yesterday. In his most critical remarks yet against the daily, Mr Carpenter joined a growing list of prominent West Australians in attacking the monopoly newspaper.

Seven Network owner Kerry Stokes has ignited a firestorm of indignation in his bid for two seats on the West Australian Newspapers Holdings board. Seven owns 19.4 per cent of WAN, and Mr Stokes is seeking the board seats at an extraordinary meeting next Wednesday in an attempt to turn around the financial and editorial performance of his hometown paper.

Attorney-General Jim McGinty has labelled the newspaper's journalists unethical and effectively black-banned them from press conferences. Asked yesterday about Mr McGinty's attitude towards journalists, particularly those from The West Australian, Mr Carpenter said he understood the Attorney-General's position. "It is undesirable to have a standoff between a senior minister and the major morning newspaper of the state ... but I understand why Jim McGinty has come to the position he has come to," Mr Carpenter said. "I think most West Australians would understand it and understand why the readership of The West Australian has tailed off under the current regime. The West Australian newspaper, I think, needs to change its culture, the editorial culture; it needs to change the editor; it needs to change the senior management."

Citing two incorrect front-page stories last year, Mr Carpenter said the newspaper needed to take a more honest approach to journalism. He described the story about a woman in a hospital waiting room as "completely fictional rubbish", and last year's supposed finding of HMAS Sydney as the worst abuse of journalistic power he had seen. "I have never seen a worse abuse of journalistic power than the one we saw when The West Australian newspaper claimed on its front page that the Sydney had been found, regardless of how that might impact on the emotions of the families of the people who died in that (disaster). "It's no wonder that The West Australian newspaper really has such low credibility rating in the community of this state, and there's a general view that a change is needed - I agree with that."


Qld. says no to plastic bag panic

QUEENSLAND will oppose a levy on plastic bags at tomorrow's meeting of federal and state environment ministers. Premier Anna Bligh today told State Parliament the levy would be another impost on families already struggling to meet rising household costs. "Queensland does remain committed to completely phasing out non-biodegradable plastic bags," Ms Bligh said. "In this government's ongoing fight to protect our environment, Queensland will push for a total ban on non-biodegradable plastic bags, and call for urgent work to be done to identify an environmentally friendly alternative."

Ms Bligh said alternatives to plastic bags were not yet in sufficient supply to immediately ban conventional bags. She said it was an opportunity for a new environment-based industry. "Urgent work with industry needs to be done, to identify how quickly an alternative could be delivered to meet demand," she said. "Australian business are incredible innovators, and if a national standard is set to phase out and ban non-biodegradable plastic bags, I'm confident that industry will rise to the challenge." Queensland Environment Minister Andrew McNamara will attend tomorrow's meeting in Melbourne.


No Rudd rescue of unions

The Rudd Government has refused to rescue Australia's union movement in the face of new figures showing its declining membership has reached crisis levels. Despite record union campaign support for Labor's election victory, the Government warned yesterday that unions would have to survive on their own as membership in the majority private sector workforce fell to a historic low of 13.7 per cent. With figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicating a bleak future, Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard made it clear the Government would not "artificially" prop up unions.

In Labor's industrial relations policy released before the election, Ms Gillard said Labor believed unions played an important part in ensuring workplaces were fair. She also said collective agreements, which are backed by unions, would be at the "heart" of Labor's proposed industrial relations system. However, Ms Gillard's position yesterday indicated Labor had no intention of offering special aid to unions through a revival of government grants or funding for union training, as was provided by the Hawke and Keating governments.

Unions are unclear about what access they will have to worksites for recruitment purposes under Labor's proposed laws, with Ms Gillard indicating strict entry permits for union officials would apply.

According to the ABS survey, union membership in the year to August last year fell by 89,000, despite a successful campaign by the ACTU to rally public support against John Howard's Work Choices laws. The overall proportion of the workforce belonging to a union fell 1 per cent to 19 per cent. But the critical decline occurred in the private sector where the bulk of employees work, with membership sliding to levels of just 13.7 per cent. The proportion of the workforce in unions was held up only by relatively high membership in the public service at 41 per cent.

Ms Gillard offered one concession yesterday to the unions in the commonwealth public service, confirming Labor had decided to restore automatic payroll deductions of membership fees for government employees. The previous government's decision after it won office in 1996 to end payroll deductions led to a significant fall in numbers.

A spokeswoman for Ms Gillard said that the latest union figures reflected a long-term trend of decline broadly consistent with international experience. The Government supported fair and balanced workplaces with employees having a choice on union membership, she said. "While it is not for government to denigrate unions and the role they play, it is also not for government to artificially prop up union membership," she said.

ACTU president Sharan Burrow said unions would like to see more government support, but accepted reality. "Of course we would like to see more support, but the era of the old Trade Union Training Authority has gone," Ms Burrow said.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Muslim majority wants secular law

By Shahram Akbarzadeh (A Western-trained academic of Iranian origins)

The following may well be a true and reasonable account of the Muslim majority in Australia but it would help if it were backed by evidence rather than mere assertion. One would hope for better than mere assertion from an academic. He does not in any case offer any guidance to dealing with the troublesome minority. How are we expected to know which Muslims are haters and which are not? On the "precautionary principle" much-loved by the Green/Left in other contexts, we would assume that ALL Muslims are bad eggs

There is a presumption about Muslims' inability to live under secular rule that rests on the view that they live by strict Koranic codes that are incompatible with the modern way of life in Australia. This is false on two grounds.

First, most Australian Muslims are not affiliated with any religious organisation, do not attend mosque or send their children to Islamic schools. They may pray in the privacy of their homes but would not wear their religion on their sleeves. This group is best described as cultural Muslims. Islam is the religion they are born into and proud of, and anything short of this would be tantamount to rejecting their heritage. Islam is part of their identity, as is social-familial status, political affiliations and ethnic background. But Islam is not the sole pillar of identity. This group is as comfortable with the laws that govern Australia as any of their non-Muslim neighbours; that is, they drive over the speed limit on occasion and try to dodge taxes if they can.

A lot of public debate about Muslims ignores this large demographic group. Instead, the focus is often on the more religiously devout and organised sections of Australian Muslims. There is a good reason for that. Cultural Muslims are the silent majority, as they don't organise and present their case under the rubric of Islam. It is not that cultural Muslims lack organisational skills. But as far as they are concerned, why form an Islamic society when they could form an ethnic or social club? The latter is more inclusive and allows for a broader cultural appeal than religiously oriented associations.

But by going down this path, cultural Muslims have been excluded (wittingly or unwittingly) from the public debate on Islam. The Coalition government effectively ignored ethnic Muslim groups when forming the Muslim Reference Group. These communities were not seen as representing the interests of Australian Muslims. But the reality was the reverse. The appointed reference group was drawn from a small pool of religious leaders and had little authority in the ethnically diverse Muslim communities, least of all among youth. This was a critical flaw. The Rudd Government seems more sensitive towards the question of community representation, although the public debate is still confined to religious associations.

Second, devout Muslims who attend mosques and Friday prayer on a regular basis have a much more nuanced view of their place in Australia than that with which they are credited. Contrary to the views of former treasurer Peter Costello, devout Muslims do not champion the establishment of sharia law in Australia. What is important for them is no different to other groups. Education opportunities and employment prospects for themselves and their kids rates much higher than any other concerns. There is a persistent pattern of expression among devout Muslims.

Being religiously minded, ideas and views are often expressed using Islamic terminology. For example, it is common to say inshallah (God willing) if one wishes for something. This comes naturally to devout Muslims but to outsiders it could be confronting, even scary. Why invoke a foreign God when God has been pushed to the private sphere under Australia's secular rule?

Devout Muslims are comparable with other religiously devout groups. They emphasise their religious affiliations and don't shy away from expressing their religious beliefs. But this does not mean that they neglect other duties and responsibilities to their family, community and society as a whole. One may even argue that religious devotion makes Muslims more conscientious about their social duties as moral citizens.

The irony is that devout Muslims feel more comfortable living under secular rule than any other system because the Australian political and judicial system allows equal freedom to all religious and non-religious groups. Devout Muslims appreciate that and live by that rule. There is widespread acknowledgment among devout Muslims that Australia's secular laws are the best guarantee they have for practising Islam freely. To be sure, there are sporadic complaints about media representation of Islam and discrimination. But these do not negate the fundamental fact that the overwhelming majority of Islamic organisations view Australian law as their protector and appeal to it for redress.

Australian Muslims, whether cultural or devout, value the fair-go spirit of Australia. This spirit resonates with their cultural and religious beliefs. It would help us all if we paused to look at values that bind us together.


Desperation to find teachers

The article below uses the rather implausible excuse that many potential teachers would rather be miners. What they omit to mention is the unattractivesness of teaching politically correct rubbish in undisciplined classes

Before he has even finished his university degree, Michael Briggs is signed up for a six-figure salary in his new job - not as a lawyer or dentist, and not in the mines, but as a high school science teacher. Under a scholarship program unveiled by the West Australian Government, Mr Briggs will receive a $60,000 lump sum on top of his regular teaching salary. In exchange, he will teach in a country school for four years, receiving half his bonus payment now, and the rest at the end of his contract.

The bonus $60,000 is paid on top of a first-year teaching salary that is worth more than $50,000, and any other allowances, which can be worth almost $20,000 depending on the posting. The bonus can be paid in a lump sum or, as in Mr Briggs's case, as a fortnightly payment. This brings his starting salary to at least $110,000, an amount few teachers in government schools achieve. The $19million teaching scholarship program is the latest scheme launched by the state Government to attract teachers into its schools, particularly in rural and remote areas.

While all states and territories are suffering from a shortage of teachers, the problem is worse in Western Australia, with prospective and even practising teachers giving up school-work for the big salaries in mining.

Mr Briggs, 32, said his decision to enter teaching was prompted by having children and wanting a secure career and job satisfaction rather than the enticement of extra money. "I could have done a six-week course and become a crane driver or similar on six figures in the mines but it is just not challenging intellectually," he said. "This is the job I want to do. I would be doing it anyway, without the extra money." ...

State Education Minister Mark McGowan said the teacher scholarship program had received 346 applications to date, with 32 signing up for country service and the $60,000 bonus. Mr McGowan said the scholarships were designed to attract final-year teaching students to regional schools and to attract teachers into areas of serious shortages, such as maths, science, design and technology.


A rare display of spine from an Anglican archbishop

Though expressed in a suitably Anglican way, of course. If he had been a North American Anglican bishop he would probably have been ogling the boys concerned by now

The head of the Anglican Church has backed a Brisbane school's decision to turn down the request of gay students to bring male partners to a school dance, as Queensland Premier Anna Bligh welcomed debate on the issue. Several of the Anglican Church Grammar School's 215 Year 12 students want to take their gay partners to their end-of-year dance on June 19. However, under current policy, the young men may only attend the ball with a female partner.

Headmaster Jonathan Hensman said the policy had never been challenged and it had always been the tradition that boys took girls to their matriculation dance. However, Mr Hensman said he was open to discussing the matter with students and encouraged those concerned to raise the issue in writing so he could refer it to the school council for debate. No complaint has yet been lodged with Queensland's Anti-Discrimination Commission.

Anglican Archbishop Phillip Aspinall, who is president of the school council, said he supported the headmaster's decision. "I have no personal objection to a school deciding to allow boys to take friends who are boys or girls to take friends who are girls to school formals," Dr Aspinall told ABC Radio. "But I understand in this particular instance the school has decided that its approach is to emphasise the interaction of young men and young women and providing them with an opportunity to do that in this kind of formal setting. "And I have no objection to that either. I think that's a reasonable and legitimate approach." Dr Aspinall said all students should be treated with respect and care.

Ms Bligh said she supported the school's decision to discuss the issue within its community. "These are very difficult issues for schools to manage and I can understand why it's not a clear-cut matter," Ms Bligh told reporters in Brisbane today. "Parents will inevitably have strong views, both ways. "I can certainly say that as (a past) education minister I'm aware that many teachers and many guidance officers and school support staff face the reality of talking to young people about their sexuality. "We can't put our head in the sand on this. "As young people develop from their early teenage years through to young adulthood the question of sexuality will emerge and it will arise."


Another negligent and uncaring public hospital in NSW

Amy and Jo, daughters of the journalist Mike Willesee, were sure their mother was not depressed but that she was suffering from a serious undiagnosed medical condition. But Nepean Hospital medical staff failed to take a history from the women, despite their mother Carol, an accomplished stage actress, being in such a state she was unable to communicate, they told the Special Commission of Inquiry into acute care services in NSW yesterday. Carol Willesee had gone from a healthy active woman in June 2006, to within four months not being able to walk unassisted. She died in December 2006, aged 59, of the extremely rare neurological Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

Doctors had previously determined her problems were psychosomatic. Her daughters took her to a private psychiatric hospital in Richmond at the end of October 2006. "At that point we felt lost in the system because we had nowhere to go . plus we had the absolute terror that something was significantly wrong with her. She appeared to us to be dying," Amy Willesee said. Within days that hospital sent her by ambulance to Nepean Hospital's emergency department.

Amy Willesee told the inquiry the family became increasingly distressed during their mother's four-week stay at Nepean because they felt ignored by medical staff who did not speak to them at all about what their mother might be suffering from or what tests they were organising. She said she suspected that because her mother had come from a psychiatric hospital her condition was not being treated as medical. She had suspected her mother had the disease after researching her symptoms on the internet, but it was not until weeks after Carol was admitted that the doctors said they were investigating the possibility of CJD despite medical notes revealing later that it had been initially raised in emergency.

She said her mother was not adequately treated while at Nepean and the neurological team did not document many of the "frightening" symptoms she had witnessed, such as her arm being straight up in the air so stiff she could not pull it down. "It meant that Mum's pain and distress was never treated until she was diagnosed which was 23 days after her admission." The family never got to speak with her treating neurologist despite several requests and the junior doctor gave them scant information, she said. "Every day we would attempt to make contact with the specialist," she said. "We didn't ever meet the specialist."

She said family were not told of any tests being conducted and were not given the opportunity to ask questions. "We felt that she was just lying there dying," she said. Outside the inquiry she said: "At no time did any of the doctors at that hospital talk to us about what might be wrong with Mum".


Monday, April 14, 2008

Surge in children taught at home in NSW

Given the low standards and bullying at many government schools, it is a wonder that there are so few homschoolers. I guess most parents don't have a choice

The number of students registered for home schooling has jumped by 15 per cent in the past 12 months as more parents desert the NSW Government education system. More than 1630 students were registered for home schooling in 2007, up from 1417 the year before and 1419 in 2005. However, experts say the real number of students being home schooled across the State is more than 3000 as thousands of families are unwilling to register and join the State Government's teaching syllabus.

Home Education Association vice-president Cathy Chisari said she estimates the real number of students being home educated could be double the official figure. She said parents didn't want the State Government involved in the education of their children, so they refused to sign up. "A lot of parents don't want the NSW Department of Education involved," she said, "so they just don't register."

Ms Chisari, whose two children are home schooled, said parents involved in home education were dissatisfied with the State's school system. She said some parents refused to register their children as they don't want to have to follow the Department of Education's curriculum.

Ms Chisari's lessons don't involve a classroom and often include a trip to the park, the local library or the city's museums and galleries. "The biggest reason parents do this is because they're not happy with the school system," she said. "People are feeling like they want to be in charge of their children's education. They feel they can home educate without the State Government telling them what to do. They don't want someone controlling when and where things are taught."

State Opposition Education spokesperson Andrew Stoner said parents had lost faith in public education and were turning to private schools or home education as an alternative. "The main problem is that public schools have been starved of funds for infrastructure and resources," Mr Stoner said.

Ms Chisari, who withdrew her son from a government school after he was bullied. said home education had lost its stigma and was no longer associated with "hippies".

The above article by ANDREW CHESTERTON appeared in the Sydney "Sunday Telegraph" of 13 April, 2008

Rainwater tanks 'full of lead and aluminium'

Pesky for the Greenies. Greenies love tanks. It gives them a feeling of independence and gives them a rationale for opposing dams. So if they all get lead poisoning, why should I care? They deserve it. I favour much safer tested, filtered, chlorinated and reticulated water from dams. It's just a great pity that Greenie opposition to dams has created a shortage of such water in many places. The study below does not in fact tell half the story. The bacterial load from birdshit and other droppings in tank water is not mentioned at all!

RAINWATER tanks have been found to be commonly contaminated with lead and other heavy metals, a study to be presented this week has found. The joint Melbourne Monash University and CSIRO research found the use of lead in roofs to join surfaces and channel away water elevated the risks, pushing the lead content in tank water as high as 50 times Australia's drinking water guidelines. But even across a broader range of roof types and tanks, one-third of those surveyed contained lead concentrations in the water exceeding safe drinking levels by up to 35 times. "Concentrations of aluminium, cadmium, iron and zinc were also found at levels exceeding acceptable health and esthetic levels," the study reports.

Australians have increasingly embraced rainwater tanks, pushing the share of homes with water tanks to nearly 20 per cent last year from 15 per cent three years earlier. Of the remainder, 60 per cent of homes are considering installing rainwater tanks, amid escalating water restrictions because of the drought, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

But while most homes with tanks install them to save water, the second most common reason for buying them is to service properties that are not connected to mains water. In South Australia, almost half of households use some water from tanks, and more than a fifth use them as their main source of drinking water.

Study co-author Grace Mitchell said some people also simply preferred the taste of rainwater, or considered it more natural. "It is more natural in the sense that it's not treated but in some cases that's not a good thing," she said. The Monash University senior research fellow said the surprisingly large incidence of contamination reinforced the need for people to stick with drinking mains water, or to get their tank water tested for heavy metals.


Film flops cost taxpayers $90m

What a misuse of taxpayer funds! Why is the government in the business at all? It's absolutely typical that government involvement in industry is a huge flop

AUSTRALIAN movie flops cost taxpayers $90 million over the past seven years with up to 85 per cent of projects getting Australian Film Commission grants never returning a cent from box office receipts. A Daily Telegraph investigation into film handouts can reveal globally successful directors such as Philip Noyce, maker of blockbusters Patriot Games and Sliver, glamour couple Bryan Brown and Rachel Ward, and The Piano producer Jan Chapman have lined up for funds. But documents show that six years after many of their projects received the grants many have not repaid them - with some not even getting past script development stage.

Taxpayers have invested $104.36m since 2000 on film and documentary projects through the Australian Film Commission, its financial statements show. Just $12.29m has been returned. The AFC money supplies part of the handouts with millions of dollars in other grants available through state agencies, including the NSW Film and Television Office, which last financial year spent $6.749m and got returns of $948,000.

Documents detailing the present status of "investment" grants awarded by the AFC in 2002-03, obtained under Freedom of Information, show there were 332 grants to projects in major script and film development categories. The funding - which can range from $5000 for scripts to $200,000 or more to finance production - is required to be repaid from first cash flow after release. But just 41 of the 332 grants that year have been since fully repaid to the AFC, a success rate of 12 per cent. Twenty seven of the projects given money have not even progressed to their next stage of development.

Mr Noyce's company Rumbalara, which produced Rabbit Proof Fence, first received seed development funding for the project Obelia in August 2001 and has since had funding worth $61,000. It has yet to be released. He also has other projects, including Years of Wonders and Dirt Music also receiving $40,000 and $24,000. Neither has yet returned money to the AFC.

Earlier this month Sydney-based couple Bryan Brown and Rachel Ward publicly condemned the NSW Government for failing to help finance their next project. But documents show the couple's New Town Films has yet to pay back AFC grants for their 2003 short film Martha's New Coat, which received at least $18,250 in 2002. The 50-minute production was directed by Ward, produced by Brown and their daughter Matilda made her film debut in it.

The production company of the producer of The Piano, Somersault and Lantana, Jan Chapman Films Pty Ltd, is also yet to pay back money for the feature Dreamtime Alice.


Complaints against doctors to go public in NSW

Long overdue. Better something than nothing. The public have had only the illusion of protection so far

Complaints against doctors will be aired at open hearings chaired by lawyers under landmark legislation to smash the code of secrecy surrounding rogue operators such as the "Butcher of Bega". In the fallout from the Bega case, where Dr Graeme Reeves is accused of mutilating hundreds of women, the NSW Government will today announce an unprecedented overhaul of the medical regulatory system. It means doctors will no longer be able to escape scrutiny by appearing at closed and confidential hearings presided over by fellow medics. The laws will include:

* A "guillotine provision" that automatically bans any doctor who breaches conditions on their practice;

* New powers for the NSW Medical Board to urgently suspend a doctor to protect the lives or health of patients;

* Making Professional Standards Committee (PSC) hearings open to the public and publishing findings;

* Employing non-medical personnel to help decide on disciplinary action against doctors, with a legal representative as chairperson;

* Forcing doctors by law to report colleagues they believe have engaged in sexual abuse, drug or alcohol intoxication or other serious misconduct;

* Requiring the NSW Medical Board and the Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) to consider all patient complaints, even after a doctor has been struck off;

* Ordering professional disciplinary bodies to examine doctors' overall "patterns of conduct" rather than on an individual complaint basis.

In an exclusive interview with The Sunday Telegraph, NSW Health Minister Reba Meagher said doctors will face more scrutiny than ever before. The new legislation will be presented to parliament early next month. It comes in the wake of revelations about Reeves, the disgraced ex-gynaecologist and obstetrician who allegedly mutilated and abused hundreds of women across NSW without detection by authorities for more than a decade. "The Reeves case challenged public confidence in the way the medical profession was being regulated and disciplined," the minister said.

But the proposals have met a lukewarm response from the medical profession. Dr Andrew Keegan, president of the Australian Medical Association (NSW), doubts they will make a lot of difference and is concerned about practicalities. "Frankly, lay people and legal people are not going to understand (medical details at PSC hearings), so you need a medical person there," he said. "Doctors need to have guidance on reporting colleagues - you can't work on hearsay. "The other thing we know is what we are told by patients is not always reliable." But Dr Rosanna Capolingua, president of the Federal AMA, supported the laws, which she said "enshrine existing professional and ethical obligations".

For the first time, anyone will be able to attend PSC hearings into alleged professional misconduct by doctors. "At the moment, it's assumed the (hearings) will be heard in private - we say it's going to be the other way around," Ms Meagher said. Legal and non-medical representatives will be introduced in a bid to overturn the system of "doctors regulating doctors" and improve objectivity.

Doctors who fail to raise the alarm about colleagues who have committed serious misconduct may face "failure to report" penalties themselves,ranging from counselling to being suspended or struck off. Those who make a report must have good grounds and will be granted immunity from defamation but will not gain anonymity. Under the "guillotine provision", the Medical Board will be able to immediately suspend or deregister a doctor who breaks rules of practice. It took the Board 20 months to deregister Reeves after discovering he was breaching an obstetrics ban - during which time he was able to treat other patients.


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Australian trainee doctors miss out on experience at childbirth

They now learn little about anatomy so I suppose this is the next step. I am sure that they learn a lot about multicultural "sensitivity", though. I am glad my doctor is an older guy

MEDICAL students might graduate without ever having witnessed a natural birth or delivering a baby. A survey of Australian medical schools found rising caesarean rates and a dramatic rise in the number of trainee doctors and midwives competing to be in the birth suite meant opportunities to be involved in labour and delivery were diminishing. It also found many women would not consent to a medical student performing the delivery, even under supervision of a midwife or doctor.

The survey by Professor Caroline de Costa, of Queensland's James Cook University - published in the latest issue of medical journal O&G - found some medical schools had dropped or scaled back the mandatory requirement for students to attend a delivery. Yet the Australian College of Midwives requires its students to have performed 40 normal deliveries.

Australian Medical Students' Association president Michael Bonning said: "We believe it compromises patient safety and is inconsistent with community standards for medical graduates not to be exposed to the normal birthing process."

But some universities have decided it is no longer practical to have a fixed quota of births to attend. Simon Broadley, from Queensland's Griffith University, said that, while it recommended students observe all types of deliveries, including instrumental (forceps or vacuum) and caesarean, teaching hospitals were already full of training nurses, midwives and paramedics and didn't have room for the hundreds of new doctors coming through universities. Almost 11,000 students were enrolled in 18 medical schools in 2006. Three new medical schools have since opened in NSW.

Associate Professor Broadley said most interns were not usually expected to deliver a baby. But Michael Chapman, head of the School of Women's and Children's Health at the University of NSW, said the public expected a doctor to display a certain level of competence when faced with labour emergencies. "I think the community would have an expectation that a doctor who has graduated from a medical school and is confronted with a lady in labour in a taxi would be able to deliver it," Professor Chapman said.

Requirements range from nothing at universities such as Newcastle to Melbourne's Monash University where students must experience three normal births, a birth using forceps and a caesarean. Professor de Costa said experiencing childbirth also encouraged junior doctors to choose a career in obstetrics. UNSW student Natalie Ammala said delivering a baby was "a powerful experience" that had pushed her towards becoming an obstetrician. "The experience has given me much more confidence than just learning from a textbook," she said.


Mad to tinker with our great system

Whenever I ask critics of Australia's constitutional arrangements to name one country anywhere that has a better set of overall arrangements than we do, I am inevitably met with dumbfounded silence. Taken as a whole, they wouldn't swap our constitutional arrangements with Canada, the US, New Zealand, Britain or anywhere else.

This isn't too surprising. Canada has a wholly appointed upper house full of hacks and political party placemen. It has a virtually unusable amending procedure and a newish constitution to which one province, Quebec, has yet to sign up. The US has bad gerrymandering as regards elections to the House of Representatives, political campaigns that go on for years and philosopher king-like judges who make far too many of the line-drawing calls for society. (The last point applies to Canada, too.)

New Zealand has about the worst voting system going, a list-based proportional system that just this past week brought about the absurd situation in which their Foreign Minister opposes the free trade agreement with China negotiated by the Prime Minister and the Government of which he is a member. And Britain is daily handing more and more decision-making powers to European institutions that are, frankly, undemocratic bodies in the extreme. Even the recent European Union constitution (oops, minor amending treaty, to give it its new name) had to be snuck in the back door without consulting a single one of Europe's 300 million voters. That and the difficulties with devolution and the West Lothian question hardly make Britain's constitutional set-up a prime candidate for emulation.

In Australia, by contrast, we have a world-best voting system; we have compulsory voting; we have real bicameralism with a genuine house of review with an elected upper house; we have an amending process that (unlike those in the US and Canada) does not bypass the voters; we have good campaign finance rules; and the list goes on. Is everything perfect here? Of course not. But ask the sensible question of whether any country has a better set of arrangements and the answer I and many others would give you is no. At the very least that indicates that any moves to push for radical changes in Australia ought to be met with extreme scepticism.

But let's play a different game. Let's have a bit of fun and see if we could bring together a group of people who were likely to think the future of Australian governance required some pretty big overhauling: one of those newfangled bills of rights that give lots of power to unelected judges, say, and maybe a move to a republic. What group of people might be likely to push for change, change, change?

To start, you'd probably want three retired High Court justices. Not just any retired justices but the ones who gave us the execrable implied rights jurisprudence. Those were the cases from the 1990s where the High Court discovered (or, more honestly stated, made up) some implied rights, and it did this even though the founders of our Constitution explicitly rejected any US-style bill of rights. And it did this despite Australian voters consistently rejecting such proposals in referendums. The trick was to treat the idea of an implication as divorced from any actually held intentions of any real human beings, which is another way of saying it was judicial redrafting.

Anyway, for the purposes of our little game, find three of the retired High Court justices at the heart of that implied rights stuff, but make sure you avoid any retired High Court justices who may bring to the table the sort of interpretively conservative outlook that characterises the present High Court. We don't want any authoritative people who may mess up our game. Then find a few legal academics who strongly support bills of rights. Maybe get one who has had a hand in bringing one in at the state or territory level. And make sure to include a few more strong and vocal supporters. Maybe even get one of them to announce in advance that he's going to push for a bill of rights.

So far our little game is going pretty well. Maybe we should throw in a well-known newspaper and magazine columnist and broadcaster with a long-standing preference for the mob in power, one who uses a photo that may make you think of the sculptor Rodin. Of course you'd need to throw into the mix a few figleafs of balance. So make sure you get a conservative who is also a strong republican: for the flavour, as Dean Martin used to sing.

Then you can fill out the numbers and sit back and wait for what you knew you'd get going in. There'll be calls for a bill of rights. There'll be calls for Australia to become a republic. And such authoritative calls could prove mighty useful down the road, especially if that was what you wanted before you started this little charade. Of course, when we play this game, we would have to concede, were we honest, that the group we had assembled was nowhere near being representative of the views of Australians as a whole. Whenever Australians have been asked, they have recognised that the constitutional status quo is, as I noted above, comparatively excellent. But with any luck we can finesse that uncomfortable truth.

There's another point worth making. The issues of whether to have a home-grown head of state, or whether to hand lots of decision-making power to an aristocratic judiciary, are not issues on which expertise should trump numbers. Letting the numbers count is a dumb way to pick a top physicist or malaria expert. But letting the numbers count is a supremely excellent way to decide whether we pay the costs involved in moving to a republic or whether we want to take power away from our elected representatives and give it to committees of ex-lawyers (which is what judges are and which is why there is something so self-serving about judges calling for a bill of rights).

Now some of you may well think this little game was all my own invention. But I can assure you I have copied the idea lock, stock and barrel. If you don't believe me, just check out the panel on the future of Australian governance at the 2020 Summit. Nice one, Prime Minister.


Church-school students urged to fight ban on homosexual partners

It's a private school. If they don't like its rules, they can go elsewhere. The school will lose a lot of enrollments if it caves in

ANGLICAN Church Grammar School students have been urged to confront the administration over a ban on boys taking gay partners to the senior formal. A Year 12 student, who said he was not gay but that he took up the issue on behalf of his gay friends, told The Courier-Mail: "Let's take this to the administration on the first day back next term. "Demand an end to this oppression of the only remaining minority that is still legal to oppress."

The student said when he first raised the subject with a senior Churchie teacher, he was told the rules would quietly be changed provided he did not make a big deal about it. Several students at Churchie have made it known they want to escort boyfriends to the June 19 formal, but the school is insisting they take a member of the opposite sex. Churchie headmaster Jonathan Hensman said none of the students had approached him directly, but a staff member had raised the issue on their behalf.

"The senior dinner dance is an opportunity for our young men to escort a young woman in a formal school environment," Mr Hensman said. "We don't intend to change our practice. As well as being a social occasion, it's an education forum and to that end the school decides what is appropriate behaviour and what is not." Mr Hensman said the issue had not "formally" arisen in the past, that he could recall, but the question was not unexpected given "the changing times". "Not all students take their girlfriends. Some take a female friend. It's about protocols and decorums," he said. But Mr Hensman said if any of Churchie's seniors approached him formally, he would consider taking the request to the school council. State schools made their own decisions on guidelines for school formals, a Queensland Education spokesman said.

Queensland's Anti-Discrimination Commissioner Susan Booth said sexuality discrimination was unlawful, and that applied to private and public schools as well as other organisations. However, Churchie is not alone in its stand against same-sex couples attending school formals, with Queensland Catholic Education Executive Director Mike Byrne saying their schools would not allow it either. Mr Byrne said Catholic schools were committed to modelling behaviours in keeping with the values and principles of a Catholic institution. "As such we would not see it as appropriate for couples in a same-sex relationship to attend an event such as a school formal," he said. "Where young people are concerned, there are often matters associated with sexuality and relationships - both heterosexual and homosexual - where schools provide a range of support services for students."

Although Ms Booth could not comment specifically on the Churchie case because it was "a potential complaint", the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner said schools should not treat students differently on the basis of their sexuality. "What we hope is that there can be a discussion about the issue, that's what happens in the commission, and that's where we hope the matter can be sorted out."

The Queensland Education spokesman said schools "consider the Inclusive Education policy when planning a range of activities, including school formals . . . and that requires schools to foster learning environments where all students are valued for their diverse backgrounds".

Queensland University of Technology School of Justice lecturer Dr Angela Dwyer said Churchie's stand on the issue of same-sex formal partners would be "devastating" to those involved. "We're talking about someone's identity here. The way that they feel and the way that they express themselves is basically being squashed by the school," said Dr Dwyer, who is writing a research paper on "How queer young people are policed". Another expert on sexuality and education, Iain Hay from the University of Canberra, said it would be very stressful for gay students prepared to come out in front of their peers, to then be told it was "inappropriate".


An affirmative action meltdown in an Australian police force

Bias and bigotry in favour of a woman did nobody any good

FROM senior constable to superintendent in one jump, Megan McGowan's meteoric rise within NSW's police ranks was unprecedented. At the time, she felt like she was on top of the world. But after leaving the job she loved, disillusioned and dejected, in 2006, the former fraud squad commander and child-abuse campaigner has launched legal action against her former employer, seeking damages in the millions. The claim, based on Ms McGowan's assertion that she was elevated too far, too quickly and beyond her ability, has the potential to stir as much controversy in policing circles as her promotion did, police insiders say.

Five days into her new $90,000- a-year role in April 1998, then superintendent Megan Hungerford confidently said: "I feel humble but I can do the job." But speaking from her home on the Central Coast last Thursday, Ms McGowan, 46, said she had more recently struggled to cope with life after policing. "I've been very sick with stress-related illness and right now my only option is to take it easy and await further instructions from my legal team," she said. "I can confirm the case is going ahead but I have placed everything in the hands of my lawyers and their advice is that I shouldn't make any comment at this particular stage." A court date for the action is still to be confirmed.

Ms McGowan's promotion at the age of 36 came via her appointment as chief of staff to the force's crime agencies commander and assistant commissioner Clive Small. Beating two vastly more experienced inspectors and two detective-sergeants to the prized job, she emerged as the state's youngest superintendent of police. To do so, she faced what was described as a rigorous selection process. The system, which replaced a long-standing tradition of seniority-based promotion, was touted by then commissioner Peter Ryan as more fair, equitable and transparent.

But what it was not was overly resistant to malpractice. Within two years of Ms McGowan's promotion, exam cheating by her fellow officers was widespread and in 2001 the NSW Police Integrity Commission launched its Operation Jetz inquiry, which left nine officers facing disciplinary action. Further changes were foreshadowed the following year, signalling a return to the age-old emphasis on street credibility rather than police looking good on paper. Promotions are now only allowed one rank at a time.

Ms McGowan, whose father Brian was a former ALP state MP, graduated as a probationary constable at Balmain police station in 1985. Two years later, she found herself working at the force's criminal investigations bureau and became a first-class constable in plain clothes after transferring to Hornsby in 1988. By 1991, she was specialising in child protection and then media and marketing and spent several years relieving for more senior officers. Then came the big jump: "If I get the least bit jaded, I move," she was quoted as saying in mid-1999. "But it would have to be something pretty amazing to compete with here," she said. Earlier, she had campaigned vigorously for a central police agency to investigate pedophilia and in 1996 had attracted some attention after heavily criticising the force while testifying on the subject as an expert witness at the Wood royal commission on the NSW police.

Yesterday, a spokesman for Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said: "As this matter is now the subject of legal proceedings, it is inappropriate for the NSW Police Force to comment." Police Association of NSW secretary Peter Remfrey said he had not spoken to Ms McGowan and was unaware of her civil action. "For that reason, it would be wrong for me to comment."


Saturday, April 12, 2008


JOURNALISTS at The Age yesterday condemned management for undermining the Melbourne newspaper's editorial independence, claiming reporters were pressured not to write negative stories about Earth Hour and sports coverage was in danger of being compromised by commercial considerations. During what reporters called a "volatile" and "hostile" staff meeting on the editorial floor with the paper's editor-in-chief, Andrew Jaspan [wee Andy, the Scottish socialist], journalists also criticised his decision to attend the 2020 summit and attacked the publication in February of a letter by Fairfax chairman Ron Walker about the Liberal Party.

Mr Walker, a former Liberal Party treasurer, was identified only as "R.Walker, Melbourne" and, staff said, the letter was run unedited at Jaspan's instruction. Staff said the form of the letter "went against all normal practice, where the paper insists letters include full identification and affiliation or position of the writer".

During the meeting, Jaspan defended the letter's publication saying "that was what he (Mr Walker) had asked for". Some staff were openly hostile towards Jaspan, and at times interjected as he spoke. At a subsequent stop-work meeting, staff passed a resolution saying recent developments had undermined the separation between commercial considerations and editorial independence.

In a statement accompanying the resolution, staff said the Earth Hour partnership placed basic journalistic principles in jeopardy: "Reporters were pressured not to write negative stories and story topics followed a schedule drafted by Earth Hour organisers."

Staff said Jaspan's decision to participate in the 2020 summit, along with a senior deputy editor, breached the journalistic principle that the reporter and observer cannot be a participant without affecting objectivity. And the paper's sports coverage was being potentially compromised by an increasingly commercial emphasis on special relationships. "We have felt under increasing pressure to colour our reporting on organisations with whom the newspaper has struck commercial or sponsorship arrangements," the statement said. "Reporters are being encouraged to attend marketing meetings and under pressure not to write 'negative' stories."

Staff demanded management consult with them to draft a protocol that explicitly stated the deals would not entail any suggestion or implication of favourable editorial coverage.



By Andrew Bolt

I've said before that The Age will not report both sides of the debate on global warming. Now The Age's staff confirm they are not allowed to: "In a statement accompanying the resolution, staff said the Earth Hour partnership placed basic journalistic principles in jeopardy: "Reporters were pressured not to write negative stories and story topics followed a schedule drafted by Earth Hour organisers." The Age is not reporting, but propagandising. What else is it refusing to tell its readers about global warming - or anything else?


That Age reporters are encouraged not to tell the full truth about Earth Hour - or, indeed, global warming - can also be deduced by these emails from Fairfax bosses, congratulating staff for "promoting" Earth Hour and asking them to "participate (in) and observe" it.

And the fix is in, as you can tell by a green group directing the Age editor-in-chief on the placement of stories, evidence of Earth Hour's "success" being grossly exaggerated or invented, and inconvenient truths being left unreported.

The conclusion isn't just that the Age readers cannot trust their paper to inform them of the relevant facts about global warming. It's also that all Age reporters writing about global warming must - fairly or unfairly - be considered propagandists until there is evidence that they are free to report all sides of this debate.


David Henderson, in a presentation to the IMF, says this kind of reporting on global warming is only too common:
Across the world, the treatment of these issues by environmental and scientific journalists and commentators is overwhelmingly one-sided and sensationalist: studies and results that are unalarming are typically played down or disregarded, while the gaps in knowledge and the huge uncertainties which still loom large in climate science are passed over. This pervasive one-sidedness on the part of so many commentators and media outlets is in itself worrying; but even more so, to my mind, is the fact that leading figures and organisations connected with the IPCC process, including government departments and international agencies, do little to ensure that a more balanced picture is presented.


Public hospital doctor kills because he failed to recognize or consider a fully symptomatic meningococcal case

A doctor made a serious error of judgment in ordering a lumbar puncture for a boy, 11, infected with meningococcal disease, a coroner has found. Coroner Dyson Hore-Lacy yesterday recommended that all hospitals review their guidelines in the light of Ryan Fitch's tragic death. And he expressed concern that the Frankston Hospital had not been prepared to admit a mistake was made.

Ryan, of Chelsea, died on August 5, 2005, from respiratory arrest as a result of a lumbar puncture. The sports-mad boy told his mum he loved her shortly before having a seizure at Frankston Hospital. He was put in an induced coma and flown to the Royal Children's Hospital, where he was declared brain-dead.

Ryan's devastated parents said yesterday they were pleased with the coroner's recommendations. "If it helps the next person, then that has to be a good thing," mum Robyn Fitch said. "There's comfort in the fact that if they adopt the recommendations, at least someone else will have the benefit of having antibiotics before they have a lumbar puncture." She said the family were yet to decide if they would take further action.

Dad Ron Fitch said he'd the highest respect for the doctor who performed the lumbar puncture, Dr Ted Lowther. "He was man enough to get up (at the inquest) and say 'I'm sorry for what I've done'." Mrs Fitch said Ryan's death must have affected Dr Lowther as well. "I know it wasn't his intention to come to work and have something like this happen. Unfortunately, it did happen. "And there are consequences, and we live with those consequences every day," Mrs Fitch said.

She said the family were upset with the way the hospital had handled the matter. At the inquest, Dr James Tibballs, of the RCH, took issue with the decision to perform the spinal tap. He said a patient suspected of having meningococcal should be given antibiotics, and doctors should then await the results of blood tests.

Mrs Fitch rushed Ryan to the Frankston Hospital's emergency department when she found him sick, vomiting and writhing with back pain. In the hours after he was admitted on August 3, staff investigated whether he was suffering pneumonia, a kidney infection and gastro. Mr Hore-Lacy said every one of Ryan's symptoms was consistent with meningococcal disease, and he was concerned that no one suspected it for 13 hours. By that stage, Ryan had developed a rash on his legs and one of his eyes.

The hospital's guidelines recommend that meningococcal disease be treated with antibiotics as soon as it is suspected, and that a lumbar puncture is usually not necessary and involves an increased risk in some patients. It can be performed when the patient is stable, but the coroner said Ryan shouldn't have been considered stable. "No doctor could give a (substantial) reason why a lumbar puncture had to be performed, let alone conducted before antibiotics had a chance to take effect. "This may bring back to clinicians the danger of lumbar puncture where there is so little to gain and so much to lose," Mr Hore-Lacy said. He said Dr Lowther now waited until the day after administering antibiotics to perform any lumbar puncture, which was a recognition that he'd made a mistake.

Frankston Hospital, part of Peninsula Health, said it would not comment until it had reviewed the findings.


Schools to get report card, too

The Howard agenda lives on

The Federal Government will push the states to give parents unprecedented information on how schools perform, renewing fears about "league tables" that would name and shame schools. The Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, will use her first education ministers' meeting in Melbourne next week to discuss plans for a more comprehensive reporting system.

Ms Gillard said she wanted all schools to be accountable for their results, and raised concerns parents were not getting enough reliable information on how their schools perform. "I think we need to understand in a much more sophisticated way what's going on in schools," Ms Gillard said. "And I think the more information that enables people to understand it in a sophisticated way, the better."

The Government plans to publish the annual results of individual primary and secondary schools on national literacy and numeracy tests, which begin next month, for students in years 3, 5, 7, and 9. It will also talk to the states about measuring how schools "add value" to students, and is keen for a reporting system that reflects the challenges faced by each school, for instance through socio-economic data, or trends between "like" schools (schools with similar groups of students).

But principals and teachers are worried that giving parents more information could result in controversial league tables - comparative data that could be used to name and shame the underperformers. The federal president of the Australian Education Union, Angelo Gavrielatos, yesterday said league tables were a "political construct that served no educational value", while the president of the Victorian Primary Principals Association, Fred Ackerman, said he would oppose any system that "unfairly stigmatises schools".

Asked if the reporting could lead to league tables, Ms Gillard said: "I don't think that's what's being discussed. What is being discussed is people getting appropriate and reliable information about the education system."


Friday, April 11, 2008

Another public hospital horror

A mother yesterday told of her harrowing ordeal of having been sent home from a major Sydney hospital with her dead unborn baby still inside her because of a lack of beds. Zareen Nisha gave evidence at the Special Commission of Inquiry into Acute Care Services in NSW Public Hospitals yesterday, telling of the derelict treatment she received at Westmead Hospital. Ms Nisha, who was seven months pregnant at the time, said despite her GP phoning ahead to the hospital to alert them that the baby had developed serious problems, staff had told her to take a number in the queue and made her wait almost 30 minutes before seeing her.

Tests performed at the Westmead-based University Clinic on April 17, last year showed the the unborn baby boy was dead - the umbilical cord had twice wrapped around its neck. However, hospital staff sent her home because "there were no beds" to deliver the stillborn child. The Merrylands resident returned to the hospital at 2am the following day - finally giving birth to the dead baby she named Aahil - about 8pm that night.

"The midwife told me he was a perfect angel," Ms Nisha said. "There was no disability or anything - he died because the cord had coiled around his neck. "Ultrasounds would have picked up that he was becoming tangled in the cord. But they only gave me one ultrasound."

Ms Nisha said she believed a lack of clinical care throughout her pregnancy had caused the death of her son. The 36 year old said her pregnancy should have been considered high risk from the start due to a history of pregnancy-induced diabetes and other well-documented reproductive complications. She said when her GP told her she was pregnant in November 2006 it took 12 weeks to get an appointment at Westmead because the clinic had closed over Christmas. Ms Nisha said because of her age she had wanted the baby tested for Down syndrome, however the clinic never carried out the tests. She finally paid to have tests done privately.

At 20 weeks, the hospital carried out its first - and only - ultrasound on her unborn baby. At 29 weeks the clinic told her it was dead. "If they had seen the cord was tangling they would have saved him - I believe if they had done more ultra sounds they would have seen that," Ms Nisha said. "I don't blame the hospital for my baby's death but I would like them to be more accountable." Ms Nisha, whose first child Zoya, 9, was born in Fiji, said she had wrongly believed the health system would be better in Australia. "The standard of care is higher in Fiji than it is here," she said.


About guns and government control

Just as the sign of the cross tends to discombobulate vampires, stopping them in their tracks, equivalent creatures - such as the hysterically paranoid, anti-personal-responsibility fraternity - go completely apoplectic and phobic at the sight of an autonomous citizen armed with the "great equaliser"of a firearm. This hysteria has been reawakened in many with the recent death of Charlton Heston. Much has been made of his affiliation with the National Rifle Association, muddying the memory of a man who was a great actor and activist.

"Kill the gun culture", scream the historically ignorant. Our political betters have signed on for the responsibility of "taking care " of us and all they ask in return is that we surrender the devices they seek to employ unilaterally - and that we are loyal to whatever they want to do with our lives, fortunes and sacred honour. But have you observed, that when danger threatens you and your family, the police are always someplace else? The Gauleiters of the superstate may not like it, but the absolute right of the individual citizen to protect himself, his family and the wider community is not obviated by the absence of the constabulary. In Shane, arguably the greatest western film, Alan Ladd pointed out to Jean Arthur that: "A gun is a tool, no better and no worse than an axe or any other tool; a gun is as good as the man using it."

Today it is considered too dangerous for most citizens to own a gun, but it is apparently viewed as not too dangerous to release child molesters, rapists and murderers into the community. After a recent child murder in California, we were informed 400,000 perverts are listed on a government "sex register" in that state alone. Closer to home, much has been made recently of the release of sex offenders into the community. It is not too difficult to imagine state governments releasing funnel-web spiders and crocodiles into cities, while whispering sweet nothings into our ears that there is nothing to worry about - because each creature is on a register somewhere.

People acquire firearms for the same reason they have created a growing industry of private security and alarm systems. Government is quite simply not performing its primary function of protecting life, liberty and property. Some examples here in Australia:

An elderly woman is murdered by an illegal immigrant - smothered to death with a pillow. An old Digger [soldier] is murdered by a 14-year-old youth recently escaped from a government "secure" facility. The murder weapon: a knife. A baby is snatched from the bedroom of her deaf parents by a man with a bus ticket in his hand provided by a government department. That ticket was to allow the disadvantaged youth to visit his family and was given to him by the same type of bureaucrats who have been given responsibility for "controlling" firearms - which are permitted to farmers to control pests, but absolutely denied for personal protection in Australia.

So we must consider the manifest failure of government departments and the prison system to protect victims. Governments and police regulate those who might legally possess firearms more than they act to prevent guns ending up in the hands of violent criminals. It's easier. Governments can't stop violence, so they go after those who can. To be seen to be doing something they have decided to beat up on inanimate objects; disarming the honest and the brave while doing little against the criminals and crazies. What a primitive mindset; a bit like blaming the pot for burning the beans.


Climate change will harm beer

Wotta lotta rubbish! A warmer climate would be a wetter climate overall and both rain and warmth are GOOD for crops

BEER will be in short supply, more expensive and may even taste different as climate change affects barley production, according to a scientist. Drought conditions in parts of Australia where malting barley was grown was likely to get worse, according to Jim Salinger of New Zealand's National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research. Barley production in the main growing region of Canterbury in New Zealand - where brewing giant Lion Nathan gets about 70 per cent of its malted barley - would also be affected, the New Zealand Press Association said. "It will mean either there will be pubs without beer or the cost of beer will go up," he said.

Malting barley production in Australia was likely to be hit hard in parts of Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria and NSW. The dry areas of Australia would become drier and water shortages would get worse. "It will provide a lot of challenges for the brewing industry," Dr Salinger said. He said breweries could be forced to look at new varieties of malt.

Dr Salinger told the Institute of Brewing and Distilling convention in Auckland today that by 2100, the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases - measured in equivalent amounts of carbon dioxide - would be double, and possibly four times pre-industrial levels, leading to further climate warming. "Most areas in Australia where malting barley is cropped are likely to experience producing declines," he said.


Selective schools have their place

On her first day at a selective school, Georgia Blain no longer had to pretend not to know her multiplication tables to avoid being teased. In her recent memoir Births Deaths Marriages, the Australian novelist recalls that at her old school she had few friends, as being smart made her "odd". But in her opportunity class she discovered "my abilities were no longer something to be ashamed about". It's an experience shared by many children who go from a comprehensive school to a selective school, yet it is rarely considered in debates about schools.

Whenever there is public discussion about why local schools are suffering from falling enrolments, selective schools are often first to cop the blame. It's a fair call. Selective schools draw high-achieving students away from underfunded local schools, leaving them to cope with the more educationally demanding students. Naturally, these schools rank lower on HSC lists, further decreasing their attractiveness to some parents.

But calls to curb selective schools frequently come from parents and politicians, not students. If we are going to have an honest public debate on this issue, we need to acknowledge the experiences of students who went to selective schools to understand their value and their shortcomings. Like Blain, I began my schooling at a local primary school, in the multicultural inner west of Sydney. I have fond memories of the school, but I also remember feeling lost. Teachers often had their hands full dealing with kids who were struggling with reading or behavioural problems, and there was often not the time or the resources to make the classes relevant for all.

Going to a selective high school was, for me, a bit like stepping into the nerd dungeon Bart discovers in one episode of The Simpsons; a secret room where the school brainiacs are studying, talking and playing chess. Selective schools are places where nerds are free to be nerds. Knowledge of novels, poetry and politics suddenly became social cachet. Classes often moved at a cracking pace, satisfying my desire for more to read and learn. Girls were never made to feel embarrassed for being smart and opinionated.

Of course, selective schools are not always an intellectually stimulating bed of roses. Blain writes that while she no longer had to be anxious about her intelligence at a selective school, knowing she was not the brightest in the class now made her anxious about a lack of ability. Mind-numbing conformity and ultra-competitiveness are the scourge of most selective schools. And undoubtedly my high school lacked the social diversity of my primary school, at times feeding snobbish, narrow-minded attitudes in the playground.

For many students, these problems are reason enough to avoid selective schools. A friend, Jesse Cox, is glad his parents sent him to a comprehensive high school. Cox attends the University of Sydney after gaining a stellar result in his HSC, and excels in art and history. "I think it's a bit of a myth that kids will be isolated in a comprehensive school; it was not my experience at all," he says. "The classes were really mixed, and kids still pushed each other in a friendly way, not in the competitive way I would associate with a selective school." It is clear from the experiences of Cox and others that selective schools do not have a monopoly on nurturing intelligent, creative minds. It is also questionable whether they quantitatively improve the academic performance of the students who attend them.

Standing up for selective schools is a difficult point to argue. Gifted children will probably achieve great things, no matter what school they go to, and it's imperative that students who are struggling to keep their heads above water are given the most attention in public debate. But for an honest and vigorous discussion about the best ways to improve public education, the experiences of students and former students must be considered. It would be dangerous to leave the debate to ideological arguments alone.


Thursday, April 10, 2008


RESPECTED academic Don Aitkin has seen the ugly side of the climate change debate after being warned he faced demonisation if he challenged the accepted wisdom that global warming poses a danger to humanity. Professor Aitkin told The Australian yesterday he had been told he was "out of his mind" by some in the media after writing that the science of global warming "doesn't seem to stack up". Declaring global warming might not be such an important issue, Professor Aitkin argued in a speech to the Planning Insitute of Australia this month that counter measures such as carbon trading were likely to be unnecessary, expensive and futile without stronger evidence of a crisis.

The eminent historian and political scientist said in a speech called A Cool Look at Global Warming, which has received little public attention, that he was urged not to express his contrary views to orthodox thinking because he would be demonised. He says critics who question the impact of global warming are commonly ignored or attacked because "scientist activists" from a quasi-religious movement have spread a flawed message that "the science is settled" and "the debate is over".

Professor Aitkin is a former vice-chancellor at the University of Canberra, foundation chairman of the Australian Research Council and a distinguished researcher at the Australian National University and Macquarie University. Although not a scientist, he has brought his critical approach as an experienced academic accustomed to testing theories to a debate he says so far lacks clear evidence.

Professor Aitkin's speech cast strong doubt on the Rudd Government's plan to impose significant limits on carbon emissions as the key to combating climate change, while the developing economies of China and India become the world's biggest polluters. "I doubt the proposed extraordinary policies will actually happen," he said. "China and India will not reduce their own use of carbon."

According to Professor Aitkin, attempts to set carbon-use levels in Europe, to be emulated by Australia, have been laughable because of absurd errors involved in allocating quotas and the potential for fraud. He believes carbon trading will lead to rorts, and that the "bubble will burst" on enthusiasm for urgently containing the carbon-producing effects of burning coal and oil.

The story of the human impact on climate change, which Professor Aitkin calls Anthropogenic Global Warming, "doesn't seem to stack up as the best science", according to his own research. Despite thousands of scientists allegedly having "consensus" on global warming, he says there is an absence of convincing data: "Put simply, despite all the hype and models and the catastrophic predictions, it seems to me that we human beings barely understand 'climate'. It is too vast a domain." Much of the evidence of global warming, he says, is based on computer modelling that does not take account of variables, and does not cover the whole planet.

Professor Aitkin calls himself a global warming "agnostic", and his comments are a direct challenge to the orthodoxy successfully promoted by influential figures such as former Australian of the Year Tim Flannery, whose scientific expertise is paleontology, despite his popular writings on climate change. The basis of the Kyoto Protocol, signed by the Rudd Government, is unvalidated models that cannot provide evidence of anything, Professor Aitkin argues. But he says the Rudd Government is among policy-makers trapped, willingly or unwillingly, by the world view of climate change campaigners who take a "quasi-religious view" that the dangers of global warming cannot be doubted.

Professor Aitkin told The Australian last night that Kevin Rudd's climate change adviser, Ross Garnaut, was "a captive" because of the riding instructions he had been given to provide solutions that accepted global warming as fact. In his speech, he says: "The hard-heads may not buy the story, but they do want to be elected or re-elected. "Democratic governments facing elections are sensitive to popular movements that could have an electoral effect. I am sure that it was this electoral perception that caused the Howard government at the end to move significantly towards Kyoto and indicate a preparedness to go down the Kyoto path, as indeed the Labor Party had done earlier, and Kevin Rudd did as soon as he was elected."

Professor Aitkin says the earth's atmosphere may be warming but, if so, not by much and not in an alarming and unprecedented way. "It is possible that the warming has a 'significant human influence', to use the (UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's) term, and I do not dismiss the possibility. "But there are other powerful possible causes that have nothing to do with us."

He says an increase in atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide over the past century is agreed, some of it due to fossil fuels, cement-making and agriculture. However, normal production of CO2 is not known, and it makes up only a tiny part of the atmosphere. "How does a small increase in a very small component have such a large apparent effect? The truth is that no one has yet shown that it does."

According to the professor, much of the inadequate policy-making on climate change is based on "over-certainty in the absence of convincing argument and data" and "over-reliance on computer models". "While governments can never ignore what they see as popular feeling, good policy cannot be based on moods," he says.


Top Leftist politician caught lying

TASMANIA'S Deputy Premier Steve Kons has resigned from the front bench, after last night admitting he had misled parliament over the Simon Cooper appointment scandal. Premier Paul Lennon this morning informed State Parliament Mr Kons had decided to "take responsibility" for his actions yesterday. But Mr Lennon said "there was a way back" for Mr Kons, who would remain a "good representative" for the North West seat of Braddon. "As far as I am concerned, Mr Kons is a good man," he said.

Mr Kons yesterday denied signing a document recommending to Cabinet that lawyer Simon Cooper be appointed the next new magistrate. Greens MP Kim Booth later tabled the shredded document, which had been pieced back together from the strips taken from a rubbish bin.

State Opposition leader Will Hodgman said "something was sick" with the Government to lose two deputy premiers in two years. Greens leader Peg Putt is questioning what Mr Lennon knew and if he "evaded questions" yesterday and "aided a cover up".

Mr Kons replaced deputy premier Bryan Green in 2006, when Mr Green was charged over the Tasmanian Compliance Corporation scandal. Two juries failed to reach a verdict in the Green case.


Wimpy baggage handlers

This is just "industrial action" designed to coerce higher pay, of course

THOUSANDS of airline passengers could have their trips disrupted by a union ban on baggage weighing more than 20kg. The work bans - which could be implemented at any time - means Australians on domestic flights would have their 32kg baggage limit slashed to 20kg. The current 40kg cap for first class international passengers would be halved. Qantas baggage handlers voted yesterday to implement the bans on all domestic and international flights unless the airline bowed to their demands.

A spokesman for the 300 workers said the bans could be enforced as early as today. Handlers said the current limit was crippling them. They said an estimated 80 per cent of checked baggage weighed more than 20kg. The union said almost a third of handlers had been hurt in the past year and one in seven had had to take time off work because of injury in the last year. "On a regular shift we could be lifting about 600 bags and most of those weigh well over 20kg," one worker who did not want to be identified told The Daily Telegraph. "What Qantas management are asking baggage handlers to lift is crippling guys. We need some relief to keep us safe at work. If Qantas won't take any action to protect us at work then we need to look at putting this limit on baggage."

Another handler said injuries could be all but eliminated by reducing the limit. "We could reduce about 95 per cent of the injuries if the baggage was limited to 20kg," he said. Qantas's own partner British Airways recently reduced its baggage limit to 23kg, meaning a passenger to London could arrive with almost twice as much luggage as he or she was allowed to take home.

The Transport Workers Union said the campaign was also in line with the national code of practice for manual handling, which noted a significant increase in back injuries for people handling objects over the 16kg to 20kg range. TWU secretary Tony Sheldon said Qantas had repeatedly failed to address safety concerns and staffing shortages at Sydney airport.

"The current maximum baggage weight at Qantas domestic terminal of 32kg is just too much for one person to carry," he said. "How many Qantas baggage handlers will have to watch a colleague sustain a serious injury that dramatically impacts on family and work life before management choose to address the serious safety issues. "Management have left the baggage handlers with little choice but to campaign for the new weight limits." The 32kg limit is standard for most Qantas domestic flights, excluding smaller planes.


Chocolate ban

A prize example of pissing into the wind

CHOCOLATE made using child slavery will be banished from Parliament under a plan by South Australian MP Christopher Pyne. Mr Pyne was inspired by World Vision chief Tim Costello and U.S. ethics professor Dr David Batstone, who are attempting to abolish slave labour by removing the market for goods.

In Adelaide this week Mr Costello said Australians were helping to finance international child slavery. He highlighted the plight of children enslaved to provide coffee, chocolate and clothing to the West. "Chocolate is cheap for us because of trafficked children and child labour," he said. "Seventy per cent of the world's cocoa comes out of the Ivory Coast and Ghana (where it is harvested by child slaves [child labour is indeed common in poor countries but "slaves"?])." Mr Costello said many other products, including iron, coffee and clothing come from a supply chain that included children. "The great need is actually for the consumer to really demand transparency in the supply chain," he said.

After meeting Mr Costello and Dr Batstone, Mr Pyne decided to write to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd with his plan to remove all non fair-trade chocolate from vending machines in all Parliamentary offices. "I think this is a very worthy cause," he said. "I think most constituents in my electorate would be horrified to know that there are 27 million slaves in the world today, many are children, and they're being used."


Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Good science isn't about consensus

Below is an edited extract from a paper recently presented to the Planning Institute of Australia by Professor Don Aitkin, a historian and political scientist. Don is a very smart guy. He has navigated his way to the top of the Australian academic tree (He has been a university President) yet even in my discussions with him when we both at Macquarie univerity many years ago, I was impressed by his realism and honesty -- neither of which are conspicuous academic virtues in my experience, with notable exceptions, of course

AUSTRALIA is faced, over the next generation at least and almost certainly much longer, with two environmental problems of great significance. They are, first, how to manage water and, second, how to find acceptable alternatives to oil-based energy. Global warming is not one of those two issues, at least for me, and I see it as a distraction.

I am going against conventional wisdom in doing so. But Western societies have the standard of living, the longevity and the creativity we have because we have learned that conventional wisdom has no absolute status and that progress often comes when it is successfully challenged. If you listen hard to the global warming debate you will hear people at every level tell us that they don't want to hear any more talk, they want action. I feel that the actions I have seen proposed, such as carbon caps and carbon trading, are likely to be unnecessary, expensive and futile unless there is much stronger evidence that we are facing a global environmental crisis, whether or not we have brought it about ourselves.

The story about anthropogenic global warming (AGW) doesn't seem to stack up as the best science, despite the supposed consensus about it among "thousands of scientists". Indeed, the insistent use of the word consensus should cause those who are knowledgeable about research to raise their eyebrows, because research and science aren't about consensus, they are about testing theories against data.

In any case, there exists vigorous debate throughout the climate change domain. For example, there is disagreement about whether 2007 was a notably warm year (it had a hot start but a downward cool trend). And all that is simply about measurement. In climate science I see no consensus, only a pretence at a contrived one.

Despite all the hype and the models and the catastrophic predictions, it seems to me that we human beings barely understand climate. It is too vast a domain. Though satellites have given us a sense of the movement of weather systems across the planet, portrayed every night on television, we still know little about the oceans, one of the crucial elements in climate processes, not much more about the atmosphere, another such element, a little about solar energy and the effect of the sun's magnetic field on Earth, and only a little about the land. The Earth is a big place.

One of the yardsticks of the debate is average global temperature. We can all imagine what it might mean: an average of the temperatures taken in a multitude of carefully plotted points across the globe, measured the same way, providing a single figure that could be measured over time to show trends. The actuality is much less. NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Science, the National Climate Data Centre and the Hadley Climate Research Centre in Britain produce the data. All use temperature data recorded 1.3m to 2m above Earth's surface and obtain an arithmetic average of the maximum and minimum temperatures over 24 hours. None covers the entire planet, and the southern hemisphere is not as well measured as the northern.

A recent study of one-third of the sites in what is arguably the best temperature measuring system, that of the US, showed that in a majority of the sites surveyed the instruments were inappropriately located: close to buildings, on asphalt or concrete, next to parking areas, on top of roofs, and so on. Common sense tells us that if our knowledge of climate and weather cannot provide forecasts with much accuracy past 24 hours, we don't know enough about the inter-relationships inside the model, no matter how much data we have, even supposing it to be perfect data. Models are models: they are highly simplified versions of reality and cannot provide evidence of anything.

What I see, rather, is something that political theorist Paul Feyerabend wrote about a long time ago in Against Method (1975): the tendency of scholars to protect their theories by building defences around them, rather than being the first to try to demolish their own proposition. We seem to be caught up in what a pair of social scientists has called an "availability cascade": we judge whether or not something is true by how many examples of it we see reported. Fires, storms, apparently trapped polar bears, floods, cold, undue heat: if these are authoritatively linked to a single attributed cause, then almost anything in that domain will seem to be an example of the cause, and we become worried. I should say at once that climate change has become the offered cause of so many diverse incidents that, for me at any rate, it ceases to be a likely cause of any.

Greens and environmentalists generally welcome the AGW proposition because it fits in with their own world-view, and they have helped to popularise it. Governments that depend on green support have found themselves, however willingly or unwillingly, trapped in AGW policies, as is plainly the case with the Rudd Government. The hardheads may not buy the story, but they do want to be elected or re-elected. In short, AGW is now orthodoxy, and orthodoxy always has strong latent support. Because AGW is supposedly science, even well-educated people think it will be too hard for them.

David Henderson, a respected British economist and former Treasury official, has called the orthodoxy in climate change a case of "heightened milieu consensus", in which prime ministers and other leaders tell us that nothing could be more serious than this issue. These are not statements of fact; they are no more than conjecture. But they have become, in his phrase, "widely accepted presuppositions of policy". Intellectually, AGW is what is known in politics as a done deal. But on the evidence that is available, I think it has to be said that the assertion that the increase in carbon dioxide has caused the temperature to rise is no more than an assertion, however attractive or worrying the association may be. There is simply no evidence that this causal relationship exists.

Earth's atmosphere may be warming but, if so, not by much and not in an alarming or unprecedented way. It is possible that the warming has a "significant human influence", to use the term of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and I do not dismiss the possibility. But there are other powerful possible causes that have nothing to do with us. If this were simply an example of scientists arguing among themselves, we might recognise that this is how science proceeds and move on.

But if there is no true causal link between CO2 and rising temperatures, then all the talk about carbon caps and carbon trading is simply futile. But it is worse than futile, because one consequence of developing policies in this area will be to reduce not only our own standard of living, but the standard of living of the world's poorest countries. As someone who has worked closely with ministers in the past, I cannot imagine that I could have advised a minister to go down the AGW path on the evidence available, given the expense involved, the burden on everyone and the possible futility of the outcome.

Some readers of drafts of this paper have raised the precautionary principle as an indication that we should, even in the face of the uncertainty about the science, take AGW seriously. Unfortunately, as I see it, the precautionary principle here is very similar to Pascal's wager. Pascal argued that it made good sense to believe in God: if God existed you could gain an eternity of bliss, and if he didn't exist you were no worse off. Alas, Pascal didn't allow for the possibility that God was in fact Allah, and you had opted for belief in the wrong religion.

The IPCC's account of things seems to me only one possibility, and the evidence for it is not very strong. For that reason, I would counsel that we accept that climate changes, and learn, as indeed human beings have learned for thousands of years, to adapt to that change as rationally and sensibly as we can.


Good for Kevvy!

Kevin Rudd refuses to retract comments on Tibet

KEVIN Rudd flew into a diplomatic storm as he landed in Beijing today with the Chinese Government making a formal complaint over his comments on Tibet. While in Washington on his world tour, Mr Rudd told a press conference he was concerned about the abuse of human rights in Tibet. "It's absolutely clear there are human rights abuses in Tibet. we shouldn't shilly-shally about it," he said. A spokesperson for the Australian Government said Mr Rudd would not be retracting the comments - even though Chinese officials have made formal complaints over them.

Officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) said they had have spoken to officials from Beijing, but a the "strong and firmly held views" of the Federal Government over Tibet had not changed. A DFAT spokeswoman said Chinese diplomats in Canberra and Beijing expressed concern over the comments - but the department had not received a written complaint. "Australian and Chinese officials have discussed the comments and our differences over Tibet. in Beijing and Canberra," the spokeswoman said. "The Australian Government stands by its comments on Tibet, which reflect our strong and firmly held views."

Mr Rudd will meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao today for the first time as Prime Minister.

Back in Australia, federal Liberal frontbencher George Brandis called on the Prime Minister to boycott the Beijing Olympics in protest over China's poor human rights record. Mr Brandis said that while he didn't support an athletes' boycott of the games, there was no need for the prime minister or senior ministers to attend....


Boys in blue say ditch 'small, scared' girls

A bit of realism about the dickless Tracys is long overdue

The feminising of Victoria's police force has been listed as one of its three biggest problems in a survey of serving officers. The survey - done by the Herald Sun - found two in three officers had considered leaving the force in the past year. Many respondents lashed out at the number of women in the force. "Get more males into the academy, not more females," one officer said.

More women than men graduated from the police academy last year, the first time the boys in blue had ever been outnumbered by female recruits. The percentage of women in the force has jumped from 15 per cent to almost 23 per cent in the seven years since Christine Nixon became Victoria's first female chief. That's still below the national average of 31 per cent. Victoria Police has said it intends continuing to encourage female recruits so it can reach that figure.

But frontline police are not happy with the strategy. "There are too many females who put male members at risk out on the street," one said. "I have been injured three times in the past 12 months fighting drunken idiots and getting no backup from my female partner, who is too small or too scared to help."

Another said there were too many promotions of women based on gender rather than ability. "We have this emphasis on promoting females through non-operational positions and putting them in operational supervisory positions with minimal operational experience," the officer said.

Many police also regretted there was no longer a minimum height requirement for recruits, and that the force had scrapped some aspects of the physical training to make it easier for women to pass. "They have dropped relevant components to allow below-standard persons in," one officer said. "I'm tired of carrying the workload of incompetent people. Also, bring back the physical component. Even as a female, I'm embarrassed."

A force spokeswoman defended recruiting women and their performance. She said only one other state had a lower percentage of female officers, and an Auditor-General's report in 2006 recommended attracting and retaining women should be a priority. She said of 20 police service areas with 25 per cent or higher female representation, 14 were in the top-performing half of all police service areas. On average, 77 women (0.6 per cent of the force) were on maternity leave each financial year. Men averaged more carer and personal leave.


Profoundly thuggish Polynesians

Polynesians (Maoris and Pacific islanders) have a high rate of criminality in Australia but that is normally kept from public consciousness by the customary media reluctance to make ethnic identifications. The group below seem mostly to be of Tongan origin. More background on them here. Anybody who knows Maoris well from personal experience (as I do) will be aware of their different ethical system. The whole idea of personal private property seems to be alien to most of them. If something is accessible to them they usually seem to think that they are entitled to have it

They were arrested at gunpoint but that was not enough to put fear into five teenage boys who allegedly rampaged through a school armed with baseball bats, machetes and samurai swords. The boys, aged 14 to 16, treated their arrest as a joke and even plotted further crimes while in police custody, a court was told yesterday. The allegations were made in documents tendered in Parramatta Children's Court outlining why the teenagers were refused police bail over an attack at Merrylands High School on Monday morning.

The teenagers refused to appear before a magistrate yesterday and were formally refused bail. They will face court again on May 22. A 14-year-old from Auburn, two 15-year-olds from Carramar and Merrylands, and two 16-year-olds from Merrylands and Seven Hills, face a total of 101 charges, including assault, affray, causing malicious damage of property worth more than $15,000, and participating in a criminal group. The teenagers allegedly stormed the school while an assembly was being held at 8.50am, forcing the school into lockdown before smashing their way into classrooms and assaulting students and teachers.

In the case of four of the boys - bail documents regarding a fifth were missing - police alleged each offender had treated police with contempt. "The young person has shown no remorse," police wrote on a bail form. "While in custody he treated the matter as a joke and used his time in custody to plan further criminal enterprises."

The documents alleged the teenagers showed "contempt" towards the community and police. "The premeditated actions of the the young persons were an attack on one of the rights and freedoms enjoyed by Australians on a daily basis - to attend school in an atmosphere of safety and security. "The damage inflicted by the young persons will take years to repair." While the boys were being taken from the court complex, one of them gave a rude gesture to waiting media.

As authorities yesterday began a review of security at Merrylands High School, the State Government moved to shore up laws against school invaders. Premier Morris Iemma said he had asked Attorney-General John Hatzistergos to consider a new offence of damaging property "in company" in schools, carrying a much stiffer penalty.


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

"All cows are green"

The [Australian] Carbon Sense Coalition today called on all farmers and those who eat farm products to raise their voices in opposition to the silly proposals of Australian and New Zealand governments to include emissions and motions from farm animals as a taxable carbon emission. The chairman of "Carbon Sense" Mr Viv Forbes, claimed that New Zealand has already agreed to include farm animal emissions in their taxable emissions output and Prof Garnaut is also thinking of driving Australian farmers to the Kyoto bail for a similar milching. "We smart farmers in the South Pacific must have the longest cows in the world - they feed on farms in Queensland and Queenstown and are about to be milked in Canberra and Wellington.

Forbes, who is an animal breeder, pasture manager and soil scientist, said he could not believe the lack of noise from farm groups and consumers on this matter. "Any farmer would know that no cow, sheep, pig or goat has yet managed to create carbon out of nothing. Nor do they eat fossil fuel. Every bit of carbon sequestered in meat, bones, wool and milk, or expelled in solid, liquid or gaseous animal waste, was extracted from the air by the pastures and grain crops the animals ate. Pastures, crops and soil fungi live on carbon dioxide, the universal plant food from the atmosphere, and water and minerals from the soil. Ultimately, all carbon in the food chain comes from the air (apart from some artificial "foods" made from coal or petroleum derivatives, and very minor soil humus derived from oxidised coal or oil shale).

"This carbon extraction process starts the day the animal is conceived and ceases on the day it dies. This is the carbon food cycle we all live by. "In fact all farm animals should get a carbon credit, because they sequester part of the carbon extracted from the air in bones, meat, milk and wool. Much of this carbon then gets transferred to the bones and flesh of the growing human population, and eventually gets sequestered in sewerage (often, unfortunately, on the sea floor), bones in the coffins, and soil in the cemeteries. This is a proven process which provides more secure and far cheaper carbon sequestration than some of the billion dollar schemes being investigated. "In this respect grazing animals are just like trees; both sequester CO2 for their lifetimes, sometimes much longer.

"Of course other parts of the food chain generate net carbon emissions for agricultural machines, processing, chemicals and transport. Each of these activities would attract its own carbon tax. None are essential elements in the raising of domestic animals - the essentials are soil, water, grass and the atmospheric gases, especially oxygen and carbon dioxide.

"No matter how you do the sums, farm animals cause a net removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Thus they should get a carbon credit, certainly not a carbon tax. "We all know the moon is made of green cheese. It is time to educate politicians that "All cows are also green".


The cultural "liberals" infesting Australia's public broadcaster are a mainstream unto themselves

There can be little doubt things have improved at the ABC since the appointment of Mark Scott as managing director and the appointment of Maurice Newman as chairman. A new broom has swept aside some of the egregiously obvious problems of bias and a more professional approach has supervened. There have been new programs that increase debate, including the ill-fated, experimental Difference of Opinion, to be replaced with a new question and answer program, based on the lively and controversial BBC show Question Time. Media Watch is not as politically partisan. Paul Chadwick has been appointed as director of editorial policies to try to ensure that the ABC fulfils its statutory obligations under the ABC Act to be accurate and impartial. In terms of balance, Middle East correspondents Matt Brown and David Hardaker are marked improvements. For anybody who believes that the taxpayer-funded broadcaster needs to be impartial and accurate, balanced and fair, this is all to the good.

The two main issues for the ABC are those of bias and genuine diversity. The culture of the ABC is clearly left of centre. Bias has not been so much party political as cultural. It is often not deliberate but bespeaks assumptions, mind-sets, that are far from the concerns of the mainstream Australia that pays for the ABC and that, in return, the ABC is supposed to serve and be fair to in its range and content. It is not the job of the taxpayer-funded national broadcaster to act as a counterweight to other media or mainstream ideologies perceived to be too right wing by a staff whose centre of gravity is way to the left.

Why is it that the only intentionally liberal-conservative program on Radio National is titled Counterpoint? It is a counterpoint to a way of thinking that dominates the culture of the ABC in the assumptions of the "people like us" who broadcast to other "people like us".

In 1968, German student leader Rudi Dutschke, drawing on the idea of hegemony of Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci and of Marxist critical theory, suggested "a long march through the institutions" of power to create radical change from within government and society by becoming an integral part of it; as critical theorist Herbert Marcuse put it, "working against the established institutions while working in them". The countercultural capture of cultural institutions meant the emergence of what Swinburne University sociologist Katharine Betts calls a "new class" whose object was not old wealth. Instead, Betts writes in her 1999 book The Great Divide, "the attack was concentrated on the Australian mass and its materialism, racism, sexism and insularity".

A noticeably homogenous class of inner city, tertiary-educated social professionals, often referred to as the chattering classes, has an identity that developed together with mass tertiary education. While the old Left emphasised economic reforms to help the working class, the new class focused on issues such as refugees, multiculturalism, reconciliation, civil liberties and so on. This new class of social professionals includes teachers, academics, public servants and welfare workers who adopt distinct ideological positions and values that serve as social markers for the new class. The "knowledge class", which includes ABC journalists, is an important segment within the new educated class that has more distinct values that increasingly set them apart from business and the general community.

I mention this not because I think the ABC has no diversity at all but because it's a trend embedded within the institutional culture that will take another "long march" to reverse, this time in the opposite direction towards the centre. It's a march that has begun from the top but needs to infuse its way to the bottom.

A Four Corners program, Dangerous Ground, broadcast on March 10, illustrates some of these issues. The program began with problems about setting up an Islamic school in Camden. Those against a Muslim school being set up are described in primarily racist terms. In the next suburb, according to the blurb, "Aussie-born sons of the Middle East bitterly complain of being treated like enemies in their own country. Now some community leaders", the program blurb continued, "are warning of a nasty backlash due to the hostility that young men like these feel is aimed against them. The program is concerned that counter-terrorism and security could actually be increasing the threat of breeding home-grown terrorists."

Erring on the side of aggression - just to be on the safe side - can radicalise and alienate the people who are targeted, analysts tell Four Corners. An expert suggests radicalisation occurs because of "young people feeling under siege from police and wider public. His fear is this could morph into an agenda for violent change", Four Corners asserts. Finally, it suggests, "defeating terrorism presents not just a policing issue but also a challenge to core community values of pluralism and tolerance".

No mention of Muslim cleric Taj Din al-Hilali and those more extreme than him or the effect of Muslim fundamentalism and propaganda, or the role played by police and security forces in protecting us from Muslim extremism. The only actors of any consequence for Four Corners are those who buy the narrative that the causes of Muslim extremism lie in the West. It is a problem of criminality, law enforcement, poverty and racist behaviour towards suspects of Middle Eastern appearance.

Of course, there are legitimate issues here to debate, but I am pointing to the one-sided narrative that suffuses this program and others that does not take Muslim extremism seriously in its own right but mainly as due to its exacerbation by us.

That the Labor and Liberal parties receive similar treatment on the ABC demonstrates that there may not be cultural bias towards one mainstream party rather than the other. It is true that the ABC has criticised both sides through the years, but that may be because it comprises cultural liberals who are to the left of both the main parties, in the direction of theGreens.

The ALP has been the victim of the ABC while in government. During the 1991 Gulf War, the ABC employed Robert Springborg, associate professor of Middle Eastern studies at Macquarie University, as its expert commentator for The Gulf Report. In an article in the Melbourne Sun, Springborg equated the modes of government of Saddam Hussein and Bob Hawke. Hawke's decision to send ships to the Persian Gulf was "every bit as much of a one-man show as is the country we may be fighting".

Eleven years of the Howard government, basically bipartisan estimates critiques in the Senate and an ABC board comprising conservative and centrist members have made some difference to all this. The much-mooted number of ideologically conservative members has not translated into a conservative agenda for the ABC.

However, I am pleased to note that this culture does not dominate all parts of the ABC. In news and current affairs, PM is fair, balanced, impartial and professional. I think Lateline casts a wide net and is generally fair and balanced, as is The World Today. The ABC should not advocate causes left, right or politically correct but should be a repository for a genuine diversity of views in addition to being accurate and impartial.


Drug to fight aggressive breast cancer now subsidized in Australia

The breast cancer treatment, Tykerb, has been placed on the the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), making it cheaper for women affected by an aggressive form of the disease. Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon announced today that from May 1, Lapatinib, known commercially as Tykerb, would be subsidised under the scheme's arrangements. Tykerb had been found to slow the progress of and improve symptoms associated with advanced HER-2 positive breast cancer, Ms Roxon said. "Without any subsidy, the medicine would cost women between $3500 and $4000 each month," she said. "Lapatinib will be available to people with HER-2 positive metastatic or advanced breast cancer for whom other treatments have proved ineffective."

The drug is used in treating a particularly aggressive form of disease known as advanced HER-2 positive breast cancer. "HER-2 positive breast cancer is an aggressive form of cancer that particularly impacts upon younger women," Ms Roxon said. "Around 87 per cent of patients diagnosed with advanced breast cancer will die from the disease within five years. "About 2000 Australians are diagnosed with HER-2 positive breast cancer each year. "HER-2 positive breast cancer is one that has spread to distant parts of the body (metastasised) or which cannot be removed with surgery."

Ms Roxon said breast cancer was the most common cancer in women and affected 14,000 Australians per year. In 2004, more than 2600 people died from the disease in Australia.

An international study released in 2006 found that Tykerb and the chemotherapy drug Xeloda in combination were effective in women who had failed to react to Herceptin. The combination slowed down the disease's progression compared to chemotherapy alone and reduced the risk of the cancer spreading to the brain. The therapy has already been approved for use in the US and overseas analysts have predicted that Tykerb could eventually record annual global sales of about $A4.5 billion.


Australia rejects up to 400 immigrants a day

HUNDREDS of people are being refused entry to Australia each day because they are deemed not good enough. But the Rudd Government yesterday hinted it had no plans to relax its immigration policy as new data revealed almost 650,000 visa applications had been rejected by the Immigration Department since 2004. The statistics, which equate to about 400 rejections a day, were drawn from a question on notice which took more than a year to table in Federal Parliament. Immigration Minister Chris Evans said 160,956 applicants were denied entry in 2004, 177,684 were knocked back in 2005, 156,479 were refused in 2006 and 153,827 were rejected last year. His response showed it was departmental staff and not the then-minister rejecting hopeful migrants and visitors.

Despite Senator Evans earlier this year pledging to culturally reform his department, he dismissed the need for a review into why hundreds of thousands of people were being denied entry here. "The Rudd Government is committed to strong border security measures and the orderly processing of migration to our country," Senator Evans said. "It is crucial that we maintain the integrity of our immigration system and ensure that people meet the criteria for the visas they apply for."

Senator Natasha Stott Despoja last year asked former immigration minister Kevin Andrews how many visas his department had knocked back after US rapper Snoop Dog was denied entry based on bad character grounds.

A department spokesman said yesterday Australia had a non-discriminatory immigration policy and visa applicants had to meet a range of criteria. He said a person could be knocked back for having poor health, not enough money, bad character grounds or on suspicious they would outstay their visa or work illegally. Answering the question on notice, Senator Evans said it would be too time-consuming to reveal the number of visa applications which had been refused because of a criminal conviction.

But he said the people who failed character tests were associated with people or groups suspected of being involved in criminal conduct; were not of good character because of their past or if there was a significant risk they would "harass, molest, intimidate or stalk another person in Australia". The department can waive the character test under section 501 of the Migration Act if a person's conviction or past behaviour is not considered serious. About 4.3million people were granted temporary and permanent visas to Australia in 2006-2007.


Monday, April 07, 2008

Your regulators will protect you -- again

Crooked and incompetent German doctor allowed to practice in Australia for years -- despite complaints and at great cost to the community

One of Australia's most senior trauma surgeons faces the sack for incompetence and a possible criminal investigation for billing for operations that never occurred. The stellar career of Thomas Kossmann, the head of the nation's busiest and most prestigious trauma unit at The Alfred hospital in Melbourne is in tatters after a three-month investigation by an expert panel into his surgical and administrative practices. The panel's damning findings are contained in a confidential report obtained by The Australian.

The scandal once again raises serious questions about the ability of medical authorities to properly assess doctors before allowing them to work in this country. The panel reports that more attention needs to be paid nationally to how specialist doctors are credentialled to practise in the public health system.

The key findings against Professor Kossmann are that he performed unnecessary surgery and undertook surgery he was incapable of doing. The panel found he invoiced Victoria's Transport Accident Commission, the WorkCover Authority and Medicare Australia for operations that were not performed, surgery he did not carry out and surgery that was unnecessary. The panel found that in his billing he used multiple Medicare item numbers that are mutually exclusive and used item numbers not in the spirit of funding agreements. They found he did not have the required expertise to practise or teach spinal and pelvic surgery - something he was routinely doing at The Alfred. He was found to have misrepresented his surgical experience on his curriculum vitae by overstating his level of experience and training in the area of orthopaedic surgery. And he was found to have performed surgery that had not been performed in Australia or overseas before and which was flawed in its conception and harmful in its effect.

The expert panel's final assessment of Professor Kossmann is scathing. In relation to his invoicing habits, it concluded: "The professor failed to perceive a problem, almost to a level where he seemed to have no concept of what constituted a moral approach to patient billing." The panel recommends that the TAC - Victoria's publicly funded traffic accident compensation system - Medicare Australia and the WorkCover Authority conduct audits of Professor Kossmann's entire billing history.

He told the panel his billing practices were no different to those of his colleagues. He said that because the TAC had never questioned his billing, he assumed he was billing appropriately.

The panel was also critical of Professor Kossmann's clinical performance. It called his surgical practices and decision-making inappropriate, unnecessary and beyond the accepted norm. "The nature of these practices and decision-making was beyond any level of acceptable behaviour and standard of care, and was flawed in its conception and harmful in its effect," the report states. It dismisses Professor Kossmann's defence that if such an audit were conducted of other surgeons a comparable rate of incidents would be found. Professor Kossmann argued to the panel that the cases where he was found to have exercised wrong clinical judgment reflected differences of medical opinion. The panel disagreed.

The investigation was established by Bayside Health, which runs The Alfred hospital, after four surgeons lodged complaints against Professor Kossmann last August. Respected Victorian child orthopedic specialist Bob Dickens led the panel. The other members were Brisbane orthopedic surgeon John Tuffley and Sydney orthopedic surgeon Stephen Ruff. The panel examined 24 cases raised by the four doctors in their complaints against Professor Kossmann. In all but seven of the cases, the panel substantiated the complaints. It randomly reviewed a further 31 of Professor Kossmann's cases and, of these, found three where there were significant concerns about his clinical and/or administrative practices.

During the investigation, Professor Kossmann was interviewed by the panel members - two of whom are examiners in orthopedics for the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons - to test his understanding of basic science. He failed dismally. "All panel members are of the opinion that if an orthopedic candidate in his/her final exam had given the answers which the professor had given, they would have seriously considered failing that candidate," the report states.

It is understood the hospital has sent the final report to Professor Kossmann. He has two weeks to respond. Professor Kossmann has taken legal action in the Victorian Supreme Court against the hospital following its suspension of him on full pay last November after adverse preliminary findings were made against him in a draft report.


Qld. police union backs police fraud

And no attempt is being made to find the offenders

THE police union has openly encouraged its members to keep faking random breath tests to meet "impossible" targets. At the same time efforts to track down police faking the tests have been scrapped because the police service does not have the resources despite an official investigation into the practice. The Courier-Mail last year revealed officers had been manipulating RBT machines to generate fake tests as they struggled with impossibly high targets.

The practice has probably skewed drink-driving statistics for years, hiding the size of the problem, and led police and the Crime and Misconduct Commission to set up an investigation. However, after uncovering "deficiencies" in police records and questioning some data, the investigation was wrapped up due to lack of resources even as some regions upped their targets.

Writing in the March Police Union Journal, northern region representative Mick Barnes suggested increases of up to "tens of thousands" of tests would further strain operational police, possibly leading to more "rubbery" figures. "Ask a traffic officer that's (sic) been around for a while and you'll find the best way to reduce the likelihood of drink-driving in our community is to sit off the pubs again," he wrote. "This was the tried and tested method when operational police had the time to proactively police instead of running between jobs. In the meantime keep exercising those thumbs," he said, referring to the method of placing a thumb over the machine's air intake to generate a false reading.

Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson recently offered regional assistant commissioners "flexibility" to adjust targets as police grappled to find the most effective testing strategy. "We need to find what the right amount of random breath testing is," Mr Atkinson said. "We haven't got that right yet and it may be that that varies from place to place." He admitted police did not have the resources to fully investigate the fake tests but denied the practice was widespread. "No one to my knowledge has put up their hand and admitted they fudged the tests," he said. "To conduct an extensive investigation into each RBT return . . . would tie up a huge amount of resources for a long period of time."

A police source said the internal investigation was destined to fail because of a lack of resources, but officers had stopped faking tests for a while after being exposed. Mr Atkinson said some regional assistant commissioners were reducing test quotas because the previous target of one breath test per licensed driver was "too onerous". The South Eastern Region cut its target to 85 per cent of licensed drivers, while Metropolitan South and parts of the Southern Region cut the target to 90 per cent.


Another Australian police force with high ethical standards (NOT)

There are so many crooks that they are "too many" to prosecute, apparently. So they all get off scot-free!

HUNDREDS of police officers across South Australia caught using their work computers to illegally copy movie DVDs will escape prosecution. The activity - strictly banned under federal copyright laws - was detected during an audit conducted by the information technology branch of SA Police. Senior police, including Commissioner Mal Hyde, have been briefed on the extent of the problem.

An internal email to police management said the audit had "identified a number of instances where commercial DVD movies have been copied to the hard-drives of police computers which potentially had been burnt to blank DVDs". "This practice is potentially a breach of copyright and misuse of SAPOL equipment," it said. "Branch managers are requested to take measures to ensure this practice must not occur and to remind members (officers) of the policies relating to the use of SAPOL computer equipment."

Police sources have told The Advertiser an official investigation, which could lead to criminal charges, will not be conducted because of the large number of police officers involved in copying DVDs. Mr Hyde's spokeswoman, Roberta Heather, confirmed his senior executive group had been briefed on the results of the computer audit. "A recommendation was made that identified work areas should remind members of the need to comply with SAPOL's policy in regard to the appropriate use of work systems and legislative requirements," she said. Ms Heather said police computer systems regularly were audited "and appropriate action is taken where any breach of legislation or policy is detected".

The Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft said it would write to Mr Hyde to seek an explanation. Under federal laws, severe penalties can be imposed on video piracy. Penalties include fines of up to $60,500 for individuals and up to $302,500 for corporations for each individual infringement, and up to five years' imprisonment.


Moronic body of psychologists doubts that it upsets a kid to see animosity between his or her parents

Feminists at work, no doubt

Child custody determinations in scores of Family Court decisions could be challenged following a ruling debunking parental alienation syndrome, a controversial diagnosis of the effects on a child when one parent denigrates the other. The Psychologists Board of Queensland last month disciplined prominent Brisbane clinical psychologist William Wrigley, saying he had acted unprofessionally in giving evidence about parental alienation syndrome to the court. An investigation found that Dr Wrigley's evidence three years ago, which had led to a mother losing custody of her two children, constituted "professional conduct that demonstrates incompetence or a lack of adequate knowledge, skill, judgment or care".

The Australian understands that Dr Wrigley has identified the syndrome as a factor in other cases to the Family Court. So have psychologists and psychiatrists throughout Australia. The syndrome was diagnosed in 1985 by US clinical psychiatrist Richard Gardner, an advocate of a father's right to custody, even in cases where he had been accused of abuse. He argued that some parents who criticise other parents or step-parents in front of children were guilty of psychological abuse. Dr Gardner's theories remain highly controversial among psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists, who claim they are simplistic or erroneous.

The complaint was lodged by the Brisbane mother who lost custody of her two children in 2005 when Family Court judge Neil Buckley determined, acknowledging the evidence of Dr Wrigley, that she had affected the children with the syndrome. Justice Buckley said Dr Wrigley's reports provided a "comprehensive and balanced assessment" of all relevant issues. "It has to be said that in terms of objectivity, professionalism, fairness and balance, his reports are in stark contrast to those provided by (other professionals)," he said.

The board advised Dr Wrigley on March 3 of its unanimous decision that he had "acted in a way that constituted unsatisfactory conduct" for "referring to an unrecognised syndrome in his reports". "It was inappropriate for the registrant (Dr Wrigley) to either diagnose the children or state there was a likelihood the children could develop parental alienation syndrome, as it is not a recognised syndrome," it said. "To diagnose a patient as suffering from or demonstrating a potential to develop an unrecognised syndrome is contrary to the code of ethics." However, the board advised that details of the disciplinary action not be recorded on the public register because it was "not within the public interest". The board told The Australian it was precluded by law from commenting on the disciplinary action taken against Dr Wrigley.

Family Court Chief Justice Diana Bryant last year posted on the family law court website a "fact sheet" about the syndrome, which said the malady was used in evidence, but warned that it was not accepted as "a psychiatric disease". Chief Justice Bryant's notice cited several cases "where PAS has been rejected or not accepted as a concept". The cited cases, with names excluded, included the controversial matter for which Dr Wrigley was disciplined by the psychologists board.


Sunday, April 06, 2008

HMAS Sydney update

As the original reports from German survivors indicated, it was devastating fire from the "Kormoran" which sank the "Sydney" with loss of all hands

Gripping, crystal-clear new pictures of HMAS Sydney reveal the devastating bombardment by the Germans - but are also testament to the heroics of Aussie gunners who never gave up. Shipwreck investigator David Mearns said the images were remarkable for their clarity and their documentation of the punishment suffered by Sydney and its crew. "I have studied many historical accounts of the battle between Sydney and Kormoran, but none of these could fully prepare me for the enormous damage withstood by Sydney,'' he said.

One of the new photos shows a cluster of four large-calibre shell hits on Sydney's starboard side. "The truly amazing aspect of this picture, however, is that each of the four shells -- undoubtedly fired separately, but by the same gun on Kormoran -- all hit within a cluster only 20ft (6m) high,'' Mr Mearns said. "This image illustrates with terrifying reality the rapidity and deadly precision of the German gunnery.''

Another picture brings to life the courage of a group of Sydney's gunners who fired the shells that sunk the Kormoran. "The image speaks volumes for the bravery of Sydney's own gunners closed up in `X' turret,'' Mr Mearns said. "Because Sydney's bridge and director-control tower were destroyed at the start of the battle it is now clear that the men in `X' turret must have been shooting independently in local control. "Our pictures of `X' turret not only show it pointing forward, frozen in its final shooting position, but they also reveal the turret's two forward hatches swung wide open, possibly to allow better aiming and firing by the gunners inside.'' The battle in November 1941 claimed both ships and their wrecks now lie in water almost 2.5km deep off Shark Bay. All 645 crew on the Sydney were lost.

Senior naval historian John Perryman, who is aboard the discovery vessel, said the pictures gave a sobering insight into Sydney's final hours. "That some of Sydney's crew were observed by their German opponents to be fighting to the last is no small wonder and a testimony to their courage and determination to press on,'' he said. "One can only guess the desperateness of Sydney's situation following such severe punishment.''

Mr Mearns said the new pictures also revealed serious damage to Sydney's stern, which would help explain the final sinking scenario. He believed the trigger for Sydney's sinking by the stern was the moment its bow broke away from the hull on the surface. "The next important task for us on our upcoming dive is to locate Sydney's bow, the position and condition of which should tell us far more about the sinking,'' Mr Mearns said.

Glenys McDonald, a historian and author who is also observing the filming, said the extent of the damage could be distressing for some families of the deceased. "I was horrified at the extent of the shell hits to this (starboard) side of the vessel,'' she said. "Several areas of the ship also bore the scars of terrible fire damage. "It was a very emotional and long day; so much destruction, so little chance of survival. "HMAS Sydney gave up many of her secrets today; may she now rest in peace.''


Greenie doctors preaching absurdities

Cold is a bigger threat to health than warmth. Have these crooks ever noticed that winter is the time for coughs, colds, flu etc.? Any increase in heat-related deaths would be more than matched by a reduction in cold-related deaths -- particularly among the elderly

Doctors have warned of disastrous health outcomes over the next 10 years, particularly among children and the elderly, unless greater action is taken on climate change. Improved strategies are required to reduce the impact of climate change on health, including a growing incidence heat-related illness and infectious diseases, a report by Doctors for Environment Australia says. The report, released on the eve of World Health Day and titled Climate Change Health Check 2020, was prepared for the Climate Institute and endorsed by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.

Newcastle-based GP and co-author of the report Dr Graeme Horton said climate change presented a major challenge for the health system. "Climate change is already a reality in our waiting rooms and surgeries, and is set to be key challenge for our health system over the coming decade," Dr Horton said. "Clearly, climate change will place our health system under increasing stress, and as always the elderly, children and the vulnerable will be hardest hit." Dr Horton said the greatest impact would be felt in rural, regional, remote and indigenous communities.

Some of the impacts on health listed in the report include an increased incidence allergic disease, food poisoning and mosquito-transmitted diseases such as Dengue fever and Ross River virus. There would also likely be increased trauma from extreme weather events such as drought and natural disasters, as well as a large increase in demand for aid from neighbouring countries.

Dr Grant Blashki of the University if Melbourne's Department of General Practice said planning for climate change should be part of every future deliberation on the healthcare needs of the community. "Effective health strategies will require strong collaboration between government, health professionals and the community sector," Dr Blashki said. Future medical workforce planning would need to take account of climate change impacts in areas such as preparing for disasters and supporting communities hit by long-term drought, the doctor said.


'Bullying' high school stops fingerprinting kids

An Australian high school has stopped fingerprinting its children, on receiving a caning from the country’s press. Ku-ring-gai High, in Sydney’s prosperous North Shore, is accused of bullying its charges into scanning their fingerprints for an attendance monitoring system it is trialing.

Under New South Wales rules, parents must be told in advance if their children are to be fingerprinted. Also, schools must not ID children whose parents object by way of a letter of exemption. But Ku-ring-gai interpreted the rules liberally: one parent told The Australian that his daughter “could not leave an exam room until she provided her fingerprint". Another claimed her two children were “intimidated” into getting their fingerprints scanned despite presenting exemption letters.

Ku-ring-gai High may have breached procedural and privacy guidelines, education officials say. But the school could return to fingerprinting, when it gets its house in order, according to local news reports.


Real cost of tariffs aids case for cuts

New evidence that tariffs cost Australians $9.1 billion a year while providing a net benefit to industry of just $1.4 billion will provide a powerful boost to Treasury arguments to wind back protection. The future of tariffs is dividing the Government, with Industry Minister Kim Carr's push for continued support for manufacturers meeting resistance from Wayne Swan and Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner.

The Treasurer backs his department's view that tariffs impose a heavy cost on the economy. But Senator Carr believes tariff protection has an important continuing role, and has bypassed the Productivity Commission in setting up reviews for the motor vehicle and textile industries, as well as support for research and development.

The Productivity Commission's annual report on industry assistance, released yesterday, shows that although Australia's level of tariffs has fallen sharply, it still imposes a heavy burden on the economy. "Assistance to one industry comes at a cost to other industries and to Australians generally," the report says. It found that manufacturing receives about 95 per cent of tariff assistance, with motor vehicle manufacturers receiving $1.4 billion a year. But the commission said that tariffs on imported cars "restricted choice, inflated the price of cars for consumers and added to the costs of the many businesses that use motor vehicles as inputs".

Tariff assistance overall imposes a $7.7 billion annual cost on industries that have to buy goods at higher prices. This is overwhelmingly borne by the services sector, with the construction industry's costs $1.5 billion higher because of tariffs, while retail trade suffers increased costs of $700 million. Tariffs add 10 per cent to the cost of imported motor vehicles, while the rate on imported clothing is 17.5 per cent. Imported shoes, fabric and carpet all carry a 10 per cent tariff.

Kevin Rudd used meetings with European Union leaders in Brussels this week to argue for cuts to European and American subsidies and tariffs protecting their farmers as part of his push to revitalise the Doha round of World Trade Organisation talks.

The Productivity Commission report shows total assistance to industry, including tariffs and direct budget support, rose 9 per cent over the past five years of the Howard government, after allowing for inflation. Direct budget subsidies soared 15 per cent to reach $6.5 billion, the fastest growth in at least 20years. "At a time of budget constraints and skill shortages, we want to be sure that industry assistance has a strong rationale and is providing good payoffs to the community," Productivity Commission chairman Gary Banks told The Australian. "What stands out in these latest numbers is that financial support to industry and firms has gone up by 15 per cent in real terms over five years to June 2007. That is significant."

Direct industry assistance programs are likely to feel the sharp edge of the Government's razor gang. As the minister responsible for finance and deregulation, Mr Tanner is expected to argue against any increase in subsidies to industry or regulatory moves to assist them. It is not known what position Mr Swan took when inquiries into the motor vehicle and textile industries came before cabinet, but both were election promises, so would probably have been ticked off with little debate.

Expectations that these reviews will press for increased assistance were raised on Monday when the discussion paper released by the motor vehicle review, headed by former Victorian premier Steve Bracks, canvassed direct grants to motor vehicle manufacturers and continued tariff assistance. When it last reviewed the motor vehicle industry in 2002, the Productivity Commission found that tariffs added $2800 to the cost of each car sold.

The Productivity Commission said calls for industry assistance needed to be treated carefully. "In addition to its adverse effects on other industries, providing assistance can in itself entail substantial costs - including tax raising, administration and compliance costs." The Productivity Commission said that there were more than 100 separate industry support programs. They have become more important as tariff levels have been reduced. "There has also been considerable 'churn' in the delivery of assistance, particularly budgetary programs, with particular measures frequently being amended, extended or repackaged," the report said. Managing the handouts was also a costly exercise, with the delivery costs for a range of programs averaging 28 per cent of the aid provided, and topping 80 per cent in some cases.

The commission's report revived its earlier criticisms of programs such as the Howard government's Commercial Ready scheme, and cited audit office concerns over the transparency of the Automotive Competitiveness and Investment Scheme.


Time to Stop the Dreaming about Aborigines

By John Stone

I AM NEITHER an anthropologist nor a professional historian specialising in Aboriginal matters. Since however those two categories of people (with, as always, honourable exceptions) bear a heavy responsibility for the tragedy that has gradually unfolded in Australia over the past forty years or so, I wear those deficiencies as a badge of honour.

People have different views about demarcation dates, but in handling Aboriginal issues in Australia there is a clear "break" in policy attitudes in the mid-1960s. This culminated in the ever-since-vaunted 1967 referendum, in which 89.3 per cent of Australians voting (including, as we should, those who spoiled their ballot papers) voted in the affirmative. Although the referendum is usually described by lazy journalists as "giving Aboriginals the vote for the first time in Australia's history", or words to that effect, it did nothing of the kind.

What the referendum chiefly did was to amend s. 51(xxvi) of the Constitution (the "race power"). Originally, that section stated that: "The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to . (xxvi) the people of any race, other than the aboriginal race in any State, for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws." The referendum proposed the deletion of the words I have italicised, so that placitum (xxvi) now simply reads "the people of any race for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws". The Commonwealth Parliament is therefore now empowered to enact race-based laws for Aboriginal people (however defined) should it wish to do so. Previously, only the states held such powers. (I say "chiefly" because, in addition, the referendum proposed the repeal of the original s.127 of the Constitution-"Aborigines not to be counted in reckoning population"-which had read as follows: "127. In reckoning the numbers of people of the Commonwealth, or of a State or other part of the Commonwealth, aboriginal natives shall not be counted.")

Be that as it may, the referendum's real significance lay in its symbolism. Australians had become increasingly conscious that all was not well with their fellow Australians of Aboriginal descent. They then focused on "real" Aborigines, as distinct from what I might call the pseudo-Aborigines, often claiming Aboriginality for essentially pecuniary purposes, who nowadays have become so prominent in the Aboriginal industry. The referendum, introduced by the Holt government but with Labor's support, gave Australians the opportunity to feel good about themselves. Having luxuriated in the moral vanity of the moment, they then forgot about the issue and, as Mr Rudd now says, "moved on".

Indeed, the more one thinks about the Prime Minister's recent apology, the more it resembles that 1967 event. Both were marked by an upwelling of emotion, a storm of generally uninformed media chatter, an event reverberating for a few weeks, and subsequent failure both then and (I predict) now to address the real problem.

Of course, analogies are treacherous things, and along with these worrying parallels there are also differences between the events of 1967 and last February. The key point, however, is that forty years after that earlier symbolic event, the state of Aboriginal Australia may now in some important respects be even worse.

That judgment may come as a surprise to some. After all, during those forty years untold billions of dollars have been spent, by both Commonwealth and state governments, in seeking to address the real problems of Aboriginal communities, to say nothing of the lesser (but still substantial) sums frittered away on successive symbolic gestures. Moreover, although the results have been, to use a kindly word, disappointing, there has been some improvement in some areas. In a speech in late 2005 the Chairman of the inter-governmental Steering Committee for the Review of Government Services, Gary Banks (who is also Chairman of the Productivity Commission) noted that over the period 1994-2002 the Aboriginal population had shown:

* "a rise in labour force participation . and a decline in unemployment . Moreover, the proportionate improvement [for Aborigines] appears to have exceeded that for the economy as a whole".

* "some improvement in educational engagement at senior secondary and post-school levels . there was a doubling in the proportion of Indigenous people over 15 years in post-secondary education ."

* "a rise in apparent retention rates for Indigenous students in each post-compulsory year of school".

* "a rise in home ownership".

Banks did add that "other headline areas that are central to the wellbeing of Indigenous people . appear to have deteriorated", including increases in reported violence, child protection notifications ("a proxy indicator of child abuse and neglect") and imprisonment rates (especially for women). Given, however, his mildly encouraging (on balance) appraisal, why should I say that the state of Aboriginal Australia today may in some important respects be even worse than it was forty years ago? CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING three points:

Averages: Anyone with any mathematical understanding knows that, while averages are useful, they can also be misleading. For example, when Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein published their monumental study The Bell Curve in 1994, propounding the view that intelligence levels differ among ethnic groups, they were violently attacked as "racists" for suggesting that, inter alia, Afro-Americans are less intelligent than Americans of Jewish descent. They certainly were saying that-among many other things-on average (that is, the bell curve of intelligence quotient distribution for the former group was centred somewhat to the left of its counterpart for the latter group). However, this was fully consistent with the fact that many Afro-Americans (on the right-hand side of their bell curve) are in fact more intelligent than many Jewish Americans (on the left-hand side of their bell curve).

Because averages-such as those suggesting that many aspects of Aboriginal Australia have shown improvement-can be misleading, we should enquire whether they may conceal real problems even as they reveal real progress.

"Aboriginality": One reason for that possibility lies in the definition of the statistical "population" being examined. In Australia today we badly need a publicly acceptable definition of "Aboriginality"-that is, a definition of who can legitimately claim to be Aboriginal-which allows us to focus on the real problem areas. The truth is-although the political-correctness thought police will vigorously pursue anyone who states it-that a high proportion of those self-identifying today as "Aboriginal" is of widely mixed genetic origin, has little (or in many cases no) connection with its distant Aboriginal forebears, and so on. Even the Native Title Act 1993, which deals with a form of property right and would therefore, one might expect, define precisely those persons eligible to claim such rights, ducks the issue-saying merely that "Aboriginal peoples means peoples of the Aboriginal race of Australia". Even this non-definition is buried away in Division 4 of Part 15 of the Act under "Sundry definitions". (The definition of "Torres Strait Islander" is equally unhelpful: "Torres Strait Islander means a descendant of an indigenous inhabitant of the Torres Strait Islands").

The proportion of "pseudo-Aborigines", within the total "Aboriginal" population as enumerated, has for some time now been rising. The Commonwealth Statistician, in his census documents and related publications (in particular, The Health and Welfare of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples) makes persistent reference to this point-saying, for example, that "estimating the size and composition of the Indigenous population is difficult for a range of reasons". Chief among those estimation difficulties is the increasing tendency for Australians having some degree of Aboriginal ancestry to identify themselves as "Aboriginal". As the Statistician notes, today the working definition states that "an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person is a person of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent who identifies as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and is accepted as such by the community in which he lives". However, "the definitions used in statistical collections generally focus on descent and/or self-identification".

Prior to 1967, identification as "Aboriginal" for census purposes was restricted to people of more than 50 per cent Aboriginal descent. Even those with one full-blood Aboriginal parent were therefore not regarded as Aboriginal unless the other parent also possessed some degree of Aboriginal ancestry. (This meant that they were counted in the census rather than excluded.) While that was clearly a highly restrictive definition, the pendulum has now swung to the opposite extreme. As a result, "there have often been substantial intercensal changes in the counts of Indigenous people which cannot be fully explained by natural increase". Between the 1991 and 1996 censuses "the number of people counted as Indigenous . increased by 33 per cent", only 53 per cent of which increase could be explained by known causes such as natural increase. Thus, what the Statistician terms "the extraordinary increase in the number of Indigenous people over the last two censuses" (1996 and 2001) appears mainly "to stem from changes in personal attitudes to Indigenous self-identification in some people of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander descent".

These developments go to the heart of my claim above that the averages we are looking at may be misleading, and perhaps seriously so. The Johnny-come-lately additions to "Aboriginality" are, without much doubt, coming from higher socio-economic strata than those previously so classified. In most cases (though not all) they have better educational qualifications, live in better housing, possess more trade skills, and enjoy, on average, better health (including better access to medical and hospital facilities that, for example, result in lower infant mortality). The more such people add themselves, for whatever reason, to "Aboriginal" ranks, the more those ranks' average standards in education, housing, skills, infant mortality and so on will, mathematically speaking, improve. Yet this can all be happening at a time when few or none of those indicators may have been improving among people more genuinely describable as Aboriginals.

I predict, incidentally, that this particular phenomenon will now increase further. Since the Rudd government took what was widely described as "the first step", the compensation crowd has begun swarming out of the bunkers within which, pending delivery of that apology, it had been lying doggo. The greater the incentives to become "Aboriginal", the more "Aborigines" we shall have. Already there are press reports of lawyers in Perth preparing "to launch a 1000-strong claim in the Western Australian and Northern Territory Supreme Courts".

A related pointer to the state of the real Aboriginal Australia is derived from looking at the geographic location of our "Aboriginal" population. Over the years, more and more of those enumerated are to be found living either in our major cities (31 per cent at the time of the 2006 census), inner regional areas (22 per cent) or outer regional areas (23 per cent). These people, particularly those living in our major cities or inner regional areas, have much better access to jobs and to services of all kinds (schools, technical training colleges, universities, doctors, hospitals, charitable services). The others (24 per cent in 2006), who live in either "remote" (8 per cent) or "very remote" (16 per cent) communities, lack not only job opportunities but also comparable access to services. In these groups, I suggest, the situation today is no better, and may be even worse, than it was forty years ago.

"Aboriginal" Distribution: In the mid-1960s, Paul Hasluck ceased to be Minister for the Interior, and governmental policies towards Aborigines increasingly began to fall into the hands of the academic Left-including, most notoriously, the anthropologists, but also such notables as the late H.C. ("Nugget") Coombs. The Aboriginal population, as enumerated in the 1966 census, was a mere 102,000. (Note however that the census count of the Aboriginal population in 1966 was seriously deficient; the Statistician has subsequently estimated a minimum figure for 1966 of 132,219-that is, almost 30 per cent greater).

Since, as noted earlier, to be counted then as Aboriginal required you had to be of more than half Aboriginal ancestry, it is a fair bet that most of these people lived in remote (including very remote) areas of Australia. There were then very few handouts to be had from governments by identifying oneself as "Aboriginal", so the later wave of free-loaders had not yet begun to build.

At the 2006 census, in contrast, there were 1187 discrete Aboriginal "communities" with a total population of 92,960 (about 18 per cent of Australia's then more widely defined "Aboriginal" population). Of these, 865 communities contained fewer than fifty persons. Of the other 322, 215 contained fewer than 200 persons. Of the smaller communities, the great majority constituted the so-called "outstations" or "homelands", most of them in the Northern Territory, Queensland and Western Australia.

The Howard government's dramatic intervention in handling Northern Territory Aboriginal issues last year, at the initiative of the then Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Mal Brough, was facilitated by its constitutional powers over the Territory. It was of course sparked by the damning report into the prevalence of child sexual abuse in the Territory, Little Children are Sacred, and the lack of any effective response from the Northern Territory government. I suggest that it is no accident that the outrages in question were being perpetrated so widely in a region where the "outstation" and "homelands" communities are so comparatively prevalent, and where even the government settlements are rife with the inter-tribal animosities that characterise the real Aboriginal Australia.

WHEREAS FROM THE OUTSET of his prime ministership John Howard insisted on the need to focus on practical issues rather than the distorted symbolism of the past, his successor has begun by focusing on the latter. However, his extraordinary "Apology" behind him, what can we now expect from him and his government? To answer that question we might first turn back to that "Apology". Without going into detail, consider the following few aspects.

The statement fully accepts, without question, the tissue of lies, half-truths and evasions that constituted the Bringing Them Home report. Yet in the only serious case arising from that document to have come before the courts, the carefully selected plaintiffs were found not only to have no case, but also-not to put too fine a point on it-not to be witnesses of truth.

The statement also parades, as fact, one untruth after another. For example, "between 1910 and 1970, between 10 and 30 per cent of Indigenous children were forcibly taken from their mothers and fathers". In fact, while some children were "forcibly taken" by welfare officers-almost always to protect them from the likely dreadful consequences if they were not-a great many were voluntarily handed over by their mothers (or sometimes, as in Lowitja O'Donohue's case, their fathers). This was in order that they might have a better chance of staying alive, receiving an education and enjoying a better future (as in her case). This massive lie, now publicly sponsored by no less than our Prime Minister, will now be recycled over and over again with the stamp of his authority upon it. And there are numerous other equally reprehensible examples.

Even more important, however, is Mr Rudd's statement that, "Symbolism is important, but unless the great symbolism of reconciliation is accompanied by an even greater substance, it is little more than a clanging gong" (emphasis added). Just so; and as they listened to these words, the compensation crowd must have been hugging themselves.

Mr Rudd, no doubt, will say that his words referred not to "compensation", but to his later promises to "close the gap" between Aboriginal Australia and the rest of us in such areas as life expectancy, educational attainments and so on. But these objectives, however desirable they may be, are in themselves no argument against the claims for compensation. To state the matter squarely, if Aboriginal children, however defined, were in fact treated as Mr Rudd now believes (or says he believes) they were, then clearly they, and to a lesser extent their children, do have a just claim against the governments responsible. You can't have it both ways. If you accept a lying report, fabricated from start to finish, as a document of truth, then you must accept the consequences. Those consequences will be both legal ones, on which the compensation industry will now be founded, and the historical one, on which, from the mouth of its own prime minister, Australia now stands shamed before the world.

So in short, we can now expect two things: a ramping-up of the compensation industry, and a flurry of activity directed towards "closing the gap".

More here

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Black education disaster in Australia

Maybe even worse than Los Angeles

INDIGENOUS children in remote communities in the Northern Territory are being condemned to failure by a system of educational apartheid that offers a second-rate curriculum in make-believe schools. In a paper to be released next week by the Centre for Independent Studies, Helen Hughes, professor emeritus at the Australian National University and senior fellow at the CIS, says indigenous schooling in the Territory has "in effect not been extended to secondary education".

"Because most indigenous primary school leavers, particularly in remote areas, are at Year 1 level, so-called secondary classes mostly teach elementary English, numeracy and literacy," she says.

Teachers are flown in to remote schools, sometimes for as little as a few hours one day a week, and many schools are not open five days a week. Students are not taught history, geography nor science, Professor Hughes says, and she cites examples of teenagers thinking there are 100 minutes in an hour and not knowing how to divide a piece of material into two, nor how to find Canberra on a map nor what "capital of Australia" means.

She calls for more than 4000 preschool teachers for indigenous children, more than 200 houses to be built for full-time resident teachers, and for remote schools to be twinned with mainstream schools to allow exchanges of students and teachers.

At the Tiwi Islands, north of Darwin, community members have acted to build their own school after decades of educational failure on the islands. When teachers from Tiwi College tested the literacy of 13- and 14-year-olds, they found at least half the students had the literacy levels of a six-year old. Students such as 15-year-old Bertram Tipungwuti are now engaged in a desperate race, passionately driven by the traditional owners on the island, to catch up with students in mainstream schools. [Tiwi islanders are different. They are of mixed race, descendants of Malay and Indonesian seafarers in part -- though you are not supposed to mention that. There are many differences between Tiwis and mainland blacks]


Attack on global warming policy from within the Australian Labor Party

The NSW Labor Right has fired a shot across the bows of climate-change "true believers" within the Rudd Government, with NSW Treasurer Michael Costa warning that their approach could mug the economy and scare away foreign investors. Mr Costa has slammed the recommendations of the Government's climate change adviser, the ANU's Ross Garnaut, in an interim report released by Professor Garnaut last month. In a speech to business leaders in Sydney last night, he warned that Professor Garnaut's proposals could cost Australia more than $50 billion in lost productivity between now and 2030 because of the burden imposed on the electricity industry and related sectors.

Mr Costa was scathing about Professor Garnaut's suggestion that, in a new emissions trading system requiring permits, there should be no compensation paid to the $40 billion coal-fired power industry. Unveiling new modelling by NSW Treasury officials, he warned that this approach, combined with a target of reducing greenhouse emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, would cause a reduction in gross domestic product of 4 per cent by 2030. Mr Costa said the "sovereign risk" associated with imposing a new carbon trading regime on Australian companies, combined with rigid emission targets, would result in a capital flight by overseas investors.

"The Garnaut proposal has significant financial and economic impacts," Mr Costa told the annual dinner of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. "The transitional effects could seriously disrupt critical sectors of the economy. The Rudd Government needs to proceed with caution and recognise that international investors, in particular, will be looking at how they treat existing property rights of asset owners." He described the suggestion that no compensation was necessary for asset holders as, "absurd" and "unacceptable".

Mr Costa's comments put him at odds with climate change advocates within the Rudd Government such as Climate Change Minister Penny Wong and Environment Minister Peter Garrett. While Ms Wong has declared no decisions will be taken on Professor Garnaut's suggestions until industry and community groups have been consulted, The Australian understands her key policy advisers share his aversion to paying compensation.

The NSW Labor Government is set to be among the big losers under the Garnaut model, with Mr Costa and NSW Premier Morris Iemma preparing to take about $10 billion worth of state-owned electricity assets to market next year. Mr Costa said his modelling showed the cost of carbon permits traded in the electricity industry could be as high as $120 billion by 2030, with a further $150 billion in adjustment costs. He warned the resulting increase in power prices could be much higher than the 10-15 per cent predicted by Professor Garnaut.

Mr Costa told The Australian: "It's like building a road through your place - I'm expected to provide you compensation for the adverse impact. The laws have changed, it affects property rights and therefore there ought to be compensation."


Wave of Chinese and Indians will change nation, summit told

AUSTRALIA needs to get ready for a new wave of Chinese and Indian immigrants as the "emerging economies" flex their muscles, delegates to the Australia 2020 Summit have been told. A new briefing paper for the mega-conference says Australia will be vastly different in another decade due to the rising influence of the Asian superpowers. Not only will the Australian economy be more tuned into Asia but there will be more Indians and Chinese settling here. "Migration will continue to be a short-term solution to skills shortages and will see people arriving from emerging economies such as India and China," the paper says.

Yesterday organisers released more than 200 pages of questions, background information and statistics for delegates and interested members of the public. The April 19-20 summit will be co-chaired by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Professor Glyn Davis, with 1000 delegates in 10 panels. Mr Rudd has talked up the summit as a way of finding long-term solutions to the nation's major problems, but Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson has been increasingly critical.

World Vision chief Tim Costello, the brother of former federal treasurer Peter Costello, is heading the panel discussion on "Strengthening Communities", which could be one of the most topical. Information released yesterday for panel delegates said Australia's cultural identity would keep evolving. It said that in the past 10 years there had been an increasing number of immigrants arriving from China and India and that this would continue. "What can be done to help new Australians to settle and participate in the community?" the paper asked.

The document also highlighted the rising use of drugs and the increase in violent crimes. It also warned binge drinking was a serious problem in Australia although it was often ignored. Mr Costello told The Courier-Mail in February he wanted to address the issue of binge drinking at the summit, but Family First senator Steve Fielding said yesterday urgent action was needed now.


More lawyer power coming?

Sadly, Australia now has a very thick Attorney-General

"I am an economic conservative. I am an economic conservative. I am an economic conservative." Before the recent election, Kevin Rudd couldn't assure voters often enough of his credentials when it came to the economy. And no doubt, as interest rates get higher and labour laws are deliberalised, time and Rudd's response to these and other economic stresses will tell. The voters will get to see if the Prime Minister is the economic conservative he so repeatedly branded himself.

However that plays out, and none of us can know for sure, it is becoming plainer every day that our new federal Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, is not a constitutional and legal conservative. Indeed, it appears that McClelland's mantra is closer to: "I am a legal revolutionary; I am a legal revolutionary; I am a legal revolutionary." First off, as soon as the election is done and out of the way, he announces that he rather fancies one of those new-fangled bills of rights.

Why not aim to bring one in before the next election, he muses. Well, one reason is that the Labor Party has no real mandate to do this. Does anyone reading this recall McClelland or Rudd saying, before the election, "we will give you a bill of rights"?

Here's another reason. These instruments overwhelmingly inflate the power of unelected judges. And I'm talking about statutory bills of rights, not just the constitutionalised versions modelled after the US and Canada. The legal revolutionary crowd, drawn disproportionately from the chardonnay-sipping wing of the Labor Party, like to assure people that statutory bills of rights won't diminish the power of the elected parliament at all. We'll just copy what Britain and New Zealand have, and nothing much will change at all, they assure us.

This is an out-and-out prevarication. Here's what one of the top British judges said, after Britain got its statutory bill of rights just less than a decade ago. It was in the course of giving his judgment in the House of Lords' case of Jackson. Lord Steyn said: "The Human Rights Act (Britain's name for its statutory bill of rights) created a new legal order." That's a quote. Do you think our Attorney-General, who wants to copy Britain's bill of rights, is unaware of that statement?

In a similar vein, do you think McClelland doesn't know that the British judges have used the statutory bill of rights to say that they (the judges, that is) can read any statute they want in a new "bill of rights friendly way"? This, they tell us, means that they can read words in, read words out, ignore the plain, clear meaning of any statute and attribute it the exact opposite meaning to the one they know the legislature intended. Now that, to my way of reckoning, is revolutionary. It cuts to the heart of democracy and rule by the people.

Think of it this way. You decide your 15-year-old son has misbehaved. So you say to him, "You cannot go to the movies this weekend." And assume you are the elected legislature. He, though, is the unelected High Court of Australia and there is a statutory bill of rights in place. He responds: "Well, Dad, in interpreting your words, I am putting them into what I consider to be a bill of rights friendly context and, in my view, denying me access to movies breaches fundamental rights. So what you meant, in this new light, is that I can go to the movies. "Oh, and I am also reading in a few words, namely that you have to buy me some popcorn and a drink. You see, Dad, I'm the one who gets to decide what is and isn't in keeping with fundamental rights, not you." That sounds so ridiculous readers won't believe me. But that's barely a parody of what the British and NZ judges have done in a bunch of big bill of rights cases.

So we need our Attorney-General to come out and tell us if this is what he wants to happen here; if he thinks judges can be restrained (in some way that has failed everywhere else); and, if not, why he thinks this outcome - this revolutionary outcome that takes power away from our elected representatives and gives it to committees of ex-lawyers - is a good idea.

But so far we get nothing but gaseous platitudes about protecting people's fundamental rights, as though there was any consensus at all among smart, reasonable people about what this means in day-to-day practice when it comes to having to draw lines about wearing veils to school, campaign finance regimes, same-sex marriage and so on.

But that's not all, incredibly enough. Our Attorney-General has announced that he's also going to change the way magistrates and judges are selected. He's going to take politicians largely out of the equation. Let sitting judges and ex-judges and top lawyers and maybe a few representatives of special interest groups - pick the favourite special interest group before whom you'd expect people to genuflect - draw up lists based on (wait for it) ostensible merit. You see this sleight of hand works by pretending that the notion of merit is uncontroversial and that it's best to leave the judges and lawyers largely to pick their successors.

And it assumes that a few political hacks getting appointed to the bench (which does happen now) is worse than leaving judges and lawyers to pick their own replacements (which will happen under this proposal). It's not. Test this by asking yourself if you'd let top generals decide who got to be the next chief of staff or whether you'd want political input into that decision.

My point is that if you were asked to set up a system that comprehensively undermined democratic decision-making without anyone realising it was happening, I doubt you could do better than the Attorney-General's one-two punch. One, you put in place a bill of rights that greatly increases judges' powers. Of course you do this while repeating endlessly that you only want better to protect fundamental rights, the unspoken premise being that a group of ex-lawyers are better at this than the men and women elected to parliament. Next, you cut off the voting public's ability to pick who those now incredibly powerful judges will be. They'll get to pick their own replacements, thank you very much. The Australian judges who here too will one day tell us "this is a new legal order" will also decide who sits on the Federal Court and maybe even the High Court.

Of course the jargon used to sell this undermining of your and my democratic input will sound grand and marvellous. Heck, if you don't use your brain at all and just revel in the warm feeling such rhetoric induces, you may even feel the Attorney-General deserves a pat on the back. This is all revolutionary stuff. But it's a quiet revolution. Keep your head down and you won't even see it happening, until it's too late. Those who are democrats at heart need to protest as soon as possible at this prospect of juristocracy.


Friday, April 04, 2008

Rudd salute unbecoming - Opposition

I have been told a few times that I am so far Right I am almost out of sight (Something that was originally said of Syngman Rhee, if you remember him). To which I normally reply: "No. That's my brother you are talking about". So I think I can say without denting my conservative credentials that the grumbing from the Liberal Party below is utter crap. That the Australian Prime Minister and the President of the USA are on jovial terms is entirely desirable. The event concerned is a sign of Mr Rudd's maturity and self-possession, if anything

A salute by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to US President George W. Bush is conduct unbecoming of an Australian leader, says federal Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was caught by cameras snapping a theatrical salute at US President George W Bush at a NATO summit in Bucharest. Mr Rudd was briefly standing alone at the gathering of leaders from 26 countries when he saw Mr Bush, saluted, and strode over, smiling, to talk to the US President.

He said later that the salute was just a joke. "I was just saying hi to the President of the United States - I was just with him the other day," Mr Rudd said. Asked about the gesture, Dr Nelson said it was best left for the Prime Minister to comment on its meaning and on whether or not he might regret his actions later but he was clearly unimpressed. "I think it's conduct unbecoming of an Australian prime minister," Dr Nelson said. "Mr Rudd appears to conduct himself in one manner when he thinks the television is on him and in another when it is not. "Australia is a confident, outward-looking country after more than 10 years of strong foreign policy development and we need a strong prime minister to represent our very best interests throughout the world."

The incident prompted some observers to recall the storm caused by Mr Bush in 2003 when he described Australia as a "sheriff" of the Asia-Pacific. At the time, then prime minister John Howard laughed off Mr Bush's comment as a joke, attributing it to the President's Texas roots.


WSJ notes that the Australian Left is different

The editorial below is from the Wall St. Journal. Australia does have crazy Leftists but they do not run the Labor party. The Whitlam disaster saw to that. Most people have by now forgotten Gough's merry group of crazies but the Labor party hasn't

Kevin Rudd, Australia's new Prime Minister, is sometimes billed - not without a little glee - as the latest thorn in the Bush Administration's side: a pro-Kyoto Protocol, anti-Iraq War, left-of-center leader of a major U.S. ally. But the 50-year-old Queenslander seems determined not to play to media type.

We recently met with Mr. Rudd in New York, following his meetings in Washington with President Bush and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, among others. If Mr. Rudd intends to be an "ally" in the mold of Germany's Gerhard Schr"der or France's Jacques Chirac, he wasn't letting on. "The ballast that America provides in terms of global security and global economic order is overwhelming," he said, adding that the U.S.'s reflexive critics should "take a step back."

Despite his early opposition to the war in Iraq and his decision to remove Australia's combat troops, Mr. Rudd will still deploy his forces to the country in noncombat roles. He also intends to maintain Australia's presence in Afghanistan "for the long haul" and, at this week's NATO summit in Bucharest, will urge European countries to bear their fair share of the Afghan burden. Australia is not a member of NATO, but its troops, unlike those of most NATO members, are deployed to Afghanistan's dangerous south.

Mr. Rudd is also a realist about the threat posed by Iran, in terms of its "active financing of terrorist operations," its "entrenchment in Syria" and, above all, the nuclear issue. "I wouldn't like us in the future to play footsie" with the Iranians, he says, which sounds to us like an implicit rebuke of the West for the game it has been playing with Tehran. "This is baseline stuff. The Iranians are a real problem."

As for China - where he spent years as a diplomat and learned fluent Mandarin - he will urge President Hu Jintao at their coming meeting to engage directly with representatives of the Dalai Lama. But he opposes a boycott of the Olympics. "Historically, boycotts of the Olympics don't work," he says, recalling Jimmy Carter's feckless pullout from Moscow in 1980. "This will always be a two-steps-forward, one-step-back relationship. Let's be realistic about it."

Mr. Rudd is equally clear-eyed on economic issues. He inherited from John Howard the best economy in memory and doesn't intend to squander it. Sounding very much like his predecessor, he promises to reform welfare and cut taxes. Remember: Mr. Rudd is a man of the political left.

Finally, Mr. Rudd understands, in a way that must come naturally to someone whose country relies heavily on commodity exports, the benefits of free trade. As he told a Manhattan audience after our interview, "The successful conclusion of the Doha Trade Round would give the global economy a much needed psychological boost at a time when there is a heightened risk of protectionism." He added that "I was pleased that President Bush and I saw eye-to-eye on this point."

We only wish Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama would see eye-to-eye with Mr. Rudd on the subject, too. And while we'll cheerfully admit to our own disagreements with Mr. Rudd - especially on a cap-and-trade "solution" to global warming - it's good to be reminded that there is such a thing as a responsible left. America could use more of it.


Surprise! Big government intervention fails to fix black problems

Aboriginal girls still selling their bodies but I doubt that there is anything illegal about it. Interesting that nobody seems to think that it is any fault of the girls. I wonder what view of them that implies?

ABORIGINAL girls as young as 13 have been given cash, drugs, alcohol and taxi rides in exchange for sex in the Northern Territory mining town of Nhulunbuy. Indigenous elders have asked police to investigate a group of non-indigenous men in the town who they say have been sexually abusing Aboriginal teenagers for years. A group of four young indigenous women gave the Herald details of abuse by men they were prepared to identify to police. They said at least three Aboriginal girls were sexually abused at the age of 13. Nhulunbuy's elders are angry that teenagers are still being abused in the town 650 kilometres east of Darwin eight months after the $1.5 billion intervention in the Territory's remote indigenous communities.

Bernadette Guruwiwi, 19, told the Herald it was well known that last Monday two girls went to the house of a retired mine worker. Both of them were given beer and marijuana to smoke before the man took the other girl into his bedroom for sex, she said. The man gave the teenager $500. Bethany Yunupingu, 20, told how two girls recently went to the house of a non-indigenous man who works for the NT Government. They were both given marijuana. One was paid $100 for having sex with the man while the other girl was given money for introducing her to the man. A 19-year-old Aboriginal woman who asked not to be identified said she was offered three bottles of whisky to talk with a man in a taxi. "I knew what he wanted . I'm disgusted that these things are going on here," she said.

The abuse of indigenous teenagers and young women is an open secret in Nhulunbuy. Aboriginal teenagers often provided sex to be taken to or from the town of Yirrkala, which costs $40 in a taxi, said residents who did not want to be named. They told how teenage girls were often picked up outside the town's hotel late at night. About eight girls were regularly given money, marijuana, alcohol or free taxi rides in exchange for sex, residents said.

Galarrwuy Yunupingu, the most powerful indigenous leader in the Territory, gave permission for members of his family to tell the Herald what they knew about sexual abuse in the town. "We are family so we can talk about these things together," said Mr Yunupingu, a former Australian of the Year and former head of the Northern Land Council, which represents most indigenous groups in northern Australia. "But everybody here knows what has been going on and the time has come for us to put an end to this once and for all," he said. "We have seven girls who are ready to provide information to the police . the offenders should be brought to justice, then lock them up and throw away the keys."

Leon White, a former school principal in Yirrkala, said there has been a "conspiracy of silence" about abuse. He said government agencies needed to work more closely to help parents protect vulnerable children and teenagers. "The indigenous intervention is yet to produce outcomes that prevent these things happening." Mr White said one recent positive development was the establishment of a "remote learning partnership agreement" which helped monitor indigenous children.

The report, Little Children Are Sacred, which prompted the intervention, referred to allegations of a rampant sex trade in Nhulunbuy where non-Aboriginal mining workers gave Aboriginal girls aged between 12 and 15 alcohol, cash and other goods in exchange for sex.



The Australian delegation to climate change talks in Bangkok has turned the clock back to the Howard era by failing to back binding greenhouse targets, environment group Greenpeace says. Negotiators from more than 160 nations are taking part in the first round of UN-led talks since last December's Bali meeting to advance plans for a new global greenhouse treaty.

According to Greenpeace activists in Bangkok, Australian delegation leader Jan Adams yesterday reverted to Howard government rhetoric of supporting US-style, long-term aspirational goals rather than binding targets. "The Australian delegate suggested that a post-2012 commitment period shouldn't have binding emission reduction commitments, it should be aspirational," Greenpeace spokesman Paul Winn said from Bangkok. "They're still following the line of the US, they still seem to be aligned with the Umbrella Group," Mr Winn said. The Umbrella Group is a loose coalition of non-EU developed countries including the US, Canada and Japan - which has argued against binding targets.

Greenpeace said Ms Adams' rhetoric was out of step with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's climate change policies and more in line with those of former prime minister John Howard, who refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. "If this is (Climate Change Minister) Penny Wong and Kevin Rudd's line, we just don't know." Ms Adams heads the Climate Change Department's international division and has the title of ambassador for the environment, a position she held under the former coalition government.

Mr Winn said much of the international negotiating team in the Howard era had remained under Mr Rudd's Government. "There really needs to be a changing of the guard at some stage."


Jails chief blasts judges for not locking up sex fiends

The Director-General of Corrective Services has launched an unprecedented attack on Queensland's judiciary, condemning the Supreme Court for not locking up serious sexual offenders such as Robert John Fardon indefinitely. Frank Rockett has told ABC Radio, in 37 cases that have come before the courts the government has argued strongly for the offender to be detained indefinitely under the Dangerous Prisoner Sexual Offenders Act.

"Certainly the Attorney-General on our behalf has argued that in every case a continuing detention order be imposed on every one of these sex offenders. We have never sought a supervision order," Mr Rockett said. "We're concerned about every one of them. We have the best people who can measure the risk of reoffending and we are telling the courts they are a very high risk of reoffending," he said. "If any of these offenders.. if they (correctional officers) took their eyes off them, they would reoffend."

Since the legislation was introduced there have been 25 breaches of supervision orders, but none has involved an alleged sexual offence - until now. Fardon is expected to face the Supreme Court today, accused of breaching two of the conditions of his 10-year, 38-point supervision order. Mr Rockett said the Attorney-General will seek an interim detention order on Fardon, so he can be locked up while police continue their investigations into allegations he raped a 61-year-old woman on the Gold Coast on Wednesday. "The important thing is that he's in custody," Mr Rockett said.

Police Minister Judy Spence said it was too early to say that the system had failed. "We'll wait and see what the police come up with and we will certainly have an investigation into whether we could have done more," she said. Ms Spence said there had been three serious sex offenders who had been put back into prison this week for testing positive to drugs. "I have some sympathy for the Supreme Court judge and some frustration too when we ask them to keep these people in prison and they release them pretty much continually," she said.

She said Mr Fardon was one of 12 convicted criminals being electronically monitored. "We've only had this law in Queensland in the last four year and we're learning all the time. Hopefully we can stop these people from re-offending because that's the intention." "Mr Fardon has proved to be a disgusting human being and I loathe him as much as all Queenslanders." Ms Spence said Mr Fardon was one of the convicted criminals on a curfew from 7am to 7pm. ``But they are free to do what they want during the day. They're not prisoners in their homes for 24 hours.''


Thursday, April 03, 2008

An authoritarian government school in Sydney

A Sydney high school has been accused of intimidating students into having their fingerprints scanned for a new attendance monitoring system, and branding parents who object as "idiots". Parents of students at Ku-ring-gai High School in Sydney's north say their children have been bullied into taking part in a trial of the scheme introduced this week. According to a principal's note sent home with students last Friday, parents were permitted to opt out by sending an "exemption" letter to the school.

Parents told The Australian yesterday their children were told their fingers would be scanned anyway, and data later deleted, only if there were still objections. Alison Page said her daughter in Year 10 and other students who carried exemption letters were told "their parents were idiots for not agreeing". She said they were asked again if they would have the scans. "They were told to go home and tell their parents they were worrying about nothing," she added. Ms Page said her other daughter in Year 12 was among students required to provide finger scans without notice after an English exam on Tuesday. Her daughter had an exemption letter but had not been allowed to take it into the room. "They were not allowed to leave the room until it was done," she said. "They were told it could be deleted later if they didn't want it done."

Parent Chris Gurman said his daughter Alex was also told she could not leave the exam room until her fingerprint was taken. "My daughter was the only one who refused," Mr Gurman said. "She's read 1984. When she refused to co-operate, a teacher let her out of the room." Alex Gurman, 17, said they were told: "'If any of your stupid parents have any worries about this we will talk about it later.' I felt like crying, I felt like I was being forced to do something I didn't want to do, it was very confronting."

The Australian Council for Civil Liberties raised concerns about people being pressured into fingerprint scans, and said they posed dangers to privacy. Council secretary Cameron Murphy said: "This is exactly why the process is unacceptable, because in most cases where this biometric information is collected it is very rarely by consent."

The principal of the creative arts high school, Glenda Aulsebrook, said she was unaware of allegations that students had been forced to accept scans, saying no one was obliged to participate. Ms Aulsebrook denied fingerprints were kept on record, saying only numbers were kept on a database. She said she first became aware of the procedure at a principals' conference where she was shown how it operated.

NSW Education Minister John Della Bosca said a small number of schools had introduced fingerprint scanning with the support of parents, adding it was not a government nor department initiative. "In each case the department has ensured there are strict privacy safeguards and parental consent," Mr Della Bosca said.

NSW Opposition Leader Barry O'Farrell said he was worried parents who wanted to opt out might have been forced to participate. The process had also never been formally announced by Mr Della Bosca nor the Iemma Government, he said. An Education Department spokeswoman said inquiries would be made about the scheme.


More dangerous Royal North Shore hospital errors

Not only did Julia Weston's 12-year-old son wait more than 28 hours to get antibiotics to treat a leg infection, but Sydney's Royal North Shore Hospital mistook him for a five-year-old boy suffering from pneumonia. Ms Weston told an inquiry into NSW's public hospitals headed by Peter Garling SC that after eight days in RNSH last year, her son was running a temperature of 40C and had lost nine kilos. She said she persuaded staff to transfer her son to Westmead Children's Hospital, but when he was discharged from RNSH they were wrongly given the papers of the five-year-old boy suffering from pneumonia.

The inquiry also heard evidence from Jean Edge and Gail Aldenhoven, clinical nurse educators working at RNSH, who said the inadequate English-language skills of some graduate nurses put patients' lives at risk. Ms Edge told the inquiry a third-year nurse had admitted to understanding only 70 per cent of the instructions he was given. "Poor communication with these nurses is a major issue," she said. Another graduate nurse with English as a second language could not comprehend the phrase "the patient is choking", forcing other staff to intervene to save the patient's life, Ms Edge told the inquiry.

Sharon Miskell, the director of medical services at Royal North Shore and Ryde hospitals, told the inquiry that about 95 to 100 per cent of the hospital's beds were occupied. Dr Miskell said that without a greater "buffer zone" of empty beds, the hospital risked a higher mortality rate.

The special inquiry was established in January following a coroner's report on the death of 16-year-old Vanessa Anderson, who died two days after she was admitted to the RNSH with a skull fracture. Public hearings have so far been conducted at hospitals across the state. Mr Garling is to report to NSW Governor Marie Bashir before the end of July.


Green bullying is the last straw

By Andrew Bolt

BORDERS [bookshop] has at last crossed a border of my own - demanding I pay 10 cents for a plastic bag to carry home their books. This senseless green bullying is the last straw. For 10 cents it's lost a customer who's been worth hundreds of dollars a year.

I'm not easily put off by a shop like Borders, you should understand. In this case, I've long tolerated its haphazard stacking of classical CDs and foreign DVDs, its books thoroughly thumbed by its coffee shop customers, and the disengaged, overworked staff, who rarely know much about what they sell.

But my last straw broke last week when I got to the register with another four books for my children, bought on impulse on the way to the movies. "Would you like a plastic bag?" I was asked, in the disapproving tones I've learned to accept from sales staff of a certain age and taste for studs. Why Borders should be so down on a little plastic bag is a mystery, actually, given its business is selling stuff made of murdered trees and plasticised oil.

But, ever placid, I sweetly replied, yes, please - I would indeed like to carry those books in a bag rather than cart them into the cinema in my arms. Not that I said that last bit, of course.

And then I was told Borders now charged 10 cents for each bag. I pointed out that the bag should be given for free as a service to customers kind enough to buy armfuls of the shop's wares. But the sales assistant informed me in tones sanctimonious that this 10 cents was for "the environment" - going to Coastcare, a green group I'd never heard of. As I told her, to the increasing mortification of my 14-year-old son, if I wanted to donate to Coastcare I'd do it myself, and I do not need or want Borders to bully me into it.

As I huffed off with books unbagged, I heard her protest to a colleague that I was wrong to object because the bag levy really was for "the environment". Rubbish. It's for Borders' preening, and a green group's grooming. I've since learned that Borders is far from alone in this green bullying of customers. IKEA does much the same, and Bunnings doesn't even give customers the option of a bag.

Crazy. If plastic bags really were a public menace to rival cigarettes or a Tim Flannery, I could understand such finger-wagging and 10-cent fines. But claims that the bags kill 100,000 animals a year have been completely discredited, and no study can swear they're a big menace to wildlife or even the landscape. Banning or restricting them is purely symbolic, and done at the cost not of retailers but customers.

Enough of this hectoring, moral show-boating and donating with other people's money. It's the principle of the thing: If Borders wants to donate to Coastcare, let it do so with its cash, not mine. And give me my damn bag.

Source. A good reason to order from Amazon. And they use HEAPS of packaging!

Wotta huge laugh! Aborigines to get home visits from nurses

These clowns in the Rudd government are making Aborigine policy with obviously not the slightest knowledge of Aborigines. The lady in my life, Anne, is a nurse who spent years nursing in Aboriginal communities and she will be rolling on the floor laughing when she hears this! What the government clowns obviously don't know is that Aborigines will say anything that they think a white person in a position of authority wants to hear. They will say all the right things to a blow-in nurse and then go on as if the nurse had never been. Even nurses working permanently in Aboriginal communities have to be pretty skilled to overcome that
The Federal Government hopes to provide more support for Indigenous mothers by funding home visits from nurses in Aboriginal communities. The extra nurses will provide women with advice during the early stages of pregnancy and help mothers who are caring for newborn babies. The program will start in two communities in Cairns and Alice Springs and eventually become available at 10 sites around the country.

Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon says it is part of a push to improve the life expectancy of Indigenous children. "It will allow services that have are already being provided to be enhanced," she said. "Particularly new mothers when they are pregnant, rather than waiting late in the pregnancy when maybe some of the health advice like stopping smoking or drinking during the pregnancy might really be too late."

Source. More details of the absurdity here. It's just pissing into the wind.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Mental health madness: A letter below than needs action, not politician-speak

Gold Coast Bulletin journalist Robyn Wuth has written to Premier Anna Bligh asking her to address the mental health system after the brutal murder and rape of her cousin, Carmel Wuth. Why was a dangerous young loony housed in an old people's home? It must not happen again

I am Robyn Wuth. I have been a journalist for almost two decades. I have seen tragedy, certainly, but never before have I been touched by it. On Saturday night, my cousin Carmel Wuth was brutally and savagely killed. A man broke into her home, gagged her, beat her, stabbed her and raped her.

She was 77, frail and defenceless. If that were not horrific enough, Carmel was different  the family preferred to call her special.She had never had a boyfriend. Never been kissed. She was an innocent. Very much like a child. She was of this world, but not part of this world and for her to die so violently, so horribly, is a crime too heinous to contemplate.

And yet I must. We all must.

I imagine how terrified she must have been in her final moments. How frightened and bewildered, how utterly helpless.

I only pray it was quick. I suspect it was not.

We have been devastated by her slaughter. Shocked and struggling to understand  we are not the first to live through the pain of losing someone to an act of violence.

Her primary carer, Bev Kelly, yesterday had to identify Carmel's battered body - an act delayed because she was so badly beaten and brutalised.

Carmels murder is eerily familiar. I covered the murder of teenager Janaya Clarke almost a decade ago. Janaya was stabbed by a mental patient Claude Gabriel and as the story unfolded I forged a close bond with her mother, also Robyn.

I stood by her as she fought bureaucrats for justice, even as she was threatened with jail by righteous public servants who used the law to punish her for daring to speak out. They called her irresponsible, I called her brave.

Now, as a journalist, I find myself in a similar position, a Catch-22 of which even Joseph Heller could not have dreamed.

As a member of the family, I am not supposed to talk to the media.

If mental illness is a defence and the accused person never faces trial, I am supposed simply to contain my rage. I am supposed to respect his privacy. I want this man to have a fair trial, to have his day in court and for justice to be served.

I watch closely as it unfolds. A man has been charged, but what are the chances he will ever face trial? I suspect none. Already, the accused has been ordered by the courts to undergo an advanced mental health assessment in a secure facility in a Brisbane hospital.

And so it begins. Will the family be told? Will they bother to tell us the results? Will I be breaking the law to write about it? Am I breaking the law by writing this now. If so, who does that law protect? Not any of the normal, decent citizens of Queensland.

You might as well arrest me now for I have no intention of letting Carmel's killer slip quietly into the system. I have no intention of sitting idle. I want answers, my family deserves the truth.

The system has already got it wrong. We cannot let the system cover up its irresponsible mistakes and let Carmel's killer slip quietly into some twilight zone where normal, decent Queenslanders are kept deliberately in the dark.

How can I put my faith in a system that placed a strong 36-year-old man in a retirement village, among the elderly in the first place?

* A system that prefers to shove the mentally ill out the door and into the community.

* A system that closed the asylums years ago.

* A system that ludicrously relies on the mentally ill to self-medicate, without proper supervision and support.

Police were called to the Trinity Gardens units three times last week, called by residents terrified of the man living in their midst, who some were convinced was deranged.

His behaviour had become increasingly erratic. He had put knives under the doors of residents in what would be an ominous warning of what was to come.

Carmel was one of those residents, a knife put under her door in the dark of night. She was too frightened to make an official complaint.She paid with her life.

Health professionals were called  when I say health professionals, I don't mean a doctor. I mean a social worker and a support person who between them decided there was no risk.

They counselled him, told him to take his pills and went on their way.

They saw no reason for a medical assessment. They determined the course of action, with disastrous consequences.

They worked within the system.

Presumably, their actions followed the guidelines.

There's just one thing  the system is supposed to protect innocent people like Carmel.

Police raised the alarm, identified the risk and the system ignored the warning.

Who made that decision? How could a man so volatile be placed in a retirement village in the first place? Who decided that his rights were more important than Carmel's life? Had those faceless and nameless bureaucrats acted appropriately, had they heeded the warnings, Carmel would be alive. They have to live with that cold, hard fact.

My family is demanding answers and getting none.

They have tried to complain to Attorney-General and Minister for Justice Kerry Shine, to ask for help, only to be told all requests must be submitted in writing.

We will, but we resent having to do so.

We resent having to ask the Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg and Surfers Paradise MP John-Paul Langbroek to fight for justice for Carmel, but they have taken up our fight and we thank them for that.

We were disappointed that we had to ask.

We resent your audacity, Premier Bligh and that of your Health Minister Stephen Robertson, for defending such an appalling system.

For daring to say that nothing could have been done. You are both wrong, and you know it. The system is as much to blame for Carmel's death and I hold you, and it, in utter contempt.

I am tired of government platitudes and tired of excuses.

I have heard them before, but never have the words seemed so hollow, the promises so empty.

Time and time again we see cases where the mentally ill are involved in horrendous crimes of violence.

All these years, I have interviewed so many people whose lives have been touched by tragedy.

For the first time in my life, I understand.

The system is failing.

We have it wrong. How many lives must be lost before the situation is remedied? Nothing will bring Carmel Wuth back.

Nothing will make her exit from this world any gentler.

Carmel is gone, but maybe we can save someone else this pain.


Immigration blamed for housing crisis

Hard to argue with given extensive State and local government restrictions on housing developers and land usage. Such restrictions are not going to go away any time soon

A massive, uncontrolled increase in immigration in the past three years has fuelled the housing affordability crisis, home builders say. Housing Industry Association (HIA) managing director Ron Silberberg blamed the shortage of private rental accommodation on net immigration he estimated at 250,000 people a year.

"There has been an uncontrolled expansion of the immigration program," Dr Silberberg told a Senate committee in Canberra. "The pace in which it's increased has been massive over the last three years. "Do we need an explanation as to why there's pressure on private rental housing?" He described the immigration program as a federal government lever which could be used to address the housing crisis.

Asked if he blamed the squeeze entirely on immigration, Dr Silberberg said its effect was substantial. "It's a very significant influence on the demand for housing and accommodation." Dr Silberberg was speaking at the Senate select committee on housing affordability's first day of public hearings. More than one million Australians are considered to be in housing stress by paying at least 30 per cent of their income on accommodation.

The HIA chief also said the industry suffered from a skills shortage because only a tiny fraction of immigrants had training in residential construction. Only about 800 of the net figure of 250,000 arrivals had the necessary skills, he said. "I don't think the department of immigration has a proper understanding of labour market forecasting because that's done by another agency. "Demand for skilled people and professionals is so tight it's not even worth advertising."

The Planning Institute of Australia (PIA) told the committee that the construction sector's ability to meet demand is just as important as releasing more land. "Addressing undersupply is a critical issue if we are to ensure that we are able to adequately and affordably house our communities as Australia continues to develop," PIA national president Neil Savery said. "We're not saying that addressing supply is the panacea to the problem and certainly that the equation in relation to supply isn't simply: `Let's release as much land as we can possibly can on the urban fringe of the city'," he said.

Institute chief executive Diane Jay said releasing more land sounded simpler than it was. "There's some evidence that even if there were more land immediately available we really don't have the capacity within the construction and development sector to go a lot further in terms of meeting supply," she said. The group welcomed the federal government's planned National Housing Supply Council but said it must produce nationally comparable data on land release as well as new housing statistics.


South Australian report reveals decades of State care sex abuse

Another catastrophic "child welfare" system. Wards of the State -- made wards for their own "protection" -- found that the State was a gross child-abuser. And it went on for 40 years!

The horrific extent of sex abuse against children in state care over four decades has been revealed in the 600-page report of the Mullighan inquiry to State Parliament. Retired Supreme Court judge Ted Mullighan, QC, yesterday issued a stark warning that children in state care would remain vulnerable to sex abuse unless urgent action was taken to overhaul a system in crisis. His $13.5 million inquiry considered hundreds of allegations of widespread child abuse within government and non-government institutions, spanning 40 years. The report contained 54 recommendations, which Premier Mike Rann yesterday said would be comprehensively examined before a detailed response in early June.

Victims who provided evidence to Mr Mullighan during his three-year inquiry yesterday packed the public gallery of the House of Assembly as Mr Rann described how the contents of the report had "sickened him". "Decade after decade, the perpetrators of this abuse not only robbed children of their innocence but also stole both their past and their future," Mr Rann said. "But the victims, fearful and forced into silence for so long, deserve our compassion and, most importantly, our resolve in dealing with issues past and present. "I congratulate Ted Mullighan not only for lifting the veil on the depth of child abuse over decades but also in the way he has given victims a voice at last."

Mr Mullighan said he had been totally unprepared for the "foul undercurrent of society" which had perpetrated child sex abuse against wards of the state between the 1940s and 1980s. He had personally interviewed 792 people who alleged they were victims, with many, including an 81-year-old woman, revealing their stories for the first time. Further investigations had determined 242 alleged victims were wards of the state when they were sexually abused, with allegations involving 922 perpetrators. Mr Mullighan said he had referred 170 people with information about 434 alleged pedophiles to police, who arrested two suspects and reported 13 others. "I was appalled and horrified at the way in which children were exploited, abused and threatened and how they have lived in that situation for years without being able to do anything about it," he said

Mr Mullighan said he had decided to detail all the evidence he had received to highlight the extent of child sex abuse - and how it could be avoided in the future. "We need to educate the public about this scourge of child sex abuse so the public know how bad it is and how extensive it is," he said. "We need to be vigilant, not only with our own children but also with other children."

In his report, Mr Mullighan said he had received evidence the state's child protection system was in "crisis", with inadequate resources and funding. "The number of children being placed in care has increased; there is a shortage of foster carers and social workers; there is an inability to place children according to suitability rather than availability; and children are being placed in serviced apartments, bed and breakfast accommodation and motels because there is no other accommodation," he said. "Such a state of affairs cannot properly care for an already vulnerable group of children, let alone protect them from perpetrators of sexual abuse. "The evidence to the inquiry demonstrates that more resources must be made available to deal with the crisis created by the past as well as implement necessary reforms for the present and future." ...

Mr Mullighan said extra resources also had to be injected into the criminal justice system to prosecute child sex offenders regardless - and fast-track their trials. "Unfortunately, the process from investigation to trial now takes many years," he said. "It is important these allegations are not seen as a lesser priority in the criminal justice system because they are `historical'. The Pedophile Task Force, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Legal Services Commission and the courts need to receive sufficient resources to investigate, prosecute, defend and conduct trials concerning the allegations of child sexual abuse arising from this inquiry in a timely manner."


Population soaring across Australia

Australia's population is racing ahead at rates not consistently seen since the migrant boom years of the 1950s and 60s, with growth of 1.5 per cent, or a record 315,700 extra people, during 2006-07. Figures released yesterday by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show the growth is not being driven in any one particular geographic or demographic area, but is across all Australia except for parts of western NSW and western Queensland. Growth is slightly stronger on the edges of capital cities, in the inner cities, and in seachange areas, particularly along the east coast. The overall growth rate of 1.53 per cent was up from 1.48 per cent the previous year.

While there were two years of high migration in the 80s in which higher growth rates were recorded, it was back in the period 1947-72 that Australia consistently recorded more than 1.5per cent. However, in terms of raw numbers, the extra 316,000 people who called Australia home in 2006-07 represents the biggest increase ever.

A breakdown of the growth compared with the previous year shows there were 10,000 extra births (273,000, up from 263,000) and 31,000 extra people gained through migration (178,000, up from 147,000), although there were also 1000 more deaths (135,000, up from 134,000). "It's everything coming together at the same time," demographer Bernard Salt said. "Generation X has finally realised they can have babies; migration is very high, mainly because of the skills shortage and the need to fill jobs to keep the mining boom going; and the baby boomers aren't dying yet."

The Gold Coast and Brisbane remained the fastest-growing areas, with an extra 17,000 and an extra 16,000 people respectively, meaning the City of Brisbane local government area's population has now exceeded a million. After these, the big growth areas were on the edge of major cities, with Wanneroo, on the northern outskirts of Perth, and then Wyndham and Casey, on the outskirts of Melbourne, being next on the list of fastest-growing. Another high-growth group were the seachange coasts, with the Tweed-Byron area of northern NSW and the "surf coast" area of Victoria around Torquay among the boom areas.

The competition between Sydney and Melbourne also intensified, with the population of the Melbourne statistical district growing by an extra 62,000 people, while that of the Sydney statistical district grew by only 51,000. But while the growth in Melbourne was the same as the previous year, the growth in Sydney was well up on the 36,000 recorded previously.


Tuesday, April 01, 2008

"Indigenous children start as equals"

Insofar as there is any truth in this, I am afraid that it is likely to be just another example of the Chimpanzee effect. I doubt however that the sampling of black kids was in any way representative. What percentage of black 5 year olds are in school anyway? About half of blacks live in remote settlements and their schooling is very nominal

Indigenous [black] children start school with a similar level of developmental skills as non-indigenous children, with gaps in achievement appearing to widen as they progress through school. In tests measuring readiness for school and language comprehension, indigenous students aged five have the skills of non-indigenous students aged four. [So that's equal?? That's a large gap at that age. Five year olds are a heap more capable than four year olds]

The analysis by Australian National University researchers Andrew Leigh and Xiaodong Gong estimates that between one-third and two-thirds of the gap in test scores is related to socio-economic differences. But Dr Leigh, from the Research School of Social Sciences, said the study showed that the big gaps in educational achievement occurred during the school years, not that indigenous students started school far behind the rest of the community. "Paradoxically, it's really quite an optimistic finding," he said. "It would be deeply depressing if we discovered that four and five-year-olds were as far behind as 14 and 15-year-olds, which would basically tell us that the problem was in families," he said. "Governments are bad at fixing families but these results suggest we need to focus on schools, and that's something policymakers have been thinking for years now."

The study looks at the performance of about 5000 children aged four and five and their results in two cognitive tests measured in the Longitudinal Survey of Australian Children. One test asked students to pick one of four pictures that best suited the word said by the examiner. The other asked students to perform 10 writing exercises, from copying shapes to completing a sentence to drawing a picture of themselves. Indigenous students at the age of five were about one year behind their non-indigenous peers. Dr Leigh said other studies, and the national literacy and numeracy tests, have shown this gap widens substantially by late primary and early high school.


Small schools outshine bigger rivals in final-year examinations

But the government is still being secretive about detailed results. The taxpayers must be kept in the dark. They only pay for it all! But the politicians are so much wiser than us, of course

STUDENTS at schools in smaller regional centres around Queensland and those at private schools in the southeast's outer suburbs have outshone their colleagues across the state in academic achievement. The list of achievements by senior students at Queensland schools last year, to be released by the Queensland Studies Authority today, shows that the big city is not necessarily better when it comes to academia. It also shows that despite the hefty tuition fees demanded by some of the established inner-city private schools, some of the better state high schools are outperforming them academically. [i.e. The State schools in upmarket suburbs do well -- where the results reflect pupil quality rather than teaching quality]

Topping the state is All Saints Anglican School at Merrimac [South of Brisbane], where 94 per cent of eligible students gained an Overall Position (OP) score of 15 or better. The school eased Brisbane Grammar out of the top spot it occupied the previous year. OPs give a statewide rank order to students of between 1 and 25, with 1 the highest. Universities use OP scores to select applicants to degree courses. Brisbane Grammar scored 93 per cent, while another Gold Coast school, Emmanuel College at Carrara, came next with 91 per cent.

All Saints principal Patrick Wallas said the students' achievements were "wonderful news". He said the school also had a strong vocational education and training record, but students understood and encouraged academic excellence. "It's cool to do well at All Saints," Mr Wallas said. "You don't get humiliated or teased, and you can do it in a fun and liberating way."

Students at Christian and independent schools in outer metropolitan areas performed particularly well in 2007, confirming a trend from the previous year. Year 12 students at The Gap High School [An upmarket suburb] scored 84 per cent, the highest for a metropolitan high school and much better than some of the pricier private schools in Brisbane.

Elsewhere in Queensland, students at schools in smaller regional centres such as Atherton (81 per cent), Ayr (84 per cent) and Home Hill (88 per cent) did well. Seven schools had 90 per cent or more of their eligible Year 12 students gaining an OP15 or better. Only three were in Brisbane - Brisbane Grammar, Mt St Michael's at Ashgrove and St Margaret's Anglican at Ascot.

Education Minister Rod Welford said parents should use the information, published in The Courier-Mail today, as a guide. "There are many factors that make a school suitable for a student,' he said. However, despite insisting the Government was serious about school accountability, Mr Welford again refused to release more detailed information on the academic record of individual schools. The Government keeps information such as how many OP1s a school achieved secret, arguing that OPs are only one measure of a school's suitability. Mr Welford said he chose to release the proportion of students achieving OP15 or better because such a score would usually get them into university.


This is a government that wants to get people out of their cars

Commuters have voiced frustration over the new Queensland Rail timetable with some passengers being left behind by overflowing trains. One of QRs busiest services the Ferny Grove line to the city was packed to capacity by the Enoggera station yesterday morning, leaving an estimated 60 people behind on the platform. Those commuters faced a further 22min wait for the next train; the former schedule had a nine minute gap between trains.

City worker Stephen Knight, 31, said the revamped schedule had created scores of disgruntled passengers. "There were definitely a lot of unhappy people, pretty much everyone on the train was talking about it. They were not happy, he said. "At Enoggera maybe a quarter of the people on the platform managed to get on to the train and after that pretty much no-one got on after that. Maybe one or two at each stop managed to squeeze themselves on. "There were a lot of unhappy people and a lot of people said they were going to take the bus or the car the next day.

The complaints represent a nightmare start for QR, which called the timetable overhaul the most significant for more than a decade. The general manager of passenger services, Andy Taylor, said the performance of the first week would be reviewed but pointed out the number of peak morning trains on that line had increased to 14 and in the afternoon to 16. He said he was confident the services would work more smoothly once commuters worked out the new times. And he said while there was a 22min lag between trains, the services had been upgraded from three car sets to six.


Andrew Bolt set to join the compromisers

Herald-Sun columnist Andrew Bolt looks like he may have had enough of attacking politicians and could be joining them. Mr Bolt is set to make an announcement this afternoon about the seat of Higgins, currently held by Liberal MP and former Treasurer Peter Costello. "I am about to make an announcement given Peter Costello is out of politics soon," Mr Bolt said this morning.

Late this morning, Mr Bolt said Mr Costello had contacted him to congratulate him. "He's rather surprised, however, and has advised me to "learn to take more definite positions" and to "stop sitting on the fence". [LOL!]

Asked whether he would be running for the Liberal or Labor parties, Bolt said, "I think the Bolt Party actually". He is expected to address the speculation today on his blog. The statement by the right wing commentator follows speculation by Crikey commentator Stephen Mayne that "maybe Bolt's main chance will be in Higgins if Costello ultimately decided to spit the dummy and walk".

And he said he would be canceling his blog because of the political announcement. Bolt said today: "This is it for the blog, at least for now. I can't pre-empt the announcement that my local member and friend, Peter Costello, is about to make, but it would clearly be a conflict of interest for me to continue to write about politics here if I've privately agreed to become a player."


April fool! It was just Bolty's little joke

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